Sunday, January 01, 2012

In sharing personal history with visitors to the park these days ...  

... I'm finding myself increasingly moving away from what I once perceived as "black" history, toward an insistence that our story be seen as an important American narrative. The change in my thinking began upon realizing the critical role played by black southerners whom tradition had forced to step into the Mississippi gutter when meeting a white person on the sidewalk.  Those folks played a major role in shaping the times and the future.  And, that as the result of an aggressive recruitment of workers into the war industries -- particularly in the Kaiser shipyards -- where they  found themselves literally catapulted to the "front of the bus" 10-12 years  before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott (1954-1955), and incidentally, becoming the catalyst for irresistible and enduring social change. 

This unfamiliar spasm of at least limited respect and civility surely bred a new burst of hope in this new place, and may have started the surge toward full equality which radiated outward into the nation to become the modern Civil Rights Movement. The more research I do; the more refreshed my memory; the more certain am I that -- from their humble efforts in an era of relatively powerless Jim Crow institutions -- it was that heroic generation of blacks who altered the course of history, and forced a redefinition of Democracy for all Americans.

I guess this is on my mind because I'm speaking before audiences of major corporations (Safeway Stores, IT&T Employees, major labor unions, etc.) in the coming months, and that it's in January (the MLK remembrances), February (Black History Month), and March (Women's History Month) that I'm invited to share history that is largely dependent upon opinion; mine. That's a huge responsibility since I don't pretend to be an historian.   I'm sharing what is purely subjective -- yet it is I who has been given the microphone ... and the audiences.   It is sobering. It is humbling, and it is awesomely important that I measure up to the task; yet it is difficult to feel worthy of the privilege. 

I find myself wondering if this isn't partly a woman's natural reluctance to accept the mantle of leadership, even at those times when it is obvious that it is we who are leading?

More about this in weeks to come ... . 

Photo:  banner for the Southern Poverty Law Center.