It's Black History Month and Black history is under attack
Most Black Americans are all too familiar with the concept of bitter irony. But it must be especially galling that here, in the middle of Black History Month, so many of their fellow Americans seem bound and determined to pervert or erase actual Black history.
You’ve heard by now of all the attempts by school boards and legislatures to outlaw teaching the idea that racism is part of understanding American history. In Florida, the state board of education prohibited schools from teaching the New York Times’ 1619 Project. In North Dakota, the governor signed a law banning critical race theory in schools. In Texas, the governor signed a law banning schools from requiring teachers to discuss controversial issues. Which I guess means that everything from slavery to the Trail of Tears falls under the category of “things Mommy and Daddy don’t like to talk about.”
Meanwhile, book banning – which I thought had gone the way of pet rocks – has made quite the comeback. Several school districts have banned Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” a letter to his young son about the realities of being a Black American. A school district in Missouri banned Kiese Laymon’s “Heavy,” which deals with similar themes along with Laymon’s struggle with his weight. A district in Pennsylvania even banned a picture book about Rosa Parks.
The first-place trophy in the Irony Oscars, though, has to go to the University of Alabama. On Feb. 3 the university agreed to rename its College of Education building for Autherine Lucy, now Autherine Lucy Foster, who became the first Black student at the university in 1956.
That’s the good part. The bad part is that they didn’t remove the original name – Graves Hall, in honor of David Bibb Graves, who was a former governor and also a Grand Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan.
So the building was called Lucy-Graves Hall, as if the pioneering student and the former Klansman are somehow equals.
After some very predictable backlash, the university reversed itself Friday and took Graves’ name off the building; now it’ll be called Autherine Lucy Hall. But just having done it in the first place is about as tone-deaf as you can get without being vegetable or mineral.
Or maybe it’s just mean, and the meanness is the point.
Closer to home, in Salisbury, a group went out a couple of weeks ago to visit Dixonville Cemetery, the historic Black cemetery where graves date at least as far back as 1851. The group was there to film videos for Black History Month.
When they got there, they found that somebody had broken or knocked over more than a dozen gravestones. The Black history of a town literally turned into rubble.
Those other people, the school boards and legislatures and university officials – they’re doing the same thing. They do it with paperwork. But they’re trying to topple Black history, too – to minimize it, to pretend it’s not real. And in that way, they are no different from many of their ancestors.