When you cease to be independent and take on a publisher, they always claim the money you make from your intellectual property. Because ASALH was founded a century ago by Carter G. Woodson, we make approximately $22K a year from the intellectual property of years past. $22k does not sound like much, but it is half of what it takes to publish a decent journal. Moreover, it is the equivalent of a 2.2 percent return on a million dollar endowment. This is the modest fruits of our intellectual heritage, but if the journal goes to the University of Chicago as our publisher, they will get this money. What did Woodson do to the University of Chicago for us to pay them the fruits of his labor?
Folks have asked me why do I choose to look at it like that? We would still own the property that produces the fruit, and they can make more money than we can, they say. So, I say, your father left you an orchard and you will continue to tend to the trees and harvest the fruit, but you have taken on people, white people, to be your boss, to manage your labor and sell your fruit at the market. In this arrangement, based on their supposed greater ability to manage and sell, they want not simply a share of this year’s crops they want control and a share of the returns of all previous years’ too in the form of dried fruits and preserves. This they say is fair because you lack the ability to promote and sell your own product. You are the labor and they are the management, and so they will increase your return if you focus solely on providing labor. With a straight face, educated people ask me what is wrong with this.
Rather than learn how to make the orchard more profitable, you throw your hands up. And some simply want the fruit to bear the more prestigious stamp of the university that still exploits and manipulates black folks in Chicago. Rather than learn how to increase the profit from your birthright, you take on a boss to compensate for your shortcomings and to make what you think you deserve. And you call yourselves as educated, fit to make your way in the world, and see yourselves as giving intellectual direction to whom? If this the state of our leadership, why not put the HBCU’s and black churches under white management? Some people say that would do more for black youth and the black community, too. It is what they say about black children raised in white homes, is it not? So after of century of publishing independence, it’s now too hard? What neither the Great Depression nor the Great Recession could end, you hand to others because you refuse to learn how to thrive in a new age? You do not even know that we doubled the revenue of the journal in the heart of the Great Recession because you ran to white folks before you even learned to read the financial reports, before you even knew what a publisher actually is.
Is this not a missing chapter from the Mis-Education of the Negro, or what? Is it not proof that elite white institutions are still warping the minds of otherwise intelligent black folks? Is it not proof that many of the professors and alums of HBCU’s are not as dedicated and capable as they like to think?
All those on the board of ASALH who are supporting this move will have to live down this impending decision. Selling out the Journal of African American History during its centennial year will be your public legacy. The reverse reparationists will be written about in many places, including the pages of the Journal of African American History when it returns home. And yes, we will bring Woodson’s journal home.