Our View: Black history is our history

 

 

 

If you were to somehow be able to spread Mississippi's history out on a table, the first thing you would notice is a gaping hole in it. It would not be inaccurate to describe it as a black hole.

 

The full story of Mississippi's history is untold, and will likely remain untold because comparatively little remains of the historical record of black Mississippians well into the 20th Century.

 

That's no small void. After all, blacks were the majority of Mississippi's population between 1840 and 1940, according to the U.S. Census figures.

 

 

Because so little of that story was ever documented, the gaps in our state's history will remain. It is so important to capture as much of it as remains.

 

That is why we are encouraged to see efforts currently underway to preserve Brush Arbor cemetery in Starkville, one of the oldest black cemeteries in the state. Mississippi State anthropology professors are working with the activist group Starkville Stand Up in the effort to restore, to as great an extent as possible, the old cemetery. If it were simply an effort to give this space the respect and dignity it deserves, that alone would be an honorable effort. But in preserving the cemetery, it will allow historians to piece together parts of black history that have long gone unexamined.

 

All cemeteries hold a part of our history. For three decades now, history students at MSMS have been telling the stories of the people buried at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus through its popular "Tales from The Crypt" event under the guidance of MSMS history teacher Chuck Yarbrough.

 

In many cases, those stories are a "retelling" of history, which is why Yarbrough's efforts to apply the same research principles to the city's historic Black cemetery, Sandfield Cemetery, may be even more important than the good work his students are doing at Friendship Cemetery. At Sandfield, students participating in the annual Eight 0' May event are often telling stories that might easily have otherwise escaped into historical oblivion.

 

Because of the paucity of archival records of our black histories, cemeteries are especially crucial to capturing the history of our black citizens.

 

When we see what is unfolding around us today in the debate over the state's Jim Crow flag and the continuing presence of Confederate monuments throughout the state, we can't help but feel that a better understanding of our history -- all of it -- would calm the rhetoric and allow a smoother transition toward racial understanding, harmony and mutual respect.

 

Each February, we celebrate Black History Month. It is fitting that we do so.

 

But it is also important to remember that Black history is not ancillary: It is our history and any telling of our history is incomplete without embracing, uncovering and understanding black history.

 

 

 

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