Category Archives: Black Culture Series

Black Culture Series – Education and Intellectualism

As was hinted upon in the second part of this series regarding The Black Family, education has always been a focus of the demographic.

Since the 1970s educational statistics for the black demographic have greatly increased regarding high school graduation rates and college entrance and matriculation.

Unfortunately these positive gains are many times overshadowed by pervasive, negative depictions of blacks in media which serve to show black Americans as a demographic that lacks a desire to lift itself via education and hard work. A historical, cultural view of education and intellectualism in black America, however, refutes this depiction as a false stereotype.

As has been shared in this series and in this blog, black Americans have lived in this country for centuries as a majority enslaved population and minority “free” status. Both enslaved and free blacks sought an education due to the understanding that knowledge is power and has the potential to create vast opportunities for the individual, family, and community at large.

Unfortunately for many centuries black Americans were denied the opportunity to be educated. Many are aware that it was against the law in southern states to teach slaves to read. This was due to the belief that it would make a slave unwilling and unsuited for life content to be held as property. Free blacks in many areas were also denied the right of an education. They were “free” in name only and even though they were forced to pay taxes, they were not allowed to participate in society as “free” men and women.

Many “free” and slave states had laws that stated that black children were not allowed to attend public schools. Those families who could afford to do so would hire teachers and tutors to educate their children. In many free communities, the families would also would bind together and raise money for land and buildings to create their own schools. Often these private schools for black children were held in the local black church if one was available.

Here in Toledo, the Warren AME church in the 1850s began a private school for black children.  Due to the low population of blacks in the area, they were unable to sustain the school.  Local blacks in Toledo, including father Garland WHITE paid for private tutors when they could afford to do so.

In 1870 Mr. WHITE filed suit against the City of Toledo due to them excluding his daughter from attending the school in the ward of his residence.  As shared in the post regarding the History of the Toledo Public School district, the city integrated its schools starting in the 1870s.  Per a newspaper article published on March 3, 1871 in the “Weekly Louisianian” a black newspaper published out of New Orleans, LA – Mr. WHITE filed suit against TPS because of its segregation policy that excluded his daughter from attending the school in his ward.  The article, shown below, stated he owned property valued at $10,00.00 yet his daughter, due to her race,  was denied the right to attend, even though  he paid property taxes that supported that school.  More research is required but it can be concluded that since TPS integrated in 1873 that Mr. WHITE won his case.  This occurrence in our local area is one of many similar stories that shows the historical dedication to educational opportunities that black families have consistently maintained.

Many are aware that slaves were not allowed to learn to read as shared above.  Because of it being taboo, many blacks who were enslaved in the south had a yearning for knowledge and a desire to be educated and to educate their children.  They were aware, following the Civil War that being uneducated was to be at a disadvantage.  They were much more likely to be victimized due to a lack of literacy.  Many of the North’s black teachers, schools, and social/community organizations, galvanized around providing educational opportunities for newly freed slaves.  Abolitionist societies also formed new goals of sending white, former anti-slavery activists to the south to educate the newly freed slaves.  The federal government, during the Reconstruction period, opened “Freedman’s Schools” for black people to attend.  These schools were filled with blacks seeking an education.

 

Due to the lack of public education in the south for poor white children, even they were allowed to attend those schools during the Reconstruction era.  By 1870 there were nearly 2000 Freedman’s Bureau Schools in the south. They served to educate both children and adults.  Information obtained during the Reconstruction era showed that the areas with Freedman’s schools had a literacy rate, ten years post Reconstruction, that was 6 points higher than areas that had not been fortunate enough to have a Freedman’s school in their community.   Examples of this dedication to acquiring knowledge can also be observed by studying the lives of more famous black  historical figures – two of which were recently in the media:  Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois.

One of my favorite black men in history is Frederick Douglass.  As many are aware, he was born a slave.  When he was young the wife of one of his masters taught him the alphabet until her husband told her that doing so would ruin him.  Fortunately, she had succeeded a bit and his thirst for knowledge was born.  Young Douglass tricked white boys into teaching him to read and he would later go on to escape slavery and become the most well known black abolitionist in America in his era and even today.  After his escape from slavery and the publishing of his widely read “Narrative,” many whites could not believe that he had written the text himself due to the belief that blacks could not learn to write as eloquently as Douglass.  The “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” was written only seven years after Douglass escaped slavery.  He was one of the first to prove that skin color and ethnic origins was not a factor in intelligence and the ability to learn – a desire for knowledge and a dedication to that desire was all that was needed for him to become one of the most famous black activists in American history.

