Black History: What Are You Willing To Learn?

By Fred Whitted
Updated: July 27, 2008

NORTH CAROLINA — From time to time I am reminded why God put me on earth. For years I have done been involved in researching Black history. I have written several books and numerous articles on the subject.

I recently establish a teaching system that I call “Black History Boot Camp”. As this was being developed, one of the prevailing questions was how to get people to connect their history. Well, the simple answer is that people will connect with their history when they truly understand that it is “their history.”

To get to this, a work book was put together. After the introductory portion, it moves into genealogy, the study of family history. We want people to begin looking at history by seeing where they fit into the picture.

This meant they would need to see a completed pedigree chart. Rather than put in a bunch of bogus names, I chose to put my own family’s chart. What came next was a little surprising, but, it exposed the reasons that doing this was so necessary.

I got a sample pedigree chart from the local library and put in the names that I knew. From there, I expected to call my older brothers and sisters, ask a few questions, and have the rest of the blanks filled.


To my amazement, I hit a blank wall after my grandparents. Their knowledge of the families was extremely fragmented.

This led me to several online resources through which I was able to gather information from census records and other sources. I went back to them with what I found. Then, I received another shock.

While relaying the information to them, I made several errors due to the lack of connecting information. I was immediately corrected about who various ones were. I resisted the urge to ask why they had not told me this before. Their knowledge was far greater than they had acknowledged.

First, let me say that most of my family was born before or during the Great Depression. This means that there were a lot of things set in place hindered their learning process. They grew up with family members just two generations removed from slavery.

There are a lot of things they were not told about. There was an inherent level of shame connected to their past. Rather than talk about it, they simply kept quiet and suffered in silence. As a result, many of us do not know a lot about our family’s past.

Without the modern communications and transportation, if parents moved away from their family, the children may not have had a lot of contact with one of their parents’ family. This placed a barrier on their knowledge. In my case, that was my mother’s side of the family.

I learned my mom’s mother’s name from my mom’s obituary. From this, I was able to go back and find her parents and grandparents. On both sides, I have been able to go back into the era of slavery and look begin to piece together more of our family’s history.

BUT, that is not what this is about. This is about making the connection with our history so that learning and teaching it becomes an everyday thing. We see the exposure via the Tom Joyner and Steve Harvey Shows on a daily basis. That is only exposure.

Teaching requires a much more proactive and systematic effort to impart information. Included in this process, we make the connections through our own lives, and, the lives of our parents and grand parents. These connections make the events that we study more relevant. Thus, our history becomes broader and closer to us personally.

As I worked on the new information I discovered that my great grandmother was a midwife who delivered babies over a ten to fifteen mile radius. Today, this may not seem relevant, but, to those expectant mothers in the 1920s and 1930s, she was a very important person to know. Yes, Grandma Ett was a star.

We have to become more diligent in pursuing our history. Do not believe for a second that the stigmas my siblings, and Blacks before them, have been erased. We call it “what have you done for me lately.”

I tell people who do not believe Black history is important that when they leave, take the step because a Black man invented the elevator, ignore the stop light because a Black man invented it, and don’t use their cell phone because Black man helped invent it.

As God continues to reveal more and more of my purpose for teaching people how to learn Black history, I become more passionate about it. One of the few stipulations my mother put on my father related to education.

That makes it is easy to explain to two generations who never met her that she is the reason that nearly seventy percent of us are college graduates. Of those old enough to complete high school, only three failed to earn their diploma. One earned a GED and has his Masters degree.

When I spoke about this, I faced with questions about “educated” parents. I explain that while my mom graduated from Fayetteville State, my father graduated from a Blue Book Speller, THIRD GRADE.

He did enforce my mother’s desire for us to be educated. What is important is that there was a standard, and, it was adhered to, even after my mother died before I turned ten years old.

Ph.Ds and MDs aside, we all must begin to look at our history, beginning with our own families. From there we connect with those around us. When we value our own beginnings, we become less awed by those around us.

If we had a great appreciation for those aunts and uncles who held you in their laps and encouraged you, you would not want to be like Mike. God made us all great in our own way. When we walk out our purpose, we leave an indelible mark on our surroundings.

As I tell my family, I have met some of the greatest people America has produced. I consider them great because of the standards in our home. I showed them a picture of the house we lived in until it burned when I was 10. I remind them that those who live in six-figure homes owe those homes to that little house their grandfather built.

When we look at things from that perspective, it becomes easy to look around us and see there is more for us to learn and to share. I am proud of my connections to the great coaches, players and other historic figures I have been blessed to meet.

I am able to understand the rode “Big House” traveled because my brother is a year younger. Each became a giant in his own purpose. As they walked their separate paths, both touched those within their reach. From there, those they touched radiated into other areas.

The accomplishments of both will live far beyond either of them.

That is what our history is all about. We are more connected than separated, we must learn those connections. We must know who we are so that we understand that we are closer to others we hold in awe.

When we discover our purpose, we open the door for God to make all of us part of Black history.