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488 Years Later:
Resources for Black History Month

For Sunday January 26, 2014

Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year A)

Isaiah 9:1–4

Psalm 27:1, 4–9

1 Corinthians 1:10–18

Matthew 4:12–23

           On Monday January 20 Americans will observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983. Beginning in 1986, the third Monday in January has been a federal holiday to honor the birthday of the great pastor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and civil rights leader.

           Close upon its heels, February is Black History Month.

           The first African slaves were brought to what's now the United States by Spanish explorers in 1526, to a settlement in present-day South Carolina that lasted only three months, and then again in 1565 to another settlement that founded Saint Augustine, Florida.

Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize winner.
Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize winner.

            Thanks to a letter from the Jamestown colonist John Rolfe, we also know about the first blacks in British North America. In a letter of January 1620 to Sir Edwin Sandys, the treasurer of the Virginia Company back in London, Rolfe describes how in late August of 1619, a pirate ship named the White Lion landed about thirty miles from Jamestown. He writes that the "Comandor" of the ship, Captain Jope, "brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualls (whereof he was in greate need as he pretended) at the best and easyest rates they could."

           Four days later, another pirate ship called the Treasurer arrived with more Africans. These blacks ended up in America after being bought by Portuguese slave traders in Angola, then stolen by pirates off the coast of Mexico, which pirates later landed near Jamestown.

           That makes for nearly 500 years of black history in America. The US census of 1860 identified four million slaves in America.

           It's taken a long time, but we've come a long way. And we still have a long way to go. I'm grateful for MLK Day and Black History Month as opportunities to reflect on our country's past, present, and future as it pertains to America's 40 million black citizens.

           A few years ago I observed Black History Month by reading some primary materials on the subject. Of the many good options, I chose three slave narratives: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), the Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850), and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) by Harriet Jacobs.

           To help you honor Black History Month, and to kick start your own thinking, here are some books, films, and poetry reviewed at JwJ. Click on the links for full reviews. ---dan


Manning Marable, Pulitzer Prize winner.
Manning Marable, Pulitzer Prize winner.



Image credits: (1); (2); and (4) The National Democratic Institute.

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