Dr. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B) DuBois is also a very well known black intellectual.  Dr. DuBois was born in 1868 to parents who had been free people of color.  He was the first black man to receive a PhD from Harvard University.  He also published one of the first historical studies on the role of blacks in a political era entitled “Black Reconstruction in America.”  His later work “The Philadelphia Negro” was the first sociological study of urban black Americans.  His longevity as a researcher, activist and writer is impressive and at its core he always exhibited the fact that black Americans, when not limited by intense race based prejudice and oppression, would have similar socio-economic successes in life as other American ethnicities.    Many who have heard of Dr. DuBois are usually aware of his views that are believed to have differed substantially from those of Booker T. Washington, in that he favored what was then called a “classical” education for black students instead of only an “industrial” education focused on specific trades.  This debate lives on in regards to both of these men and their educational philosophies and it is important to note that both Dr. DuBois and Washington believed that blacks were able to be educated in the same ways as whites and other Americans.  That if taught, blacks would learn, that racism and oppression were a factor not only in educational opportunities but also in economic and commercial opportunities.  And especially if knowledge was desired, it would be consumed.  Their differences primarily centered around politics, economics and opportunity, not a disagreement on the ability of black Americans to learn.

In summation, this modern era whereas more black Americans have completed an education than ever before, is a true testament to the cultural aspects of a dedication to education.  This attitude regarding education – that it is a means to an improvement in the condition of one’s life, has never faded in black America and is at an all time high.  Of course, like all socio-economic issues, education is an area that is still a subject of hot debate and where there are many ideas about ways to increase the quality of education in order to have more positive economic outcomes based on a particular type of education.  These debates harken back to those of Dr. DuBois and Washington mentioned above and are a lasting legacy of the culture’s focus on education within the black demographic.

Black Culture Series – The Black Family

I decided to start the series with what I feel is the root of black culture and that is the black family as a unit in America.

From the earliest decades of their existence in the colonies, black families have not always followed the typical “nuclear family” structure.  This is due to the fact that slavery and even for the free black population, indentured servitude and overt oppression, created barriers for black Americans in creating what is thought of as traditional two parent homes.  Slave families, as many are aware,  were routinely broken apart.  For the free/indentured families in early colonial American history,  many could face punishment as a result of a pregnancy due to the subsequent disability and being unable to work and inability to fulfill their service requirements.  Black indentured women who became pregnant  could also potentially be sold to another master as punishment, which could end the relationship with the father of the child.  “Free” children born to a black indentured mother could also receive an indenture period of up to 28 years and to be bound out to serve a different master other than that of his/her parents, sometimes very early in life – toddler or preschool aged.

As a result of these sorts of experiences, black families have always been based on both the traditional couple when those relationships could be maintained, along with an extended familial community, inclusive of, grandparents, aunts/uncles, and extended cousins who have always taken a heavily active role in family activities and especially child rearing throughout black American history.

Along with blood relationships, black Americans have a tradition of adopting non-related blacks into their family, who take on the role of additional kin. Children who were separated from their mothers would be adopted by this extended community, one created based upon the oppression faced by the demographic and the need to bind together and assist each other in difficult circumstances.  Together the biological family and the extended kin form the basis of what is commonly called “the black community.”

I frequently state to people in conversation in real life and online that there is not one single”black community.” The family and extended kin faced similar and different obstacles depending on the laws and attitudes about race in the geographic areas of where they were settled. However, universally, both before and after the Civil War, no matter the area of which they settled black Americans faced intense race based discrimination all over the country. This shared experience is what I believe constitutes the phrase “the black community” being used in a more generic form. The community, is an extension of the family, and as a result, many black Americans feel a familial connection to the entire demographic based on this shared history and the culture of binding together to be strong in the face of adversity shown to them based on race/ethnicity.

