My History is Black History
I read a quote while visiting the Jewish concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland by a man named George Santayana. He said, “Those that do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For the record, I do not endorse many of Santayana’s quotes or beliefs, but this one happens to be very true. Some people do not remember the past because of the hurt, shame, or guilt it conjures up in their minds. They would rather forget those events. Others just do not have any interest in reliving such events, not seeing the value in knowing their history.
For me, as well as many others, Black History Month is a very significant time of the year to celebrate an under-appreciated part of American History. Each week this month I will blog about a person or event in Black/American history that I think should be recognized and thought about. This week the part of black history that I want to begin with is my history.
I don’t know how many of you have ever been on ancestry.com searching for those relatives that have long come and gone before you with hopes of learning more about yourself and where you came from. I have and let me warn you of the potential for addiction! A couple of years ago I was able to take a journey back much farther than I anticipated, a 200-year journey. I came across a woman by the name of Hagar Toomer. If my research serves me correctly, she was a slave born around 1803. I saw her name on the “roll call” of slaves belonging to a Toomer family. I learned this about the time that the movie “12 Years a Slave” came out, so that movie had great significance to me at the time I watched it.
Obviously there wasn’t much information on her as an individual, but there was much I learned. Her life was played out for me in the characters of those in the movies that I’ve seen from “12 Years A Slave” to “Roots.” She was undoubtedly a woman of strength, both physically and mentally, and maybe even spiritually in order to endure such treatment as a slave. She was a woman humiliated by the traumatic experience of having to provide sexual pleasures for her slave-owner, as she herself a mulatto, was a product of the same experience.
What I wondered though was how much did she dream or imagine beyond slavery. I wondered could she dream or imagine beyond such a prison? Could she ever imagine herself being free? Could she imagine her children or grandchildren being free? Could she imagine her future sons and daughters being doctors, lawyers, athletes, or pastors educated with businesses of their own? I wondered if God ever gave her a vision or a dream of me, one of her sons. Would God provide her with such prophetic insight that would carry on through the wilderness of slavery?
This is my history. This is one thing that pushes me today. A woman who I would never meet on this side of heaven inspiring me to be the best I can be because she endured enough to continue a bloodline that lead to the birth of my siblings and I today. If Hagar Toomer were here today and could see the fruit of her suffering and the fruit of my life, I hope she would be proud. I hope there would be tears in her eyes of joy and satisfaction that could be a type of salve to ease the pain of her own imprisonment. I hope that she would see that my life is an appreciation of all that she went through long before I was conceived.
I wonder if she sang the Negro spirituals that still have the power and anointing to move congregations of black churches even today. I can still hear her moans. I can see tears streaming down her face. I can see strength in her bones and the weakness in her face at the same time as she tried to live in the midst of death.
Well she has lived. She is a pastor today. She is a doctor today. She is a teacher today. She has college degrees. She has healthy families today. She lives through me, my sisters, my mom, my cousins, etc. Had Hagar not endured we wouldn’t be here. She is not an embarrassment in history because of the condition in which she lived, but she is a testament of grace in spite of those conditions, the grace of God that wouldn’t allow evil to kill her and end the line with her.
Our history is not just about slavery; it is about endurance, strength and the grace of God. Much like a person who either survived or died of cancer, the legacy of their life is not about the disease, but the fight to live. That is what Black History is about, the fight to live. That is my history.
I think Santayana’s above quote is true. One way to not repeat the past is by honoring those that played a role in it. Today I choose to honor Hagar Toomer.