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Letter from America with Ken Mufuka: Black history is badly taught

By Ken Mufuka

I was recently asked to speak about my philosophy of teaching Black History at a black college. I quickly found myself at odds with their world view. Black history has been taught in  such a way as to make black children ashamed of themselves, hate the country in which they were born, and regard every impediment in their way as institutional.

Ken Mufuka
Ken Mufuka

And yet a look at the founders and philosophers of our race gives us a different picture. Above everything else, Negro philosophers understood the fundamentals of life which such clarity that one can only assume that they were divinely inspired.

Now you will ask, what are the fundamentals? African Methodist Bishop Richard Allen  (1760-d 1831) put it this way. “Put God first.” Without that fundamental assumption all our struggles become selfish endeavors lacking a higher purpose. The AME is the largest black church in the US today and is the spirit behind many colleges, Allen University, Payne College and Bethune Cookman among many.

No matter what the circumstances, one must conduct oneself with grace and truth. That too is a fundamental which was used by Dr. Martin Luther king with devastating effect on his racist opponents. Though traced to Mahatma Gandhi, it was more recently the birth child of another Methodist, Mary Mcleod Bethune.

Civil rights icon Mary McLeod Bethune the first black American with a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall Collection.
Civil rights icon Mary McLeod Bethune the first black American with a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall Collection.

Mary, a South Carolinian, born the  15th child among 17, of slave parents, was the only one to go to school. The founder of Bethune college, 1905, Secretary for Negro Affairs in Washington under President F.D Roosevelt, she often found herself the only black person in a room full of white men and women in Washington. Not blessed by natural beauty, a woman with an ebony complexion, all the hazards of being mistaken for a maid, asked to “go fetch me a glass of water” by white men were a daily hazard.

Yet she carried this cross proudly and with such dignity that her presence was a blessing to those who were favored by it. This is what she said about his racial issue. “I have never been sensitive about my complexion. My color has never destroyed my self respect nor has it ever caused me to conduct myself in such a manner as to merit the disrespect of any person. I have not let (sic) my color handicap me.”

Long before Black History was taught at white universities, Howard university, Tuskegee and other colleges taught the history of African civilizations.

“Negroes,” Bethune said, “must recognize that they are the custodians and heirs of a great civilization.” It was in these black colleges that the discovery that the Egyptian civilization was a Negro civilization was made and that European historians had systematically removed that knowledge from their books.

The bigger point Bethune wanted to make is that a black child has nothing to be ashamed of. “We have given something to the world as a race and for this we are proud and fully conscious of our place in the total picture of mankind’s development.”

Twenty years before Dr. James Dewey published his monumental book on Experiential Education,  black colleges, and Bethune College among them, were practicing what was called the Christian based total person education.  

My own Lander University (1973) developed a theory and practice that makes sure that every degree and course of education leads directly to employment. Please do not laugh. Is that not what every black college has been about?  

Education for employment has been the cornerstone of black college education from the beginning. “No race that has anything to contribute to e markets of the world, “wrote Booker T. Washington, “is long in any degree ostracized.”

Washington got another fundamental correct also, as did the founding leaders of the black race, including Dr. King. The oppressor and the oppressed are bound by a law of nature, as if by unbreakable chains.

“There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable. The laws of changeless justice bind oppressor with oppressed.” (1895) Almost 70 years later, Dr. King wrote about white Americans and black Americans being in the same boat.  Either they learn to row together in harmony of the boat will sink.

The test in all this comes when one faces unfair provocation and challenge.  A white student once came to my office in a confrontational attitude. He made it clear that he did not approve of the grade he had received on his essay. As the white student was acting out, cutting out and making up, I quietly and with grace, assured him that I would up the grade if he showed me his source of information.

With much aplomb, the student produced a book entitled: “Introduction to Western Civilization.” I  kindly showed him the introductory page to the book.

The page revealed that the author of that book was Kenneth N. Mufuka. PhD. The student collapsed on my carpet. It had never occurred to him in his wildest dream that a man of color, standing before him, had some accomplishments behind his name.

But it was Juankel Shingles, a black brother who was planning to quit college, and was watching the scenario unfold, who benefitted the most. He told his mother later that my example had shown him the benefit of an education, and that he was returning to college with a more serious attitude.

“That African brother is a cool cat,” he told his mother. Juankel is now an attorney in North Carolina. What Juankell learned from me was what I had learned from Bethune. “I want Negroes to maintain their human dignity at all costs.” In any case, love shown through grace and a certain measure of indulgence (as I did to the white student) will go a long way much better than anger and a rebuff.

In all this, the motifs are the same. God comes first. That is where one’s strength to endure is derived from. Secondly, hate is a useless weapon. Carry love as a cross to be endured with equanimity. Education coupled with experience and grace spells responsibility.

If we teach these things, our children will hold their heads high under any provocations.

Ken Mufuka is a Zimbabwean patriot. He can be reached at mufukaken@gmail.com. His books are available from INNOV Books in Zimbabwe.