As stated in the introduction to this series, on the role of Family in black America I wanted to focus on some of the defining events of the demographic. The Great Migration began around 1910 and didn’t end until around the the 1970s. The vast movements of black Americans from the agricultural south to the urban industrial centers in the northern and western parts of country did not weaken the traditional aspects of the black family as described above. During this time period parents would potentially have to be split up for a period from their children other family members  or extended, unrelated kin would readily volunteer to fill the gaps left by those seeking better opportunities. An example of this cultural phenomenon is evident in the childhood of my own great grandfather Talmadge Traynum. Below is a picture of him as a little boy in approximately 1912-1914.

Talmadge TRAYNUM (approximately 1912-1914)

The Traynum family participated in the earliest wave of the Great Migration. Talmadge’s grandfather – Robert Traynum Sr. (also shown below in 1916 with his second wife Annie Williams and younger sister Mary Traynum) and his daughter Naomi moved from Anderson County, South Carolina to Toledo, Ohio around 1918-1919, not too long after these pictures were taken.

Robert TRAYNUM, Mary TRAYNUM, and Annie WILLIAMS TRAYNUM (1916)

In 1910 Talmadge, his mother, his grandfather, and his aunt and uncle –  Gertrude and Fletcher Dixon,  along with his cousin Mary, lived in the same household with each other. By 1920 Talmadge was living with his Step-Grandmother – Robert Traynum’s second wife – Annie shown in the picture above (his first wife Elizabeth Greer died around 1900) and with his aunt, uncle, and cousin mentioned above. He also lived next door to the Greer family headed by Willis Greer aged 68. I believe that Willis Greer was Talmadge’s maternal grandfather. So as a child of 12-13 years of age, his mother had moved north.  The extended family tradition, which was already established within his family unit came into play.  He was in the care of a step-grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin to play with and potentially another set of his grandparents next door to look after him. This tradition of the extended family looking out for children of the community is an important, longstanding cultural aspect of black America.

Between the end of the Great Migration and the new Reverse Great Migration, which has seen a huge amount of black Americans moving back down south due to, again, economic opportunities along with the country’s evolution on race and the end of legalized racism, many social conditions have been studied within the demographic that has allowed various people to assume that black Americans are not “family oriented” as a demographic in America.  One of the main statistics cited to prove that black people are not “family oriented” is that of “Out of Wedlock Birthrates” of blacks in America versus white Americans.  Since the 1960s there have been numerous studies and media stories about the damages of  single parent homes and especially of female led single parent homes in the black community.  A sense of nostalgia is shared and claims that “black people were better off” before the 1960s, and especially before the rise of feminism, are frequently mentioned in conversation, and online by both black and non-black individuals.

These people overlook the fact that marriage rates and out of wedlock births have always been higher for black Americans, usually three times higher, for blacks versus whites based in part, on the social conditions of black Americans starting in the early colonial period shared above.    A review of census information from 1850 per reference (1) below indicates that nearly half of black children enumerated lived with only one parent and that those children had a higher rates of living in an extended family situation versus white children.  Talmadge Traynum born in 1907 was born out of wedlock, yet his mother had a rather large support system of extended family, including both male and females who served as care takers and role models in his life as a child.  Due to living with his aunt and uncle, Talmadge benefited  from that traditional  nuclear family.  He also benefited from the relationship with his mother and grandfather.  Steven Ruggles in his work “The Origins of African American Family Structures” showed, based on historical research, that  black families starting in the 1880s, were much more likely to have single parents and live in an extended family situation in comparison to white families.

What is now called the “Reverse Great Migration” began almost immediately after the Great Migration ended in the 1970s.  Due to the defeat of Jim Crow and better economic opportunities, black Americans began moving back to the southern United States in large numbers, primarily to  growing, major metropolitan areas.  This Reverse Great Migration started in an era where focus on out of wedlock birthrates began to be seen as a major factor in a variety of social ills.  I’m sure many have read about all of the negatives that children born to single parents are “at-risk” for including being a criminal and imprisoned, having high drop out rates, being a teen parent, having psychological problems, trapped in a cycle of poverty, and the list could go on and on.   This statistic is used primarily to show that there is a “breakdown” of “the black family” even though historical research shows that single parenting and extended families have always been around in black America and are an embedded part of black culture.

