Hidden Figures in Black History

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When I was doing the research for my novel, “Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar,” I became aware and concerned about the apparent lack of authentic role models available to black youth in America. I use the term “authentic,” to mean role models beyond the entertainment industry’s view, including sports, and beyond the typical characters created for entertainment by the likes of Spike Lee. I’m talking about real role models, and my concern for such was the premise for my story about the life of Henri Caesar, of whom my POV character says, “there is much more to this man’s story than history has yet told.”

So it is for most of the true heroes of Black history in America. For me, that trail begins with  Olaudah Equiano. Although his place of birth, c. 1746, is disputed, the fact that he was sold in Virginia to a Royal Navy ship’s captain was well documented in 1754. He was given the slave name, Gustavas Vassa and taken to England where he eventually came into the hands of a Quaker merchant named Robert King. King gave Equiano the means to purchase his own freedom, which he did in 1766, becoming a merchant himself, traveling much of the world and learning all that he could about the Triangle Trade and English politics.

Back in London, Equiano, aka, Gustavas Vassa, joined an abolitionist group called The Sons of Africa and began pressing parliament for anti-slavery legislation. In 1789, as an activist in the abolition movement, Gustavas wrote and self-published his memoir entitled, “The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano.”

The book was widely read through nine editions and was instrumental in parliament’s passage of The Slave Trade Act of 1807, which put an end to British involvement in the slave trade. Unfortunately it did not include the ownership, or practice of slavery, the end of that horror would require a brutal and bloody war in America.

That said, there is a long and growing list of heroic, black figures that follow Equiano. I won’t attempt to list them here, but I will write about a select few from time to time. I think the awareness of them is vital to our future as “one” nation.

Getting back on track, if you haven’t seen the movie, “Hidden Figures,” then you have missed a truly great story, the kind of story from which flows the compassion and understanding required to change the world. The viewing of it should be mandatory for all Americans. It should be part of the curriculum in our schools. There needs to be more of this type of encouragement and less of a Black America with the kind of hopeless future Spike Lee and his ilk portray. What is required to change things for the better is more of the personal initiative demonstrated by heroes like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and a chain of others that goes all the way back to Olaudah Equiano.

The trouble is that the voice of truth, the voice of hope and reason, is often drowned out by the shouts of those who promote selfish agendas, but there is nothing new in this. The manipulation of public opinion is as old as human nature itself and the latest suppression of truth in Black America, of hope and reason, began almost immediately following Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. King’s positive message of character, accountability and personal initiative was drowned out by loud, plaintive demands for equality through entitlement. I don’t need to mention their names, these false prophets continue to drown out truth and hope to this day, and we all know who they are as well as the various organizations that front their ideas.

To conclude, a new paradigm is needed among young Blacks in America and along with it, a lot more men with the vision and courage of John Glenn and, in the historical record, Robert King. Men who will step up and intervene where the scales are being intentionally skewed against anyone of good character for reasons of race, creed, color, gender, religion, or national origin. What’s needed is sacrifice, the willingness to set aside self-interest for the greater good. That is the deeper message of “Hidden Figures.” People of all kinds and colors, working together to accomplish what’s better for all of us.

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