I was a slow learner because the things I wanted to learn about were not available to me.
When I was growing up, the only famous black person I knew anything about was Paul Laurence Dunbar. A woman in our community always recited one of his poems in dialect for school programs. I never read his famous poem, "We Wear The Mask," until I was an adult.
Later, when I moved to the city, there was a black newspaper available and a large public library; I became more informed about black people and our place in the world. Still, I knew more about people such as Shirley Temple than I did about the people in my neighborhood because, unlike my neighbors, people like her were discussed openly in public.
It wasn’t until after 1964, when black book stores began to open in the cities, that I was able to increase my knowledge about black people. I learned early to appreciate Black History Month because it provided me the opportunity to learn more and more about the people and events that shaped our past.
When you grow up in Kansas City, you learn a lot about the American Royal horse show that takes place every year. It wasn’t until I grew up that I heard about Tom Bass. Bass was born a slave on the Eli Bass farm in Boone County in 1859. Tom Bass, who grew up to become a master horse trainer, was the son of Eli Bass’ son William.
This was my problem: I was always learning half of the message. I was never getting the full picture. That’s the way it is most of the time when you grow up as a black person. There are an amazing number of schools today that don’t teach students anything about black history. The name of Martin Luther King Jr. might be mentioned every now and then.
Some of us expected that this would happen when the schools became integrated. We had thought that we would set up Saturday schools, so that children would not lose themselves in the scheme of things. I’m sorry we didn’t do that.
Fortunately, there are magazines and books available for the studious, and colleges and universities continue to teach black studies. Still, it’s not helpful growing up not knowing who you are. Education, it seems, is losing ground all around.
I don’t think all the attention we’re giving to social media is helping our cause. People seem to spend their time exchanging as much wrong information as they do correct information. Soon, some people, I’m sure, will give up reading books and newspapers in favor of getting all their news on one of the social networks.
In any case, I’m glad Black History Month continues to give us an opportunity to share information. I’m especially happy to learn about all the small black communities that grew up around the Missouri River. As people grow older a lot of our history falls away. It’s always a pleasure to learn about a new community that I never knew existed.
Tell me all about it. I want to know.