I watched this special on the History Channel for two reasons.
1) I have been feenin' for the stereotypical negro specials in honor of Black History Month. I don't care if that's the only reason they're doing it. I'm just glad they're doing it. Black history could be ignored like it has been for so many years. And can we really be upset about that when our own widely known television station, the incomparable BET can't be bothered to provide more than a few 30-second spots? I think not.
and 2) because my mother is from Mississippi. Let me take you back into my history a little bit. My great grandfather, John Dixon was born in slavery. He told some of his children he was born to a white mother and slave father. The rest he told he was born to a slave mother and white father. Either way, he was half-white. He had blue eyes and fair skin, and could have easily passed for white. But he didn't. His children ran the gamut from very fair, to inheriting their mother's dark skin. Some, light and dark, had blue eyes, some had eyes that changed colors from blue to brown (my grandmother), some had brown eyes, while others had brown eyes with a blue halo. (I think there were 12 of them). But they were all black. And many, as far as I can gather, grew up hating white people.
My grandmother still does. She will not hesitate to call someone a honky. She looks upon white people with disdain. My mother has mixed feelings. She's definitely had white friends, but she grew up in Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s. My grandmother's house in Jackson is less than 5 minutes away from the house where Medgar Evers was shot. All Medgar Evers was trying to do was register people to vote. That's it. Give Black people the inalienable rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States of America.
Several days ago on someone's blog, I asked if children are even made to watch "Eyes on the Prize" anymore. I know I was as a child, but I have a feeling these videos are viewed as outdated and irrelevant. Our history will never be irrelevant. As long as Black people are marginalized in any way, as long as the Revolutionary War, the Boston Tea Party, the Constitution, and the Civil War are all worthy of being taught, so is the struggle for CIVIL rights. One of the professors at Hampton is Earl Caldwell. He was the only reporter present when Dr. King was shot. He also followed the Black Panther Party extensively. His case, Caldwell v. the United States is the foundation of shield laws in which journalists do not have to reveal their sources.
My senior year, I decided to create a documentary on his life. I interviewed him for more than an hour, with the help of three of my classmates. Then I used footage from "Eyes on the Prize" for examples of what he was talking about. In seeing these videos again, I began to re-learn my history. And in many cases, learn for the first time. There was nothing civil about the struggle for our rights. In "Eyes on the Prize," "Mississippi State Secrets," and a myriad of other specials, we get the opportunity to see once again how hard our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents had to fight for what they deserved.
To not have to say "yessir" and "no sir" to a white person young enough to be their grandchild, and be called boy or mammy by the same person. To have the right to vote. To have the right to elect people who would fight for civil rights in office. To have the right to keep members of the KKK out of power. To attend schools that could prepare them for greatness. To be paid equally and fairly for their work. To hold office, national and otherwise. To one day own multi-billion dollar companies. To become CEO's and CFO's in mainstream companies. To produce television shows and films. To play something other than a mammy or a maid in those same productions. To win Grammy's and Oscar's and Emmy's. To impact the world. The things many of us take for granted. And its up to us to preserve it.
Mississippi State Secrets reminded me of what my family has gone through, and the reasons why it is hard for many of them to accept white people. For so long, that acceptance could have taken their self-respect, their pride, and their lives. One of my great-uncles was accused of looking at a white woman. (It didn't only happen to Emmett Till). My uncle had to shoot off his foot and jump in a lake to convince his would-be murderers he was crazy. His life was spared in one respect, but he spent several decades in an asylum as a result.
Mississippi's State Sovereign Committee kept files on civil rights activists. Many of its members were also members of the KKK. Sovereign Committe files directly and indirectly led to deaths, firebombings, and burnings of homes and churches. In the 1970s, there was a bill to destroy these files. Then governor, William Winter, had the foresight to veto the measure. He says, yes we have an ugly history, but we can't destroy it. I'm glad he did.
Oprah Winfrey (also from Mississippi) feels the word "nigger" should be taken out of the dictionary. My mother disagrees. And for the same reason the former governor of Mississippi did not want to destroy Sovereign Committe files. If we bury our history, no matter how ugly, we will begin to forget it. We can never forget what our ancestors had to fight for. And the injustices many people still face today, a biased justice system, driving while black, being ignored in stores.
So watch the programming, despite its almost trite appearance. Our ancestors fought for us to have it. And although our history is being recognized in February by the mainstream, as D. Sands says, "Black consciousness doesn't have a month." It's up to us to fight for our voices to be heard, and the rights of the poor and Black who have not had our achievements, regardless of the time of year.