The Future Lies in Land and Education

By Barney Blakeney

I was watching something on television the other day when one of the characters said, “It’s the future that counts.” The comment made me reflect on what we so often think is important. It made me think about my maternal grandfather, Washington Miller.

I never knew my grandfather. He died before I was born. Wash Miller was a dirt farmer in the Pee Dee region of the state. My uncles farmed my grandfather’s land after his death. But I grew up playing in that dirt. I ‘helped out’ on their farms, but for me it was play – cropping tobacco, driving the mule, picking beans with my aunt – all that was fun to me. My cousins didn’t think so; those were their chores. Some had to be done before going to school in the morning – hot or cold, rain or shine.

As a city kid being raised in a downtown Charleston public housing complex going ‘out home’, as my mother called the place where she grew up, was a time for exploration. My aunts and uncles made sure I got a full range of the experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

I don’t know much about my grandfather. Some family members have researched our family’s history, but I haven’t digested much of it. I get bits and pieces here and there, but I can’t tell you when or where my grandfather was born. I know he was a smart man. My grandmother, his second wife, also was smart. They did well. Sent seven of their eight kids to college back in the early years of the 20th century. The land and education were important to them.

My granddaddy bought, kept and farmed the land on which he raised his 16 kids. He did that at a time and in a place when a Black man was subject to be rode down on any time for any reason.

I hear young bloods today unknowingly talk that yang about what they would not have accepted back in the day. They don’t even realize that they’re here today because somebody back then took a lot of stuff. Them old folks realized back then that what was most important was to survive. You can’t help nobody if your dead or aint got nothing. Their eyes were on the future.

I guess at this point, I could go on and on about how Black folks, since my granddaddy’s time, have lost sense of the values that were important to them – gave away the land they worked so hard to get and keep and how we value far too little the education they knew was key to survival and prosperity. Black folks are going into the future giving away their most valuable commodities, land and knowledge. The little bit of land Black folks still own in North Charleston is being lost faster than they can blink!

I had a recent talk with the Cainhoy/Huger guru, Fred Lincoln, the other night. He asked me to write about a subject I’m afraid to breach – I don’t want no trouble! But then, I’m too stupid to follow my own instincts. Lincoln says the bigger Black churches in North Charleston are making mistakes by buying land and building edifices when they should be creating affordable housing. I’m just the messenger, ya’ll!

Folks get defensive when you talk about their churches and preachers. But a productive future ain’t about defending some man or ideas that don’t move us to a better place.

A few years ago, this publication’s founder got into a toe-to-toe fight with some preachers about some picture and comments he printed. They refused to allow the paper in their churches. We’re talking about churches that had received the publication for free over decades! Many congregants had to find alternatives ways to get the paper. I thought that was the stupidest thing ever.

I think there probably was a lot inappropriate action on the part of all involved, but you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Our collective future depends on our collaborative effort.

So when Charleston County Republican Party Chairman Larry Kobrovsky pointed out that S.C. Department of Education now points to increased high school graduation rates after lowering the standards of achievement for students, the bells in my head went off. I’ve known Kobrovsky since his days on Charleston County School Board. I find him to be a fair-minded person who values education.

“They might have gotten a higher pass rate, but at the cost of making a high school diploma meaningless. A diploma’s supposed to be the guarantee of a certain level of knowledge and achievement. What they did instead was to make it harder for anyone to seriously believe that,” Kobrovsky says about school officials’ attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. It was only last month S.C. Dept. of Ed. issued a report that said fewer than 40 percent of high school students pass college readiness tests. So what they’re telling us is they’re graduating more kids who don’t know squat.

As Black folks go into an uncertain future inaugurated by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, we cannot afford to play games or to be duped by those neither outside nor within our community. I think Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston has initiated an effort to address affordable housing and land ownership.

That’s an example others should follow. And I’m thinking more churches should initiate after school learning projects.

Unless Black folks again begin to value our assets of land and education, the future for our children increasingly will mirror our past.

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