The Mystery of Black History Series
Seeking Truth and Identity
(Part 1of 2)
|Hedi Rudd (l-r), Pamela Soward, Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., Stephanie
Bradley Wilson and Richard Scott are hosting monthly events on the
Mystery of Black History.
By Jonathan Gramling
It is the victor, the conqueror, who writes history in their own
image and likeness. And nowhere has that proven to be truer than
in the treatment of African American slavery in the United States
and African American history in general, stories that protect Euro-
American sensibilities to the detriment of the telling the truth of the
Black Experience in America.
Recently, a McGraw-Hill textbook described slavery as “bringing
millions of workers to plantations in the American South. There is
no reference to slave ships and forced bondage. They will be
correcting this in future editions of the book.
At the behest of Texas education authorities, Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt recently published Texas United States History. A sample
quote about slavery: “Some slaves reported that their masters
treated them kindly. To protect their investment, some slaveholders provided adequate food and clothing for their slaves. However, severe
treatment was very common. Whippings, brandings, and even worse torture were all part of American slavery.
It does its best to but a positive spin on that peculiar American institution.
Even in the Madison public high schools, African Americans hardly fare better. One would think that African Americans first began as slaves
and have contributed nothing to world culture except Martin Luther King Jr., athletes and music.
“When I first came to East High School in 1975, there was a young lady by the name of Tenia Jenkins-Stovall,” said Richard Scott, a retired
East High School counselor and the author of the play Buffalo Soldiers. “And she had a Black History program. For whatever the reasons
were, the position was eliminated and so she ended up transferring over to Shabazz High School. The next person who came in after her, his
version of Black History was having kids look at Jet magazine. That is no exaggeration. It appalled me and I talked him and said, ‘There’s
much more to our culture than that.’ But the thing is that we have all sorts of innuendos that are being presented to our young people. We have
theater programming in the schools. I have gone to every school to ask them, ‘How many times have you had your school present a culturally-
diverse production?’ Usually they are all classical, which are all White. And they said, ‘None.’”
And so, when the system does not tell the truth about the Black Experience and the histories of other people of color, it falls on the shoulders
of community members to tell the truth, efforts that ebb and flow because they don’t have the sustaining power of being part of society’s
institutions of education.
Recently Pamela Soward a staff member of Journey Mental Health’s Ujima treatment program, was making a home visit. She stumbled across
a history lesson.
“The client showed me Hidden Colors,” Soward said. “She said, ‘Ms. Pam, is this for real?’ I looked at it and I said, ‘I think so. My husband is
a historian. Can I take it home and let him look at it?’ He looked at it and said, ‘Yes, this is.’ He’s been on the Internet ever since. That’s how it
got started. After I got that from her, I went on line and purchased Hidden Colors 1 and found out that there are no copyrights to it. I made some
copies to distribute to different people for free. It’s been picking up steam ever since. Now I originally started showing it at groups at Journey
Mental Health. That’s what the catalyst was. Richard and I are co-facilitators of the Racial Identity Processing Group at Journey. We showed
Hidden Colors at the group and it took off after that.”
Scott, Soward, Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr. and Hedi Rudd of the Urban League and Stephanie Bradley Wilson formed an ad hoc group that
sponsored the showing of Hidden Colors at the Urban League and attracted a large audience. The group decided to continue the pursuit of the
truth of Black History on a monthly basis, which will continue this month with the showing of Dr. Charles Taylor’s film ‘Decade of Discontent,’
about the civil rights movement in Milwaukee.
According to Scott, Black History is taught from a perspective that reinforces negative feelings and perspectives about African Americans.
“It’s the fact that we are being fed all of these various disparities that say we are not able to do, that we are not achieving,” Scott emphasized.
“As a matter of fact, they say we are going backwards. One of the things that I want Hidden Colors to do is to look at ourselves from a positive
historical vantage point and then to be able to see where and how much we contributed and have that impact on people moving forward.
There is nothing wrong with not knowing who you are. None of us always know it. There is nothing wrong with not knowing who you are. But is
wrong is not trying to find out, especially when it is being presented to you. That’s one of the things that Hidden Colors does. It shows us that
we were not just slaves. We were not just servants in an unpaid capacity. We are planting the seed. And that seed will germinate in terms of
the people who come there. We had those discussions. People needed to hear it. They needed to be a part of it.”
And it is this negativity that keeps African American students down, that keeps them from dreaming for themselves and others.
“We get the same few people during Black History Month to placate our community,” Scott said. “And there is so much more than just those
few folks. And the thing is, our young people, if they learn to appreciate themselves, learn to look at themselves differently, then they learn to
look at themselves as potentially someone who excels in this culture. And that speaks directly against all of those disparities. When you start
looking at yourself as, ‘I can’t do. I haven’t done. This is where I came from, a bunch of slaves.’ And then there is this whole mentality of the
government is going to take care of us. Well history dispels that thought right off the bat. As a matter of fact, history in this country has spoken
to the cultural genocide of a people. Looking at the history that we get in the schools is just that, his story. And Mystery is my story so ergo,
mystery versus history. That’s the part that our young people don’t get because it’s been not by coincidence. It was determined that things
were going to be left out because once they were left out, then we don’t have to worry about it ergo, you bring people in like Willie Lynch to
show these slave owners how to keep these people enslaved for over 400 years. Even Abraham Lincoln said, ‘If you keep people chained in
the mind, you don’t have to worry about them being chained by the hands.’”
Rudd attested to the impact that Hidden Colors can have on young African Americans. She talked to one young man at the first showing.
“We just started talking about it and he said, ‘It made me feel good,’” Rudd recalled. “He hadn’t a clue that his people had done and contributed
so much. It made him feel good and he wanted to know why they weren’t learning that in school and he wanted to take that video and show it
at his school. There were more than one kid who had expressed that at different times. But the profound piece was when he said that it made
him feel good. My daughter took the movies and made them my grandson’s homework. He had to watch them and then go online and look up
stuff that he had questions about and write a report. He said the same thing. I asked him, ‘What do you think after watching these movies?’ ‘I
didn’t know. That made me feel good to know.’
You could just hear the ‘Oohs and Ahs’ at every point in the revelation even though it is stuff that we kind of heard. But to put it in the context
that they do, you can just hear people say, ‘I didn’t know that.’”