Since the May murder of George Floyd unrest has been spreading across the country faster than the COVID-19 pandemic. If there is any good coming from this turmoil, it is that more White Americans than ever are aware of just how unjust our national systems have been for centuries and continue to be. My writing colleague Phyllis Brown, worried about the safety of her own Black children, has channeled her concerns into historical fiction novels about Black history. I commend them to your reading and thank you, Phyllis Brown for today’s guest blog.
Black History Matters – by Phyllis Brown
After my teacher read our class Tom Sawyer, I went to the library in search of another Mark Twain book. I checked out Puddin’head Wilson, thrilled to have my first big person book. The story is set in Missouri before the 1850s. The title character, David Wilson, nicknamed Puddin’head, is an eccentric, open-minded lawyer, searcher for knowledge, and observer of conditions in society and the social, physical, emotional, and intellectual effect of slavery on both Black and White people. The impact on me was profound and ignited my desire to know more about the people who were held captive in those times? How? Why? And the residual consequences?
I was ten, and my life trajectory had launched. Fast forward to my college years. I saw a copy of Lift Every Voice and Sing while helping my roommate organize her sheet music. I didn’t know what it was. She was surprised that I didn’t recognize this as the Negro National Anthem. From the moment I first learned there was a Black National Anthem, I decided I didn’t want anyone else to not know about this. That inspired me to teach my students the song and teach other important aspects of African American history. I think a lot of America’s problems are because we never really went through therapy as a country. We had about ten years of progress after the Civil War; then the fear of the night riders and KKK terrorized people.”
We Need to Know the Whole History
When I began to teach my first students I had an epiphany one day while reading to a group of second graders. I read them a story about George Washington Carver. When I finished one little boy pumped his fist up and down and told me, “Those slaves were stupid. I’d never let anyone do that to me!”
After staying home to raise my own children, when I returned to the classroom, this time in high school, I knew I had to keep teaching my students about the history of what’s really happened among the African Americans in this country. Young people need to know their history, but they aren’t learning it from their parents, because the parents don’t know this history. There has always been slavery. As in Europe and Asia, African slavery shared the same reasons why a person would be enslaved: because they were criminals who had stolen or murdered someone, but more commonly because they were debtors who had to work off a restitution, and mostly they were prisoners of war. Sometimes they were indentured servants working off a family’s financial hardship or when their own family couldn’t take care of them: [Editor’s note: Many of the passengers on the Mayflower came as indentured servants to pay for their passage]
Different Forms of Slavery
The big difference between indentured servants, who could work off their debts, and enslaved Africans, was the color of their skin and laws in this land that made Blacks “now and forever slaves.” Their skin color made them identifiable, so they could not escape easily as could their European counterparts. Enslaving people because of their color is part of our national heritage and we need to look back to see what happened and realize how this has been affecting us, so that we can finally arrive at a healthy and happy situation.
I decided one way I could do this was by writing and publishing the historical series about the fictional Folayan. We can do our part by educating ourselves about the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of our history. All the focus now on Black Lives Matter is a golden opportunity to acknowledge the not-so-beautiful parts of our collective history. As we learn about all of our history, we can learn from it and move on to a brighter future for everyone. We cannot overcome problems we until we acknowledge they exist.
Thank you for taking time to read this guest blog by Phyllis Brown, author of Folayan’s Promise. Her website is phyllisjbrown.com. Her writing focuses on a part of American history we haven’t always taught our children. I hope you found this interesting and inspiring. If so, why not forward it to a friend or sign up for your own free future blogs at HowWiseThen. I have some free gifts waiting for you there.