Four observations about black history

Posted February 23rd, 2016 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog

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If you are like me, born white in 1964, chances are your exposure to black history is limited and maybe a little skewed.  Mine was both, but I’ve been playing catch-up and here is a quick synopsis of what I’ve learned.

First, it is fascinating and inspiring.  Read about the brilliant entrepreneur Madame CJ Walker, The Periwinkle Initiative which strives to locate and mark the graves of enslaved Americans, Joseph McGill’s narratives that bring history to life through the Slave Dwelling Project , Garrett Morgan (you can thank him for traffic lights, among other inventions) and other incredible historical figures at Black History mini-docs. Visit the first, second or third African meeting houses in Boston, Nantucket and Portland, ME: Museum of African American History  Abyssinian Meeting House.  Read about The Green Book and what it was like to travel during Jim Crow. (with thanks to Dr. Gretchen Sorin, historian and 1772 trustee, who has studied and written extensively on this topic.) Tip of the iceberg- fascinating and inspiring.

Second, I learned it is too easy to avoid the reality of how a thousand threads of historic injustice permeate the fabric of our current world.  Inequity is an ecosystem and it is analogous to the environmental movement; my recycling does not mean the air and water everywhere are clean and pure. If I don’t attend to the bigger system of pollution/injustice, I am not doing enough. Check out this video about the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, the first slavery museum in the U.S.   In particular, I was struck by the importance of the answer to the (rather dumb) question, “Why can’t they just get over it”?  We have to know (all of us) the magnitude of what “it” is.  Understanding “it” is not for the lazy or those who avoid being uncomfortable.  I am both, but I try anyway.  Black history is our history- learn about it, discuss it, understand its importance to all Americans.  As one of my teachers reminded me, “sunlight is a powerful disinfectant”.  No one is lazier than I and I’ve learned first-hand that it is worth the effort to bring our history into the sun for a good, long clarifying discussion.  See #1-it is also fascinating and inspiring.

Third, and this isn’t fair at all, I learned that there are African-American history scholar-angels among us who continue to do more than their fair share to bring all of us to a greater understanding.  I have been privileged to learn from some of these amazing teachers.  They know their subject matter cold and they have the added burden of patiently walking me and others through history so that we can well and truly get it.  When I think about what will move the needle on the much-hyped and much-needed “national discussion”  I know these chosen ones probably hold the keys to success and, with it, they carry the added burden.  I for one am grateful for their bridge-building and patience with a remedial student. Let’s support these history heroes whenever possible:  Joseph McGill of The Slave Dwelling Project, Sandra Arnold of the Periwinkle Initiative, Dr. Lonnie Bunch and staff at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Leonard Cummings at the Abyssinian Meeting House to name a very few.   There are many, many more which leads me to my last observation: I have much more to learn- a lot more listening and reading to do.  But, I want the opportunity to be a tiny part of a better ecosystem and I welcome the chance to learn from and support the scholar-angels who will lead us all through history to a more just, richer and sunlit place.  It is a fascinating and inspiring journey.

P.S. There is always a For Dummies book- ISBN-13: 978-0764554698

  • Margaret Waldock

    Thank you for this. So many teachers to learn from and stories to inspire as we collectively advance discussion and take action. I have another to add to your list, Kittie Knox, from Boston. A fellow cyclist who not only gained notoriety for – gasp!- wearing bloomers on her bike, but also challenging the segregation and sexism of the cycling community.
    http://originalpeople.org/ceremony-honors-black-female-cyclist-kittie-knox-broke-barriers/