By Beverly Gadson-Birch
As Black History Month comes to an end, let’s not forget to continue teaching, learning and sharing information on Black achievements. It is going to take more than one month to undo the distorted history and/or misinformation filtered down through generations. Students who are now adults are passing the same distorted history down to their children. Know true history for yourself! The truth will set you free. And, in setting you free, you gain a new prospective into who you really are.
Oftentimes, I am asked why are you always attending meetings where nothing seems to get done? If you don’t show up, folks make decisions for you. Rosa Parks made the decision not to sit in the back of the bus. She was tired, had paid her money, and was not going to give up her seat. Involvement must begin somewhere, and it needs to begin with “YOU”. If you are sitting on the sidelines waiting for changes to happen, be prepared for a long wait. I have been to many fights and seen folks yelling from the sidelines; but the action is always in the ring. Win or lose, that’s where decisions are made.
When black history is manufactured and you are told you are someone you are not, it takes a lot to rebound. Whenever something drastic happens in the community, folks tend to come together and embrace their differences. Color somehow gets lost in the moment. Afterwards, it’s business as usual.
Let me share a little known history that led me on the path that I am on. It began when I returned to Charleston in 1969 for the hospital strike. I boarded a bus in West Ashley headed for a strike meeting at Brooks Restaurant. This would be my first introduction to meetings. I sat on the bench seat behind the driver. When I looked up, all eyes were on me. The driver was black. I looked into the driver’s rearview mirror and he had a smile of approval on his face. Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Everyone was expecting me to go to the back of the bus where the other blacks were seated. At the next stop, blacks boarded and went straight to the back. I was seated between a white male and white female. The female kept shuffling in her seat like she did not want to sit next to me. Her shuffling was getting the best of me so I told her she could move because I was not about to move. I paid the same fare as she did. She got up and hung onto the strap until she got off at her stop. Sounds pretty much like Rosa Parks to me. No one was going to take my rights away.
I thought of how Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give up her seat. I am thinking why are blacks on the back of the bus when Rosa Parks paid the price to sit up front?Didn’t they know they were free? Or, were they so programmed, they automatically went to the back of the bus? Don’t be afraid to walk through doors when they are opened. I was so moved by the incident I vowed to sit, eat and sleep wherever I wanted to if I had the money. Yes, that day on the bus, I became Rosa Parks of 1969. Who have you become? Who have inspired you to open doors for others?
Do we have any Frederick Douglasses out there? What about Septima P. Clark, former House Representative & educator Lucille Whipper or Esau Jenkins? We have a lot of modern day horns to toot. And, I wanted to pay tribute to some of those modern day trailblazers.
There are many contributors to history and there is no way to remember all; but, for those that I don’t shout out, their contributions are no less valued. Deceased: Septima P. Clarke, educator; Rev. Mack Sharpe, former Pastor of New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist and community activist; Rev. Sam Price, former Pastor of Salem Baptist Church and civil rights activist; Attorney George A. Payton, Jr., Criminal lawyer and civil rights activist; Rev. Fred Dawson, former Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church and civil rights activist; Rev. Omega Newman, District Superintendent United Methodist Church and civil rights activist; Rev. Willis Goodwin, former Pastor Francis Brown United Methodist Church & civil rights activist; Esau Jenkins, Entrepreneur and voter rights advocate; Mary Moultrie, Community activist; Joe Arthur Brown, N.A.A.C.P. and civil rights activist and, “Big” John Chisolm, Voting & voter rights advocate.
James French, Charleston Chronicle founder; William “Bill” Saunders, WPAL radio station, COBRA and community activist; Rev. Edward McClain, former Pastor, Calvary AME Church, Interdenominational Ministers Alliance (IMA) and community activist; Dot Scott, N.A.A.C.P and community activist; Rev. Joseph Darby, Pastor, Nichols Chapel AME Church, N.A.A.C.P and community activist; Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III, Pastor, Charity Missionary Baptist Church, N.A.A.C.P., NAN Religious Affairs, and civil rights activist; Rev. Lawrence Bratton, Pastor, Bibleway Baptist Church, N.A.A.C.P., IMA and community activist; Elder James Johnson, State Chapter NAN, civil rights and community activist; Kenny Riley, Labor and community activist; Rev. Alonzo Washington, former Pastor of Walllingford Presbyterian Church, community and voting rights activist; Rev. Thomas Dixon, Pastor, community activist; Rep. Wendell Gaillard, community activist; Jerome Smalls, community activist; former Senator Robert Ford, State Senator and civil rights activist.
Don’t continue the myths about who you are!! Folks tend to live better when they know better. Be the author of your history. It’s time to re-write black history —the real history!