Until we as a society have a much firmer understanding of African-American life and history, and its similarities and differences with others, we need the ideals of Black History Month in our lives. Every day.
I sat on the back porch of an old white clapboard house interviewing Montgomery, Ala., residents. A colleague had suggested retreating there because the outdoor music and entertainment were drowning out the voices of those I was trying to interview. The suggestion worked, and for over an hour amid tranquility, I jotted notes of civil rights memories for my assignment. The house blended in with other bungalows on the modest block of South Jackson Street. I peeked through a window. Inside, it was dark. I hadn't seen the front of the house yet. Who used to live here?
Who, indeed. It turned out it was the residence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he pastored at the nearby Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in the 1950s.
My colleagues and I grew wide-eyed. Questions poured out of our mouths and we secured a private tour of what is now known as the Dexter Parsonage Museum. Open to the public since 2003, the two-bedroom home's interior is filled with period furnishings donated from various sources to show as closely as possible how King and his young family lived. In the hallway is a simple, wooden telephone stand and built-in seat, something that antique shops nowadays sell for hundreds of dollars - or more. A Sarah Vaughan album cover peeks out from a bookshelf in King's study. A clothesline in the backyard is a reminder of how electric dryers were once considered luxuries, not household must-haves.
Our time inside was short, maybe half an hour, but definitely long enough to remind me of the fact that history is at our feet. Living history. Every day we walk in it, even if we get too wrapped up in the rat race to notice.
Until Congresswoman Barbara Jordan died in 1996, I never got around to asking my dad whether he ever met her. My grandpa's grocery store was in Houston's mostly Black Fifth Ward neighborhood, where Jordan grew up.
It turned out my dad sold her an apple every day on her way to class at Texas Southern University. By no means did he know her well, and in fact, those sales were their only contact. But even that little nugget of trivia reinforced history lessons I'd learned long ago. Jordan went to the historically Black TSU because White universities had not yet desegregated. After Jordan went to my family's store every day, she waited outside for the bus, prepared to sit in the back as all Blacks did at that time. …