Much like so many other parents of African descent, my momma wanted me to be a doctor. However, if she truly wanted that reality for me then she should not have taken me to the library every Saturday. I’m not sure how encouraging me to explore all the stacks and check out the book limit could have resulted in anything less than my lifelong passion for words, expression, storytelling, and writing. I don’t think I ever independently checked out a book on life sciences. I was too obsessed with poetry and protagonists and plot twists to care about the nervous system.
By the time I was six, picture books bored me. I wanted PULP. I needed to let my imagination create the scene so that I could lose myself in that world. When I discovered that I too could write any story I wanted to tell, that’s when my diary and journal collection began. Mostly biographical. Vacillating between giggly observations and state-of-the-world rants. Yes, I’ve been me for a very long time.
I’ll admit that I did not initially like history—particularly in school. Sure my parents gifted us with Black History flashcards. And sure I annually watched Eyes on the Prize, Shaka Zulu, The Color Purple and Roots. Nevertheless I resented history class because my participation in it always seemed like little more than a footnote. I knew we’d been more than just slaves and there was more of us than Martin, Malcolm, Harriet and Rosa. Plus I was pretty sick of learning about old White men who didn’t practice good oral hygiene.
Though I loved my hometown’s library, I felt let down by it and was perplexed by the failure of my Black teachers to raise hell about the lack of Black history in our school’s library and curriculum. Perhaps that was unfair, but Mr. Henley, Ms. Isadore, Ms. Jackson, and Ms. Chaney should have datgum done better, and gotten us involved too. I mean Christ. We practically existed inside of the history and legacy of the Black Panther Party in the Bay Area. They could have, at the VERY least, worn black berets during Black History Month.
Over the last 15 years, my love and appreciation of history has grown and thrived because that’s how long I’ve been doing this Black history challenge. I started with emails at the Las Vegas advertising agency where I worked then moved to Facebook and then expanded onto my personal blog. This annual challenge is why I appreciate the internet and all of the scholars and agencies who have used it to keep Black history alive no matter what these clown-ass American schools and textbook companies do.
In these posts, I try like hell to link to every online resource that has given me life as it relates to the history of my people. But I also realize how learning online still sometimes falls short. I was reminded of this when I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC three years ago. Walking inside of that museum and through those life-sized exhibits humbled me. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants who dared to fight and overcome impossible circumstances. Seeing that in person can never compare to reading it in a snippet online. If you have the opportunity, please go and see for yourself.
Also, after visiting the museum I realized just how much I’d neglected to take advantage of the Black historical resources right here in Atlanta. I was not get going to let a lack of time or finances be my piss-poor excuse—especially since I have enough of both to learn about who TF I am and to bring the kids along with me. Over this past Christmas holiday, I, the boys, my momma and my niece went to The National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Next weekend, I will make the relatively short trek to Alabama to visit The Legacy Museum. (If my ancestors could march there, I sure as hell can drive there.) And yesterday, I went to the Auburn Avenue Research Library.
Yes, it is right there on Auburn Avenue, the same street I talked about here. Before it was the four-story center for research and study of African American history and culture that it is today, the library was a one-story brick affair located a couple of blocks down. As of the summer of 1921, the Auburn Branch of the Carnegie Library of Atlanta was the first and only public library Black citizens could use.
Alice Dugged Cary (pictured above left) was the Auburn Branch’s first librarian. Cary established the first free kindergartens for Black children throughout the South, was the second principal of Morris Brown College, and established the second branch of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.
Annie L. McPheeters (pictured above right) joined the Auburn Branch in 1934 and was fully committed to boosting public engagement with the library. She developed the Adult Education Project and used it as a vehicle to launch the Negro History Collection of books by us, for us and about us.
Over the years, Auburn branch grew and moved and grew and moved some more until making its home in 1994 at the building on the corner of Auburn and Courtland. It also expanded again in 2008. I was there just yesterday getting my learn on, taking in the exhibit on Toni Morrison, learning more about upcoming events centered around voting rights and the 15th Amendment, and hearing a lecture from Thomas A. Foster on his book Rethinking Rufus: Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men. Yes, the topic was as difficult to absorb as you can imagine (as are many other aspects of what we have experienced here in America as Black people) BUT…we really need to know this, Y’all.
We really need to understand what our people endured because that trauma is written in our DNA and we are still responding to that trauma in our daily lives. We need to heal and we need to help each other heal. Yes, it is a difficult task and no, it won’t be fully resolved in our lifetimes. HOWEVER, even as I personally confront those ugly aspects of our history, I can’t help but be proud and inspired. Every time I’ve walked away from a museum or a center or a library or a lecture about what we’ve done and who we are, I feel a million times prouder than when I first walked in.
You can look at any of these BHM posts from this year or past years and see the beauty we have created even under the most horrible of conditions. The scientific inventions. The music. The fashion. The language. The art. The philosophy of complete and total badassery. WE DID THAT because we understand the value of freedom. WE DID THAT because we will never deny ourselves the pleasure of life in whatever way we are able to live it. WE DID THAT because WE ARE. AND WE STILL DO IT TODAY.
Be encouraged, My People. Get out to Auburn Avenue Research Library if you can. If you can’t, go to the library wherever you are and do a bit of learning in the flesh. Take your children! If that library is lacking resources on Black history, challenge those muthagrabbas about it. Tell ’em Nikki sent you.