Abolitionist, orator, author, diplomat, politician and polemicist Frederick Douglass is a courageous African American intellectual who, through his literary works, provided hope for the future. In his 1845 autobiographical book entitled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Douglass eloquently articulated that hope as he reflected on his life as a slave in Maryland. Had Douglass not penned his autobiography, we would have never known the full scope of brutalities, injustices, hypocrisies and humiliations he endured in his quest from slavery to freedom nor would we have understood the level of brilliance, creativity and bravery required of him in order for him to teach himself, and other slaves, to read and write in a system that treated the American Negro as chattel. Moreover, Douglass’ scathing condemnation of slave-holding Christianity provided hope to seminarians and Christians currently grappling to understand and explain this nation’s racial divide.
Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Week, which later became Black History Month, often called a man ahead of his time, is another African American intellectual who, through his classic literary works, courageously offered hope for the future. In his works The Education of the Negro and The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter gave diagnosis and prescription for that hope. Carter’s critique of white American institutions of higher learning as instruments of mis-education with regard to heritage and culture is powerful, and his 1933 remedies for correcting said educational injustices are relevant and worthy of 21st century consideration. Throughout the book The Mis-Education of the Negro, Woodson warned that African American attempts to imitate white American culture would harm them. Moreover, he emphasized that imitation would not only do harm, but ultimately lead to death. Carter died in 1950, but left hope to present-day African Americans by encouraging them to learn their history, educate themselves through African American institutions of higher learning, own businesses and give back to their communities.
From a young man until his death in 1967, author and poet Langston Hughes epitomized courageous heroism as he condemned racism and celebrated African American culture during the Harlem Renaissance and early Civil Rights eras. Langston Hughes gave this generation hope for the future. Hughes published more than thirty-five books of poetry, fiction, children’s poetry, musicals, operas, autobiographies and short works during his lifetime. It is his poetry that is particularly uplifting. A downtrodden people can find hope in such classic poems such as “Mother to Son,” “I, Too,” and “A Dream Deferred.” Hughes’ poems are often quoted in prayers and sermons. Much of Hughes’ poetry about Jesus and Christianity is from an African American perspective and is particularly comforting. In the poem entitled “Bible Belt,” Hughes dared to declare that it would be too bad if Jesus were to come back black. Many churches would not accept him because race, and not religion, was glorified in them. In the poem entitled“Who but the Lord?,” Hughes lamented that the only person who was able to protect poor black people from police brutality was the Lord.
The courage of our past gives us hope for the future. African Americans have labored, fought and died heroically in order to give hope to future generations. Through their classic narratives and literary works, African American intellectuals Frederick Douglass, Carter G. Woodson, and Langston Hughes are three of many African Americans who have given this generation courage and hope. In their life experiences, too, is evidence of a loving God whispering from the pages of scripture “I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Angela Lee Price is a 2005 recipient of the Simmons College of Kentucky Future African American Leaders Scholarship. This article was written initially to fulfill scholarship requirements.
Published in the Jesus Saves Ministries Newsletter - September, 2005
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