In the wake of February, 2021 Black History month I have renewed my commitment to research my own family history. I also want to study black history by honing in on just one area of interest at a time in order to maintain my focus and not be distracted, overwhelmed and discouraged.
Previous research, to learn more about black history, had uncovered such a plethora of information that I did not know where to start. Accounts on the subject are so far reaching that concentrating on one segment at a time would be more manageable and fulfilling.
In my search for an area to delve into I discovered that there were factual accounts as well as fiction and fanciful accounts. It is understandable that facts were and are very challenging to obtain because of the way that information was passed on. Since slaves could not read or write the method of oral storytelling was used for that purpose. So those stories would have a way of being understood/ misunderstood, embellished or not given the strength and focused energy intended at the original storytelling. Who is to say that the original storyteller was truthful or didn’t color incidents based on memory or personal experiences. The challenges of uncovering these stories and linking that information with records of slave owners had to be daunting. It is amazing that so much information related to slavery was ever discovered at all. Coupled with that is the realization that so many of the slave owners’ records were lost or destroyed.
I have to take into account that my limited knowledge of black history held me hostage to relying, by faith, that whatever information I did study as fact until my education and knowledge grew and my abilities to recognize untruths, fictions and fantasies increased. One thing that I have discovered in this journey is that I will need to be more discerning in my selections of reading material. Just because a book is advertised as a Pulitzer Prize winner, a best seller, written by the best living American novelist and the title references some aspect of black history and slavery does not mean that this is a book of history when it is actually a book of fantasy based on historical events.
Even though I lived through the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s my studies started at ground zero because I was so completely removed from any of the struggles. That lack of involvement was by design as a means of protection and survival by some elements of Black society that believed it necessary to “fit in” and not be inclined to make trouble. Not John Lewis’ good and necessary trouble. It was seen as the kind of trouble that could derail plans for the future by ruining your life with a criminal record, a physical beat down, permanent physical damage or even death.
Growing up in an environment that wanted to deny our black heritage because by doing so put you at an advantage to impress the white culture that you were taught to impress, revere and fear because of their positions and power. The goal was to be seen as good and “different” so that you could “advance” in your chosen position or at best remain stagnant so as not to call too much attention to yourself. Whatever injustices that there were were accepted as the usual state of affairs in which some believed that we had no power to change. We were taught to accept what we were “given” and to be grateful and not complain. Be proud and keep moving forward to overcome those personal injustices by pure will.
We, as a certain culture, choose to live in our own protected bubble of self imposed de facto segregation. Growing up in that environment felt normal and provided a false sense of security. As far as we were concerned the Civil Rights Movement was not our struggle. We just didn’t realize that the life that we were privileged to live was on the coattails of those who had fought and died before us.
Once that bubble was left behind there was a rude awakening to the realities of life as a Black person. My exploration in the real world came after marrying a man in the military and moving to a new location in Brunswick, Georgia. Talk about culture shock and a crash course in the pit of segregation, Jim Crow and the KKK. That was just a glimpse into what we as people experienced then and are experiencing now. Case in point is the recent killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga, just last year. The difference now is that some of the injustices are immortalized visually with the miracle of the cell phone. So significant change may be within reach.
My journey into the history of Black History and my family heritage may open up my mind with an awareness of what I can do now to join the struggle in a meaningful way. Better late than never.