Identity – My Black history is American History

It is easy for dysconscious individuals to see black history as something Americans celebrate once a year during the shortest month of the year with an extra day every four years. As a conscious person I understand my black history is American history and this history exists everyday of the year. My identity is tied up in my black history. One of my earliest memories of black consciousness is my year in 2nd grade. That was the year Americans were in a national campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday. I vividly remember Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday song playing on the radio daily. I vividly remember one day I went to school with a black armband around the sleeve of my white shirt in solidarity with the cause. Yes, in my black history exists a mother who joined the movement and taught me to be proud of my heritage. She taught me to be proud of my blackness and was my first teacher of black feminist thought.

As I work to create identity-safe school and workplaces I am conscious of my own identity and reflect on my personal black history often. My Black history exists within the lives of my elders and their desire for their descendants to be successful. All born in Louisiana, they may not have had the seventh-generation language, but they definitely instilled it in their offspring. My maternal grandmother and grandfather were the ones I spent most of my young life with in Houston, Texas as my mother was working in the summer and after school. My maternal great uncle was a shining light in the family and always proud of the beauty of our huge black family. My black history is a history of intrigue and unanswered questions. Upon the death of my paternal grandmother, who also lived in Houston, I learned a little about her mother. I learned that my paternal great grandmother born in Alabama was one of 14 children from a white Frenchman and a black concubine. This great great-grandfather of mine came to America from the Westphalia area of Germany on a boat and basically fathered 2 “families”, one white, one black. My black history exists in my maternal great-grandmother Momie (Mahm-ee), Stella Roberts Gray, who left this earth when I was a teen. Momie was born on a plantation somewhere between Boyce and Alexandria, Louisiana, she smoked a pipe, worked on a farm her entire life, and lived to be about 117 years old. The history of black families as enslaved Africans relegated our ancestors to have no birth records other than those records their owners chose to keep. In a 1980 newspaper article commemorating her 113th birthday, hailed as the “Healthiest Woman Ever Seen” she told the reporters “I think I’m 113, I might be older. I know I ain’t no younger.”

My Black History is American History! As an educator of educators, I’ve wanted to know more about Momie and my history. For today’s post I share a casual photo of her that I keep on my phone. This photo is a constant reminder of my personal history. My personal history is a history of many, some will run from and deny that history, some will embrace it. Momie and all my elders left the world to us their descendants. I continue their legacy through my work as an AntiRacist educator, learning about my history and encouraging others to engage in seventh generation thinking for their own descendants. As a conscious educator I am painfully aware of the ways in which accountability stifles the ability of our children to learn about American history beyond heroes and holidays, beyond the revisionist victors and victims stories that erase Black Wallstreet from our American consciousness and label it a riot rather than the massacre that it truly was. I choose daily to create identity-safe space for educators to uncover their histories, deal with the pain of those histories and reflect on how they can use history as a cognitive scaffold for meaningful connections to the socio-political issues our students and families are faced with today.

American history includes multiple perspectives.

If we don’t know our history we are doomed to repeat it. Follow the links to learn more about the Black Wallstreet Massacre.

Greenwood Cultural Center on the site of Black Wallstreet Massacre:

Tulsa Massacre: