Thursday, June 20, 2019

A Thousand Words

I got a variety of interesting responses to my post about the historical preservation of residential areas. (Musings on Invisibility) Some readers supposed:

  • I must be in league with the developer 
  • I didn’t understand that history was going to be erased
  • I was upset that significant African American historic sites hadn’t been preserved
  • I was irresponsible to raise these questions if they might influence the local conversation around Lawyers Hill.
There was a time when I lamented that people didn’t comment on the blog. It seemed to me that one of the marks of a successful blog was that it elicited responses, a desire for dialogue. So I am gratified that readers took the time to share their views, especially since the discourse was civil. That’s not always the case on social media.

As I have been pondering the responses, I came across a tweet from the Howard County Historical Society.

Historic photos can be found anywhere. This photo of a Howard County family was bought at a Columbia flea market in the 1980s. 

Photo taken ca. 1870. Courtesy of @hchsmd 

Here is the photo, from the collection of the Howard County Historical Society (used with permission.)

In light of local celebrations yesterday for Juneteenth, and especially in light of national discussions around reparations, I bring you these people. Howard County residents. 

It isn’t that I want you to feel sad or sorry about the people in this photo. I want you to understand that the choices made to demean, disenfranchise, marginalize, demoralize, and defeat these Howard County residents live on today. And that either we acknowledge that, and do something about it, or we are complicit.

It’s not just about slavery. It’s about what happened during Reconstruction, Jim Crow, redlining, segregation. Yes, even right here in Howard County. Our common history is full of stories of white people choosing to protect/preserve their own heritage by excluding or downright stealing from those they deemed to be “other”.

It’s not simply an issue of historical sites and stories unpreserved and/or neglected. It’s about the very real economic impact which began early in our history that persists TO THIS DAY. It’s not about museums. It’s about money. And property. And equity in the workplace. And in the schoolroom.

This photo should be everywhere in in Howard County where we are making decisions. If we are troubled or uncomfortable when we see it, or feel the need to question its current relevance, that’s a sign we haven’t truly come to grips with the very real consequences of our history.

These are the people I want to be visible. Either we are working to make that happen, or we aren’t.

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