Thursday, February 8, 2018

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1600: The Power of Black History

  Black History Month. Black History. Black. Each phrase moves in its own power. Each word moves in its own power. There is plenty of power in Black history. That’s why Dr. Carter G. Woodson was so visionary when he started Black History Week way back in 1926. Black history is powerful.

  Some ask, “Why do we need a Black History Month”? The answer is easy: the history of Black people in America has been denied, diminished, destroyed, dismissed, etc. To counter that destruction, Black History Week was created for February of each year. It grew into Black History Month starting in 1976. February was chosen by Dr. Carter G. Woodson as the month to celebrate Black History because both Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were born this month. Black history is powerful.

  No other people, except perhaps Native Americans, have had their history so thoroughly suppressed, distorted, diminished and destroyed. The question is why? Again the answer is easy. Because history is powerful, those oppressors of Black people needed to deny, diminish and destroy the history in order to more easily oppress Black people. Black history is powerful.

  All history is powerful. It tells us where we were, where we are now, and where we can go in the future. Let me give a visual example. Imagine if someone powerful came to Selma, Alabama and blindfolded us, loaded us on buses and took us to Montgomery. Imagine that we are put off the bus in a place other than the Capitol or a familiar mall. Imagine that the blindfold is taken off each of us and we are asked, “Where are you?” I am certain that most of us would not know where we were even though we have all been to Montgomery. History is powerful.

  Imagine the same narrative but we are not blindfolded as we are taken to Montgomery on a bus. No matter where they put us off the bus and asked, “Where are you?” we would know because we knew how we got to Montgomery. History tells us where we were and where we are now. History is powerful.

  More importantly, history tells us where we can go. If we know that we made it from Selma, (a city of 20,000) to Montgomery (a city of 200,000), then we can conceive of making it to Atlanta, a metropolitan area of 5.7 million people then to New York (a metropolitan area of 22 million people) and so on. History tells us that we can have significant achievements in the present because we have significant achievements in the past, and we can have even greater achievements in the future. When we stand on our history we can see further and reach higher. History is powerful.

  Yes, history is powerful. However, for the full power of history to seed, flower and produce bountiful fruits, we have to be able to identify with the history. It has to inspire us. That’s why Black history is so important. Black history is powerful.

  When I was growing up in Baldwin County, Alabama, I read about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other historical figures. I could accept that they did some great things, but I could not identify with them. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others were enslaving Black people at the same time they were helping create and build this country. My ancestors were enslaved by these very historical figures. I could not identify with them. Black history is powerful.

  I had to have other historical figures with whom to identify. My segregated school system wanted us to only know about Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. I appreciated each in his own right, but I needed more, much more. Until I was grown, I did not even know that 200,000 Black soldiers fought in the Civil War and that 40,000 died. So much was kept from us. Black history is powerful.

  I was drawn to those who fought against slavery. It was, however, difficult to obtain much information. It was hidden from us. It was diminished. It was denied. It was destroyed. However, little by little, I discovered heroes/sheroes who struggled to free my fore-parents from slavery. I had a few teachers who secretly provided more history. I could really identify with them. Black history is powerful.

  I learned about Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery in 1838 and became a great fighter against slavery. I learned that Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery in 1849, returned to slave states 19 times to help others escape from slavery. I learned that Sojourner Truth, who was born in slavery, and in 1828, became a great fighter against slavery. I could identify with them. I was inspired by them. Black history is powerful.

  I also discovered that Whites played a great role in fighting slavery: William Lloyd Garrison; Rev. Theodore Weld; Abby Kelly Foster; Susan B. Anthony; Lucretia Mott; etc. I learned that Abraham Lincoln, initially a racist, grew in his opposition to slavery. This helped me to see beyond race as the common element of those oppressing us. Black history is powerful.

  Through Black history, I found myself. Through Black history, I became more committed to lifting the oppressed. Through Black history, I learned to appreciate all who struggle against oppression regardless of gender, race, national origin, etc. Because Black history helped me so much, I know that it can help others to really know who they really are, where they really are, and where they can really go. Black history is truly powerful.

Epilogue – Because history is all around us, we too often lose sight of its great power. We also lose sight of the absence of certain history. Black history has been absent, and many did not even recognize that it was missing. Black history is powerful in its absence and in its presence. That’s why Black History Month is so significant.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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