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Michelle's Musings

Independence Days

Our nation recently celebrated the anniversary of its declaration of independence from Great Britain. During a televised Capitol Fourth of July celebration also held in commemoration of Juneteenth (the anniversary of the final emancipation of all enslaved African Americans), I listened to a performance of the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing." To my recollection, this song was dubbed the "Black National Anthem." A quick Google search confirmed my suspicion; however, I also learned that the anthem not only contains prose specific to the struggles of enslaved Blacks, but it was also written to celebrate the anniversary of President Lincoln's birthday in 1905.


During this nation's recent period of heightened racial awareness and reckoning, suppressed African American history like that of the Tulsa, Oklahoma Massacre (of which I previously had no knowledge) has come to the fore. Sadly, public acknowledgement of the brutality of our nation's past has become mired in heated political divisiveness. Some Americans see an accurate historical accounting as a personal affront to their sensibilities. I can assure you that they are not alone in their feelings of reproach. The legacy of slavery is as painful for Black Americans as is the wholesale discounting of their ancestors' contributions to the development of our nation.


The amount of discord over a fair and accurate rendering of African American history reflects the impact of a pervasive whitewashing of said history. No matter how sanitized our tools of education, however, the reality of our past cannot be erased. Other atrocities like plagues, wars, and genocides have been visited upon civilizations since the beginning of time. As painful as that history is, we have learned from it.


When did we decide that it was proper to teach only that history which does not offend the feelings of one segment of our population, particularly given that its long-term ramifications serve as its reminder day in and day out? To reconcile the discord and animus that now run rampant, we must acknowledge our history in all its shortcomings and glory. And we need more freedom to expose and write about that history. We can't be in the business of penalizing educators for speaking truth.


We're all in this together. Armed with factual knowledge, maybe we can declare our independence from hatred and learn to love again!

A Little Yellow Book

During Black History Month, recommendations for creative works by African American authors and playwrights have ticked up, including W.E.B. DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folk." The day before I sat down to write this post, I realized that the other reason this book was on my mind was my recollection of taking my father's copy with me when I left home for college some decades ago.


I never read the book in its entirety, and I was moved to search for it among my collection. At first, I was unable to locate it amid the stacks of paperbacks and hardcovers jammed into my bookshelves, some of which perpetually await the opening of legitimate shelf space. As I gave a final sigh and started to turn away from the sagging shelves, the weathered yellow paperback suddenly "jumped out" at me from its resting place atop the uppermost shelf.


Copyrighted in 1953, this version of "The Souls of Black Folk" was published in 1961. Its pages, which look like they're about to free themselves from the book spine, are almost as yellow as the cover. Thankfully, the strange odor of decay seems to be fading.


The book obviously belonged to someone other than my father as it is filled with annotations in handwriting that is not his. Did he loan it to another person? Did someone give it to him? The elusive answer to this person's identity is as intriguing as the fact that I was able to lay my hands on the book.


I find it amazing that DuBois' historic work, considered a controversial but highly touted read back in the day, is being referenced in discussions about racism in 2021, exactly 50 years after the release of this version. In my estimation, I've stumbled upon something worthy of enshrinement. Though the font is painfully small and dense, I plan to gingerly read it from cover to cover and, hopefully, experience some sort of spiritual awakening as I do.


But, oh, how I wish I knew whose handwriting and underscoring grace its pages!

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