Web of Truth, by Darryl E. Owens
Web of truth , by DARRYL E. OWENS, published in the Orlando Sentinel & the Sun-Sentinel
Web-posted: 4:04 p.m. Feb. 21, 2001
A popular joke among black comedians goes like this: Figures
Black History Month falls in February -- it's the shortest month on
Actually, Carter G. Woodson, a
noted black author and scholar, established Negro History Week in
1926 -- in February. The week evolved into Black History Month,
established in 1976.
Though the facts may
steal sizzle from the quip, the subtext at which the joke hints
rings true: America has a long history of giving black history short
Open the average history textbook, and
more than 400 years of black history becomes reduced to a few
paragraphs about slavery, the civil rights movement, crooners and
Heisman Trophy winners.
Come Black History
Month, America trots out the moldy oldies -- Harriet Tubman, George
Washington Carver and Martin Luther King -- then stashes them for
another year once March roars in.
whites can go from cradle to grave with a thimbleful of knowledge
about black history is regrettable. That black children often do the
same, some say, is tragic.
"A knowledge of our
history provides children with a sense of continuity and belonging
that connects the present generation to generations past," says
Sylvie Taylor, an assistant professor at the California School of
Professional Psychology in Los Angeles.
knowledge, Taylor says, helps black children "to have a better
understanding of the present and its many challenges. The only way
that this can genuinely be accomplished is for our history to be
integrated into our everyday experience."
latest hope for accomplishing that, experts say, is the Internet.
What history books exclude, the Internet provides in megabytes. What
the song We Are the World did for African famine relief in
the mid-'80s, some suggest the Internet can accomplish in the 21st
century, feeding Americans famished for black
"The Internet is a virtually
unlimited resource for accessing information," says Taylor, author
of Books for Our Children, Books for Ourselves: An
African-American Parent's Guide to Reading Children's
Literature. "A number of excellent sites provide unique insights
into the African-American experience."
recent survey of Yahoo found 32,500 Web page matches for
"African-American history." Indeed, as the Internet has grown in
prominence and popularity, hundreds of sites filled with valuable
nuggets panned from plantation life, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow
era have sprung up.
Much of the material,
including historical photographs, sketches, slavery documents,
posters, spoken and written speeches, and artwork, has been
digitized for the enlightenment of the serious researcher and the
casual history buff.
However, it's not only
the volume of information that sets the Internet apart, supporters
say. It's the type of information. Often, the chronicles available
aren't the Disney-fied version of American history traditionally
taught in America's schools.
sanitized versions in many history books, the history of slavery and
segregation on the Internet is almost palpable, like the crack,
crack, crack of the overseer's whip.
instance, at Journal E -- journale.com/withoutsanctuary/main.html --
visitors see the disturbing legacy of lynching through a display of
photographs and postcards taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout
America. You reel at the sight of a fresh-faced cherub perched atop
his daddy's shoulders in the thick of a reveling crowd enjoying a
Or surf to the Schomburg Center for
Research in Black Culture -- www.nypl.org/research/sc/sc.html --
where a wood engraving, printed in Harper's Weekly, shows
enslaved Africans on the deck of the bark Wildfire as they
were brought into Key West on April 30, 1860. You sense the
powerlessness of stunned newly minted African-Americans, soon to
stand as a human picket fence on the auction
Similarly, slave narratives, such as
that of Ann Ulrich Evans from Mobile, Ala., featured at Gem Online
-- www.slavenarratives.com/narr/samp.htm -- offer peeks into the
grim realities of plantation life and the quasi-freedom blacks
endured after the Civil War. In her narrative, Evans describes the
midnight raids of the Ku Klux Klan and innocently wonders, "how come
dey [sic] so mean to us colored folks. We never did nothing to dem
It's American history, all right,
welts and all.
While chronicling the bad and
the ugly of black history in America is critical, experts are
equally psyched over the accounts of the good. That helps "undermine
the notion that learning and knowledge are Āwhite,'" said Alphine W.
Jefferson, a professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio and the
former director of black studies at Southern Methodist University in
On the Web, contributions of blacks
who can't do 360-degree dunks, moonwalk or shatter glass with an
octave-spanning singing voice are honored. A site such as Faces of
Science: African-Americans in The Sciences --
www.lib.lsu.edu/lib/chem/display/faces.html -- offers profiles of
little-known black scientists who developed big inventions. "In a
capitalist and commercial America," Jefferson says, "it is essential
that we show young people that there is another currency --
Some of the better Web sites are
culled from the rich repositories owned by government agencies and
museums. The Library of Congress, for instance, excerpts its
African-American Mosaic collection --
www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/intro.html -- that surveys the
library's full range of collections, including books, periodicals,
prints, photographs, music, film and recorded
And, though the subject is black
history, experts say the information should be of interest to
everyone. After all, experts say, you can't segregate black history
from what we call American history and present an honest
Just recently, Carlton Holley, a New
Jersey entrepreneur, launched Bunchie.com/, a site that promotes
underpublicized books and music, largely by black authors and
artists. He's hoping to use the Internet to turn people onto
extraordinary works that may slip through the mainstream cracks.
People, both black and white.
learns about black history is at the same time learning about
American history, and about world history," he says. "As human
beings we should have a quest to learn about other cultures that
make up the world in which we all live. This cultural enlightenment
may serve to enrich our own lives."