The representation of black children suffering from single parent home, many times overshadows the role of the extended family in the lives of black children.  Per the reference (2) a high degree of extended family and non related kin networks seen in black families causes black single parents and and even married black couples, over all economic classes, to have much better coping mechanisms with dealing with the stresses of raising a family.  Even those who are poor and in an inner city community are much more likely than white single parents to have a large extended family support system that helps with child rearing responsibilities.  This extended family situation in many ways diverts the “at-risk” lists that are frequently written about in media.

Many times, statistics regarding poverty, educational achievements, and crime rates are used as “proof” that black Americans are not focused on family or that family is not an important part of our culture.  Yet people who make these claims fail to realize that poverty for black Americans was nearly 70% in 1960 – today poverty rates are about 25%.  They have declined by nearly 50%.  Educational achievement and high school graduation rates have increased dramatically for black American youth.  In the 1960s only about 50% of blacks had a high school diploma, today young black females graduate at a rate of 86% – equal to that of white America as a whole.  Black males graduate about 68% of the time.  Over 50% of black high school graduates go on to college.  In 2014 over 70% of black high school graduates went on to attend college.  Crime rates have fallen to historic lows since the 1980s and 1990s and especially have within the black demographic.  If the black family was declining or had lost its cultural tradition of upholding the value of an education, then all of the above trends would be worse than they are today.  The strength of the black family over the centuries, including parents, all of our aunties and uncles (shout out to my aunties and uncles who had a huge, positive impact on my own life) and our grandparents and great grandparents and cousins and “play” family have greatly contributed to the upward trajectory of black America since the end of the climax of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the decades since overt oppression and discrimination were lessened to a substantial degree, and this did not occur by any large amount until the 1970s and the enforcement of Fair Housing laws,  the black community and the black family have done well on most statistical factors.  Is there room for improvement – of course, I believe there is always room for improvement.  But the fact that the above statistical factors have improved for black America –  even amid the trials of  increased out of wedlock birthrates, the  final fight to end of a majority of institutional discrimination, the crack epidemic, and the ongoing drug war are a testament to the strength of the black family and the cultural importance of extended familial relationships in black America.

 

REFERENCES:

(1) Ruggles, Steven.  “The Origins of the African American Family Structure” American Sociological Review, 1994, Vol 59 (February :136-151)

(2) Wallace Gorum, Jacquelyn.  “Black Single Parent Families:  Coping and Functioning.”

 

 

Black Culture…What is Black Culture?

Hopefully this post will not seem controversial.   I feel that this post and a subsequent blog series which will be ongoing over a period of time,  will be relevant to the vast nationwide (and even worldwide) online community.  It seems people have a lot of ideas about what “black culture” is in regards to dysfunctional behavior, crime, the stereotypical view of what interests all or a majority of black Americans are “into,”  our musical tastes, speaking patterns, and others.  Many people, including friends, associates and unknown posters online frequently make false, stereotypical perceptions about what it means to “be black” and seek to define “black culture” as culture-less or totally encompassing of negative, criminal behaviors.  When these individuals are asked to define “Black Culture” they usually have no response except crime and a perceived lack of education by black Americans.

This post  is be the first in a series about “Black American Culture.”  I choose to use “Black American” as a description for myself and the demographic, though I have no objection to the label of “African American.”  My personal view is that I am an American who happens to be black.  Blacks in America have a unique, distinguished sub-culture that is almost entirely different from any African cultures (which are many) on that continent.  While I do not look down upon any African tribal cultures, I also recognize that not having an African culture to “own” does not mean that I am culture-less or that my culture as a black American is in any way “less” meaningful than those of the African continent.

With this series, I hope to educate readers about the fact that blacks in America do have a defined, beautiful, longstanding, inspiring culture. Our culture is just as good as any African culture.  Our culture is not steeped in dysfunction or in anyway inferior to any other ethnic or racial group on this planet.

This first part in the series will focus on the definition of “culture” and which cultural elements, attributes, and traditions are prominent in Black Culture in America.

Culture – Merriam Webster

a :  the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations

b :  the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also :  the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time <popular culture> <Southern culture>

c :  the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization <a corporate culture focused on the bottom line>

d :  the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic <studying the effect of computers on print culture><Changing the culture of materialism will take time … — Peggy O’Mara>

The above highlights the 5th definition of the noun of “culture” from Merriam Webster.  This definition will be the focus on the discussion of Black Culture in this series.  As shown above culture can be summed up to being the historical characteristics, behavior, activities, and practices of a particular group – in this case that group would be Black America.

