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Ahh...February is upon us and again I must ask myself ....is this really necessary and why just a month and the shortest one at that? There are pros and cons expressed by many on the benefits of celebrating the achievements of black people in this country. It's been written that it serves the purpose of informing the general public that we aren't deadbeats and under the most trying circumstances black people have contributed significantly to the growth of America. Free labor notwithstanding, but also in the fields of science, agriculture, technology, education and the arts. A counterpoint expressed is that it separates us from mainstream society and that we are citizens and it should be a part of American history. I'm a baby boomer and very little about black people other than a paragraph or two on slavery and George Washington Carver were a part of history books during the 50's and 60's. Most recent history textbooks are lacking with questionable information as well. It's also been my understanding that there is a new twist to the revisionist movement afoot that diminishes the horrifying and contradictory aspects of this country's history in ways that are astounding and disingenuous.
There are some news outlets in the black community that use this month to feature up and coming 'movers' and 'shakers' which for many redirects the focus on the now and the future talents of black folks. They understand the past and how significant the contributions have been and in most cases ignored or diminished, yet, choose to mainly concentrate on what members of our community are doing now.
I've chosen for this post to look back for I truly believe that if we don't learn from history we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Given the current climate in this country, I can't help but wonder if we are undergoing another post-reconstruction crisis. Briefly, for those who haven't heard of the Post-Reconstruction Period in this country after the civil war; it was a time when blacks were elected to office and experiencing freedom in ways that were astounding. The southern whites became threatened and enraged over this development and began terrorizing people of color. Lynching innocent black folks, taking away their voting rights through intimidation/murder and segregation laws were among many oppressive tactics at that time. These practices continued until the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's were effectively dramatized on the world stage despite earlier incidents of blacks attempting to become first class citizens. The election of Barack Obama as President has again from my point of view stirred those forces of xenophobia, hate and anxiety over the diminishment of white supremacy. Code phrases like 'taking our country back' are framed within a distorted view of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. This President has had to withstand a substantive amount of disrespect and openly racist remarks during the primaries and after his election. There has been a dramatic increase in hate groups and their ideologues have permeated mainstream society.
I try to imagine what it must have been like for Nat Turner and many other slavery opponents, e.g., Denmark Vesey and Charles Deslondes meeting in the woods to plot how they were going to gain their freedom. Harriett Tubman who with great courage and fortitude led groups of slaves to the north and on one occasion had indicated that "I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves". I can think of a few modern day folks who remind me of the latter...but I digress. That meeting at Harper's Ferry between Frederick Douglas and John Brown debating the merits of armed conflict is so fascinating to me. Oh if there was such a thing as time travel...it would be breathtaking just to sit on a stump nearby and listen to the dialogue between these great freedom warriors. The former died of old age and the other a broken man who was hanged--for you see..he didn't consider that slavery not only shackles the body but the mind as well. As a woman it would be an honor to have known Ida B. Wells. Fierce, unrelenting, unafraid in tackling the most egregious events that the government avoided addressing for an extended period--lynchings!
In many ways, I think she was an unsung heroine. There have been books written about her that I've read, yet, the sacrifices she made during so many facets of her life to stop this obscene practice stretches the realm of probability. Imagine, just how thrilling it must have been to have sat in the audience May 8, 1909 listening to her speech 'This Awful Slaughter' at the NAACP's first annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. She and the others helped pave a way when there were very few mechanisms to do so and added substance to hope and faith.
My response to the question at hand is a resounding YES. A more effective use of venues to disseminate information is required and less on shallow displays such as company cafeterias serving soul food to commemorate the month. We need it more now than ever and wherever the opportunity arises to counterpoint revisionism and to remind the world that lest we forget...the chances that we will repeat become 10-fold.