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    Auction Finds

    Questions from a 1930s “Negro History” contest

    The bound sheets of paper had faded with age and the text had been typed with a typewriter whose ribbon needed changing. That told me a lot about the time period of this document, along with the title “Negro History.”

    The pages contained questions about black history from various time periods, encompassing people, places and events. Based on the instructions outlined on the cover sheet, the contest appeared to be a school or organization’s black history version of a spelling bee.

    “The interrogator will ask all questions. Each contestant entered on the platform will have twelve ribbons pinned on his or her breast. If and when a contestant misses a correct answer, a ribbon will be taken from him or her by the monitor. … When the group has been eliminated down to three entries, they are the winners in the order of the number of flags retained. In the case of a tie in any of the last three, the questions are continued until the tie is broken.”

    There was no date on the sheets, but several questions and other information indicated that the contest took place in the 1930s in North Jersey. Paul Robeson, a renowned actor and singer at the top of his career at the time, was named in one of them. William J. Thompkins’ job as a Roosevelt appointee was mentioned in another. And yet another asked the name of the only woman who had received an NAACP Springarn Award prior to 1934.

    Some of the people - and award - featured in the black history contest.

    Some of the people – and award – featured in the black history contest.

    I was very familiar with spelling bees – I participated in them when I was in grade school and have a memory of one that I was knocked out of because I didn’t bother to ask that the word be used in a sentence. It was the past tense of a word that I knew. This history bee was something new to me, though.

    I found out that these have been going on for decades, and some school districts and libraries are among the educational institutions that still hold them, as well as local organizations. Today, they are called the Black History Bee or African American History Bee. You can even purchase flash cards to help you prepare for them. There is also a National History Bee and Bowl and a US History Bee, both of which appear to be more formal.

    The sheet at auction also included some reference books (no flash cards back then, I presume):

    • “The Negro in Our History (1922),” Carter G. Woodson
    • “Black Manhattan (1930),” James Weldon Johnson
    • “Black Majesty: The Life of Christophe, King of Haiti (1928),” John W. Vandercook
    • “Famous Men and Women of Negro Descent,” J.A. Rogers. I believe this refers to Rogers’ book “World’s Greatest Men and Women of African Descent (1931).”
    • “Frederick Douglass-Booker T. Washington: Facts of Reconstruction,” John R.K. Lynch. He wrote “The Facts of Reconstruction” in 1913.
    • “Portraits in Color (1927),” Mary White Ovington
    • “What the Negro Thinks (1930),” Robert. R. Moton
    • “Negro Orators and their Orations (1925),” Carter G. Woodson
    • Back copies of the Crisis, Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life magazine and Negro weekly newspapers

    Here are some of the questions. How many can you answer?

    Black history questions.

    Black history questions.

     

    Black history questions.

    Black history questions.

     

    Black history questions.

    Black history questions.

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