A Lesson in Black History from Stevie Wonder

To commemorate Black History Month, let’s do a retro music rewind to the year 1976 and the classic album by musical genius Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life. This Grammy award winner for album of the year is famous for the hits “Sir Duke” (a tribute to Duke Ellington), “Isn’t She Lovely,” and “I Wish.” When digging into the album’s deep cuts, you’ll find a song called “Black Man,” an 8-and-a-half-minute history lesson about the contributions made by black and brown people to American history. The timing seemed fitting, seeing as the album was released in the USA bicentennial year. 

In this funky exercise in consciousness raising, we learn about African-American figures, many of whom never got the attention they deserved in history class. People like the first man to die for the American flag (Crispus Attucks), the first heart surgeon (Dr. Daniel Hale Williams), the first clock maker in America and surveyor of the District of Columbia(Benjamin Banneker), the first man to set foot on the north pole (Matthew Henson), the founder of blood plasma and director of the Red Cross blood bank (Dr Charles Drew), the inventor of the first stop light and gas mask (Garrett Morgan), the founder of the city of Chicago (Jean Baptiste), and the woman who led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad (Harriet Tubman).  

Essentially, “Black Man” presents Stevie’s vision of a multiracial democracy, as expressed in the chorus:  

We pledge allegiance 
All our lives 
To the magic colors 
Red, blue and white 
But we all must be given 
The liberty that we defend 
For with justice not for all men 
History will repeat again 
Its time we learned 
This world was made for all men 
 

Words to live and learn by!  

For a full listing of the celebrated historical figures mentioned in the song, check out this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Man_(song) 

Youtube version of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEoE2UQXduA