Preserving American History

With all this talk about taking down memorials that celebrated Confederate generals, it is a good time to highlight historical sites and memorials that do need to be preserved. May is National Preservation Month, and now more than ever it is important to preserve our history because FACTS still matter in the country, regardless of what the Trump regime thinks.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently released its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places to “spotlight important examples of the nation’s architectural and cultural heritage that were at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. Of the sites that appeared on the list since 1988, fewer than five percent have been lost.”

This list includes historical sites that tell America’s story.  Here are some of them:

  • Penn School (South Carolina): the first school in the South designed to educate formerly enslaved Black students, now part of the Reconstruction Era National Monument.
  • Little Rock Central High School (Arkansas): where nine Black students known as the “Little Rock Nine” challenged angry White mobs in 1957 to desegregate the school per the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling.
  • Angel Island Immigration Station (California): the San Francisco Bay site where hundreds of thousands of Asian immigrants first entered the country between 1910 and 1940.
  • Nine Mile Canyon (Utah): home to stone artwork and other relics of the Ute people, once threatened by chemical damage from nearby traffic.

Read the full listing of all 11 sites here:

History Lesson: Mary McLeod Bethune

I am starting a new feature here that highlights important figures in history everyone should know about – even certain people working for the Trump regime.

I’m a history buff, but I don’t claim to be an expert on American history.  I try to continuously educate myself on a regular basis.  I read a lot of books and I try to stay on top of current issues and how they reflect our collective knowledge.  However, there are aspects of basic history that everyone should know, like who were Frederick Douglass or W.E.B. DuBois.

Funny how I learned about these two leading American figures when I attended a public, inner-city elementary school – a place DeVos abhors.  So I am hoping this can be a learning experience for everyone, including myself.

With that being said, I am starting with Mary McLeod Bethune, an African-American educator who led the way for other black people to have access to equal education, something Education Secretary Betsy DeVos knows nothing about.  Just a few weeks ago, DeVos said that “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.”

DeVos tried to backpedal when she also said at a luncheon that Mary McLeod Bethune started Bethune-Cookman University because traditional schools “systemically failed to provide African Americans access to a quality education.”

Totally clueless!  It is no surprise DeVos would be booed at the school last week during its commencement.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were NOT created as a choice, but rather the only option, as African Americans were NOT allowed to attend most traditionally white schools until the end of segregation.  But who cares about facts these days!

“One can not be fully free until you are educated.”

In case you are interested in facts, here is Mary Bethune’s story:

The Talking Drums of West Africa

Over at Global Wire Associates, we released the first article in our yearlong series about the history of communication. We highlighted some of the earliest methods of messaging, ranging from cave paintings to hydraulic semaphore systems.

We briefly touched on all of these methods, but the one that most interested me was the West African tradition of “talking drums.” Drumming for communication continues to be prevalent throughout the region, especially in Nigeria. The drums would communicate specific messages across many miles to different villages. Drumming is also used to celebrate community rituals and religious traditions, as well as tell stories and even gossip. It was also used during wartime to rally the troops.

During slavery throughout the Americas, African slaves would pass their time drumming for entertainment. However, drums were banned because the slaves were communicating to each other over long distances, especially during slave revolts, using a code their owners couldn’t understand.

Go figure!

I have been lucky through my work to travel to Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Senegal to learn about the different functions of drumming for communication.  Even within the same country, drumming has many different “languages” and traditions.

I found these great videos that explain the history of drumming among African peoples.

James Baldwin: Optimism and Relevance

Photo Credit: Bob Aldeman, Magnolia FilmsLast weekend I saw Raoul Peck’s excellent documentary about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro. Baldwin says so many mindblowing things in the film that it would be hard to try to reinterpret everything that was said by him (so see the movie!). However, if you are unfamiliar with his work, please start reading some of his books, particularly No Name in the Street and The Devil Finds Work, which the film quotes from regularly.

The basis of this movie comes from an unfinished script Baldwin wrote to his agent in the 1980s called Remember This House. In it, he documents his relationships with his friends and civil rights icons Malcolm X, Medger Evers and Martin Luther King Jr.

I was most fascinated by this film because I now have a deeper appreciation for his thoughtfulness and powerful vocal expressions which are still relevant today. Watching the film would give you the impression that he was still alive today speaking about current racial and political issues, although most of the interviews from the movie were done in the 1960s.

Baldwin was years ahead of his time!

Out of the many, MANY things, one thing I remember him saying in the film was that he is only an optimist because he is still alive. Meaning life as a black man in America, whether in the 1960s or today, is pretty dismal. When he said that, I immediately thought of the continuing murders of unarmed black boys and men I see on the news regularly. I also thought about the continued disrespect black people face even in the highest levels of society. Look at all the racial hostility President and Mrs. Obama faced from white detractors and the amount of dignity and class they showed them in return. Unlike the current president, Obama had thick skin and had courage under fire.

We all have to be optimists just to survive.