• Little Black Sambo, illustration by John Rae

    Should Blacks Collect Racist Memorabilia?

    I have a confession to make: I collect racist memorabilia. Perhaps it is because my mother seems to have as well. She kept a very small ashtray on a table in our living room featuring a Black Sambo figurine at its center. Since neither of our parents ever smoked, I know Mom didn’t buy this object for its function; she bought it because she was intrigued, just as I was, even as a child. Why was this boy so very black — jet black, the blackest of blacks — and why was he depicted as naked? Again and again in idle moments, I would be drawn to the plight of this little black boy, frozen for all time in a racist form of in extremis, I guess one might say, with the reddest and thickest of lips, the whitest of eyes and the unutterably blackest of skin. Continue reading

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  • Participants in the Double V campaign, 1942.

    What Was Black America’s Double War?

    The Double V Campaign during World War II urged black people to give their all for the war effort, while at the same time calling on the government to do all it could to make the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence and the equal rights amendments to the Constitution real for every citizen, regardless of race. Continue reading

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  • W.E.B. DuBois

    Who Really Invented the ‘Talented Tenth’?

    Who originated the concept of the “Talented Tenth” black leadership class? Just about everybody who knows anything about black history and/or Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois knows that one of the most important concepts of the many that he defined was “the Talented Tenth.” Many of us even committed to memory the first two sentences of perhaps his most famous essay, published in 1903 in a book called The Negro Problem, and edited by Du Bois’s nemesis, Booker T. Washington: “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.” Continue reading

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  • 100facts_slaveslanded_lg

    How Many Slaves Landed in the U.S.?

    Perhaps you, like me, were raised essentially to think of the slave experience primarily in terms of our black ancestors here in the United States. In other words, slavery was primarily about us, right, from Crispus Attucks and Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker and Richard Allen, all the way to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. Think of this as an instance of what we might think of as African-American exceptionalism. (In other words, if it’s in “the black Experience,” it’s got to be about black Americans.) Well, think again. Continue reading

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