Mulatto historian Carter G. Woodson, an attendee at Chicago's 1915 Exposition of Negro Progress (celebrating 50 years of Emancipation), was so inspired by the crowds' enthusiasm that he went on to promote the very first 'Negro History Week' in February 1926. A roaring success, this yearly event was expanded to an entire month in 1976, when President Gerald Ford urged all Americans to 'seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.'
But what is a Black American?
Let us take a moment to gaze upon the visages of those individuals held up as most honorable and praiseworthy during this month. First, 'Negro History Week's' creator, Mr. Carter G. Woodson himself:
Our first 'black' president needs little introduction, but what of our first 'black' Secretary of State?:
Our first 'black' female Secretary of State:
First 'black' Attorney General:
First 'black' Cabinet Member (HUD):
First 'black' State's Attorney General:
First 'black' elected Congressman:
First 'black' governor:
First 'black' elected governor:
First 'black' mayor:
First 'black' elected mayor:
First 'Black' to command a U.S. ship:
First 'Black' to graduate from West Point:
First 'black' colonel:
First 'black' general:
First 'black' four-star admiral:
First 'Black' to be awarded a Medal of Honor:
First 'black' Secret Service agent:
First 'black' female pilot:
Blood bank researcher and first 'black' American Surgery Board member:
First 'black' cardiologist:
First 'black' physician to author a medical textbook:
First 'black' M.D.:
First 'black' man to earn a B.A.:
First 'black' woman to earn a B.A.:
First 'black' man to earn a Ph.D.:
First 'black' woman to earn a Ph.D.:
First 'Black' to graduate Harvard:
First 'black' female college professor:
First 'black' Ivy League president:
First 'black' licensed lawyer:
First 'black' federal judge:
First 'black' circuit court chief justice:
First 'black' Supreme Court Justice:
First 'black' female State Supreme Court justice:
First 'black' female federal judge:
First 'black' female judge:
First 'black' president of the American Psychological Association:
First 'black' Roman Catholic bishop:
First 'Black' to conduct a major symphony orchestra:
Topeka NAACP president and launcher of Brown vs. Board of Education:
First 'black' woman to earn a U.S. patent:
First 'black' female bank president:
Nor must we forget some of Black History's greatest pioneers. Again, its creator, historian Carter G. Woodson:
Legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass:
'The Great Accommodator' Booker T. Washington:
Sociologist and historian W.E.B. Dubois:
When the white-ordered 'one-drop rule' held sway, Mulattoes were forbidden from claiming their European heritage. Today, in a perfect inversion, the Afro-American community has seized hold of this same 'one-drop rule' in order to label even those octoroons with no visible African admixture 'Black.'
Fashion, too, has changed. Once, nearly anyone who could 'pass' for White did; today it has become well-considered to possess any and all DNA other than European. But in many places and times, Mulattoes have functioned as a separate caste, proud of their difference, proud to be Something Else. Alice Walker's daughter Rebecca, on our current president:
"Of course Obama is black. And he's not black, too," Walker said. "He's white, and he's not white, too. Obama is whatever people project onto him ... he's a lot of things, and neither of them necessarily exclude the other."
Christopher Hitchens, on Nov. 4, 2008:
"We do not have our first black president. He is not black. He is as black as he is white."
The identity of 'Mulatto' has fallen out of fashion in the U.S.; this blog does not see why it should. From his nearly 400-page 1918 investigation of 'The Mulatto in the United States', E.B. Reuter came to the following conclusion:
According to the strictness or the looseness of the definition of full-blooded Negro that is used, and the high or low degree of superiority that is accepted as the test, the twenty per cent of mixed-bloods among the American Negroes have produced eighty-five per cent or upwards of the race's superior men.
Our quick visual perusal of 'Black History Month's' great men and women may or may not lead us to a similar conclusion. But it is worth remembering that 'biracials' or 'mulattoes' have been discouraged for many years now from celebrating or even acknowledging their European blood and heritage. This blog takes the position that that is an unfortunate state of affairs. Sane racial policy would come back to a more finely-graded categorisation of the ethnic groups in America. We shall leave Mr. Reuter with the final word:
In any study and discussion of the race problem, scientific accuracy as well as a decent regard for simple truth requires that the writer indicates whether his discussion has to do with full-blooded Negroes or with the men of mixed blood. The failure to make this simple and elementary distinction, more than any other one thing, has made the vast bulk of the literature relating to the Negro in America either worthless or vicious.