Remember Black History Month

Genealogy, the science of tracing one's family back to their ancestors, has become extremely popular in the last several years. My aunt recently decided to trace our family tree.

She traced my father's family to England and some letters surfaced that prove my great-great-great-grandfather Zephaniah came over on "the boat."

No, not the boat you're thinking about, but a boat from England nonetheless.

Long yellowed letters reveal family correspondence of a time when it took months to transship mail across the Atlantic to Zeph's father Joseph.

Legal documents describe the inheritance of Zeph's children when the old man's estate was divided and the slaves portioned among the sons.


Yes, slaves. Much to my chagrin, I was told our family used to own slaves. That was news to me.

Zeph's son Henry Clay (not the famous Henry Clay; Clay in this instance is, presumably, a middle name) executed the dissolution of the estate in accordance with his father's wishes.

My family lived predominantly in the South, Virginia at first, then later Kentucky, at a time when it was deemed politically correct to possess slaves.

As part of the estate's probation Zephaniah requested his personal slave be allowed to choose among the old man's sons which one he would like to serve.

He allowed his favorite slave this choice because he cared so much for his happiness. The slave chose Joseph the younger, because Joseph had also expressed an interest in the old slave's welfare and invited him to come live with him in Kentucky.

From this incident on, the family story suffers historical amnesia with gaps in the records, missing letters, and so forth. I would like to think my family members generously granted the slaves they possessed their freedom of their own accord instead of bending to the will of higher authority.

I would like to believe my family participated in the abolitionist movement like their neighbor, Cassius Clay, who freed his slaves long before the Civil War and opened his home as a haven along the underground railroad.

I would like to believe my family held every one of Zeph's slaves close to their hearts never participating in the infamous slave auctions that haunted the South's history until the outbreak of Secession.

I became acquainted with Black History Month while at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. I learned that Black History Month is not just a time when we sit back and remember the history of African Americans as it pertains to this country.

I learned that Black History Month is a time to reflect the problems posed for African Americans during particularly trying periods of their lives. It is a time to become involved with activities that might help each one of us understand why our forefathers did what they thought was right, and to take the measures to see that it never happens again.

And one measure recently taken secured the idea that racism and prejudice, strong factors in causing our uncomfortable past, will never be forgotten parts of American Black History.

Arizona finally passed the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday just a few years ago. Many people close to me say it was a wasted effort, a passed proposition so this state might be rewarded a Super Bowl.

I don't think it was a wasted effort. I believe King was a man who should be remembered for his efforts toward equality of all races. In remembering him on that day we should also remember how he lived, dreamed, fought, prayed, resisted .

. and died.

Dr. King dreamed of a time when all men and women would live as equals in peace and harmony. Like him, I would like to believe that it could be possible.

Until then I will continue to remember the black history of this nation and her people. I will continue to remind myself of our white history, and the conflicts between the two.

And, for this next month especially, I will continue to believe we could all live as one people, unconcerned with the passions of prejudice or reliving the racism that once tore this country in half, and remembering instead the contributions of great men like Dr. King.

I would like each one of you to seriously consider Black History Month as a time to extol the efforts of men of passion and to contribute to the releasing of our own personal slaves called prejudice.

Charles Ratliff is a journalism graduate student.

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