Vol. 11    No. 3
FEBRUARY 4, 2016
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                                                      Celebrate Black History
When I was interviewing Richard Scott and the other members of the group that have been putting on the Mystery of Black History presentations
on a monthly basis at the Urban League, Scott asked me how I had learned Black History. And I had to think about it a little.

I did not learn Black History at St. Mary’s Grade School in Elm Grove, a suburb of Milwaukee that was pretty much lily-white when I was
growing up. I didn’t learn it in the textbooks of Marquette University High School where I spent my high school years during the 1960s.

I did start to become exposed to it through my brother Jim who was a seminarian and was involved in Milwaukee’s inner-city during the early
1960s. And I did start to learn it when I was involved in a tutoring program for African American students in Milwaukee’s inner-city.
But when I first really started to learn about Black History was when I made trips to rural Mississippi during my early college days at UW-
Madison during the early 1970s, trips where ostensibly we were there to help the poor African Americans — we did provide some help — but
received quite an education if we were open to it.

Back in those days, there wasn’t much to do in rural Mississippi at night. And so I would sit around the stove or a fire and listen to the folks in
places like Greenwood, Blackhawk and Lexington talk about the civil rights movement and what they had to do in their communities to attain
their equal rights.

And then I learned some more about Black History and culture when I took several Afro-American Studies courses taught by Dr. Finley Campbell
and Dr. Gerald Thomas. And I got involved with a couple of race relation groups.

And I learned about Black History when I attended Alcorn State University, a historically Black college in Lorman, Mississippi, from 1975-1977. I
took some Black literature courses and some Black history courses to boot. But I probably learned the most from my fellow classmates. There
wasn’t much to do at Alcorn socially because we were in the back woods with about 40 miles to drive to get a pizza in Natchez. And so, we
would hang out in our dorm room, play Dirty Hearts and talk. That was a whole lot of learning going on during those two years.

And I have always learned more about Black History through my work and association with the Urban League and the NAACP and other groups
through the years. And in publishing The Capital City Hues and conducting several thousand interviews over the years, I have learned a thing or

But I had to go out of my way, so to speak, in order to learn the truth about Black History. If I had just gone through the “normal course” of my
life, perhaps staying in Elm Grove and living a comfortable middle-class life, I would probably still be ignorant of Black History. And I would
probably be pretty ignorant in my dealings with Black folks and would probably interact with them with all kinds of misconceptions in my head. I
am so grateful for the education and experiences that I have had.

And just because you are Black doesn’t mean that you know Black History. I would not be surprised to learn that I know more Black History
than the majority of African Americans in this community because just like me, they don’t learn it in the schools that they attend and often times,
there is no one in the community in a position to teach them about their history.

I remember back to the days of the African American Ethnic Academy when Andrea Davis used to teach the kids about Black History and to be
proud of who they are and where they come from. It was through the AAEA that I learned that the Wisconsin Historical Society has the largest
collection of African American newspapers in the world. You read that right, the world.
It is important for people, especially children, to know where they came from in order to know where they are going. As Richard Scott correctly
pointed out in the article in this page, African American students hear all of the negativity about themselves, about the achievement gaps and
how African American students don’t learn and how it seems that African Americans came into existence as slaves. They don’t hear about all of
the achievements of their ancestors beginning with the contributions to astronomy and mathematics that were made by African scholars during
the Middle Ages. How can the mass of Black students go on to achieve when they don’t know that they come from a long lineage of achievers?
African American students must learn from which they come in order to embrace the future and make their contributions to society as their
ancestors have done for millennia.

And it is important for African American students to learn about African American history, but for Euro-American students and others to learn
about that history as well. How can we really move toward Dr. King’s Beloved Community if we are so ignorant about each other?

When some African Americans find out that I attended Alcorn State University for two years during my formative years, they remark that must be
the reason that I feel comfortable around large groups of African Americans. It is because I have knowledge and experience and it was the
knowledge, true knowledge,  that came before the positive experiences.

We need to be educating all of our children about the truth of each other, about Black History, about Latino History, about Asian History and about
American Indian History if we expect for them to work together tomorrow as peers in solving the problems of the world. We cannot work
together without mutual respect.

There is no other way.