“History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer to merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.” – James Baldwin
Whew! I love a good James Baldwin quote. Don’t you? This quote gets me every time. We should all be purveyors of history. It is in everything we do and it is in everything that we are (whether we know it or not). History matters!
I have always loved history. My dad is a history buff, too. He would summon us to the living room to watch all 1000 hours of “Eyes on the Prize.” And then he would tape it so that we would have it for later (just in case any school projects came up). He hung pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. He would always say that is all about “Malcolm, Martin and Me” (meaning you are next in line to make history). He used to read books by Lerone Bennett and share tidbits of what he had learned. He (and my mom) attended two HBCUs and we grew up with a love for them. He used to love to talk about his admiration for the Fisk Jubilee Singers. To this day, if there’s a special on PBS about us, we let each other know, because it’s important. Perhaps, I owe this love of history to him.
I went to an HBCU (Hampton University – Go, Pirates!) and the very first African-American History class I took there changed my life. My professor was very young and very black. We may have been among her first classes. She rocked a TWA when it wasn’t in style and it was clear that she wasn’t interested in what anyone thought about her. She was there to shed light and to free us from all of the wrong history we had learned in our lives. And, she did just that. Around the time that she assigned us to read “Things Fall Apart,” we also started discussing the concept of “Sankofa.” Sankofa is a word from the Akan tribe in Ghana that translates to “go back and get it.” The Akans believe that there must be movement and new learning as time passes. As this forward march proceeds, the knowledge of the past must never be forgotten. I have never forgotten that day in class. Sankofa and all that it stands for has stayed with me.
I have made it my personal mission to learn my history in its entirety. In doing so, I have become the fauxhistorian and my friends know that during Black History Month they can always count on me to post a little known fact daily. I also post historical facts and articles throughout the year. Many have asked when I was going to start a Black History Fan Page or when I was going to start blogging about history. Well…here it is. Welcome to Sankofa Studies 101. As Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Our history is painful sometimes. And, sometimes it takes effort to find the truth. But, it’s important that we do. I look forward to learning about us together.