I just got home from spending several days with my just-shy-of-92-year-old father. We started a new project, Dad and me. I’m recording his stories. Not necessarily the way they happened, but the way he wants them remembered. On the second day, after four hours of non-stop storytelling, Dad’s voice began to grow hoarse and my endurance began to wear thin.
“You may not need a break,” I said in reply to his protests, “but I do. Besides, I have writing to do. The third book of my Grace in Africa trilogy comes out next week and I have articles to write about Black History Month.”
Dad looked at me, suspicion in his eyes. “Are you making that up?” he asked.
My father had no idea that February was Black History month. Even though its roots go back to 1926, the year he started first grade.
“No civil rights in those days,” Dad told me.
True. No one talked much about the struggle for the right to vote, or fair employment, or equal opportunities—until after World War ll. And not much actually got accomplished for almost twenty years after that. Not until Martin Luther King, Jr. Hard to believe.
“I once saw a picture of the Chicago kid that got killed in Mississippi,” Dad said.
Emmett Till. Just fourteen. Born the same year as my older sister. Horrible.
“Did I tell you about the Civil War?” Dad asked. “We had family on both sides. That’s how it was in Missouri. I stepped across the ‘Mason-Dixon Line’ every day on my way to school. Did I tell you?”
He did, but I listened again. Each telling was a bit different.
February is Black History month. February, the birthday month of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This year, the theme for the month is African-Americans and the Civil War. Lots of stories will be told. Not always the way they happened, but the way we want to remember them. Or perhaps the only way we can remember and still live with ourselves.
“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.”
Maya Angelou, “And Still I Rise”