I really love history.
I think that I love it so much because I was introduced to history by two people who loved it and I loved them both dearly.
My father and my maternal grandmother.
My father was a never without a book kind of brother. He introduced me to jazz and Frederick Douglass.
My Grandmother, was born before the turn of the century and had been raised in an extended family that included formerly enslaved people (her maternal grandparents). She had graduated college and worked as a school teacher prior to marriage.
My mother combed my hair every day for school and church, but my grandmother put my hair up at night. I had a little stool that she sat between her knees and I would lean back into the hammock made by her skirt and apron.
She would comb my hair and tell me all about my family. Stories of life, of my family, of my life. How my mother had been a tom boy.
How smart she was.
How my grandfather came here from Jamaica.
How they met.
We would laugh and she made it all come alive for me. So vivid that I felt I had been there, witnessed it myself.
And she would ask me about school. What was I reading.
And she told me “There is no shame in being Negro.”
She told me about the great kingdoms of Africa. Timbuktu, Benin and Jenne. About Sundiata and Kingdom of Mali.
She told me about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement and a long list of things. The Pharaohs of Egypt.
She had me read to her. Langston Hughes, Paul Lawrence Dunbar
She made history feel like Good Gossip over cocktails, looking back.
At the time it felt like hot chocolate and a good movie. .
I remembered years later, when some little white boy in college tried to bait me. The only black in the class. Spouted some racist diatribe about the primitive Africans who benefited from slavery.
I felt her pull my hair, gently into place.
“There were great kingdoms in Africa when people in Europe lived in caves and didn’t bathe.”
In that moment, history, like her love was both shield and sword.
History, Like family is supposed to give you roots to grow and Wings to soar.
“Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. You have to expose who you are so that you can determine what you need to become.”
― Cynthia A. Patterson