Post Office Box 723
Amite, Louisiana 70422
31 December 2009
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
I hope this communication finds you, your family and your pursuits doing exceedingly well. The new decade has arrived. Dr. King’s Birthday and African American History Month will be upon us shortly. Have you ever wondered about the origin of the term Afr-i-can Amer-i-can? It and the Dr. King Holiday are closely connected. I have enclosed a concise history of the term’s creation for your review. You will also find enclosed a Copyright Registration Certificate for The Black History Calendar, the publication that contained the poem “ I Can”, where the terminology was originally suggested. Because of their importance in corroborating my claim, copies of the 1986, 1987 and 1989 Black History Calendar are available upon request for examination to authenticate the veracity of my claim. Please closely scrutinize the historical record for any rival, documented claims that predate mine. I have not substantiated any.
For centuries historians like Ulrich Bonnell Phillips and others have “white-washed history” to conceal some of the many contributions that were made by people of African origins. In a like vein, there are those who have attempted to “black wash history” by crediting themselves and others for contributions that they did not make. I am the victim of this pernicious practice in regard to the creation of the term “Afr-i-can Amer-i-can”. Please review the historical record, and then have the courage to tell the truth to help right this wrong of history. If you and/or anyone else have any questions, then please do not hesitate to contact me.
The 1st Afr-i-can Amer-i-can
P. S.: I am the 1st African American because I was the first person to refer to myself and other descendants of the children of the African Diaspora in the western and southern hemispheres as African American.
Afr-i-can Amer-i-can Turns Twenty-Three
By Dr. Johnny Duncan
Who originated the term African American? If you don’t know me, then you don’t know the correct answer to this question. My name is Johnny Duncan, and African American is my brainchild!
Twenty-eight years ago, to escape the harsh realities of life in rural Greene County Alabama, I enlisted in the United States Army as a Yorktown Cohort. Vice President George W. Bush swore in the regiment at the Yorktown Battlefield, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the 1781 defeat of Lord Cornwallis in the American Revolution. Christian Fors and I were the only original Yorktown Cohorts to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS), after finishing basic training.
It was darker than a dozen midnights, on a dreary and miserable land navigation course in the Georgia swamp. The lightning bugs and the lens of the magnetic compass provided the only illumination, which wasn’t enough for me to find my way. For hours I wandered around in circles. When all seemed hopeless, a large, white ghastly object appeared on the ridge of the timberline. I hurried to examine it. The sign read: “THE LAST 4 LETTERS OF AMERICAN SPELL I CAN [!]”, mighty words of inspiration that were sown deep within my being. After becoming a commissioned officer, I spent the next three years in Hitler’s “Fatherland”.
On October 31, 1985, I received an overseas discharge in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). I began working on The Black History Calendar at that time. On January 14, 1986 I picked up 1500 copies of THE 1986 BLACK HISTORY CALENDAR from my publisher, Peter Osteimer, in Scholkrippen, FRG. On the date of the occasion that Dr. King’s birthday became a national holiday in 1986, I sold 1000 copies of The 1986 Black History Calendar to the military community at Hanau, FRG. I was ready to return to the United States.
The Infantry routine in the 3/87th Infantry Battalion at Ft. Carson, Colorado was not vastly different from what it had been in the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in Germany. The unit’s visit to the Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTC) in Manuel Noreiga’s Panama in the fall of 1987 proved faithful. Ft. Sherman’s long range navigation course through the Central American jungle reminded me of that dreadful disoriented night six years earlier in the Georgia swamp. I remembered the “I can” message on the sign. It inspired me and my platoon of enlisted men and misfits to conquer the difficult course in record time.
The mountains of Colorado never looked so inviting. Snow was already visible on the head of Zebulon Pike’s namesake during the fall of 1987 as I added the finishing touches to The 1987 Black History Calendar. It was then that I began writing a poem to capture the positive attitude and spirit of America, a composition that would rename people of African origins in America. Of course, the name of that poem had to be “I Can”! I toiled and experimented with rhyme schemes for hours on end to find the right words to convey my message of hope and inspiration.
I had been an American all my life. In the 1970’s I majored in and received degrees in American History at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. Emeritus Professors of History, Dr. T. Harry Williams, Dr. Jane DeGrummond and Dr. William Cooper labored long and hard to instill in me an appreciation of the discipline. And honestly, through years of research and enrollment in scores of American History and American Literature courses, I never paid any attention to the construction of the suffix (I can) of American. “A rainy night in Georgia” destroyed my imperceptions. The “I can” sign created in me an acute awareness of a fact that I and generations of Americans before me had long ignored. As songstress Jill Scott reminds us, “The obvious was invisible!”
As invisible as the “I can” in the word “American” had been for me, it had been even more unnoticeable in the word “African”. The mention of Africa and of people of “African origins” is biblical and extends back beyond Antiquity. Sequentially, Clio chronicles things African earlier than he does things American, thereby literarily, if not archaeologically and geologically, permitting the former to predate the latter by a sacred span of time. America is not mentioned in the Bible. This understanding and appreciation of history prodded me into recognizing the common “I can” suffixes in both African and American. It was in this context that I then wrote, “The last four letters of my (African) heritage and my (American) creed spell I Can!”
Line number twenty-five (25) of the poem “I Can” created the term Afr-i-can Amer-i-can to describe the children of the descendants of the African Diaspora in the Americas. As a tangible expression of the inspiration that the four letters engendered, I published and copyrighted the “I Can” poem in The 1987 Black History Calendar. I subsequently changed the name of the poem to “Afr-i-can Amer-i-can” to reflect its crowning achievement. The poem “I Can” has since served as a trademark by appearing on the inside front cover of each Black History Calendar that I have published for the years 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1993. Editions of the 1986, 1987 and 1989 Black History Calendar are available for authentication of my contention. The U. S. Copyright Registration Number for The Black History Calendar is TX 1 929 242. I created the term Afr-i-can Amer-i-can three (3) years before Jesse Jackson read the “I Can” poem in The 1989 Black History Calendar, courtesy of Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and took credit for its creation in a speech that he gave in New Orleans in 1990.
“Son,” for all those who use and bear your name,
“I wish you a happy 23rd birthday!”
I Can do what my mind tells me to.
I Can, so Can you.
I Can streak like a Rocket through the Sky.
I Can plunge to the Earth and die.
I Can run and win any Race,
From Inner Self to Outer Space.
All I want you to understand
Is that my Country and Heritage spell “I CAN!”
I Can try, and I Can cry;
I Can lead, and I Can succeed.
I Can trail, and I Can fail.
I Can fight, and I Can Unite;
I Can adopt, and I Can Stop.
I Cannot hide, nor Can Apartheid!
I Can write and incite.
I Can bleed for my Country’s Creed.
I Can defend, and I Can pretend.
I Can hate, yet, I Can adjudicate!
I Can give, but I Can also live.
I Can contrive, and oh yeah, “I Can survive!”
I Can do this, and I Can do that.
All I need is a turn at Bat.
I speak of my Abilities not by Chance.
Nor is it your Opinion of me that I seek to enhance!
“The last four letters of my Heritage and my Creed spell “I CAN!”
I Can do anything as well as “Everyman!”
“I CAN! I CAN! I CAN!”
YOU DAMN RIGHT “I CAN!”