Closing the Gap
Between Living in the Past and Revisiting It
There is a bold and brilliant lesson being enacted by historian Joseph McGill Jr.
McGill has been on a mission to visit and spend the night in the slave quarters of all of the remaining plantations in the United States.
McGill recognized something that most scholars had not; that the history of this country was being written by and told about those who lived in the big houses, but it had forgotten the ones who built it.
Joseph McGill has brazenly forced the history keepers to look at the past through the eyes of those folks who were enslaved to build it by looking closely at how they lived.
McGill sleeps among the snakes, spiders and mold with nothing but his bedroll on the hard pine or dirt floors of the past, because he wants to understand deeply what the past might have been like for those who lived in it.
He is spending the night in antique shackles literally and figuratively to honor, acknowledge and learn more about the past of this great nation.
It is a past that few ever want to face, but in so doing, McGill has enabled us to know much more about the truth we’d like to ignore.
This brings me to you and me. McGill is visiting the past for a reason. He is debunking myths and rediscovering a truth about folks who though they were enslaved and treated with little or no regard, they were humane.
At the end of his trips, McGill returns to his life and work. He takes off the shackles and gets back in a comfortable bed.
|At a Kiva in Utah|
He uses the past to inform the future; he doesn’t live there.
Many folks are living in their past. They have taken up residence with the worst of what the past gave them and they refuse to move forward. Because misery doesn’t just want company, it wants miserable company; they bring everyone they know with them.
Stuck in what they think might have happened they drag everyone to the story they heard, was heard from an old aunt who was in the words of that great poet Prince; never satisfied.
Boys and girls, this is what it sounds like when doves cry.
The past must inform us. We need the McGill’s of the world who can respectfully uncover a truth that is much, much closer to the truth. Because an archeologist with no respect for the past should never go digging around in it.
The past comes up for a reason. There’s something you need to learn to move forward. It comes back again and again because we haven’t gotten the lesson and there’s more that we need to learn.
But when you wallow in the past (and let’s be honest; it’s a lopsided version,) you do your own present no service.
You need to revisit your past; but please don’t stay there. The snakes, spiders, mold and weeds have claimed it as their own and you are no longer welcome.
If you want to move forward do something of the following:
Respect the past. Don’t just look at what you were told or what you think you remember, research the period of time and get a bigger picture. What were others doing in the area you are from? How did average folks live? What were their struggles?
What can you learn and bring forward? Determine what artifacts you’d like to bring from the past and use them as a reminder of how far you’ve come.
Look back with love and then look around and see all that you have accomplished.
Whenever I want to complain, I hear my mother who was born in 1918 telling me, “Yes dear, but I grew up next door to the whipping post.”
Be you, be well, be moving.
Bertice Berry, PhD.