GENE ROBERTSON: African-Americans must take control of 'distorted' history

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 5:58 p.m. CDT

Three black men in the community recently passed away. Dr. Arvarh Strickland, Mr. Ernest Brown and Mr. Balewa T. Moody. Their funerals reflected their lives. I believe the creator saw them as equals.

One man was a prominent community figure. He was the first black faculty member hired at MU. The expected community notables attended his funeral. His death was acknowledged by all of the media with the expected accolades.

The second man had been a servant to the black community. He was a retired butcher and a volunteer at several churches in their efforts to feed and assist people as well as someone that any community member could call on for help. His death was hardly noted by any media with the exception of a paid obituary in one newspaper. His funeral was attended by ten times the number of black community members than had attended the prominent man's funeral. Many tears were shed at this funeral.

The third black man was much younger than the first two. He was a lawn worker. His funeral received even less notice. His funeral was much smaller with intense tears shed by those who knew and loved him because his death was premature. He was deeply loved, and he had taken his own life through suicide.

All three of these lives were significant to those who attended their funerals. Only one was significant to the media because his presence and his death were so different from what is usually printed about black men. Because of this pattern of notoriety and perceived community value: Black history is still being effectively distorted.

If African-Americans and other cultural groups want a true history based on their values, experiences and insights, they must supplement the media-controlled history with their own history.

If they are negligent, their grandchildren might be honoring created heroes and heroines who had little of their interest at heart, while ignoring others who actually served their forefathers and their interest. Their grandchildren might never know the context of a young man like themselves who was encountering the distress that they might be feeling. While having all of the skills, personality and family love, he could still find it difficult to cope with the lack of opportunity, hurdles and barriers confronting him.

His story might not be in the media records. He was employed. He did not belong to an alleged gang. He had been able to avoid the judicial system. He was deeply loved by those who knew him. He wore a bright engaging smile for those whom he encountered. He told his working mother he loved her daily. His life had integrity even if it might not ever be noted in the media. He was in enough pain to give up the most precious thing we are given: life.

His story is not the only one like this. Rarely do we have stories like his chronicled in the media. We are more than President Barack Obama, Michael Jordan or some notorious drug dealer. We are the three men who recently passed and more. We are all of us and all that we do. Good and bad. Great and small. All that we are and do is worthy of note. If the broader media doesn’t note it, we must.

Consequently, we will all play a part in our true history. We need to utilize technology available to us to demand, encourage and assist all who are noting our existence. We want them to do it completely and well. If we don’t do this work, we have only ourselves to blame for the signification and falsification of our presence.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU. Questions? Contact opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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