Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Oluadah Equiano; all familiar names that have been readily adopted by American history. These Black history figures have been canonized for oratory skills, abolition work, or for being a first. While their exploits are worthy of consideration, our history books have ignored countless members of society whose exploits are not chronicled, remembered, or celebrated by many.
History seems to have forgotten or ignored the millions of ordinary citizens who lived to make life better for the common man. I’m talking about the number of ordinary citizens who are the original heroes of the civil rights movement, specifically the unsung heroes of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. When I think of those porters, janitors, and maids who gave up comforts for nearly a year—thinking not of themselves but making “good trouble” for so many others. We all know Rosa Parks; whose name is synonymous with being “the mother of the Civil Rights Movement” and who has been classified as “the Spark.” But what happened to the memory of Claudette Colvin, the 15-year-old girl who refused to give up her seat on the bus—doing the exact same thing as Mrs. Parks. Why is she not celebrated? Why has her name been blotted out? What about the scores of unnamed people who should fill out the historical record for having spoken up or out about inequality?
For every Rosa Parks, there is a Colvin or another seemingly ordinary citizen who should be heralded. As I think about my place in the world—a Black man in America who recognizes the shoulders that I’m standing on, I am indebted to the memory of Parks and Colvin as well as the hundreds of others who fought for rights and who tired of wrong. I am indebted to these people, and as I continue to practice inclusive education; I continually lift them up by educating others about their lives.
Black Lives Matter
In the past few years in America, there has been a clarion call to hear about the problem of systemic racism in America. This summer there has been a call for us to “say their names” in response to their deaths. The goal being to remember them, while it may seem difficult to remember someone you don’t know, we must remember that “Black lives matter.”
Send Judah First
That’s why I wrote Send Judah First: The Erased Life of an Enslaved Soul. While writing, I learned from Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz’s book, Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, that the enslaved cook was the celebrated member of the staff, and she/he played a significant role in the daily maintenance of the Southern way of life.
You see, for Judah, she would not know the fame of being a celebrity chef and be welcomed into the historic annals, but she would know the status of preparing the fancy meals for the Hite’s society of friends.
It is important for us to have the knowledge of the hidden names that history and time have forgotten. Judah, and others like her, bore the injustices and indignities of slavery, but managed to wrangle out a formed sense of humanity. Their stories live on when read about them and when we remember them.
– By Brian C. Johnson, PhD, author of Send Judah First
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