Historical inquiry often emphasizes difference-makers, people who rose above the crowd to foment change and spur progress. While such leaders help change the course of human events, a steady focus on their work can leave the larger story of the common man under-appreciated.
As we embark on Black History Month, the stories of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and other nationally-known figures will be retold. And it is of great importance that all Americans understand these leaders’ legacies and the courageous sacrifices they made to overcome injustice.
But Madison County citizens should look inward, too, not just to learn of the historic contributions of Ike Weatherly and other local trailblazers in promoting racial equality, but to understand the truly historic struggle of the multitudes to overcome prejudice and light the way for future generations to find truth and opportunity.
Whether you are black or white, you have great access in Anderson to people who lived through the middle of the 20th century and witnessed the civil rights movement. Locked inside their memories are the trials and tribulations faced by local African-American citizens.
The key to unlocking those memories can be a simple question or other expression of interest. Challenge yourself to seek our black men and women in their 60s and older and ask them what it was like, how they handled racial discrimination and how society and culture compare now in Anderson to past decades.
Some white folks scoff at the idea of Black History Month. Is there a White History Month? they wonder rhetorically. Such a simplistic view suggests an underlying lack of knowledge about the history of our country and the unique roads traveled by African-Americans.
Ignorance breeds intolerance and apathy. The more people learn, generally, the more tolerant and understanding they become. This truism can be applied to Black History Month.
Black history is just waiting to be explored. Much can be understood by studying the larger history of black Americans through the eras of slavery and the civil rights movement. But for a richer, clearer, greater understanding of black history, you have to get to know the people who lived it.
They can tell you, from personal experience, what it was like to be black in Madison County in decades past, how far we have come — and how far we have yet to go.
In summary For a richer, clearer, greater understanding of black history, you have to get to know the people who lived it.