We’re nearing the end of Black History Month 2021.
Ancestors have been highlighted. Homage has been paid to the past, current, and future black history makers. We’ve posted pictures of Harriet Tubman and leaders of the civil rights movement. We’ve all thanked our current political leaders as well as the artists and entertainers of black history.
As I ponder on the meaning of black history, I consider how often we, myself included, consider only those who made history after the emancipation of black slaves. I realize this is probably because history in America is often a one sided narrative. Have you ever wondered why black people are the way we are? Why can we take a traumatic moment and make it beautiful? Why can we create something from nothing? Why are we often stronger than our circumstances and more evolved than our counterparts? Were we not born kings? I mean, if we’re going to celebrate black history, why wouldn’t we start from the beginning?
. . .
A few weeks ago, I was walking through downtown Savannah observing the monuments and statues settled in the center of beautiful gardens and parks. The buildings were stamped with plaques that told stories of historical battles. Buildings that survived the civil war had been transformed into monuments and museums to commemorate the city’s ancestry. The Civil War was no doubt one of, if not the biggest event in our nation’s history.
The more I explored, the more I realized the stories told were reflective of one group of people. Their history. Their heroes. Their stories. Black, indigenous, people of color were nowhere to be found in the visual history of Savannah. There were no monuments and statues about black people, anywhere. It was as if black people didn’t even exist during that time. I understand the preservation of history and soul of a place, but I wonder, who gets to say what stories are important to tell, and what stories are not?
The stories of our history will forever be in the hands of the loudest storytellers. Those with the bullhorns decide what statues go up and what words are written in history books. If those storytellers don’t find it important to record or highlight the origin of black excellence, how will we know of its origin? When, if ever, will the stories of black people get told through monuments and plaques? Like Harriet Tubman, known mostly for her brilliant orchestra of safe houses and routes that led slaves to freedom in the early 1800’s. What is not often talked about is her role as a spy and expedition leader for the Union Army. Where is her statue? Where is her plaque? Where is her story?
Or the lies told about the black race from the time white settlers came into contact with African cultures. Calling them inferior and savage. These weren’t facts, they were opinions. Stories told that led to slavery and racism — stories that still impact the way black people are treated all over the world today.
Our stories are being passed down to each other through black storytellers, black bloodlines, black wealth owners. We are telling our own stories to each other because the people who hold the big almighty pen, are very illiberal with what they allow to see the light of day.
We need to see the black trailblazers and monumental change agents. It’s not enough to see them on social media feeds and posters during black history month. We need to see them year round, everywhere. In hallways. In parks, in museums, on street signs. American history could not exist without black people therefore the stories and fabric used to weave a tourism led economy should never ever be without black names, black facts and black heroism. We were not always slaves — we were born Kings.
What stories have been buried here and around the world? Who will uncover these ancient histories about our wealth and demand statues be made in our honor? Will white storytellers ever be brave enough to show the world what black people have done?
And at the very least, if that never happens, what will we do now to tell the full truth about what happens here? How will we move the pendulum so that there is not just one race or person or voice holding the almighty pen? How will we as creators, entrepreneurs, storytellers, business men and women, wealth owners, and curse breakers tell our story, so that when a young woman walks down the street 40, 50, or 100 years from now, she will not only see the stories of her ancestors — she will see herself?