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COLUMN: Discover success as a part of blacks' history

By: Rachel Stovall
February 7, 2018 Updated: February 7, 2018 at 8:19 am
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The origin of Black History Month can be traced to Carter G Woodson, the child of two former slaves who achieved much success. Although primarily self-taught, Woodson was the second African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard. He created "Negro History Week" in 1926, according to the NAACP. This would later would become Black History Month.

As much as I like Black History Month, I was a little ambivalent about talking with you about it. I am concerned that looking back in history reinforces negative stereotypes of the black community. We've heard about slavery. We know about the Jim Crow era. We learned about the civil rights era. We talk often about the struggles, past and present, of the black community.

But how much do we know about black success?

I 'd like to guide you through a short narrative of black success in America. Spotlighting individuals leaves an open door to the black-equals-poor story. That view is not an accurate lens through which to see the black community. Despite our challenges, success is our mainstream. That may be a new idea for you.

Education:

Since 1837, historically black colleges and universities have been institutions of higher-learning in the U.S. These were formed with the intention of primarily serving the black community but are inclusive. This was because the majority of predominantly white institutions of higher-learning did not allow African-Americans to enroll during Jim Crow.

Today, 101 historically black colleges and universities institutions are in the U.S. Out of those schools, 27 offer doctoral programs and 52 schools provide master's degree programs. Most offer bachelor degrees and associate degrees as well. They are integrated.

Business:

Black businesses originated before 1865. The beginning of emancipation/civil rights permitted black businessmen to operate. By the 1890s, thousands of small businesses had opened in urban areas. Rapid growth of black business came in the early 20th century, as the increasingly rigid Jim Crow system of segregation robbed African-Americans of the right to do business with everyone.

Segregation, however, moved urban blacks into a communities large enough to support business establishments without needing nonblack consumers. We also had our own national chamber of commerce - The National Negro Business League. This league promoted by Booker T. Washington had 600 chapters, reaching every city with a significant black population. After exponential growth, according to the census, today there are millions of black-owned businesses.

Middle class:

The black middle class has been around for a long time. Even though all dominant political discourses and pop culture narratives claim that the black middle class is a post-1960s-civil rights development, there has been a black middle class in America since before slavery ended. Since the '60s, those numbers have ranged from 40 percent to today's high of 75 percent, according to the census.

Shocked? There has always been a discrepancy between what the wider culture thinks about black incomes and what actually occurs. This is because past laws kept African-Americans from moving or improving their homes with loans. Despite having good income, black residents were refused bank, VA and FHA home loans. This process, called red-lining placed middle class black families right beside those who were impoverished. Areas looked bad and those outside of the areas assumed that all who lived in the ghetto were poor. Census data showed the truth.

Besides the national view, I encourage you to look into our local history. Colorado Springs has a rich story of positive contributions by black residents.

Local history:

At the Pioneers Museum, the "Any Place North and West: African Americans in Colorado Springs" exhibit explores the way that black people helped to shape Colorado Springs. The exhibit includes beautiful pictures and 150-year-old artifacts gathered by historian Lulu Pollard, among others.

The Pioneers Museum is at 215 S. Tejon St. Admission is free.

Buffalo Soldiers were African-American military units back in 1866. Local historians say they were a vital part of the local military, making up 20 percent of the cavalry. A monument showcasing maps of the Buffalo Soldiers is in Memorial Park, 1605 E. Pikes Peak Ave.

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Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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