Niagara Gazette

February 28, 2014

HAMILTON: Our history -- lost, stolen strayed and given away

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Our city would be better off not celebrating Black History Month.

That is, if that old adage, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is true.

We supposedly spend the whole month learning about Marking Luther King, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglas Booker T. Washington and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and then we march off into March nearly as ignorant about the elements and essence of our history as what we didn’t know on the previous January 31.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the founders of Bethune-Cookman University, which she started in a very segregated Daytona Florida in 1904, and in an old building with few accoutrements and supplies. Prior to that, Booker T. Washington was working with Hampton Institute and broke away to start the Tuskegee institute. It is now a university, and both Bethune’s and Washington’s work still stand today.

Now, here’s the sad part. Bethune started her work a year prior to the Niagara Movement, the predecessor to the NAACP. Like Bethune, having limited resources but a worthwhile dream, three decades later, black and white citizens in Niagara Falls started the Niagara Community Center and Girls Club.

But 70 years later, educated and resourceful leaders of the Niagara Falls NAACP were riding shotgun when the “Center” closed its doors and remained closed for some seven years.

Sadder still, while only a few people in the community seem to care, fewer still care to do something about it.

PBS ran a very good series on Black History that was called, “Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed.” If they redid that series today, after ‘Strayed”, they would have to add “given away” to the title.

Even worse, even though New York state has the largest black population of any state in the nation, and we don’t have a single historically black college (or) university.

In fact, we have had a black councilman and blacks on the Niagara Falls Board of Education, on a lower level than what Bethune and Washington did by working against charter schools for children of their own community.

We couldn’t even keep up interest in Harriet Tubman and attend the meetings around the Underground Railroad Interpretative Center.

But it stands to reason that such apathy exists. Rabbi Ken Spiro of Jerusalem Online University said the best way to destroy Judaism is not to fight against it. He said that by embracing the people in a seemingly welcoming way, and, in essence, they will forget who they are and through what they came, and they will destroy themselves.

I think that he is right, and that we can see this happening here with our black population.

The evidence is in looking at the blacks that get the highest honors in the city, and they are those who are the ones that are most likely seemingly loved by the establishment that keeps those same individuals in the same place that their parents found them.

The local branch of the National Conference for Community and Justice has historically adorned the walls of the most compliant blacks that they know with the Martin Luther King Award, thereby missing the most essential element of that one character trait that was found in nearly everyone of whom we were supposed to learned during our so-called Black History Month, even those great souls that started the Niagara Community Center — and that is the courage enough to risk all that they are in order to do something for people that they don’t even know.

And then, many of those same people, who have lost the meaning of history, have stolen the dreams of their children, have strayed in the faith that their community had put into them, are the ones that have given our history away.

Again, we may be better off, under those conditions, not celebrating Black History Month at all. We don’t build on our history, we reward complacency and we repeat the mistakes of the past.

And we are where we are.

Contact Ken Hamilton at

Contact Ken Hamilton at