BY SARAH CARVER, GRACE ATTENDER
History is often reduced to a handful of memorable moments and events. This is even more true when it comes to the history of African Americans in this country. The courageous stories of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad or the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. are only a snippet of the rich history of African Americans. The stories that we are all taught and hit the usual talking points, particularly this time of year, are only a very few of the significant and important events to know and remember.
We all know the names of Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Malcom X, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, and MLK Jr., as well as a handful of others. But it is important that we take a deeper look at the full history that makes up that of African Americans, because it is all of our history. Going beyond the usual stories we will not only discover new things about the past, but we will see the why behind so much of our present. Learning is how we grow, so I wanted to just get a glimpse of some of the little-known stories of African Americans.
Did you know that before Rosa Parks, there were several women who refused to give up their seats on buses? One of these women was Claudette Colvin. This fifteen-year-old young woman was arrested and went on to be one of four women who challenged the segregation in court. Because Rosa Parks was working as a secretary for the NAACP and was already well known and respected, she became the face of the movement, not Claudette or one of the other nameless and brave women. The behind the scenes struggle to end segregation was often fought by young unknown people, and more than half were women.
That is just one example of the thousands and thousands of little-known stories in history that most of us have never been taught. For example, did you know that one-in-four cowboys in the “Old West” were in fact, African American? In fact, the legend of the Lone Ranger is based on the life of one of those cowboys. Were you aware that the cartoon Betty Boop was based on an African American jazz singer from the 1920’s named Esther Jones? Have you heard of a man named Onesimus, a slave who in the 1700’s introduced inoculations to America, or that the practice of inoculation had been practiced for centuries prior in Africa? There are thousands more stories like this.
For me, these stories represent more than just history in general. For me, these are the stories of my husband and kids. I have been with my husband, BJ, for 25 years and we have six kids. BJ is black and Black History Month is so much more than a month. Interracial marriage was not legal in the US until 1967 and even then, was still punished in some states. You may be surprised to know that Alabama passed a referendum in 2000 with only 59% of the vote to finally make interracial marriage fully legal. The year 2000. Here we are 19 years later and all we have to do is turn on the news to see that we still have so far to go.
As a result of living as a white woman within a black family, racial reconciliation has become a passion for me, especially within the Church. God has given me and my husband an overwhelming passion to help heal the Broken Place of Hatred, especially among those who call Jesus their Lord. It is hard and frustrating and often filled with sadness. And to be honest, the darkness of it has left me feeling enraged and bitter these past several months, combative even. But God showed me that I was too focused on the ugly, the hate. I was focused on the racism and bigotry and I forgot one of the many things that MLK Jr. said that lined up with how God thinks about it all; “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” As a Christ-follower, I must use love to shine a light on the darkness. To do this, I have refocused onto all of the amazing, unknown stories of African Americans throughout history. Instead of just focusing on racism and injustice, I am seeking out the good as well.
Revelation 5:9 tells us that Heaven will be filled with people from “every tribe and language and people and nation.” As Christians, we must learn to love each other here on earth. As Dave preached last Sunday, the Bible is clear we have to “Stop discriminating, stop exclusion, stop tribalism, stop segregation.” The only way to do this is to learn about and from people who are not like us.
Learning about our very rich history includes taking action. It could mean making a new friend of someone of a different race. Maybe it means donating books to your kid’s schools that are filled with diversity or that have African Americans as the main character. Possibly it means reading books by African American authors or reading about the systematic racism that has been established as part of the foundation of this country from the very beginning. It could just be doing a Google search on “contributions to America by African Americans”. Or maybe it means something out of your comfort zone like attending a public symposium on race relations or attending a meeting such as The Listening Table, which meets once a month at the 8450 Grace building in Indy, to discover ways that as Christ-followers we can do more to heal the Broken Place of Hate. Celebrate Black History, not just this month, but all the time by discovering more about the rich and rarely told history of our African American brothers and sisters!