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For the intellectually curious, the 2019 Black History theme provides insight into a 400-year odyssey. The epic journey began between the 16th and 19th centuries when millions of enslaved black people were transported from Africa to the Americas during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
The years 1619 to 2019 mark the quadricentennial of the trials and tribulations; and contributions of Africans and African Americans.
According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Database website, over time “the actual number is estimated to have been as high as 12.5 million … (traveling) in 36,000 slaving voyages.” At least 10.7 million survived the Middle Passage and were sold as cargo throughout North America, the Caribbean, and Brazil.
Shipping records showing the sale of human beings and the impact of the separation of families over centuries is a compelling story.
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This year’s theme, Black Migration, is presented by the Association of the Study of African American Life and History. ASALH founder, historian Carter G. Woodson, established Negro History Week in 1926 and it later became Black History Month. The tradition of presenting an annual theme provides opportunities for black people of African descent to explore identity and ideology by self-identification: Am I African, Colored, Negro, Black or a Person of Color?
In a letter to the membership, historian and national ASALH president Evelyn Higginbotham highlights the year 1619, when Africans arrived in North America’s first permanent English settlement, the Virginia colony. Special attention is given to the 2018 legislation introduced by Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott of Virginia: Public Law No: 115-102 established the “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.”
In order to capture a history beyond enslavement, ASALH emphasizes, “400 years of perseverance,” four centuries of countless stories of the past and a culture of hope for a world free from racial discrimination.
Journalist Isabel Wilkerson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Warmth of Other Suns,” brings to life stories of 20th century African-American migration patterns in the United States. Her epic story of America’s Great Migration provides major insight into the troubled racial past of the United States.
Locally, at the turn of the 20th century, free black men and women of African descent mostly from the Bahamas, Florida and Georgia migrated as laborers, to help build the then wilderness now known as Miami-Dade County. During that Jim Crow era of racial segregation, the separation of white people from black people “in every phase of life” was accepted by custom and law.
Under Jim Crow laws, for the first half of the 20 century, black people were the primary workforce physically building and maintaining pioneer Miami — while being denied equal rights.
At the same time, the black laborers built communities for themselves. Churches, businesses and schools were established. Black History Month was included in the school curriculum and recognized by community institutions.
Retired Miami-Dade County Public Schools administrator Eunice Davis recalls, ”as a student and later a teacher and principal, Black History Month was presented as a part of the curriculum.” Annually, special programs were sponsored by community groups including the NAACP, CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and the NCNW (National Council of Negro Women).
The flourish of 2019 Black History Month programs confirms sustained interest. The most comprehensive calendar of local events is published by the Miami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board (BAAB). All are welcome to attend. For the event calendar, visit https://hrld.us/2Df9dy2.
Exploring the national theme in a multicultural community setting, the South Florida People of Color (SFPoC) is presenting a four-part Black History Month series. Established in 2015 and based in Miami Shores, the organization characterizes itself as “providing the community the chance to participate in social, professional, and/or cultural events that allow those who typically live racially segregated lives the valuable opportunity to meet, learn, interact and connect to each other.”
“Earlier this month, in partnership with the Miami Shores Community Church, we presented an inspirational talk by Tawnicia Ferguson Rowan and gospel singer Maryel Epps followed by a soul food brunch,” said Roni Bennett, SFPoC executive director. “Later that week The Brockway Memorial Library hosted a reception for our exhibit, Black Migration, which continues through Feb. 28.”
Another event, “From Black Trauma to Black Healing: Part of the ‘What is Black Series?,’” a discussion around healing Blacks in the Diaspora, will be presented 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Barry University, 11300 NE Second Ave.
The SFPoC series ends 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE Second Ave., with a screening of “Sankofa,” a 1993 film about the Atlantic slave trade directed by Haile Gerima.
SFPoC is known for presenting spoken word artists, performance and visual artists and open dialogues throughout the year. Support for the 2019 Black History Month program is provided by the Miami Shores Community Alliance (MSCA).
In 2017 the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU) Greater Miami Chapter awarded SFPoC the Rodney Thaxton Racial Justice Award for work against bigotry. They won the 2018 Philanthropy Miami Shark Tank Competition for the “Awkward Dinner series,” a gathering of 8 to 20 diners in a facilitated discussion on race.
The Florida Humanities Council recently funded SFPoC’s proposal to launch a new program: a lecture series titled “Race in Retrospect.” It will engage scholars on the subject of racism in South Florida, deepening the goals of the Unity 360 program, which provide a safe and structured forum for open dialogue about race. For more information visit, https://hrld.us/2SDnbDT. All are welcome to participate.
Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Ph.D., is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History & Research Foundation of South Florida.