As I have explored just by focusing on black Toledo via my genealogical research, there are many specific characteristics, behaviors, activities and practices that have been displayed by blacks in this area that coincide with the above for blacks in other parts of this nation.

My genealogical research has lead me to people and places in Black America and in America in general, that I had never known about.  They have been shocking, inspiring, agitating, and comforting.  I personally believe that I love genealogical research so much because it truly shows the commonality of all humans in this country especially in relation to being an American and in the desire to live a life of freedom.

Based on my studies, Black Culture is made up primarily of the following elements (in no particular order):

  • Creativity,
  • Faith,
  • Family,
  • Social Uplift/Activism,
  • Education and Intellectualism, and
  • Courage in the face of adversity/Determination

Below is a snippet of information that will be expanded upon in greater detail over the course of this series:

CREATIVITY

Nearly all forms of “American Music” were either created by or heavily influenced by black Americans.

Literature, from the oral and written tradition have had a huge impact on developing and defining black culture in relation to sharing the experiences and rich cultural background of black Americans

Visual and Performing Artists have also had a huge impact on disseminating what it means to “be black” in America.

Within black America there have always been debates about the creative aspects of the demographics – whether artists should create their art with the “race” in mind or whether artists should only focus on their art as a means to express their experiences of being black in America or just “being” and individual who happens to be black.  This internal debate shall also be explored in the series.

 

FAITH

In America today black Americans are considered the most religious demographic in the country.  About 90% of black people in America state that they are adherents to a particular religious faith or are “spiritual” in some way.  Faith has played an important part of the attitude of perseverance prevalent in black American culture.

Since the end of the Civil War in particular, there have been debates in black America about the role of religion and whether or not it is predominantly good or predominantly bad for the demographic.

The series will explore the current religious leanings of the black American public and trends in the adherence to particular religious faiths or denominations.  It will also explore those black intellectuals (both lesser and well known) and their religious faith.

FAMILY

Black Americans in this country, even during the trying centuries of slavery, have always had a deep connection to our families and close knit communities.  I would dare say that all black Americans would understand the concept of a “play” family where you bring a beloved friend into your life as a “sister” or a “brother” or a “cousin” and even reference these people in such a way that people like myself, a black American who does genealogical research, are always surprised to find out that “Auntie _____” actually was just your grandmother’s best “sister-friend!”

The series will explore the importance of family for black America and look at ways at how family has changed from the mid 20th century forward as a result of the Great Migration, the now Reverse Great Migration and other movements and events in between.  It will also look at the ways in which recent historical epidemics such as those with drugs of health conditions have had an effect on the black family.

SOCIAL UPLIFT/ACTIVISM

This aspect of black culture is one that is the most widely known about due to the dramatic climax of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movements in America in the mid to late 20th century.

Today social activism in many ways has changed dramatically since the 20th century.  This portion of the series will focus on the roots of activism in the black community, from the earliest beginnings of this country, to the present and the use of technology.  It will also focus on the lesser known role of black women in social uplift and activist organizations.  The role of economics as a part of social uplift will also be examined.

EDUCATION AND INTELLECTUALISM

It is commonly written and spoken about online, in media and via personal conversations that black Americans are not dedicated to educational advancement, even though statistical analysis from the 1970s does not prove this assertion.  Instead the results of standardized tests or in the past IQ tests are used to show a seemingly lack of education and intelligence amongst the black demographic.

The series will explore this history along with exploring some of the better known intellectuals and black artists who have spoken and written on this subject.

COURAGE IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY/DETERMINATION

Black Americans as a demographic have always been determined to enjoy all of our American freedoms as defined by the constitution.  This spirit of perseverance is evident in our demographic from the earliest eras of our country’s history and is a defining part of what it means to be black in America. Even when faced with overtly oppressive laws and social treatment, throughout the history of black America, a dedication to equality and courage in the face of adversity has been a prominent feature of the demographic.

The debate about what it means to “make it” as a black American will also be discussed in the series as it relates to our present time period.  What are the end goals of moving forward for the demographic?   What are we moving forward to?