“We are not made by history. We are makers of history.” – Dr. King
Author Brian C. Johnson reflects on MLK and Send Judah First: The Erased Life of an Enslaved Soul.
Martin Luther King once stated, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” This statement, looking back at all he had done in his short life, is remarkable in so many ways. Dr. King, a well-educated man, likely never heard of Judah. While he was certainly aware of other Southern cities, he may have never heard of Middletown, VA or Belle Grove Plantation, where Judah was purchased and lived out her years.
The nation is grappling with the questions of critical race theory and whether our kids benefit from examining America’s story and the questions that arise. An honest look at the questions of CRT require us to take a deeper look at ourselves and our shared history. One of the most misunderstood elements of the King legacy, is that he is mistakenly remembered as working for the betterment of African Americans only. King’s work should be received by all people regardless of race or creed. It’s true that American history has not always been true to its aspirational disposition towards equality but it is essential that we delve into these hard histories and share the stories of many who have all but been erased.
Send Judah First: The Erased Life of an Enslaved Soul tells the story of a woman who should be remembered. Judah survived years of the institution of slavery through resilience of spirit and butter. Purchased by Rev. Isaac Hite to be the cook of Belle Grove. She and her twelve children endured years of forced servitude simply because of their black skin. She persisted alongside of the Hite family while keeping the hearth fires burning and serving meals that became the centerpiece of the Hite’s table. Judah made history without really trying. She merely plied her trade. In the historical record Judah’s life is reduced to the date she was purchased and the date that she died. I felt that it was very important to bring her story to life and to portray the depth, humanity, and vulnerability of a beautiful soul all but erased by history.
Although there is still much work to be done, we have gained so much politically, educationally, and we are getting much closer to our American aspiration. In recent history, Dr. King’s dream is being realized in one way by the election of Vice President Kamala Harris as the first woman of South Asian and Black heritage. We can honor and celebrate this historic event while also examining and learning about the hard truths of our shared history. One way to do this is by getting to know Judah’s hidden story.
-Brian C. Johnson, author of best selling historical fiction novel, Send Judah First: The Erased Life of an Enslaved Soul.
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