I’ve always been fascinated with black history. Beyond the obvious of being black, I also had the privilege of growing up in Liberty County, which nurtured the interest.
I remember spending many days as a little girl in the Tradehill community of Sunbury listening to stories from my grandfather and other members of Sunbury Baptist Church. My childhood was filled with rich traditions, such as Old-Timey Day, camp meetings, Watch Night service and the Emancipation Proclamation celebration. Perhaps my favorite memories are of the annual summer camp at Seabrook Village where we toured the homes to learn about my ancestors and were taught their post-Civil War survival skills.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that this fascination with black history became an active part of my identity. I took an African-American studies class and was exposed to information far beyond my Liberty County network. The class created a hunger for more information that I have yet to satisfy.
Unfortunately, for many people, Black History Month is just another holiday. You know the routine — share a fact because everyone else is doing it or host an event to appear inclusive, then forget about it as soon as the next “holiday” comes around.
As the mother of two daughters being raised in Liberty, I’ve made a commitment to make sure that Black History Month doesn’t become another calendar event or they wait until they get to college to dive deep into our history. My goal is to make the celebration of our heritage and accomplishments part of our lifestyle. It’s the legacy I want to leave my family.
Here are 5 ways I plan to make black history living history:
1. Trace my ancestry. To be totally honest and transparent, I’ve always been slightly jealous of people from Africa who live in America. Being a person from the continent with the ability to trace your lineage beyond slavery is something that African-Americans don’t have the opportunity to do. I’ve always gravitated toward Nigeria; however, when I visited Dubai several Africans said I looked like I was from Ghana or Uganda and my husband from Ethiopia. I think it will be fun to take a genealogical DNA test to see what comes up.
2. Document family stories and traditions. Although I may not be able to trace my origins beyond the U.S., I am interested in the family information that is available to me. In the next few months, I will begin some genealogical research on my family. The plan is to start with my maternal grandmother since I have the most information on her. From there I will move on to my paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, then my paternal grandfather. Most people advise to start with the family tree then fill in the blanks. Another tip I was given by my friend/editor Trelani Duncan is to start by interviewing family members and recording family stories. You can begin with a subject, pattern, or the oldest family member. Make sure to record audio and write it down then save it. Trelani is an amazing author and currently working on a community project called “We Speak Fuh We” (Google it — uh-mazing project) which is an example of this method of documentation that she suggests.
3. Travel the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Growing up my friends always asked was my family “from the islands” because of the way we talk and cook at home. While some may take offense to being called a Geechee it is a badge of honor for me. This year I am on a mission to meet as many Geechee people as I can as we travel along the Gullah Geechee trail from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville.
4. Explore Liberty County. Liberty County is full of African-American history. Every time I share nuggets of information in casual conversation or online, I’m always surprised by how many locals are unaware. That’s why I’m recommitting to visiting Geechee Kunda, Dorchester Academy, Seabrook Village, Riceboro Baptismal Trail and the Susie King Taylor Institute to capture the local destinations that are preserving the history and sharing stories throughout the year.
5. Read to my children and for personal enjoyment. For me, it’s important to not just expose my children to the slavery narrative but teach them who we were before slavery and what we have accomplished since then. Some books on my reading list include “Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree” by Tony Burroughs, “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History” by Anne C. Bailey and “The Awakening: Who Was I Before Slavery” by Rev. Milfred and Helen Brock. Books I will share with my girls are “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History” by Vashti Harrison, “Happy Birthday Susie!” by Hermina Glass-Hill and “Lift Your Light a Little Higher” by Heather Henson.
Hart is a local writer and frequent contributor to the Coastal Courier.