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"Black History: Lost Stolen or Strayed -- Twenty Years Later": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1988 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On Black reality not significantly improved 20 years later.

Digital ID



man001060. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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"Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed--Twenty Years Later by Roosevelt Fitzgerald
In 1968, CBS aired a documentary titled: "Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed." The program was hosted by Bill Cosby. There were five easily identifiable segments to the show. The first presented a general introduction of some few of the contributions which black Americans have made to the American and, in some cases, world experience. Not all of the offerings were world shattering. Some might well fall into that generic category of "trivia pursuit." We learned of James Beckwourth who was a mountain man, fur trapper, scout and interpreter in the early days of non-Indian encroachments; of Norbert Rilleux who invented a sugar refining process; of Jan Ernst Metzeler's development of a machine for making shoes; of Dr. Charles Drew who developed blood plasma; of Deadwood Dick who was a cowboy, sometimes outlaw and alleged chum of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams who successfully performed the first open-heart surgery and of many, many more. As those names and events rushed into our reality, I, and I imagine many thousands.of others throughout America, could not resist saying over^aM over again: ' ‘"I didn't know that."
The second portion of the program involved interviews with psychiatrists, anthropologists, sociologists and other social scientists who were asked the question: "What effects, if any, does the absence of such information from school text books have on the self-concepts of black children?" To a person, they agreed that the effects were indeed harmful. They were harmful because black children were not provided opportunity to see black people, with whom they could identify, involved in anything worthwhile enough to be included in those textbooks. The inference was that black people had not done anything worthy of inclusion.
Of course, textbooks had chapters pertaining to slavery and the Civil War
era. There was even mention of Booker T. Washington, the acknowledged "spokesman
of black America at the turn of the century. Some texts, the more liberal kinds, even mentioned the trumpet player Louis Armstrong and Jackie Robinson, the first black to play major league baseball. However, all that was written about blacks, excluding slavery, would not fill a single page of a U.S. History text. Perhaps the inclusion of George Washington Carver, the agriculturist, carries a subliminal message: "Peanuts."
The third segment had to do with the "Golden Age" of Hollywood. Hundreds of movies were produced during that period and many of them had black bit players providing comedic relief. They were the butts of many jokes and were portrayed as being lazy, shiftless, dumb, irresponsible, chicken-stealing, watermeloneating, craps-shooting, no-good, low-down, dirty-bellied sapsuckers who were afraid of graveyards, ghosts, lions, the weather and "de lawd." In the minds of many Americans, those characters epitomized black America and provided them with stereotypical views of a whole race of people. It made life easier for many by enabling them not to have to consider a person on his own merits but, rather, to simply be able
The fourth segment presented an interpretation of reality by a small group of black women club members who talked about prejudice and discrimination and the ill-effects it had on their lives. They said, straight out, that the thing that was most disastrous to black people in the United States was racism. They talked about having gone to school, being on the honor roll, graduating with honors and still being unable to get a decent job at a decent salary. They talked about being good Christians and making all the right moves but when it came time for equal treatment, the system was always eager to call a "spade a spade."
The fifth and final segment was the most disturbing. The scene was a storefront school in Philadelphia--the city of "brotherly love." The students
ranged in age from about two to about five or so. They were black and both male
and female. Their teacher was a black man about thirty-five or forty years old. He financed the school out of his own pocket and taught the children to be proud of their blackness. He taught them to be independent, not to be pushed around, not to be called "boy," "negro," "girl," "uncle," and the like. He taught them to respect themselves and others but not to respect anyone who did not respect them. He told them that there would be times when they would not be treated fairly or given the grades they had earned simply because they were black and would be unwilling to sell themselves simply for a moment's acceptance by someone who might hate their guts. He told them to always tell the truth, to study hard because even though they might not get the grades--they would be in school to learn.
The teacher spoke of things borne out of a lifetime of terrible experiences in a society where the color of a person's skin still made a difference. It shocked America. "How could he be that angry?" "What did we do wrong?" Such people should read Black Like Me.
Twenty years later, how is America different? There still isn't much about blacks in the textbooks of America. We've gotten rid of the old stereotypes irT the movies and replaced them with new ones--pimps, pushers, hookers, dishonest preachers, jive-talking, fast-walking, knife-toteing, welfare-cheating, womanbeating, mean, no-good, low-down, dirty-bel1ied sapsuckers who are cowards in war and afraid of graveyards, ghosts, lions, the weather and "de law." Anyone who is unfamiliar with the pervasive inequities in the workplace must surely be "The Brother From Outer Space." If you think the black self-concept is still not being chisled away, take a look at the next five special inserts in local newspapers. A few weeks ago, there was a special section having to do with health care. Twenty-eight pages. Nearly a hundred photographs. Not a single black person. The Review Journal, on February 23rd had a special section called "Spring--!988 Bridal Book." There were seventy one photographs--no blacks.
Do a "content analysis" of all that you see. You be the judge. Next week, something light.