Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

De-Romanticizing AMERICA'S PAST

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

De-Romanticizing AMERICA'S PAST

Article excerpt

De-romanticizing AMERICA'S PAST

Upon learning that Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist recently led hundreds of his judicial peers in a boisterous sing-along of "Dixie" during a 4th Circuit judicial conference, all I could do was suck my teeth in disgust.

My utter revulsion to episodes such as this-which play out in various venues throughout the country at any given time-are a reminder of just how deep the wounds of slavery still are in my African American consciousness, even as the third millennium is about to dawn.

It is this sensitivity that has always made touring museums and exhibitions of American history a quagmire of emotions for me. I'm not sure which makes me the queasiest: to visit these repositories and discover gross misrepresentations of African American life during slavery, or to visit these venues and find that neither the experiences nor the presence of my ancestors is mentioned. It is as if the contributions and suffering of enslaved Africans are irrelevant.

So, you can imagine how I felt about visiting Monticello a few weeks ago to supervise the photo shoot for this edition's cover story. I had been to Charlottesville several times before, but never once in those trips had I visited Thomas Jefferson's historic estate. I simply did not want to be disturbed by whatever I might see, or not see.

Nothing, therefore, could have prepared me for the rush of pride and pain I felt as I strolled along the historic site's Mulberry Row. It was there that I found "public historians" Leni Ashmore Sorenson and Robert Watson Jr. …

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