A Great and Mighty Walk

Introduction to African American Studies has definitely proved to be one of my more interesting classes at University of Houston thus far. We participate in discussion, debate, and implement media to gain an understanding of our coursework.  

This past Monday, we watched “A Great and Mighty Walk”, an enlightening documentary by Dr. John Henrik Clarke, narrated by Wesley Snipes. Dr. Clarke was an activist, historian, and pioneer of Africana studies. He was born on a sharecropper farm in Union Springs, Alabama on New Year’s Day, 1915. He attended a one room schoolhouse during his childhood, his only access to literature in the local University Library or secondhand bookstores. Though his family did not have much money, he remembers his upbringing as “culturally rich”.

Though Dr. Clarke always possessed high intelligence, he dumbed himself down to fit in with the ‘cool kids’, like many children do today.  His teachers let him get away with this until his fifth grade teacher, Miss Evelina Taylor.  She pulled him to the side and said, “it is better to be right and march into hell than to follow fools into heaven.” This reprimand instilled a respect in Dr. Clarke, for himself, and for Miss Taylor.  Seeking to impress her, he asked a Caucasian man that he worked for if he knew where to find a book about Black people’s history.  The man responded, “I’m sorry, John, but you come from a people who have no history.” Dr. Clarke did not take this to be true, instead searching for his own truth, unfolding the legacy of traditional African societies, African history in America, and creating a new paradigm of focus for scholars to come.

It would take much more time and space to enact a detailed analysis of Dr. Clarke’s life and works.  Just to touch quickly on one of the more important points, he spoke in the film about Constantine’s decision to make Christianity the religion of the entirety of the Roman Empire around 325 A.D.  The meeting where this decision was implemented was called the Council of Nicea.  This is very important to Africana Studies because at the Council of Nicea, all of the African saints were taken out of Christianity and soon after, Michaelangelo was commissioned to create a European image of Jesus Christ, which he based on one of his relatives.  Depictions of Jesus before this time are shown to be dark-skinned with coarse textured hair.  Dr. Clarke comments on this that, “If you are a child of God, and God is a part of you, in your imagination, God is supposed to look like you.  And if you accept the image of another people, you are the spiritual prisoner of that other people.”  In saying this, he is not picking a bone with there being a European depiction of Jesus, but in the lack of the dark-skinned original image.  After all, Christians do proclaim to believe in the Bible, and it clearly presents Jesus as having skin like bronze and hair like wool.  I have heard many people argue to this that the color of Jesus’ skin does not matter, only his works do. That argument does not hold water because it would mean that we should disregard history and the words of the Bible itself because it ‘does not matter’?  So, if one part of it does not matter, then none of it should matter, right?  Because, who chooses what matters and what does not?  I think instead, we should really value the truth, even if it does not go along with what we have been taught.


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