Today is January 31,1999. Tomorrow, 12:01 a.m., February 1 begins the month-long celebration of African-American history. As I sit leafing through my journals, I realize I am old enough to have memories. I remember the story, though beautifully silent, of how my parents conceived me. I remember how they patiently nurtured me, how they taught me to be gracious to strangers, to be fair, to be human. And too, I remember how in wisdom they taught me to cherish my history, and so today as February 1 approaches, I find myself in a glorious state of remembrance. I am of remembering Alabamas jagged moments in history, moments that scroll the wall of the American historical narrative.
I am remembering the Scottsboro boys. Those boys were accused of raping two white girls in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. Them boys, as history has recorded, didnt rape them girls. They were just riding a train; they were just having them some fun, but they didnt know that black boys couldnt have no fun down in Alabama in 1931.
I am remembering Johnnie Carr. She is a woman who lives in Montgomery, AL. She is one of the icons of Alabamas Civil Rights history; she marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For me, southern mothers like Johnnie Carr and Rosa Parks (the mother of the Civil Rights Movement) and Virginia Durr (Caucasians were part of the Civil Rights Movement also) are portraitures of the black woman Taylor Branch describes in his book Parting the Waters. They are symbols of the African-American women and men who said during the Montgomery bus Boycott of 1955 ". . .Im gonna keep on walking and if my feet get tired, Im gonna crawl.. . ."And they did crawl. Even in moments when they did not know that bus segregation in Montgomery would be abolished.
I am remembering the four little girls murdered (yes they were murdered) at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on a Sunday morning in 1963. I think of them often: Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, and CaroleRobertson. How ironic! They were dressed in white ". . .from head to toe." on the Sunday they were burned. Their innocence was demonized because they were born with the beautiful hue of my own skin: brown.
I feel them burning, brown leaves dripping the
agony racism causes as they scream...and I hear their voices shouting
to all of us:
Wear out memories on your lapels Alabamians.
Today I am remembering an icon of Alabamas literary history, the late Margaret Walker Alexander. A Birmingham girl, I see her walking into the classroom of another literary icon, Sonia Sanchez. I watch her smile as she gracefully begins to read from her poem "For My People."
I am remembering how Alabama has played a critical part in framing the African-American historical narrative. Its a didactic narrative of sturdy struggle and ultimate survival. It is who we are as Alabamians. It hasnt been all good. But it is who we are. It has taught us lessons; it has given us the desired decency to live together, to dream the dreams that Martin Luther King articulated, to pray the prayers shivering from my grandmother lips. It is the thing that keeps us singing those freedom songs. It is the thing that keeps us drinking lemon; it is the thing that keeps us walking barefoot in the red clay.
I am proud! I will wear Alabamas history -all of it- on my lapel for honor. I hope you all do the same.
I am remembering the lyrics sung. Lyrics like "What a fellowship; what a joy divine" I am humming "We Shall Overcome." And we did. That is stream of silver in this jagged history: As Alabamians we have and are overcoming.