Here it is, 2022. I never thought I would be compelled out of my middle-age pandemic stupor to revisit issues I lived through in the 1960s and stare them squarely in the face today. I grew up at a time when info about African Americans was relegated to a couple of pages of generic statements about slavery, the Civil War, and tiny paragraphs about the Emancipation Proclamation. Africa info consisted of Egypt and Tarzan, who most Black folks thought “he has to be passing” to be all up in Africa in the first place.
The 1960s was a tumultuous time from Mamie Till’s turning the Civil Rights world on its collective ear by screaming about the brutality of lynchings by showing what white supremacists did to her only child Emmett Till. My parents, after that, started a hungry campaign in our household to glom onto every book, article, and newspaper clipping about the trajectory of Black folks. We had an unusual history, from ancestors who piled the Western trails as slave guides to Brigham Young’s Mormon party escaping religious persecution from Illinois to the Great Salt Lake valley in Utah. We knew what it was like growing up in a state where info on Black folks was like an igloo in the Sahara desert. My mother’s people came to the West via the Trail of Tears as slaves of the Cherokees to Oklahoma, while another ancestor escaped Cuba’s brutal sugar plantation systems to Louisiana.
But Blacks yelled, persevered, and began plumbing info about and for ourselves. Movie directors like Spike Lee gave us visions of ourselves. Nikki Giovanni & Amiri Baraka did the spoken words that hit our souls…so much so that in my predominantly white Midwestern high school, we did our first poetry slam of Black poets in 1971…freaking out a lot of the white teacher and student population. Before that was Ruby Bridges’ brave 6-year-old steps to de-segregating an all-white grammar school for the first time. She faced unimaginable vitriol from whites, who even spat on her as she walked into school. Now we have a history of Africans plying the Atlantic Ocean circa 900 B.C. to Mexico. Ole Christopher Columbus even wrote in his diaries that the Mayans and Aztecs talked about trading with dark-skinned peoples who came by boat with gold-tipped spears to trade. We have even uncovered a statewide suppression of the Burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with Black folks accompanying lawsuits about such.
What does all this have to do with voting?
It’s because after having explosions of history and creativity unearthed like the Harlem Renaissance, the Harlem Hellfighters of WWI; Malcolm X; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Katherine Johnson of NASA fame; and even C.J. Walker, the first Black female millionaire. All of their stories are being squashed and silenced, and banned by a wave of conservative whites following white supremacy-influenced state school boards in Republican-led states across the United States.
Our voices, histories, and women’s right to healthcare are being silenced again.
I remember this from the 1950s, 1960s & 1970s.
I lived it when as a 4th grader writing an essay about my family, I was almost suspended from school for writing about my great-grandfather. As a part Black & Cherokee horse whisperer, he sold horses to President Roosevelt, rode with the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, and was a cowboy in Oklahoma & Utah. I was going to be suspended for writing a story about Black cowboys because my white school didn’t believe there was such a thing as Black cowboys; they thought I had lied until my mother indignantly said my essay spoke documented family history.
So here we are in 2022. We are revisiting an alienating time. Our stories are being banned. Our voting power is being suppressed again. Will white conservatives make us guess all the jelly beans in a jar to vote? (Yes, that was a test for Black folks in the early 20th century to vote). President Obama mentioned this history in one of his speeches. I guess in banning books on African American history, they will skip our 44th first African American President too?
A lot of young folks don’t understand how hard-won our right to vote is. Many could be inspired by learning about Ruby Bridges and reading the words of Toni Morrison and Richard Wright, hearing the music and backstory of Thelonius Monk, or Billie Holiday’s poignant song “Strange Fruit.” Will we allow our voices to be silenced anew in 2022? Do we really want to go back to the sundown towns and no Black history of the 1950s???
I say loudly, “NO!”
Vote like your lives, your children’s, and future generations’ lives depended on it. Since at least 1526, when the first Portuguese explorers set foot in the Americas, Europeans, their descendants, and the Vatican (Papal Bull Dum Diversas 1452) mounted a negative propaganda campaign against African Americans.
Don’t vote and let your voice be squashed; your child may find a sitting chair outside the classroom just like this. If you’re not present in the classroom, then no discussion can come about as to how your Black or Brown skinned self even came to be in the Americas. Remember, roughly 20-25 generations of your ancestors survived some hellified horrible times to get you where you are today. Don’t sacrifice the work your ancestors did for you to survive today! VOTE!
Christine “Liz” LaRue is a clay artist and illustrationist. She is known for her intricately textured figurative sculptures and emotionally illustrative drawings. Chicago born though also raised in Utah and Idaho, Ms. LaRue is of Creole/Cuban descent. Her art has been influenced by her Afro-Latino heritage. Ms. LaRue’s interests has been in Pre-Columbian art of the Olmec, Maya of Mexico, Nazca and Moche face pots of Peru. This also includes the bronze sculptures of the Ife of Nigeria, and Tā Moko tattoo art of the Maōri.
Ms. LaRue got hooked on ceramics at the age of 10 at the Hull House Art and Music Camp. She earned a B.A. in Latin American Studies with a Ceramics Minor from the University of Denver. She has a Master’s degree in clinical social work specializing in multi-cultural families.
Though she lived briefly in Mexico pursuing ceramic art studies, she brought the knowledge
back to Chicago to teach wheel throwing and handbuilding a various ceramic studios in
Chicago. Ms. LaRue’s art work spotlights the beauty of the African American portraiture so
ignored in American mainstream society.
Ms. LaRue has shown at various venues in Chicago including; Black Creativity Juried Art
Exhibition at the Museum of Science & Industry, winning best in ceramics 2015, 2016, 2017,
Hyde Park Art Center, The Cliff Dweller Club, DuSable Museum and UIC 5th Floor Gallery. She
has numerous works in private collections.