[Collier] There's More to the Story | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Collier] There's More to the Story

It's done now. Elementary school teachers, if they haven't already, are taking down the laminated posters of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. Black History Month is over—time to make room for shamrocks and leprechauns. Television networks have aired all the projects and documentaries reserved just for this month, and it's back to normal programming, as usual. You know, the stuff everyone actually wants to watch.

Initially, when I heard the comments Morgan Freeman made on "60 Minutes" a couple years back about not celebrating the month at all, I was turned off. I just couldn't imagine that an individual as wise and, well, black as Morgan Freeman would say on national television that there shouldn't be Black History Month. After a little more probing, however, I learned that what he'd said was that because black history was American history, he didn't see a need for it.

True, black history is American history, but is that reason enough not to celebrate it? Of course not. But what about only celebrating during a single month? That's the part that still gives me fits.

Every year I was in school from elementary to high school, if we talked about blacks who've made contributions to this red, white and blue land of ours, it was always the same few people. The story went something like this: There was lots of cotton in the South, and cotton field owners—who happened to be white—needed help picking it. So, they went over to Africa, and brought Africans back with them. The "masters" didn't always treat the "slaves" well. Some of the slaves ran away. Harriet Tubman helped them do that. President Lincoln came along, took some of the pressure off Harriet—the black Moses—by signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which made it illegal to own slaves. Not long after that, black people got the right to vote, but if they couldn't answer questions like, "How many bubbles are in this bar of soap?" they couldn't. That was called Jim Crow. Anyway, Rosa Parks was too tired to get up from working hard all day to give her seat to a white person on a bus, and she started a revolution. Martin Luther King had a dream, and here we are today. All equal. All living out that dream.

A person can hear surface information about history only so many times before they become desensitized to it. I know, it happened to me. This doesn't diminish in anyway the sacrifices people who were "fortunate" enough to be named in the black history lessons made, but there's so much more to the story. When do we get to hear the rest? What about the part that continued after the Civil Rights Movement ended?

People often make jokes about Black History Month being the shortest month of the year. Why can't we get one of those 31-day-ers?" comedians joke. Historian Carter G. Woodson began Negro History Week in 1926 to celebrate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, the week was extended to a month-long celebration. Woodson hoped that one day, when black history became fundamental to American history, there would be no need for an isolated celebration. (Sounds familiar.)

By now, everyone knows that Jennifer Hudson has put her new Academy Award on her mantle, kitchen table or wherever one keeps such a thing, for her supporting role in the theatrical release of "Dreamgirls." Likewise, Forest Whitaker has probably made a spot to showcase his golden statue for his outstanding performance as Idi Amin, in "The Last King of Scotland." But for some 25 years, because of the under-representation of African Americans by the Academy, there was a Black Oscars ceremony held the night before.

Regarding black actors, everyone knows about blackface and minstrel shows, but what about their origins? During slavery, to entertain themselves, the chattel would put on acts imitating their owners. The owners saw this, and ignorantly thought that the slaves were having mere Negro fun. Because of the hilarity, white folks began putting on blackface to imitate the buffoonery they thought their slaves produced naturally.

Lots of people know a little about slavery, but probably have never given it much thought. Imagine being the property of someone just as you own your car, or couch, or computer, despite the fact that you have a spirit and will to live well, just as the person who owns you. In your desire to live well—your pursuit of happiness—you plan to escape to your freedom, where you are your own person, your own property, responsible for yourself. Imagine being diagnosed with "drapetomania" because of your humanity—your natural inclination to want to be free. Yep. Drapetomania. In 1851, Samuel Cartwright, a (white) psychiatrist, proposed the diagnosis as an explanation of slaves who wanted to flee captivity. He proposed this disease could be treated with medical supervision.

The point, I hope, is clear. There are too many nuances of my history to think they're all going to be packed into one month, especially if we fill the month by recounting and acquiring surface knowledge. It's imperative to our development as those who are to make present-day contributions that we expect more of ourselves and realize history's importance to contemporary society. The only way that will ever happen is if we know black history. Our history. American history.

Even when it's ignored, history—any kind of history—doesn't go away. Now that's an argument I, indeed, disagree with Mr. Freeman about. In that same interview he said that the only way we're going to get rid of racism is to quit talking about it. But that's another column for another month.

Previous Comments

ID
74633
Comment

Yes, I saw the episode where Mr. Freeman said that, and I lost quite a bit of respect for him then. This is quite easy for a rich man to say who can live beyond the complications and limitations of race because of his acting fame and riches. If Mr. Freeman wasn't rich and famous many of those white folks who will gladly kiss his butt now wouldn't speak to or acknowlwdge him. For the average black person, especially the very poor and downhearted, who are assaulted and assailed on a daily basis because they're black and poor, a chance to feel some pride, self-esteem and worth is a welcomed event. Even if it's no more than hearing stories of black triumph, resistance and overcoming that they have never personally experienced for a month. It gives hope and pride. Our histories have been purposely losted, stolen, altered, hidden, and strayed and neither white-controlled schools or other places made any real effort to teach it to us. In fact the opposite was the goal and plan. Killing the spirit and breaking the will to break free lasted too long. I reject white-washed history.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-28T17:04:32-06:00
ID
74634
Comment

Well, finally MS classrooms are REQUIRED to teach the Civil Rights movement. THANK GOD! Love it Natalie. I saw that interview too. I get the spirit of his ideal, but we've got hundreds of years of history catching up to do.

Author
emilyb
Date
2007-02-28T17:22:35-06:00
ID
74635
Comment

I also think I know what Morgan was attempting to do - claim his American heritage. We have never tried to disavow or not own the American dream or heritage, but the several of us were unwilling to lie and claim a heritage and dream that were not offered or reachable for us. And if Morgan was attempting to make currently living whites feel less responsibility, alienation and fallout for their ancestors forcibly bringing us here and subjugating us; then I'm all for that as long as the whole truth about the past is always told. No whitewashing to the extent of making inhumane acts look benign or tantamount to denial. And some of us still know that many of us are still held captive by a patriarchal, capitalistic, white supremacist system intending on staying that way. Morgan might be free but not everyone is. Morgan might think there is no other battles to fight but some of us aren't that oblivious to the truth. Take away his money and fame and he's likely to see a different picture.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-28T17:47:53-06:00
ID
74636
Comment

but the several of us were unwilling to lie and claim a heritage and dream that were not offered or reachable for us. Oh, come on, Ray—you know how lucky all y'all are that your ancestors were brought here so that, some day, their offspring could claim a piece of the American dream just like everybody else. You should give thanks every day. The Northside Sun said so. Big kiss, friend.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-28T18:00:46-06:00
ID
74637
Comment

I know you understand Donna. Wyatt is a sick dude!

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-28T18:05:57-06:00
ID
74638
Comment

Well, he did apologize after we called out that prize-winning column. But, still. I can't understand how something like that gets into print in the first place without causing riots in the streets. Shudder.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-28T18:14:05-06:00
ID
74639
Comment

I'm probably one of the few blacks who read his paper. I figure he thinks he has to tell his kind what he thinks they want to hear.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-03-01T10:28:19-06:00
ID
74640
Comment

by the way Ray, he has a very open policy on publishing letters as long as they are well written. He doesn't mind taking heat for publishing a letter or guest column that is thought provoking. Try writing one to that paper some time. He'll probably publish what you submit.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-03-01T10:36:33-06:00

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