FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Changing History

by WILLIAM LOREN KATZ

In less than a year the battle for truth has lost three of its most innovative and stalwart voices, historians John Hope Franklin, Ivan Van Sertima and Howard Zinn. Each challenged aspects of the cheerfully bigoted narrative that has passed for history in schools, colleges, texts and the media. Each created works that made history by awakening millions of fellow citizens to a new host of heroic men and women whose daring contributions had been shamefully ignored.

As they gathered their documentation, Franklin, Van Sertima and Zinn confronted a lily-white, elite establishment comfortable with racism, economic injustice, and imperialism – or willing to cast them as forms of progress. Indeed, the books of these innovative scholars amounted to a vast underground railroad of treacherous knowledge. Ivan Van Sertima wrote during a time when Arnold Toynbee led the world’s leading scholars in claiming Africans made no contribution to civilization, its science or art, none, zero. Van Sertima cited sources beginning with Columbus to prove an African presence in America before 1492 — exploding a pivotal self-serving Caucasian myth. Then he went on to detail African contributions to global science.

John Hope Franklin wrote in a time when Henry Steele Commager and Samuel Eliot Morison, Pulitzer Prize historians, used their widely used college text, The Growth of the American Republic, to describe slavery in this hideous way. “As for Sambo . . . he suffered less than any other class in the South from its ‘peculiar institution.’”

Franklin faced a citizenry schooled on notions that people of African decent really benefited from slavery and had no history worth recounting. His response was to painstakingly detail how people of African descent contributed substantially to each stage of America’s economic and democratic growth.

Howard Zinn broadened the battle when he claimed conventional U.S. texts and school courses failed by celebrating wars, legislation, Presidents, generals and captains of industry. He stood history back on its feet when he told on how masses of American women and men, people of color and poor whites built the country first as slaves and indentured servants, and then as mill hands, assembly line workers and maids. He further antagonized traditional scholars by rejoicing in the disobedience of slave rebels, union organizers and radical civil rights and anti-war agitators. He found dissidents to be America’s real patriots and democrats — not the George Washingtons, Thomas Jeffersons and Andrew Jacksons who talked of liberty while they traded in slaves, and sent posses after those who escaped.

Proceeding from different angles, Franklin, Van Sertima and Zinn established that much history is a false tale, a patriotic pabulum designed to white wash past crimes, burnish traditional heroes and promote conformity. Each joined demonstrations for causes dear to their historical understanding.

The documents unearthed by Franklin, Van Sertima and Zinn illuminated the world, moved mountains and lifted people who had been told their ancestors never amounted to much. Though these truth-tellers will be sorely missed, their deep love of humanity and extraordinary works will live as long as people seek to examine the past as a way to chart the future.

I found of the three men to be delightful, supportive friends; their influence and personal interest proved an enormous benefit to my work. I was blessed to ride on their shoulders, and lucky enough to tell each of my love for them, their good humor and crusading works.

WILLIAM LOREN KATZ is the author of Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. His new, revised edition of The Black West [Harlem Moon/Random House, 2005] also includes information on the Philippine occupation, and can now be found in bookstores. He can be reached through his website: www.williamlkatz.com

 

 

 

William Loren Katz is the author of 40 books on African American history, and has been associated with New York University as an instructor and Scholar in Residence since 1973. His website is www.williamlkatz.com. Read an interview with Katz about his life teaching and writing history.

More articles by:
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail