Why Are We Still Segregating Black History in February?Roundup
tags: segregation, African American history, Black History Month
Christina Proenza-Coles has a dual doctorate in sociology and history and is the author of the forthcoming book American Founders: How People of African Descent Established Freedom in the New World (NewSouth Books).
Conventional history has often confined African-Americans to antebellum slavery and the civil rights movement, compacting hundreds of years and millions of lives into the stories of Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. The history of black America has been relegated to Black History Month, as though the history of black people in this country is separate and distinct from American history. Black History Month was created to make visible the often-overlooked presence of African-Americans in U.S. history and has served an important function. However, the persistence of segregated histories masks a critical truth: there is no American history without African-American history.
Up until the early 19th century, most Americans arrived in the New World as slaves. Africans preceded the English in the Americas by a century and arrived in numbers that far exceeded European migrants. In the Americas at large, involuntary African immigrants outnumbered European arrivals by a factor of 4 to 1 until 1820.
While American history was founded in slavery, it cannot be reduced to slavery. People of African descent were among the first explorers, settlers, and defenders of this nation. In 1524 Spain commissioned the Afro-Portuguese navigator Esteban Gomez to explore the Hudson Valley; in 1528 the Afro-Spaniard Esteban Dorantes traversed from Florida to Mexico. The first permanent transatlantic settlers in what became the United States were enslaved Africans who fled a failed Spanish colony in Georgia in 1526, 81 years before Jamestown’s 1607 founding. Baptismal records from 1606 announce the birth of an Afro-American child in Spanish St. Augustine, and the Spanish colonist Isabel de Olvera, the daughter of African and Amerindian parents, accompanied the Oñate expedition from Mexico City to Santa Fe in the early 1600s, which we know because she made an affidavit attesting to her free status.
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