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LOCAL COLUMNIST: History is not to be wallowed in, but used as a mirror

Willie Mae Samuel

Willie Mae Samuel, founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome

History should impel the individual to deeper depths and higher heights. When one calls for a study and a celebration of Black History, this does not mean wallowing in it, but to use it as a mirror that it might impel us ever forward. Many have said, actually without thinking, “Oh, just leave the past in the past and let the dead past take care of itself.” Sadness visits me when I hear that, so I usually follow that statement with,

“Then I suggest that you tell everybody in all of the school systems to throw all the history books away and return to your home and toss all of those Bibles in the fire. If by any chance you happen to have some Jewish friends, tell them that the Holocaust never took place, so there is no need to visit those sites in Germany. When all of that is done then come back to me and tell me that those individuals agreed with you and have followed through with your suggestions. It is at that time that I, along with those who think like me, will stop calling for the celebration of Black achievements in this country. Until you are able to tell us that the books have been tossed and burned, you are wasting your time and you will be better off telling the wind to stop blowing or the sun to stop shining.”

Until the majority of Americans can find it in their hearts to join in the celebrations, race relations will continue to decline. If you have noticed, the gap of understanding has grown wider and deeper between the races. This present administration has helped tremendously with that. The longer the guilt is covered up, it is going to take even longer to fill in the gap. When schools incorporate black history into the curriculum it is designed to advance social and political change. That social and political change is a frightening expression for some people. Just recently these unwritten rules involving social change have been denounced by most people.

However, deep down inside, some whites still have these rules written on their hearts and will react towards Blacks in a negative way because they are remembering what some still call the ‘good ole days.’

Did you know that a Black male could not offer his hand (to shake hands) with a white male because it implied being socially equal? Obviously, a Black male could not offer his hand — or any other part of his body — to a white woman, because he risked being accused of rape. Blacks and whites were not supposed to eat together. If they did eat together, whites were to be served first, and some sort of partition was to be placed between them. Under no circumstance was a Black male to offer to light the cigarette of a white female — that gesture implied intimacy. Blacks were not allowed to show affection toward one another in public, especially kissing, because it offended whites. Jim Crow etiquette prescribed that Blacks were introduced to whites, never whites to Blacks. For example: "Mr. Peters (the white person), this is Charlie (the Black person), that I spoke to you about."

Whites did not use courtesy titles of respect when referring to Blacks, such as Mr., Mrs., Miss, Sir, or Ma'am. Instead, Blacks were called by their first names. Blacks had to use courtesy titles when referring to whites, and were not allowed to call them by their first names. If a Black person rode in a car driven by a white person, the Black person sat in the back seat, or the back of a truck. White motorists had the right-of-way at all intersections. Did you know that?

Do you know why it is that for many inventions given to white inventors, there is also a Black counter-part? Some people may wonder why every time one speaks of the invention of the cotton gin, Blacks will say, “No, Eli did not invent the cotton gin.” Or someone may say, “Benjamin Franklin invented the light bulb,” and an informed person will say, “No he did not.” There was a law that accounts for that. It was called the Manumission Law. A slave could gain his or her freedom one of three ways. One way he could get his freedom papers was by saving his master’s life. The second way was he could snitch to the master on another slave plotting to run or rebel. The final, and a most devastating way for a slave to get his Manumission papers, was to invent something and allow the master to claim it under his name.

Nobody is angry, just calling for a little uncovering for understanding. Be reminded that “sharecropper education” was received by so many African Americans and poor whites. Our young people are too important to the future of America for us to continue to give them a sharecropper education. Now that we know better, we must do better. These children are our hope, our challenge and our future, so let us teach ALL children so that America can be America to ALL.

Willie Mae Samuel is the founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome.