The time between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and March 1st is normally America’s media foray into Black History. I’m certain there will be a particular and peculiar focus this year because of our new president. I’m looking forward to Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story that will be airing on TNT. [I’m *almost* related to Ben Carson (my second cousin is married to his brother) and I’ve always thought that was cool. Although of course, almost doesn’t count.] Some great (or at least really good) tv movies have come out to help us celebrate the ~40days of black history we get every year.
When I was a kid, Separate But Equal gave me a look at who Thurgood Marshall was and how he became the first black Supreme Court justice. I was a teenager when The Ernest Green Story and Ruby Bridges came out, and I got a look at the stories of people who helped integrate public schools. My dad was around during that time, but he graduated from high school before his school was integrated.
I enjoyed Polly! for every lovely bit of fun, song, and cuteness it offered. It remains one of my favorite movies, despite being completely unavailable (for purchase) as far as I can tell.
Last year, I had an HBO preview during Black History Month, and just happened to catch the last few minutes of a special: Starring Oprah, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Vanessa L. Williams, Roscoe Lee Browne, Don Cheadle, Jasmine Guy, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg as narrator, and quite a few other actors.
I put the dvd on my Netflix queue [and recommend everyone else do the same, if you’ve not seen it] and ended up receiving it last week. I watched it today.
As the title suggests, the subject matter is much heavier than a story about integration. There are moments of triumph, heard in the narratives, but much is the straightforward retelling of events that demonstrate the inhumanity of slavery. The piece that undid me was Jasmine Guy’s reading of the words of Mary Estes Peters, who spoke about her mother’s rape by the master’s three sons, ending the story with the words, “And that’s the way I came to be here.”
When I talk to my dad about things that he’s lived through, and movies that I’ve watched, depicting the struggle, sometimes he tells me how things were for him and his family. Sometimes he just says he can’t watch that movie or doesn’t really talk about it. He tells me that his brother, my uncle, hated white people for a long time. Still did when my dad married my mom. My mom was close to his age, and I guess that was part of what softened his heart. Dad never gets into specifics about why, he just tells me that’s the way his brother was – because of how things were. And my parents got married in the 70s.
One thing that struck me about the narratives, was the description of the treatment of slaves that had a desire to learn. Today, it made things even more clear to me about why it’s so important to go to school. To get all the education that is useful and beneficial for me and others. And for everyone else to get their education. It’s not a magic bean that necessarily changes everything – but too many people suffered, struggling just to be allowed to learn to read. Too many people were punished for seeking knowledge.
Having this history does give one a responsibility, doesn’t it?