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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!

An Ancestor's Point of View

Since my last blog post, I've been reflecting on the ramifications of systemic racism. Yesterday, I presented a personal essay via videoconference to a group of Mills College alumnae and their guests after enhancing my June post with details I recently learned through genealogy research. I provided a historical context to my comments on racism by incorporating a brief story about a Reward notice posted in a local paper back in 1837 for a runaway "Negro" male and his supposedly free "Mulatto" wife.


DNA technology confirmed the runaway woman to be my third great-grandmother. That same technology confirmed the White "owner" who posted the notice to be my third great-grandfather. Upon further exploration, I found additional White grandfathers of mine with multiple families, some with their White wives, and others with an enslaved Black (described as Mulatto) woman.


As I transported myself back to this painful time in history, I tried to imagine what the struggle of day-to-day existence might have looked like for my ancestors. I came up with multiple scenarios that undoubtedly have some basis in fact. I extended that wonder to imagining the methods enslaved people used to cope with their plight.


Folklore passed down from my ancestors can be found in the traditions of Louisiana Creoles. While the genesis of that lore is as grim as it is powerful, I've since incorporated it into my current novel-in-progress, much as I had done with my expanded blog post referenced above.


The opportunity to enrich my storytelling has also lit a fire beneath my smoldering desire to write my memoirs. Maybe, by presenting their tales through mine, I can do justice to the legacy of my ancestors.

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