Can I get an “I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD”?

It’s Black History Month!! I’ve grown up in a world where white America has identified the black race. As a child schools didn’t know anymore than I did. So as I got older I vowed to only uncover the beauty in being Black…. Black History Month pays homage to the African diaspora of profound people throughout history… So I would like to take the time and highlight the beauty of BLACK EXCELLENCE!

Black history month started off as Negro week during the 2nd week of February because it happens to be Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas’s birthday. James Brown is our Man of the day! I can remember my uncle dressing up in his platform shoes and whatever pimpish 70’s outfit he wanted to relive and play his records and one the songs he would play is James Brown.
James Brown wrote I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD which he literally wrote this on a napkin in his hotel room. It’s songs this like that still promote black excellence to this very day “Say It Loud” as the most influential single of the 20th century. But what cements the claim is the second half of that title: “I’m Black And I’m Proud.”
In 1967, African Americans were still called Negroes. That was the term used by civil rights leaders, by the respectable middle class, and by white people who had some modicum of respect for their fellow man. “Black” wasn’t an epithet, per se, but it was far from the preferred term, and was sometimes used as an insult. By the late ’60s, some efforts had been made to reclaim the word, and some inroads had been made. But James Brown blew things wide open with those five words: “I’m black and I’m proud.”

As uplifting as the language of the Civil Rights movement had been in the decade prior, the tone was one of equality—“we’re as good as you, we’re the same as you, we deserve the same treatment as you.” Brown’s statement was no less noble, but the tone was completely different. In this song, Brown loves being black, he’s proud of who he is, and he portrays his race as something to celebrate, not as an obstacle to work around. What’s more, Brown doesn’t simply ask the listener to feel the same way—he insists on it.

The result was an instant smash. The song went to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was one of Brown’s 16 no. 1 hits on the R&B charts. But the cultural impact was bigger than that: By the end of the decade, “black” had replaced “Negro” as the preferred term. That didn’t happen only because of “Say It Loud—I’m Black And I’m Proud,” but Brown put the phrase on everyone’s lips. The singer himself had become the public embodiment of Black Pride, even cutting off his iconic pompadour and going natural for several years following the song’s release.

Best, Black and Proud!

LaVonda Johnson
Economic Empowerment Coordinator & Direct Advocate