Editorial #3: Black History is American History


A Field of Blue Flowers. Photographer Unknown.


Before we start, I’d like to commend the Chicago Police Department [never thought I’d do that!] for capturing the murderers of Ms. Hadiya Pendleton. They caught them the evening after her funeral on Sat. 02/09/13. It was televised, all 4 hours, and it was so poignant and gut-wrenching, I guess it stirred them to further action.

The entire audience was crying at some point in the service – preachers, politicians, and of course her family and friends. Especially her family and friends. Who would’ve ever thought that Rev. Louis Boddie’s church, the other cradle of great gospel singers in Chicago, would be used for a funeral that was watched worldwide? He was a Black History story in himself, but that’s for another day. God bless, and may she rest in peace. For 15 years, Hadiya lived an extraordinary life.

Which leads me to the subject at hand, indirectly related to her death. She was shot in Vivian G. Harsh Park. In this city, parks are named for various people we’ve never heard of, and most don’t care who they were or why the recognition. But who was Vivian G. Harsh? Why did she get a park? Because she was Chicago’s 1st Black librarian, from 1924-1958. Rather than follow the status quo, Mrs. Harsh decided to build a collection of African-American literary works that are still housed at Carter G. Woodson Library to this day. It started at the Hall Branch, built specifically for Black folk in 1932. 

Several years back, I’d go to Woodson periodically to use a computer. That was a painful segment in my life, it was like missing an appendage! Many times, I had to wait. Once, I decided to see exactly who was Vivian Harsh and what did she have in this collection. The history was fascinating. Microfiche of the Claude Barnett papers [Ida B.’s husband], Black Abolitionist Papers from 1830-1865, The Black Experience Since the 17th Century, the doctors and nurses at Provident Hospital, and all kinds of REAL Black History. Take the time to go, it’s eye-opening. And this lady carefully preserved this record of our existence. You can find out more on the Chicago Public Library’s section on her collection, and on Wikipedia.

Vivian G. Harsh - Date Unknown. From http://www.nathanielturner.com/blacklibrarianstable.htm
Vivian G. Harsh – Date Unknown. From http://www.nathanielturner.com/blacklibrarianstable.htm

So many times, we forget [or ignore] the greatness that has gone before us to make our standard of living possible today. That’s why these shootings are so horrendous. It’s as if everything our ancestors did to get us to this point is being flushed down the toilet. If anyone paid attention, it would be obvious that we’ve been ‘played’ from the beginning. And when you know you’re being played, you stop it at the source, immediately. You don’t continue to fall for it generation after generation. We as a people haven’t done that yet, and there’s really no excuse. We no longer have to be lynched, we do it to each other. Why? It won’t remove your frustration. 

Following slavery, there was Jim Crow – north and south. After that, it was the restrictive housing covenants, which is why Bronzeville existed [formerly known as Kenwood-Oakland and The Gap to the north]. Then, after the Civil Rights Act and the proliferation of Black students getting into colleges around the country, there was the flood of drugs into urban areas at reduced prices [large quantity = discounts] immediately following Kent State, to make sure budding revolutionaries would no longer be able to think straight.

I digress. This is about the foundation Mrs. Harsh built, and how we can benefit from it now by learning this piece of American History beyond Booker T., Garrett Morgan [the stoplight, sewing machine and gas mask] and George Washington Carver. There is so much that we [and I do include myself] don’t know about a complete version of American history that it’s pathetic. Even PBS recently had a program and what being a ‘peon’ really means, in the context of 19th Century America. Anyone who went to jail, and particularly sharecroppers whose landlords felt they’d committed some offense, were put into a system of ‘peonage,’ where instead of getting the sharecropping crumbs, they got NOTHING but still had to do the work from a prisoner chain gang. And the South has nothing on the North, but that’s also another story for another day.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize AMERICAN HISTORY, because without us, the country would still be using horses and buggies. The popular culture would still be listening to Pat Boone instead of stealing everything they can get their hands on, as Timberlake demonstrated on Sunday night. Remember, when the Stones and Beatles came to our shores and were asked who they listened to, it was Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Richard. The reporters asked, who are they? And unfortunately, those who profit from selling their souls to the pop culture deities that have consolidated the real music industry out of existence, are ‘livin’ large,’ and don’t give a damn about who was left behind. Their objective is to distract folk enough [and that’s everyone] with celebrity B.S. that we won’t notice that the money is being sucked out of our pockets while we wonder who’s getting divorced in Hollywood. Wake up!

Please feel free to comment, and part 2 of our Black History Series will be posted next week.