This Black History Month, we find ourselves yet again on the verge of rebellion, with the uncertain fear of a point of no return. But we know that other worlds are possible, no matter how often we're told to forget.
We believe in Black Futures. Black History shows us how to create them.
Abolition, despite the name, is a positive vision of the future. It requires that we use our past—our personal stories and our collective histories—in practice to empower and guide transformation. To practice abolition is to trust ourselves to do the extra-and-ordinary things we've done before as our ancestors; To remember what our descendants will do when we are ancestors ourselves.
But to put them into action, we first need to remember. That act of remembering is an active practice, too. Collecting and telling these stories is how we seek those lessons that will transform our futures.
We practice both by telling our stories—how we eat, how we take care of our health, why our decisions must be collective—so that we might believe, as our ancestors did, that other worlds are not just possible, but necessary.
On the living Black history of this moment:
Photographer Jade Wilson spent days on the streets of the uprising in Raleigh, North Carolina, documenting Black revolt, tenderness, and grief. "As we see millions march for and stand in solidarity with Black lives around the world, with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders still in place, I question how much this moment will change the policing of our bodies," she writes of the experience. Her role of photographer means making sure the movement is properly represented. "I can't help but think about my own Black trans body. A body who has witnessed and felt more harm than good. A body that knows violence all too well."
"I'm wondering how we get to a vision of Black Lives mattering that doesn't always start from the point in which Black people are killed," Brittney Cooper shared in our roundtable on how Black Feminism shaped the Democratic platform in the presidential election. "So much of our politics and our political energy is activated because of the spectacle of Black death. And part of what I think Black feminism asks us to do is to think about the conditions under which Black people get to live and thrive."
See also: Justice for François—Haitian-Americans in the movement for Black Lives, Marina Magloire
"It's never made sense to me. We know slaves were farming. We know there was honey, so who was beekeeping?" Samantha Foxx, a beekeeper and founder of Mother's Finest Farm in Forsyth County, North Carolina, shared. There are only a handful of Black farmers remaining in Forsyth County, North Carolina, but their impact is changing the region's food landscape. "They beat people to death to do their work, but you're telling me white people were jumping for joy to do beekeeping? I don't buy it. This is a whole chapter that is lost."
On Black imagination:
What goes unseen is how the weight of our own daily encounters with inequity in almost every arena—from health care and education to housing and incarceration—is added to the collective mass of our ancestors' past trauma. As we sink further into our wholes, grieving and wrestling with the realities of our painful histories, our bodies stretch, becoming thinner and thinner as the gravity at our toes becomes considerably more intense than the gravity at our heads. When this happens inside a black hole it's called spaghettification. When it happens in the lives of Black folks, it's called the social, cultural, and genetic effects of racial trauma. Under these intense conditions, eventually our bodies and minds stretch, narrow, and divide into parts until we're reduced to atoms. We add our mass to the gravity of Blackness.
Visual artist Derrick Beasley explores the scientific phenomenon of black holes as a way to understand the long-standing absence of holistic depictions of Black folks (Black Wholes), particularly in the South.
See also: That's not actually true, Kiese Laymon
Toni Morrison carries our truth to us and demands that we sit with this history, these lived experiences which have built for us a home—a home she herself walked through ahead of us with deliberate suspicion of its dilapidated infrastructure, with eyes that could see into the beauty, magic, and love that existed within its walls. It was a home where she had laid a key outside, underneath the welcome mat.
Toni Morrison used memory and imagination to create a family-tree for young Black readers desperately searching for themselves inside the literary tradition. Atlanta poet and writer W.J. Lofton finally picks up the pen in honor of the literary foremother.
On Black art and creativity:
"I'm just trying to spread joy," Atlanta Quilt Festival Founder O.V. Brantley says. During slavery, Black quilt makers were obliged to encrypt messages in their quilts. Now, they are boldly political. A spirit of originality has always threaded through the evolution of African-American quilting. "Our quilts are just a little bit different," Brantley says. Enter the vibrant and dynamic world of Southern Black quilters.
