February starts Black History Month (BHM). I am not one of those people who subscribes to the trifling commentary by some who lament that February is the shortest month of the year and that is where they put our history. Nor do I tolerate those who try to question if BHM is still relevant.
Those who truly know their history understand why February is the month for that celebration and those who don’t know need to look it up. Sure it would be easier for me to state it here and now, but our ancestors whose lives and stories make up BHM never had it easy, so why should we?
One of the first things everyone should do in honor of BHM is know their family tree. I can trace my ancestors back to the early 1800s. The lives, struggles, and accomplishments of one’s ancestors should always be lifted up in celebration at all times. Part of the reason so many of our young people exist in so much disconnect is that they don’t have a clue from whom they are descended.
I am a fan of Henry Louis Gates’ series African-American Lives. In that series, Professor Gates examines the family tree of famous Americans. When he researched actor Don Cheadle’s ancestry, he was amazed to discover that Cheadle’s family had been enslaved not by Europeans but by Native Americans of the Chickasaw Nation. A little know BHM fact that should quickly silence and dispel the notion that black people’s history is fully known or understood.
Are you aware that 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery? I have not seen any mention of that fact by our Civil Rights Movement groups and leaders. Nor any mention by our elected officials. Why? Are they as ignorant of our history just like the rest of us? Probably so. The history of blacks in this country cannot be placed into a one-size-fits-all category or box. Every day there is something new to learn. And with the prevalence of smartphones in so many of our peoples’ hands, there are less and less valid excuses for not seeking out the knowledge. A Google search can lead to a plethora of information.
For those who prefer the visual versions of history lessons, YouTube has plenty of films, snippets and recordings that tell our history.
One of my favorites has been the audio recordings of slave narratives. Those once-scratchy recordings have been cleaned up and digitally restored. Hearing the voices of those ancestors was truly amazing. Instead of listening to people who spoke in the lazy-tongued, Negro dialect so often portrayed in writings, those former slaves enunciated their words. Admittedly those whose voices and stories were used may not have been the norm, but so many former slaves did so much to secure their welfare after slavery, including learning basic reading and writing, which is the kind of inspiration so many of our young people need to see and hear.
Listening to those former slaves speak, many of whom were in their late 80s and 90s, puts a voice to what had normally just been a written transcription. Admittedly, those former slaves were speaking to white interviewers so they may not have been as forthcoming about their experiences during slavery, but to listen to them brings a further sense of pride, knowing that the failed institution of slavery had reached its inevitable end.
Our young people need to hear those words and watch those stories so their knowledge of their history is not the tainted version portrayed by whatever limited exposure they have had via television and movies.
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