By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
The Withers Collection teamed with the Memphis Branch of the Association for the The Withers Collection and the Afro American Historical & Genealogical Society – Memphis Chapter to recall the “400 years of trials and to celebrate the triumphs of African Americans” during “Talk About It Tuesday.”
Held at the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery at 333 Beale St., the event featured a three person panel: Dr. Andre Johnson, professor of Rhetoric at the University of Memphis; Teresa Mays, president of the Afro American Genealogical Society; and John Ashworth, executive director of the Memphis Lynching Sites Project (LSP).
Perhaps not surprisingly, the topic may have made for the most provocative conversation in the series to date.
“Africans were over here before 1619. Black people had been here,” Johnson said. “History is being rewritten to remove any reference at all to enslaved Africans in this country. It is being called ‘involuntary servitude.’ Slavery is being written out of our history books. The early presidents owned slaves, and not just a few. They owned lots of slaves.”
Ashworth laid the issue of revisionist history at the feet of elected officials.
“Who controls the curricula of public schools? It is elected officials. They have to sign off on what is being taught,” he said. “So we have to put people in office who won’t allow black history in our schools to be rewritten.
“Tennessee is a very red state. And so we must control our own narrative by talking about our history,” Ashworth added. “Black History Month must be 12 months a year, 365. Black history is an oral tradition. We must talk about it in our barbershops, beauty shops and our churches. We tell our own story. That’s how we control our own narrative.”
Mays agreed, but acknowledged that talk of slavery is still painful for many.
“You have some of our people saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to talk about that old stuff.’ There is shame attached to the past,” Mays said. “But history is just what it is. We must learn to embrace the past out of respect for those who came before us.”
Ashworth talked about the dual issues of “post-traumatic slave syndrome among blacks” and “cognitive dissonance among whites.”
“The Lynching Project is dealing right now with the case of a family that refuses to place a headstone on the grave of a loved one because he was lynched. There is real trauma there. There is shame surrounding the event. Post-traumatic slave syndrome is a real thing.”
In the process of raising history awareness, the goal is to also raise funds and donations that can contribute to future exhibits from the archive of more than 1.8 million images of the late renowned photographer Dr. Ernest C. Withers.
Talk It About Tuesday was held in conjunction with the monthly Neely Agency Mixer (NAM): Networking for a Cause Professional Mixer. NAM is crafted for networking with some of Memphis’ finest executives, entrepreneurs, public sector and entertainment industry professionals and enjoying great thought-provoking discussions.
Panel discussions for “Talk About It Tuesday” are held the fourth Tuesday of each month, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender