Column: Honoring black history — my history, our history, part 1

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 26, 2016

Faye Benjamin

Guest columnist

First of two parts.

I would like to suggest to you, the reader, that “black history,” like any other history, is the history of mankind, but specifically about a group of people identified solely by the color of their skin, outward features and geographical settlement.

This group of people was captured and forced from everything that was familiar to them. They were moved to a place of the unfamiliar in order to satisfy the greed and lust of the captors. They were stripped of their history, identity, family, dignity, pride, opportunities, descendants, rights and possibly even their faith. They were demeaned, dehumanized, oppressed, robbed, lied to, mistreated and treated with scorn — utter bondage.

Like the children of Israel, they cried out to God for help, for deliverance, for freedom.

Their cries rose up to God, their creator. He heard them. He began to raise up individuals and give them His voice for this people and others like them.

Some of these celebrated individuals were Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and most recently, Martin Luther King Jr. Others’ names and stories have been lost in the distortions of historical teaching.

How many of us know the contributions of Prince Whipple, Peter Salem or Crispus Attucks? Some voices were loud, calling out for freedom in the public arenas. Some were quieter, calling out for freedom in private meetings. Some fought for freedom alongside their white brothers in war. Many others were pleading for freedom in prayer.

However it was expressed, the voice of freedom was confronting the voice of slavery and bondage on all fronts.

Voices of hate and kindness

As I write, I’m not just relating to the summary of what I’ve learned over the years in the history books, for I’ve discovered that the history books — education — are very selective in what they teach. They conceal more than they reveal in many instances.

I also want to relate what I lived and experienced. I am one of those people who was a product of the civil rights era.

In 1966, as a seventh-grade student, I was sent to an all-white school. I was one of four sisters, but only my oldest sister and I integrated that school. I remember the horror, the mockery, injustice, fear and anxiety, racial abuse and rejection of those days.

I remember how children would not let me sit down on the seat of the bus. If I sat beside them in the lunchroom, they would get up and move. I remember the gaps in the line behind and ahead of me as we transitioned up and down the halls.

I remember mocking, bullying and threats. In addition to this, I also remember the many voices of my people, friends and family members telling me how to react and handle it. Most of these voices had elements of revenge and “quit going there” in them.

But there was another voice that I heard. I don’t know if I heard it above all the other voices, underneath all the other voices, or interspersed in all the other voices, but it was a voice that stayed with me and would not be silent. It was the familiar voice of my grandmother, who was raising my sister and me.

Her voice didn’t sound like the other voices of hate, violence or revenge. She would say something so unorthodox like, “you must forgive,” “don’t lay rail for rail,” “you must overcome evil with good.”

None of that made any sense to me then, but makes all the sense in the world to me now!

Overcome evil with good

I recall one day coming home from school absolutely devastated from the racial abuse of that day. I approached the back porch where she was sitting. I fell to my knees at her chair and my head fell into her lap. I cried out to her from my broken and depleted heart, “Why do they hate us so much?”

With her old worn out hands she patted my head and my back, and said, “Faye, all white people ain’t bad, and all black people ain’t good. There are some good white people and there are some bad black people. There are good people and bad people in both races.”

Then she said something most profound. She said, “If you will overcome evil with good, one day God will cause those to hate you now to come to love you.” Of course, she was speaking a different language than I was used to. I couldn’t understand it then.

It was not natural to my hearing or thinking, plus I didn’t know how to do what she was saying. All others around me were saying, “all white people this, and all white people that,” and it was coated in hate and reasons for revenge.

Grandma would tell me constantly not to hate, but to overcome hate with love. In other words, “don’t treat them the way they are treating you. Forgive and love.”

Understanding forgiveness

Some years later, when I was about 16, I was doing my homework. Grandma was in the next room with the TV on watching Billy Graham. That was her thing.

I heard the voice on the TV, but didn’t pay it any attention until it said the part of how Jesus came to His own people, but they rejected Him. His story sounded somewhat like mine, so my ears perked up — especially when he said that, with Jesus’ dying breath He asked God to forgive them.

I thought to myself, this sounds just like my grandma talking! This drew me, for it was the language of my grandma, unlike the other voices around me — even the voices of her own children.

This language was like one from another world. This was all so intriguing that it drew all my attention, leading me to pursue this Jesus. As I have tried to obey Jesus and walk with Him, it makes all the sense in the world to me now.

I understand the language. I know what Grandma was talking about, and Jesus helps me to not only understand it, but to do it.

In time, I graduated from high school in that same town, and went on to college, where I experienced more racial rejections and put downs.

Surprisingly, this was mostly from the college professors! Sad to say, the hippies at college were much more welcoming and cordial than some of my professors.

Prayerfully, I pressed on and graduated from that college and have spent most of the years since in education and working to correct some similar wrong behaviors.

See the Monday edition of the LaGrange Daily News for the continuation of this column.

The second part will appear on Saturday.

Faye Benjamin is a longtime educator and Troup County resident.