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Knowing history is key to shaping the future. As the adage goes, how do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been? My visit to the African-American Civil War Museum just off Vermont Avenue, just off DC’s U Street Corridor, was a first for me. The good folk at The Merging Lanes Project asked me to tag along as part of a case study, focused on people learning about African-American history outside of academia. I’m honored whenever anyone wants to use my opinion in the public sphere so agreeing to attend was easy.
Individual knowledge of African-American history varies from person-to-person within the black community. It falls somewhere between limited solely to established academic curriculum and reading outside the lines of established discourse. The buck stops at school for many of us while the rest will follow our intuition, doing additional research on what our true history is. The museum centers on the American Civil War but also chronicles black history leading up to the war and afterward. The first standout point was learning of the seven black men who were part of the 41st and 42nd United States Congress’ during the Reconstruction period and the first black people to hold those positions. The second was finding out what is West Africa today was once known as “Negroland” – Mind blown. This newfound information moved me the same way I was upon walking into the defunct Hue-Man Books in Harlem 13 years ago and seeing a poster of a book entitled Germany’s Black Holocaust: 1890-1945. I was grateful for the exposure but also disappointed at becoming privy to this information as an adult.
Whether 125th Street in 2005 or Vermont Avenue NW in 2018, each moment of enlightenment contributes to knowing self and how to move in a room full of vultures. I look at the daily social media conversations and arguments surrounding social injustices. The intentions, be they good or bad, of most people engaging in these discussions are clear. I’m concerned, however, that only a few of us contributing to these discussions know our history well enough to be so vocal. I mean, when’s the last time you fact-checked a meme?