Black Struggle, Resiliency, and Hope for the Future

How could we not celebrate the year 2019, which marks 400 years of history recorded of Blacks in America since 1619? Not to do so would imply that America evolved independent of the Black understructure in its vast expansion into the regions of agriculture, which became the backbone of the great wealth upon which this great country now stands. It allowed America to expand into rice, tobacco, and cotton international trade. Slave labor gave America the great economic under footing that introduced this nation to the world as an equal, and later, as a leader.

These 400 years have been a Black struggle for full citizenship, offered first by the Constitution as 3/5 a human – later, in the Civil Rights movement, 4/5 citizenship, and now with this current epic struggle Blacks are seeking 5/5 acceptability and full citizenship. Why the Plus after 400 years? Because American public schools have been very unkind in the search for the truth, stating that Blacks arrived in America as slaves. Not so, Blacks arrived in America as Indentured Servants, much as most Europeans did. It is because of the “Black Codes,” and because Blacks were easily identified physically that many were later bought, sold, and conscripted for free labor. The truth of the matter is that Blacks were explorers on the North American shores long before Columbus. Blacks traveled alongside many explorers with whom many readers are familiar, as sailors and officers. This is a historical fact, cleverly hidden in much of the history to which most Americans are still exposed.

For me, this series of events is a personal reflection, a recall of the many committed and dedicated Black Comrades who a half century ago were advocates for change and progress. These men and women I stood on the shoulders of who first started the chant on this campus for change, shouting “We demand Black Studies!” These were among the early groups that reflected, “Black is Beautiful.” They have successfully pursued varied careers and are now in different places but are still vigilant in their demands for social justice and staunch defense of equality.

I reflect upon the many events of personal courage that have taken place on this campus. Many who today tread these academic halls are completely unaware that their very presence here at Washington University was that of a heroic uplift upon the mighty shoulders of the “pioneers.” It was those who boldly put their futures on the line so that any future gathering here would one day be of full ethnic diversity. As evidence of their own scholastic prowess, they solemnly declared that academic honors would hang in halls of every arena of scholastic endeavor undertaken on behalf of African American scholars.

I salute and give thanks to Dr. Robert L. Williams who in 1970 became Director of the Black Studies Program at Washington University and add my appreciation for inviting me to be his Associate Director and Co-founder in this endeavor. A special thanks to Cynthia Cosby who served the administrative role that kept us focused in the midst of this great transformation, in making this great University relevant and ever forward in its commitment to social justice. Almost 50 years ago, after the result of protests and demands made for the Black Studies Program, there have been many similar protests, all building upon the foundation that the history, culture, and heritage of Blacks anywhere are equal to that of other ethnicities everywhere.

To God be the Glory…Stamina and Perseverance.  –Jack A. Kirkland