I was recently listening to Jill Lepore (Who wrote The Life And Opinions of Jane Franklin) discuss the absence of Ben Franklin’s sister in his autobiography. Jane evidently had a rough life even though she was no less smart or full of potential when they were children. She lacked the self-made, bootstraps narrative of her life that Ben had, and her role in caring for their parents who were ill was evidently unimportant in his life story. Lepore said something about how we know the histories of these successful men but what we need to look for is: Who is missing? Who helped along the way by caring for family or children or managing households or property. What was their story? Our knowledge of history is shaped by the hands of people wealthy and successful enough to tell their story. We don’t hear the stories of the Jane Franklins and we most definitely don’t see them get credit in the stories of the spotlight-holding family members who may have had their lives made a little easier because of the presence of others.
We are now in Black History month and this year I enter February with more knowledge of Black History in this country than I have had in the previous 40 years combined. I think about American History a lot lately. About how crappy my history education was growing up. And then, how little I knew about Black History. Frederick Douglass once said in a speech: “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn,” which is a great summary of Black History and how we hide it into our own whitewashed narrative. I looked up Frederick Douglass again yesterday, to give myself a better understand of him after the President stumbled of his own references yesterday. And did you know was a staunch supporter of Women’s Rights as well as a abolitionist? I found that out yesterday. I’m 41.
Recently I also learned about the Black Panthers which I knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about previously. I mean, the iconic image of afro and black jackets? That’s about it. I felt like there was a lot of violence with the movement but I wasn’t sure. Then I watched Black Power Mixtape and Vanguard of the Revolution and I learned about the Free Breakfast programs and the social/community support that the Black Panthers provided in the midst of their protesting and revolting. I also learned about how the FBI sent memos and letters inside the organization asking for methods and plans to dismantle any of the Black Resistance movement. I learned about the murder of one of the leaders (Fred Hampton) by the Chicago police and the terrible botched investigation that followed.
I learned about Fannie Lou Hamer who was giving live testimony of her experience after an arrest and President Johnson was SO SCARED of how damning her testimony would be that he interrupted it with a press conference knowing that the stations would all stop her footage and film him. Obviously it backfired and the testimony probably got more eyeballs on it in the aftermath than it would have that first day.
I guess my point is just to say: I’m 41 and now I’m finally starting to fill in the blanks of my own knowledge of Black History and I thought I’d share that with you. There’s so much more to learn, but I guess it’s better now than never, right? My local library has a lot of programs this month I’m hoping to attend. Maybe your library is doing the same?