Ada Fisher: Black history often focuses on wrong story
The movie “Hidden Figures,” in telling the story of three black women who were mission-critical to NASA, is one that everyone in the country and beyond should see.
Mathematical genius Katherine Johnson, computer ace Dorothy Vaughan and aspiring engineer Mary Jackson showed how black women defied the odds in non-traditional fields to calculate the trajectory of orbits for the space program and for generations to follow. The only problem is, until now, most people had not heard of their achievements.
Therein is the rub. We have polluted history by too often telling an inaccurate story, lionizing Martin Luther King Jr. while our hidden figures remain out of sight, even though they have done even more in creating opportunities and making a way out of no way.
When I look at how my fellow Jews have captured our history, it is critical to note that it always starts with Abraham, not the Holocaust, and it leaps into Einstein, Spielberg and other greats of achievement.
Others may comment, but the African-American story should be ours to tell. As a friend frequently reminds us, as long as the lion is quiet, his story will be written by the hunters.
Black history did not begin with slavery. It predates the founding of this nation and includes all of Africa, Haiti and anywhere others of color may have resided. In reading “The Master’s Slave Elijah John Fisher: A Biography by Miles Mark Fisher” (my father), the significance of my grandfather’s family history hadn’t dawned on me. His father (my great-grandfather) descended from the Zulus, where one of his kin was a chieftain. He also owned his own farm and married Charlotte, whose father was a Creek Indian with African blood. Thus we are a people who were native to this land, as well as deposed from Africa, and did not immigrate here.
Black history needs to be better incorporated into our textbooks as part of the state’s glorious history. Our history needs to be correct and not laden with subcultural bias. If we don’t know that Charles Hamilton Houston was the first African-American on the Harvard Law Review, well before Barack Obama, then we denigrate our history and fail to give credit where credit is past due.
When we herald the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins at Woolworth’s as a first, neglecting those at The Royal Ice Cream Parlor in Durham, we misunderstand that others beat the historically glorified to the punch.
Appreciate that in 1933 attorneys Conrad O. Pearson and Cecil McCoy were the first to challenge segregation in higher education using the UNC system — with a team including lead attorney William H. Hastie (Houston’s cousin, a diplomat and first federal judge), Thurgood Marshall (who would go on to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice), and Constance Baker Motley (state senator, borough president of Manhattan and the first female federal judge). The case laid the groundwork and preceded Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
Martin Luther King was not the only or most significant person of color to do things for the equality of man, and seeing others left out gives a distorted view of history. Look around for hometown heroes whose contributions were significant though hidden from history before squandering a significant naming opportunity in the area where you live.
Our children must be taught more about who they are, how we came to be at this point in time and why we must never hesitate to pay the dues that humanity requires. Many blame too much on racism, which is likely to be ever-present, and want to sing “We Shall Overcome” rather than understand how to prepare for a changing world where you are not entitled to the job you want but rather may have to take those you can get.
My parents often talked about “uplifting the race,” understanding that we must reproduce ourselves. A stagnant black population buying into abortion as birth control option meant we were increasingly being controlled.
We must work, and charity is to be a last resort unless you are rendering it to others. We must not embarrass ourselves or be an embarrassment to our people, for we are unfortunately judged by the action of any one of us.
As noted in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “A Psalm of Life,” Let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate; still achieving, still pursing, learn to labor and to wait.”
Dr. Ada M. Fisher of Salisbury is the N.C. Republican National Committeewoman. She is author of “Common Sense Conservative Prescriptions: Solutions for What Ails Us,” is available on Amazon.