See also: The first Black drag queen in North Alabama and other untold stories of the Queer South, Sarah Prager
In a world reeling from the destructiveness of white supremacy and the accumulated terrors of centuries of violence against living ecosystems, avry jxn's ongoing multimedia project Wild Talk offers a vision of a different way to be—to place remembrance and reverence at the center, and to start from there.
Something unique happened in South Florida in the '50s and '60s. A group of self-taught African-American artists flouted the limitations of the Jim Crow South to become what's known as the "last great American art movement of the 20th century." In some ways, the story told about artist Alfred Hair is the story told about many great artists. It's the tale of a prodigy cut down before his time, before his genius could reach its height, before his impact could be fully felt. It's a tale of injustice. Who owns his story? Doretha, his wife, feels like it is her story too—but no one seemed to want to hear her.
On the telling and re-telling of Black history:
In western North Carolina, Black community organizers and scholars work hard to preserve Black Appalachian histories to create Black Appalachian futures. The Kingdom of the Happy Land was a Reconstruction-era Black communal society. Nestled in the valleys and ridges along Lake Summit near the small town of Tuxedo, North Carolina, The Kingdom embodied a larger history of Black, rural place-making and an early vision for Black settlement in the southern mountains. "If we cannot imagine Native and Black and brown people living in the Appalachian Mountains, it is because we have ignored their histories and their present-day lives," author and scholar Danielle Dulken writes.
See also: In Photos: Black August in the Park, Dare Kumolu-Johnson & Danielle Purifoy
A marvel of Black revolutionary artistry took place in southern Louisiana in 2019—a reenactment of the largest slave rebellion in the United States, the German Coast Uprising of 1811. Dread Scott pays tribute to Louisiana's history of armed Black resistance. 350 participants in period costumes traveled on foot and horseback over two days following the 26 mile route of the German Coast Uprising of 1811. The creators of the project see the recuperations of the history of armed Black revolutionary struggle in America as a necessary element of contemporary community self-defense.
See also: Video—Slave rebellion replaces Confederate reenactments, Tricia Towey
Where struggling Black communities have been taught that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death made them free, it's hard to look at the white, "post-racial capitalist fantasy" of New Memphis and understand what exactly went wrong. "King would have wanted affordable housing instead of a Museum," Zandria Felice Robinson writes. She says that the National Civil Rights Museum symbolizes the Black hole around which the constellation of white economies of new Memphis thrives.
Further reading for Black history month:
Across the South, historic Black towns resonate with legacies of autonomy, resistance, and community – but many are also vulnerable to flooding. When the flood waters recede, residents are faced with a difficult decision: take a buyout and relocate, or stand up for Black placemaking, and risk disaster again. But buyouts often mean that counties and developers buy up and build over centuries of Black history. Surely there's a better option. As one resident puts it, "You save Civil War battlefields without a damn thing on 'em, but you can't save communities where people are living?"
The mortician who kept a neighborhood's history alive, Peter Mcelroy
Booker T. Washington praised Durham as a model of self-sufficiency. E. Franklin Frazier later dubbed it "The Capital of the Black Middle Class." Across the South, only three sorts of Black-owned businesses tended to survive Jim Crow. The first was the barbershop and its corollary, the salon. The second was the bar. The third was that which John Clarence "Skeepie" Scarborough III ran: the funeral home. Durham was once supported by two main pillars of the death industry—cigarettes and life insurance—and the African-American community here was unusually prosperous and independent.
Choose Wisely, Regina Bradley
"The smell of brown sugar and molasses grabs my nose and Prince's yell bows to the sanctified holler of Shirley Caesar coming from the kitchen," Regina Bradley writes. A Black cookout is its own artform; carefully composed sonic flow accompanying casual movements of affection, anticipation, and joy. Writer and hip hop scholar Regina N. Bradley writes the soundtrack—and the love story.