I’ve been teaching my adult students about The Civil War. They learned about the Lincoln Memorial and saw a play about Cathay Williams. Cathay, was the first African American female Buffalo Soldier. Cathay was a freed slave who first worked as a cook and laundress for just pennies for the Union Army. After some time, to earn more money, she disguised herself as a man in the all African American unit the Native Americans called Buffalo Soldiers. They marched for 2 years throughout the South doing mostly clean up and guard duty and other jobs the white soldiers wouldn’t do. They never saw a battle. Williams became ill many times with cholera and smallpox. She was hospitalized but she was never discovered to be a woman. She finally revealed herself and got an honorable discharge from the army. She died young and her family never received the pension she worked for. We all learned so much from the actress who played every part in the 45 minute show.
Now we are studying the causes of the Civil War. We are beginning our study of slavery. The students are reading about the Middle Passage and its aftermath. Since I love history, I’ve been able to supplement the book that we are using with my own knowledge of the subject. What I tried to explain to them is that although the war ended in 1865 and slavery was abolished, that it really hasn’t been that long since Black Americans have had all the same rights as White Americans.
Using myself as an example, I said that many of the civil rights we gained occurred only one year before I was born.
“The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement.”
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 happened the year I was born. The students were really surprised to know that women couldn’t vote until 1920. More history lessons about that are forthcoming.
I brought current events into the discussion. I often do this so they can relate the past with the present.
They easily understood and agreed that all the recent happenings of the police being called by white people on black people, for no good reason were examples of white supremacy which began over 400 years ago.
In the last few weeks , we’ve seen black people, just living and also being seen as threatening .
We can’t go to The Waffle House for food without either being senselessly murdered by a racist or the cops are called for minor infringements (questioning or disagreeing with staff). Three officers assaulted a woman on the floor, exposing her breasts.
We can’t depart an AirBnB, packing luggage into our car to leave. The Mrs. Kravitz of the neighborhood waved and smiled at them through the window. The young women didn’t acknowledge her. So, of course, she called the police who detained them when they were on their way to do a show. That department is being sued by the young women.
One of my students asked me, Why do they treat us like this? I didn’t even speak for a few seconds because, I didn’t have a reasonable answer. I still don’t have a reasonable answer. However, I said white slave owners felt that we were less than human. We were property. We were not their equals. We were beneath them just because of our melanin. Today, some people still hold those mindsets.
We should not have to continue suffering the humiliation and pain that racism brings. Yet, somehow we still do. I feel there are people who would love to see us back in shackles without any rights.
We need to stay out of Waffle House. We need to frequent food and coffee establishments owned and operated by people of color. Let’s hit them in the wallet. Let them lose business and dollars. That’s what they understand. Black people boycotted buses in 1955. They walked and car pooled for over a year. The bus company went bankrupt. We have the ability for that to happen to all types of establishments. We have to be unified for this to happen. Our ancestors did it, why can’t we?
So, as my students and I drift deeper into the Civil War discussion I’m sure I won’t have all the answers. I’m hoping these current events will calm down. With #45 and his ilk in office and being supported by the Fox News loving fan base, it will be some time before we feel and experience the change.
Old behaviors are new again. But did they ever really leave?