For well more than a month, the nation has been paying close attention to the civil rights group Black Lives Matter, and a debate over whether or not to remove certain monuments and statues memorializing Confederates all around the country. That debate has also spilled over to include statues of historical figures from the Colonization era as well.
Now, a new angle is developing. It isn’t meant to take away any of the thunder from the ongoing debate, but perhaps it will provide a different perspective for everyone to consider. That new angle has to do with what has not been memorialized in our public squares.
Why aren’t there more statues of Black people? Why aren’t there more schools named after great Black inventors, artists, doctors or statesmen?
Great Bend, in 1988, honored Oscar Micheaux, a Black film-maker from the early days of American film. For over 35 years, he lay in an unmarked grave in the Great Bend cemetery, until Barton County Historical Society members Jaunita and Karen Neuforth spent countless hours of research to preserve the local history of this ground-breaking artist. As a result of the interest they created, people got together and placed a true headstone on his grave, and for a handful of years, there was an annual film festival where Micheaux films were featured.
Imagine if there were a statute in his likeness, here in Great Bend, his adopted hometown, where he indicated he wanted to be laid to rest? What would it say about the people of Great Bend?
While we’re at it, where are the efforts to preserve Black cultural heritage? Thanks to the Barton County Historical Society, the experiences of the Exodusters and the former residents of vanished South Hoisington have been preserved through research and oral history, but why have no buildings been preserved? Why are there no memorial markers along the highway, indicating a spot of historical importance?
Interested? Check out writings by Brent Leggs of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund ( https://www.npr.org/2020/07/10/889406805/brent-leggs-how-can-seeing-black-history-as-american-history-begin-to-make-amend ). It is the largest preservation campaign ever undertaken on behalf of African American history, and it’s mission is to draw attention to the remarkable stories that evoke centuries of African American activism and achievement, and to tell our nation’s full history.
These are just a couple local examples of what could be done to truly show that Black lives matter here in our neck of the woods. Once we can acknowledge that, then we can perhaps begin to look at all the other lives that matter just as much.
We’ve been told by highly educated, articulate and impassioned speakers and writers, the Black Lives Matter movement does not seek to place Black lives above all others, but simply to bring them up to the same level, to show that they matter too. To do that, we need to show respect where respect is due.