It is to my honor that the staff at Logos Academy have entrusted me with the opportunity to write about Black American History. As someone who finds half of my own genetic code rooted in the lives of this history, there exists a special burden in constructing a moving dialogue. It is my hope that this piece will help readers understand the disturbing history that has haunted this nation for many years. It is also my hope that the resistance found in these stories will inspire a generation of Americans to fight their own ghosts.
This history does not begin in chains. It begins in the many nations of an ancient Africa. In fact, this history is longer than the entire history of American slavery. Many of these nations have been lost in the passages of time and the ravages of hardship. Still, there is both beauty, sadness, dignity and joy to be found in them. These nations had their own villages. These nations hosted their own heroes and villains. These nations boasted their own myths and legends. These nations had their own slaves and kings and queens. Remembering these nations adds a special sense of dignity to a history that is often grim.
Frederick Douglass is born enslaved on a Maryland plantation. The word around the grapevine is that his father is the plantation owner. His mother works hard in the fields and he only sees her a handful of times. As a child, Frederick does not have to do the work of the older slaves. His childhood provides him with enough freedom to realize that one day his freedom will come to an abrupt ending. He witnesses the endless toil that compromises the slave condition. Physical labor that lasts from dusk till dawn. Brittle bones withering in the crushing heat of the sun. The “wild exhibition” beating of his Aunt Hether; a product of the overseer’s sexual greed that results in a pool of blood climbing down her back.
In learning to read, Frederick is given the chance to see beauty amidst the terror of his condition. It is a jubilant and joyous white woman who teaches him about the oratory and words that are found in old books and Ancient Greek texts. It is this same jubilant woman who snatches his books away from him, in a newfound fear, attempting to lock him away from a world of knowledge. Through this experience he realizes the deleterious effects of slavery on both white and black people. Transforming both into animals, one a power hungry predator, and the other a powerless prey.
Nearly a century later and the gripes of the African-American community find themselves a new voice. Mamie Till, dedicates her life to justice and peace after witnessing one of the most unimaginable situations for anyone who is fortunate enough to be a parent. Her son Emmett Till, a confident and snazzy-dresser, is ripped away from her in one of the most abhorrent crimes of the twentieth century. He is accused of making sexual advances to a white store clerk (in recent years the accuser admitted to this being false). Because of the alleged advances, he is beaten beyond recognition, shot in the head and then dumped into a river with a cotton-gin tied around his neck.
Mamie makes the decision to have an open-casket funeral. This open-casket is proof that the suffering of many African-Americans boys and girls, at the time, is real. Although she loses the trial and Emmett’s murderers are set free, the effect of this decision is undeniable. The disturbing photos and recounts of the situation spark many Americans, regardless of race, to evaluate the fabric of their society and make social change.
These are just two of the many faces of African-American history. I spent many days bouncing back and forth between important figures. My decision to settle with Frederick and Mamie came from the interesting juxtaposition between the two. Slavery robbed Frederick of forming a bond with his mother, and racist hatred broke the bond that Mamie had with her son Emmett. The contributions of Mamie and Frederick can never be forgotten. This same can be said for the contributions of other African-Americans.
The wise words of Martin Luther King Junior have exemplified the power of unity. The soft voice of Malcolm X has empowered a generation of belittled souls. Even the everyday inventions of this world testify to the resilient spirit of their black inventors. The automated elevators of today can be accredited to Alexander Miles. The designs of the first light-bulb owe partial credit to Lewis Latimer. Some of the earliest shoe production equipment was created by Jan Matzeliger. All three of these men were black inventors, resilient in times of struggle, when their intelligence and ability were questioned.
Today, many African-Americans find themselves uncertain about their future. Contemporary times have seen many issues rise in these communities. Violence perpetrated by police and by those who share the same skin color, have created many problems. Strict definitions of “blackness” perpetuated by both black and non-black communities have constrained the future of these children.
I can attest to some of these feelings. It hurts to be rejected from playing with friends because your skin color is too dark. It hurts to be denied of your history and genetics, because people of the same skin tone believe that you are not one of them because you enjoy reading. It hurts to watch a woman clutch her child and walk to the sidewalk because your friends are loud and laughing, all wearing their hair in braids and afros. This all hurts.
After reading the stories of these many heroes I have become confident in my own ability to rise above circumstances. The history of this nation is dark, but there are wise words that come to mind when finding the strength to rise above them. The late rapper, Tupac Shakur, is a controversial and perplexing figure. He is remembered for the stark contrast in his lyrics; both uplifting and degrading. I remember him for all these things, but I also remember him as a street poet. It is the following poem that has given me strength. The strength to rise up and become something unexpected. The strength to rise up and live as the rose that grew from the darkness of the concrete.
“The Rose that Grew From Concrete”
“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack, in the concrete, Proving nature’s laws wrong it learned 2 walk, without having feet, Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned 2 breathe fresh air, Long live the rose that grew from concrete, when no one else even cared!”
– Reuel Goins, Senior at Logos Academy