1619 - 2019
WHY WE MUST CELEBRATE THIS EPIC MILESTONE IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY
In 1997 I had already been five years deep into my quest for roots when I happened on the book America is Me by the late Stanford University Professor Kennell Jackson. His book was the first I had come across that would put the African-American past into immediate perspective regarding the approaching milestone that is now upon us. At that point in my life, I hadn't fully understood the bounty of our history until I read Dr. Jackson's Introduction:
"In the year 2019, Blacks will have been in America for four hundred years. In less than twenty-five years, we--as a nation--will reach this landmark. Being so focused on the end of the millennium,
hardly anyone has mentioned that we are fast approaching this watershed in American history."
"Four hundred years confers a permanence, an aura of true and lasting quality, on the Black
American past. Many nations in today's world are younger than four hundred years. Empires have been swept away during this time. Revolutionary movements have come and gone. Whole systems of thought have risen and disintegrated during these years. Through all of this, Black Americans have continued, winding their way toward the future. They are an enduring part of American and world history. The year 2019 will simply highlight this fact."
"Blacks in America have created a major historical story. Actually, it is more on the order of an epic."
Dr. Jackson's words resonated with me for several reasons, but this following explanation of the Black past as a succession of narrators and narratives still lingers on my mind and for obvious reasons:
"Like any epic, Black American history has had a succession of great narrators...These narrators
have kept [our history] alive. Each teller has told their part--African village story-tellers; captives whispering in the holds of slave ships; plantation women with their tales of heroes and heroines; plantation men who spoke of remote lands left behind. And then, there were the narrators who began to write Black histories in the 19th century. Lastly, there were those narrators that we now call historians, those systematic students of the Black past, who have come from every background and
who have labored so diligently to build a modern Black American history."
I include my forefather William Grimes as one of the narrators of the Black American past. For without his story in published form, I would not have known my history and neither would America. As we approach this magnanomous milestone, I hope we will all sing praise to the narrators in our own famililies who have kept the familial stories alive for each generation to pass down to the next. Then when the _______2019 comes, let's celebrate far and wide in praise of where we've been and where we are going. And let's proudly wear our 1619-2019 emblems in unifing tribute to the ancestors who gave us so much.
Professor of History,
1941 - 2005
(Professor Jackson was the first academic with whom I had shared my extensive research on William Grimes, the Runaway Slave. He was gracious, mentoring, and believed in the work I was doing. He was also the first academic to invite me to a major University campus to address his students about my work. He is sorely missed.)