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==== ==== What would you be like if you had a Great Knowledge of Black History? ==== ====

This February, we honor Black History Month for the 84th time since Professor Carter G. Woodson began the tradition as "Negro History Week" all the way back in 1926. In 2009, though, something about our national recognition of the African-American past seems just a bit different. For the very first time, we celebrate Black History Month while a black American sits in the White House, filling the country's top job as our commander-in-chief. Just about everyone would agree that Barack Obama's election to the presidency has been an event of major historical significance. But is it possible that Obama's election will even begin to transform the entire broader meaning of African-American history? We have usually understood black history as a story of perseverance and painfully slow progress in the face of overwhelming oppression, a story about carving out hope and possibility in a world marked by real and enduring racial limits. This is a story that starts with Booker T. Washington promising nervous whites, "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress," and a story that ends with Tupac Shakur rapping, only a decade ago, "Although it seems heaven sent / We ain't ready to have a black president." Barack Obama doesn't fit easily into that story. Do we need a new story, then? Can change in the present also, in a sense, change the past? In one sense, the answer is obvious: No, it can't. Barack Obama notwithstanding, the Civil War will still always end with emancipated slaves granted only a cruel mockery of true freedom. The Jim Crow era will still always be remembered as a time of terroristic racial violence and endless everyday racial humiliation. The civil rights movement's martyred heroes-Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and all the others-will still never get to walk in the promised land. Emmett Till will still never live to see his fifteenth birthday. Barack Obama or no Barack Obama, the troubled history of race in America - a history that continues to affect the lives of millions of ordinary people, of all races, even today - will still never go away, and should never be forgotten. But in another sense, the answer is less clear. Consider examples from literature. If we radically change a book's ending, do we also change the meaning of all the preceding chapters? What becomes of The Great Gatsby if the characters avoided the fateful car accident that sent events spiraling out of control? Would Hamlet morph from tragedy to comedy if only our favorite prince of Denmark could somehow survive the last act? Does Barack Obama's presidency represent this kind of a stunning twist in the "plot" of black history? If so, has black history itself just become a different story? Did all the dark moments of our national past just transform from markers of endless tragedy into mere obstacles that had to be overcome on a heroic quest for equality? Now that we know that Tupac was wrong, now that we are ready to see a black president - and not just any black president, but one whose early approval ratings are peaking at near-historic levels, and whose first confrontation with Congress just ended with stunning victory on the economic stimulus

plan - has everything changed? Does black history today mean something fundamentally different than it did before election day? Only time will tell.

Shmoop is an online study guide for English Literature, Poems and American history. It's a perfect aid for students and teachers seeking guidance with advance study, essays and writing papers. Its content is written by Ph.D. and Masters students from top universities, like Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, and Yale who have also taught at the high school and college levels. It promises to make learning and writing more fun and relevant. Teachers and students should feel confident to cite Shmoop as a source in essays and papers.

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==== ==== What would you be like if you had a Great Knowledge of Black History? ==== ====

Black History Month  

What would you be like if you had a Great Knowledge of Black History?

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