“What happens to a dream deferred?Langston Hughes
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?…
Or does it explode?”
The city of Saint Louis celebrated the first virtual Annie Malone parade in May. Thousands of African American families “attended” from home. Maybe a smattering of Caucasians. In the past, our newspaper had headlines that said that this was the largest “Black Parade” in the area. If you are like most people, you will want to ask:
“Who was Annie Malone?”
She was an extraordinary woman who led a fascinating life. Her parents were slaves. Her mother had to escape from Kentucky, hauling her large brood, once her husband decided to go fight for the Union Army. One of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who were vital to the Union Army’s success in the conflict. Kentucky was a slave state. Any Union Black soldiers who were captured were first tortured in vicious ways, then executed. White Union soldiers were traded for Rebel troops.
Annie could not finish high school because of poor health, yet she grew her business so well that at one point she paid more income tax than anyone in Saint Louis, maybe the state. She gave jobs and hope to tens of thousands of Black women. She singlehandedly made sure that a Black orphanage remained open. She donated money left and right: to universities and charities, while maintaining a frugal lifestyle. Why does the vast majority of the population not know about her?
I remember a brief conversation that I had with a “friend” long ago. He made what he thought was a funny comment, about why they needed a whole month to commemorate Black history. That a few hours would have been enough. This made me curious, and furious. I did some reading.
He never heard of Senbe Pieh, also known as Joseph Cinque. He led a rebellion of 53 African captives being transported from Cuba to be sold as slaves. In those days it was common to transport slaves from the Caribbean to America because most slaves who survived the “cruise” from Africa were sent to work on sugar cane plantations. There was this myth, which of course became common knowledge, that stated that Black people were better able to exert superhuman efforts if the weather was hot.
The captain and the cook were killed. Cinque took over the ship and headed back to Africa, but the US Navy forced him to return to America. He was charged with murder. John Quincy Adams defended him. The rebels prevailed and were allowed to return to Africa.
Nat Turner led a slave rebellion and was hanged. Less known is the fact that there were more than 200 slave revolts. Frederick Douglass, lately of Trumpian fame, escaped slavery and became a prominent voice for abolition. Sojourner Truth, who escaped slavery with her infant daughter, later successfully sued her “owner” to allow her to get her son back. Octavius Catto, who was murdered because he tried to organize Black people to vote.
W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes, who could write inspiring prose and poetry. Dozens of educators; artists; politicians.
A month would never be enough to learn about all. Or a year. Or a lifetime.
There is a lot of talk about statues these days. Proponents of keeping Confederate statues and names say that this is all about preserving our history. If this is the case, why are there no statues of the people that I just mentioned scattered through our country, particularly in the South? They are part of our history. Why not memorialize them to the same extent that traitors were revered?
The answer, of course, is that the statues were not placed in our main thoroughfares to teach us about our past. They are there because the people in power wanted to remind those who were being relegated to poverty and submission that these men up on those horses had the ability to strangle the life out of those who complained.
What do you think would have happened if the South had won the Civil War?
Would Jefferson Davis have allowed all Union troops to go home unharmed? Would he have pardoned Lincoln? How long do you think slavery would have remained the law of the land? Fifty years? A hundred? Until now? Would the Southerners have erected statues to honor Grant and Sherman? Would they at any point have felt honor-bound to preserve Black history?
You know the answer to all of these questions.
So no: it’s not about history. It’s about the fact that there has been, and there continues to be, a concerted effort to suppress, intimidate, and demoralize a large segment of our population just because they are born with genes that are a teeny weeny bit different from those of the majority. We should never appear, even faintly, to honor anyone responsible for this monstrosity.
I keep hoping that I will live to see the day when every Annie Malone parade is bursting at the seams with ALL of our population. Until then, I urge you to do your best to not be one of those people who knows so little of the lives of others.
I no longer talk to my “friend.”
Before you write any disparaging comments about my views, I must insist that you finish reading the following works, so that we have something substantial to discuss:
- The Ways of White Folks, short stories by Langston Hughes
- Desiree’s Baby; short story by Kate Chopin
- The Wife of his Youth; short story by Charles Chesnutt
- This Morning, this Evening, So Soon; short story by James Baldwin
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; biography by Maya Angelou
- The Souls of Black Folk; book by W E B Du Bois
- The Wikipedia pages on Elijah Lovejoy and the 1921 Tulsa massacre
That should be enough material for anyone to be at least 10% informed. Digest them; then we can talk about preserving history.