The United States of America is crystal clear: they hate Africans, African Americans, and Afro Latinos and that statement (sadly) can be backed up by hard, cold facts. This act was designed to break our spirits but the fact-of-the-matter is that our people created opportunities of their own designs.
Our people didn’t cower in the corners or hang their collective heads and cry. For example, when African American doctors were banned from joining the American Medical Association, they answered back by forming the National Medical Association in 1895; 1895—you have to respect the vision and grit of our ancestors. The very growth of social groups, fashion shows, businesses, and African American colleges owe their existence to the fact that white-only institutions refused to allow people of color access.
So what happened seems like it’s an episode from “The Twilight Zone” where the African American/Afro-Latino cultures flourished despite the dangerous acts of deeply entrenched racism that existed. Our very presence is an act of resistance and our ability to rise above the murk (again, and again) demonstrates the level of our resilience. This and more is clearly laid out in PBS’s “Making Black America: Through the Grapevine.”
This is a well-constructed four-part series available on PBS. It’s produced, written, and hosted by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., with directors Stacey L. Holman and Shayla Harris. No stranger to the subject, Gates has created more than a dozen documentaries including the 2021’s Emmy-nominated “The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song.” Gates is also the host and producer of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots.”
No one can label Gate a pessimist. On the contrary, he’s a self-described optimist and beautifully transparent about the need to produce projects like this not just for those alive but for future generations. We all know that it takes a village to break down the inaccurate and hurtful stereotypes of our people.
In the series, Gates compared the pockets of community, safe havens, to those that were carved out by Jewish Americans and other ethnic groups who were not allowed employment and other things needed to flourish in U.S. society.
Long before there was social media, information was gathered and shared throughout our communities. Some through African American newspapers and other ways through the “grapevine” of people passing along that vital information.
One of the great things that the series breaks down is “the formal and informal networks which, for centuries, have connected Black Americans to each other through the underground, not just as a way of spreading the news, but ways of building and sustaining” Black communities, said Gates.
What you are left when watching “Making Black America: Through The Grapevine” is just how creative our people are. When faced with lemons (which is what our experience has been
from the very beginning of our journey here to these shores) we constantly churn out lemonade.
The struggle and the dangers were life and death—serious. That’s the inspiration behind the “The Negro Motorist Green-book,” the 1936-’67 guidebook to businesses that would serve African American travelers because a mistake under Jim Crow segregation could have left the traveler dead.
Our people are the very picture of ingenuity. I tip my proverbial hat to all of the skilled and cunning African American entrepreneurs who make it happen! We find a way where there is no way. The guide listed 7,000 African American businesses, across the country, from restaurants to hotels/boarding houses to the beachfront, anywhere that was safe for us to gather.
Other safe places were the community barbershops and hair salons, a spot that brings up those tender, sentimental feelings.
African Americans were also barred from trade, recreational associations, and other professions so they formed their own using the word “national” in the titles to politely signify the membership was African American; those institutions include the National Dental Association and the National Brotherhood of Skiers.
Now to the plethora of sororities, fraternities, and fraternal orders that contribute greatly to African American networking starting in 1775 with the Massachusetts lodge started by Masons from Ireland after colonial whites rejected Hall and a handful of other men of color for membership.
African American women have always stood out as shrewd business owners including the 20th-century business mogul Madam C.J. Walker; inventor and philanthropist Annie Malone, and Maggie L. Walker, who were America’s first female bankers who concentrated their efforts on the needs of the working class.
And in the lucrative world of fashion and beauty, the Ebony magazine-sponsored Ebony Fashion Fair runway shows stepped boldly into an industry that refused to use African American models and designers. This annual event, which was staged nationally and outside the U.S. for five decades, did good work and raised millions of dollars for charity.
There’s so much to like and even more to love. Don’t miss PBS’s “Making Black America: Through The Grapevine.”