During Black History Month, we normally look to others who many times are so far removed from us personally – through time or distance – pointing to them for outstanding sacrifices. Remember the pictures of the Little Rock Nine in 1957 who were the first to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School? They could only attend the high school after President Eisenhower himself intervened by sending troops no less. Or, I always remember the picture of little Ruby Bridges coming down the stairs of William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana, in 1960. She too was flanked by the law, U.S. Marshals.
I used to wonder, where in the world did those people get the strength, the audacity to send their child into that kind of situation? It seems so far removed, so far away. Imagine my surprise when I learned that in my own family, there were acts of heroism so close that I could touch it. Seems that I have a second cousin that broke down barriers as well.
In the small town of Olive Branch, Mississippi, she broke the racial lines by being the first African American to attend the all-white high school there during the civil rights period. Wow. The fact that I am just learning of this event in my family history makes me proud and sad at the same time. This is what happens when we don’t keep up with our own personal history or legacy. We need to know these things because these are the things that make us the people we are and that have the power to shape us into people we can be.
The lesson? Black history is about each of our own personal, familial, and communal histories. Let’s be eager students and perpetual protectors. Let’s pass on our histories by doing what our ancestors did – talking to our children by means of oral traditions thereby never letting our stories die.