Apr. 11, 2019

Reflections Dr. Louis Gates's Reconstruction: America After The Civil War

Last night I finished watching Dr. Louis Gates's PBS special Reconstruction: America After The Civil War. This 4-hour program focused on treatment historically of African Americans from the period of 1865-1915 in the United States. This afternoon, I would like to critique and reflect on what I learned from viewing this program.  #joesmokeblackthougths
Although the program opened the door of historical knowledge to those viewing the program related to the horrific treatment of our black ancestors. I was quite disappointed in the choices Dr. Gates made regarding who voices were chosen to present that history. Of course, Dr. Gates mentioned what some say are the big 4 HBCU's, Hampton, Howard, Tuskegee, and Fisk Universities. The only historical voices related directly to the discussion of black history from an HBCU came from Howard University historian Edna Green Medford. There was a detailed look at Fisk University's Jubilee Singers and the impact of those singers in reflecting a powerful positive visual image of African Americans nationally and internationally. Of course in discussing Reconstruction aftermath you must discuss the impact of Booker T. Washington and the miracle of Tuskegee Institute.
Yet many of the voices used to relay the message of Reconstruction: America After The Civil War had a heavy bend toward the ivy towered centers of the educational institutions from the northeast states. I also was quite disappointed that Dr. Gates spent no time at all building a case for reparations for African Americans. The fact that Dr. Gates failed to discuss how African Americans were purposely written out of the land grant programs that were on-going at the time of Reconstruction. How could he state that the image of "The New Negro" was devised by Dubois yet fail to mention that Alain Locke of Howard University actually was the developer of the black arts movement? That whole part was confusing you give W.E.B. Dubois his props but then you spend time degrading him as a stodgy Blackman who slept in his 3-piece suit. You have your, fellow Harvard University colleague, Cornel West extol the intellectual prowess of DuBois. Then, you allow Cornel West to say that he couldn't roll with Dubois because Dubois didn't like jazz or the blues. How could you allow that discussion without any historical context? Who's to say that DuBois wouldn't have enjoyed Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, or the other musicians and singers West mentioned? You talked about DuBois's Souls of Black Folks but failed to mention his seminal work on Black Reconstruction? Wasn't the program supposed to be about Reconstruction? That choice truly confused me.
You failed to mention the Race Riot in Atlanta in 1906. You did, however, mention the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898. That coverage of in-depth but you also gave Theodore Roosevelt's presidential reign a pass by not mentioning his blinking when white Americans came after him for inviting Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner in 1901. Roosevelt never invited another black man to the White House again. I also didn't understand why you didn't spend more time on the issue of black peonage? This system caused massive damage in the black communities in terms of loss of life as well as economic deprivation. Of course, you only had 4-hours to tell a story that lasted a period of 50 years, 1865-1915. So you did have to make historical choices. My wish would have been that you selected historians from the HBCU's to assist you in telling the story of Reconstruction: America After The Civil War. Also, it is no wonder why African Americans never received any financial reparations during the period of these 50 years. The economic and political cards north and south were stacked against them. In addition, so many of our black ancestors had no idea what the word "reparations" meant. It was easy for White America to pull the racist white wool over their eyes. I would recommend that every black person in this country block out 4 hours to watch this historic piece even with the show's deficiencies. Dr. Gates, you said it best during the program with this Orwellian quote, Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. We must as a black community be fully cognizant of our past history in this country. Or we will continually be doomed to repeat our failures.