Black History Is American History

In 2008 I watched a documentary on Home Box Office entitled “We Are Together: The Children of Agape Choir.”  The show recognized the Agape Child Care Center in South Africa which takes in orphaned children.  My overwhelmed heart forced me to order the CD featuring the music of this children’s singing group.  Shortly thereafter, I made a trip to visit my aunt, who lives in South Central Virginia (2 hours away), and along the way I began to listen to this CD.  Maybe it’s just my writer’s mind/imagination, but I almost had to pull over – unable to drive as I became engulfed with a sense of presence.  There is an unmistakable atmosphere created by the sound of music from the continent belonging to my ancestors.  Or maybe it’s simply in my DNA; it could also be related to this Virginia, this new land, slavery, ships and this people, singing the tunes that kept their hearts connected to home.  It could be my African guardian angel – the one someone informed me of, many years ago.  But, I had to shake my head and blink a few times as I certainly knew I had witnessed those early relatives or a friend’s ancestral loved ones darting in and out of the underbrush to avoid being seized by the authorities.

I bring all of this up, as it is a time for remembering and recognizing a People – one who contributed much to this nation.  In 1976 our government expanded the then, “Negro History Week” to “Black History Month,” which is what we celebrate today.  Morgan Freeman made a comment about his take on the issue.  He said, “I don’t want a black history month.  Black history is American history.”  I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Freeman since my people gave to this country; first mandatorily, but then, as a choice of their own.  As much as I would love to know what part of the Motherland my folks heralded – it stands questionable, if I ever will.  How sad it is to be unable to trace ones family roots.  My grandmother, at one time, spoke a little of her grandmother.  She mentioned her remembrance of a story where she had been sold on a block in the Shockoe Slip section of Richmond, Virginia.  Unfortunately, that is all that I know.  I did however, join Ancestrydotcom for a brief time.  What did I find: 1) A census sheet with my grandmother, her siblings and parents all listed with their address, and 2) a possibility of some connection to a county in North Central North Carolina.

I have to say I envy anyone who can put a pin in a map and without hesitation, declare their relatives are from wherever.  And, since I’m not Vanessa Williams, Emmitt Smith or Blair Underwood, I can forget contacting anyone from “Who Do You Think You Are?” for assistance.  Moving on, a friend asked us how we could live in a state where the slave movement marched up its shores?  The simple answer to that question has to be, one cannot bypass a street on the short route, because it is painful, pretend it never happened or not want to learn or acknowledge that part of history.  That’s like saying I won’t watch Gone With The Wind, because the parts played by the black actors and actresses were stereotypical.  Doing that takes acknowledgement away from that actor or actress; the only parts available to them at the time.  Hattie McDaniels, who played Mammie in that movie, even commented, “Why should I complain about making $700.00 a week playing a maid?  If I didn’t, I’d be making $7.00 a week being one.”  One would have to applaud that achievement – celebrate their strength and desire.

In closing, as I did my research to write this piece, I had a difficult time deciding which direction to go, since there have been so many contributions made to this country by my brothers and sisters.  Did I want to pick my heroes and discuss them one by one or just write by the seat of my pants as usual. I guess you can tell my choice.  But, as a writer, I could not resist the chance to mention a few African-American authors and poets, past and present.  Therefore, in honor of this special month, these are my favorites; the ones who blazed the way, so to speak:

Phillis Wheatley – (1753 – 1784) – Poet

James Weldon Johnson – (1871 – 1938) – Author/Poet*

Langston Hughes – (1902 – 1967) – Poet/Author*

Nikki Giovanni – (1943 – ) Poet/Writer/Activist*

Maya Angelou – (1928 – ) Poet/Activist/Author/Actress*

Now, with no arrogance intended, I can only dream of a time – way in the future, if this world is still standing, some child will be asked to make a list of his/her favorite twenty-first century authors and my name will make their list.  Some dream, huh?

*My cast of characters (except Phillis Wheatley) have many more designations.  However, for space I have limited them to what is listed above.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

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