The Importance Of Holding On To Personal History

Author and poet E. Ethelbert Miller reflects on Black History Month with an essay about his own personal history.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GWEN THOMPKINS, host:

Poet and author E. Ethelbert Miller reflects on a different kind of love. He sent this essay.

Mr.�E. ETHELBERT MILLER (Poet): It's February, so I'm thinking about history, black history, American history, my history. A few weeks ago, I read in the newspaper that my high school, Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, is scheduled to close. I graduated in 1968. Forty-two years later, I don't recall ever returning to the place. I was not one of those individuals interested in class reunions. So a part of my personal history slowly faded away.

I might never have attended Howard University if it hadn't been for the one African-American teacher on the faculty of Columbus High School, a man who was a graduate of the historic black university and a teacher of physics.

When I entered Howard in the fall of 1968, blackness was waiting for me. I was introduced to afros, soul handshakes and dashikis. I was also introduced to African-American history and culture in a way that made sense and was comprehensible. I enrolled in classes taught by black historians. Three happened to be African-American women: Dr.�Lorraine Williams, Dr.�Elsie Lewis and Dr.�Olive Taylor.

Late in my freshman year, I stumbled into an auditorium and met Lerone Bennett, author of "Before the Mayflower." This book was a sweet transfusion of knowledge - so much I didn't know, so much I was beginning to learn.

This Black History Month, I look back at the journey I undertook with the guise of black historians. Although many people have contributed to the documenting and telling of the black experience, black historians have been the Ellingtons of our community. Their books have that big-band sound.

I think of John Hope Franklin, who sadly departed last year. This man gave us "From Slavery to Freedom." He followed in the footsteps of Dr.�Carter G. Woodson, who paved the path for us to have a week, and now a month, to celebrate this wonderful history.

I read the newspaper articles about my high school closing a couple of times. I want to remember who I am. I need to hold my beginnings close to my heart. There is so much history I'm afraid of losing. There is so much history I need to hug.

THOMPKINS: Poet E. Ethelbert Miller is board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies. He's also director of the African-American Resource Center at Howard University. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: