On February 28, 2008 Warner Saunders, NBC 5 anchorman addressed the theme of “Is black history month really necessary?” to the Niagara Foundation.
Mr. Saunders has been asked many times the question “is black history month really necessary?” Some have even asked “if we have a black history month, why don’t we have a white history month?” Mr. Saunders answers the question with yes. In a society that supports the superiority of white Americans; black history is one of the few things that blacks can cling to that can instill pride, and combat racism.
Mr. Saunders traces black history month to Dr. Carnegie Woodsen, a black American who was a son of slaves and had earned Masters degree form the University of Chicago and his PHD from Harvard. He had become an educator and philosopher. Dr. Carnegie felt that it was most important for blacks to know about their history, and in 1926 he started the Negro history week, which was later changed to black history month.
Mr. Saunders then recounts events in his own life to illustrate the effect that learning about black history had on him personally.
Mr. Saunders was born in Chicago in 1935. He attended catholic schools. In his history class he saw cotton fields with blacks working the land; and the section on black history covered only 2 people – George Washington Carver, and Booker T. Washington. And that was it.
In Chicago at that time there was not de jure segregation, but rather de facto segregation. He lived in a small community. Everything was the within the community except the freedom to move out of the community. For example, the beach was off limits. Even the most professional person in Chicago if he was black, could not get an office downtown.
The worst time in his life was when he attended St. Phillip high school. There he was constantly called “the n word.” Mr. Saunders explains what this can do to a persons psyche. You begin to tell yourself, “there must be something wrong with me … why am I treated in this fashion.”
Mr. Saunders then went to college in New Orleans where de jure segregation was in practice. There were signs that read “For colored only.” There were many places you could not go. In his sophomore year, Mr. Saunders took a history course called Negro history. The professor, Dr. Buiz, had said “your life is going to be a revolution today.” During and after the course, he was so full of pride; while prior to that he felt himself to be inferior.
Mr. Saunders then explained his definition of racism: the belief in the superiority of one race over another. If you feel yourself to be superior because of your race, then you’re a racist. Likewise if you feel yourself to be inferior because of your race then you too are a racist.
Mr. Saunders pointed out the fact that “our government, our corporate structure, the news media, the newspapers, you go down the list, support the superiority of white Americans vs. the inferiority of black Americans.”
What does that do to black Americans?
Mr. Saunders stated that “my theory is that it brings with it, even with the most accomplished black Americans, a feeling of inferiority.” The response to that feeling of inferiority comes out in many different ways. Prisons are overcrowded with black Americans, drug use is prevalent.
“Black history is something that blacks can cling to – to know that there is a brilliant past and there is a present. So in response to the question of is black history month really necessary? the answer is yes”
Mr. Saunders remembered in Montgomery hearing the talk of boycotting buses and thinking that they were crazy, but this sparked the beginning of the greatest civil rights movement of all time. Warner Saunders later got involved with it personally so as to be cured of being racist (in his own terms); and now considers himself to be a recovering racist.
In the question and answer session, a member of the audience brought up Martin Luther King Jr. and praised him for his life’s work. The question of “how to get society to start appreciating the human race” was asked. He addressed the issue of the treatment of white collar crimes vs. obvious crimes. Also discussed was Obama and the presidential race, and how to set up a dialogue with people who are different racially, culturally, and who are different from the stand point of religion.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
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Chicago, IL, US, 60601