Friday, June 19, 2020

The Story

It’s true. I didn’t learn anything about Black history in school. But I did know about Juneteenth. Why? Because my mother told me.

My mother was born in Lowell, Massachusetts but moved to Dallas, Texas after her parent’s divorce. Her mother had accepted a position teaching at the prestigious Hockaday School. Among other Dallas stories she told me was the fact that she was cast as “the colored maid” in the school play because her (New England) accent was different from everyone else’s. Also possibly because everyone knew that she attended Hockaday for free because her mother taught there. The rich girls called her “plebeian.”

One day my mother heard something in the kitchen and when she went in discovered a Black man hiding under the sink. His eyes were wide with fear. “They’re going to cut me,” he said. 

It was Juneteenth, she told me. And she explained what that was. She described how the celebration in Texas was accompanied by drinking and carrying on, as many celebrations do.

But I don’t remember anything else. Who was that man hiding from? Had celebratory drinking turned to arguing and brawling amongst the celebrants? Or did the act of celebration make this man a target of angry whites? What did she do once she found him?

I was young. The accompanying details, if there were any, have faded. What was left gave me the notion that Juneteenth in Texas was not a safe day to be Black. And of course I learned nothing in school to shed light on that. Nothing.

This year many of us are taking the time to learn about the significance of Juneteenth. We’re making room for other voices and traditions. I hope this moment in time is more than a blip. I hope that we can receive new knowledge with the understanding that these stories carry with them power, and beauty, and generations of human suffering.

We have an opportunity to fill in so many missing pieces of our history if we are willing to listen.

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