2/27/2013 2:40:20 PM
By Barney Blakeney
As Black History Month winds up, I’m dismayed that another year’s observance passes as the old saying goes, “Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.”
The month has been fraught with all kinds of programs relative to Black History. The schools have done an admirable job promoting a sanitized version of Black History to the kids. At the College of Charleston, the office of diversity promoted some informative intellectual stuff. And Donald West at Trident Technical College kept me abreast of some of the things that were presented there.
But on the front porches in Black communities and under shade trees in our neighborhoods, Black History often only was a mere string of days in February. If mentioned at all, it held no reverence. For too many Black Americans Black History is an abstract term tied to names like Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Martin L. King, Jr.
Fortunately, there were a number of informative programs on television that offered deeper forays into Black History.
S.C Educational Television presented a program about the Oangeburg Massacre and objectively outlined how that dastardly event manifested prevailing racial attitudes of the time.
Unfortunately, acceptable perceptions of the Orangeburg Massacre leave out that Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee worker Cleveland Sellers became the scapegoat in the incident that left three students dead and dozens wounded. Most were shot in the back as they fled. Interestingly Sellers’ son, Bakari Sellers, now is a member of the South Carolina General Assembly.
Another program, aired on one of the national networks, the History Channel, also accurately drove home the reality of Black History.
Stories of the Road To Freedom was a pretty good presentation of Black History from the end of slavery through modern times. It was that program which reminded me that the history of Black people in America still is being written as an oppressive footnote in the annals of our nation.
The show noted that Blacks, newly freed after the Civil War, had no where to go except back to the plantations as sharecroppers. One comment by the program’s narrator noted that their lot after the war barely had changed. As slaves, Blacks worked for free. As sharecroppers, Blacks worked for damn near free.
After the turn of the century, many Blacks left southern fields for the big cities. Blacks in the southeast went up to the northeast, Blacks from the deep south of Mississippi and Alabama went to midwest cities like Chicago and Cleveland and Blacks from the southwest went to Los Angeles and San Diego. That was the Great Migration in Black History.
Sometimes I hear Blacks who come to Charleston from big cities in the north say racism here is unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. Stories of The Road To Freedom challenges that.
One man in a recorded interview said, “A Black man is a Black man no matter where he goes.”
I don’t know, maybe by the 1950s things had changed in big cities.
And perhaps the frequency and brutality of southern racism made the difference. Whatever, the brutality that threads through Black History should never be sanitized. Without knowledge of that brutality, you just can’t perceive the reality of Black History.
Recently the controversy of rapper Lil’ Wayne’s lyrical reference to the Emmett Till murder went widespread. Not only did his words continue the disrespect of women, but also trivialized Till’s horrendous murder.
As a kid I saw the Jet Magazine picture of Till’s grotesquely mutilated body. The 14-year-old had been tortured, beaten, shot and thrown in a Mississippi river.
I don’t know Lil Wayne’s music, but from what little I know of the guy, I’d gained some respect for him as a businessman. I thought he probably is a smart guy.
But there’s no way a smart guy would say what he did. To make the statement he made, the rapper could not know how brutally Till was beaten. He could just as well have said the woman’s body part should be shot like Martin L. King, Jr.
As I said before, if you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it. I think Black folks have some dark years ahead.
Charleston County School Superintendent Dr. Nancy McGinley this month apologized to a group of Blacks who in 1963 integrated local schools, said they were treated unfairly. As a full 25 percent of Black kids attending county schools academically perform two or more years below grade level we don’t need apologies. We need parity.
Listen here ya’ll. Them folks don’t mind giving Black folks a month to celebrate a few deserving individuals, some sanitized stories and a few apologies. But they won’t give you knowledge because they know that knowledge is power. They understand that if you don’t know the reality of your history, they can force you to repeat it.