Detroit Today

The Missing Links Between Black History And American History

Thursday February 19, 2015

What are the missing links between Black history and American history? Host Bankole Thompson is joined by a panel of experts to unpack the relationship between the two narratives and how they function together. Guests include the Principal of Paul Roberson Malcolm X Academy Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Juanita Moore, Reverend of the Galilee Missionary Baptist Church Tellis Chapman, Wayne State University Lecturer in Africana Studies Kefentse Chike, and Wayne State University Professor Kidada Williams.

During the discussion of African-American history, and specifically the civil rights movement, Reverend Chapman stresses the important role played by religious leaders during that time.

“They put their feet on pavement, they braved the elements, they withstood the powers that were and, for that matter, the powers that be," says Chapman, "and were it not for such brave and courageous leaders of the faith-based organizations around the world, particularly in the United States, then we would not have the history that we do have and we would not have what accomplishments we have and appreciate."

The panel also examines the prominence of Detroit, a city that's served as the backdrop for many crucial moments throughout Black history in the United States.

"In many ways Detroit has led the nation, but I think that Detroiters themselves don’t realize what a major role they have played nationally," says Moore. Williams agrees, but also expresses concern over whether the city's young residents are even cognizant of Detroit's legacy:

"I think Detroiters have a sense of this history, but there are times I wonder and I worry whether or not some of that’s been lost by some of the younger people. So, I worry that young black Detroiters don’t know the rich history of protest and struggles and advancement of the city," says Williams.

But the panelists say talking about teaching Detroit's youth of the rich and varied African-American history here isn't enough. Dr. Robinson remembers one particularly impactful instance of speaking with one of his students.

"I had a student say to me once, ‘Dr. Robinson, isn’t there someone beyond the Big Three?’and I say, ‘What do you mean the Big Three?’ and she said to me, ‘Martin, Rosa, and Malcolm.’," says Robinson. "These are three of the general characters that are brought out every February. We’ve got to expand our understanding of not only the United States, but the diaspora in the world," he adds.

Chike adds that poignant conversations about Detroit's Black history, an inclusive education model and taking action to preserve that legacy is when things can move beyond theory and make a real difference.

"I think the key is, again, moving from theory or knowing, to being and doing," says Chike, "and I simply challenge people of African descent to be African period."