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

 

 

 

More articles by:

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.

Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
The Fordist Academic
Frank Scott
Weapons of Mass Distraction Get More Destructive
Missy Comley Beattie
Big Dick Diplomacy
Michael Doliner
Democracy, Real Life Acting and the Movies
Dan Bacher
Jerry Brown tells indigenous protesters in Bonn, ‘Let’s put you in the ground’
Winslow Myers
The Madness of Deterrence
Cesar Chelala
A Kiss is Not a Kiss: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children
Jimmy Centeno
Garcia Meets Guayasamin: A De-Colonial Experience
Stephen Martin
When Boot Becomes Bot: Surplus Population and The Human Face.
Martin Billheimer
Homer’s Iliad, la primera nota roja
Louis Proyect
Once There Were Strong Men
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones
David Yearsley
Academics Take Flight
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail