Tomorrow's History is Our Today
On September 12th, 2020, a group of 19 families, in a display of solidarity and cooperative economics purchased 97 acres of land just East of Macon, Georgia in Wilkinson County. The hope for those families is that the large purchase will become a small community of Black and Brown families, businesses, and institutions called Freedom, Georgia.
Can you imagine a thriving town owned and led by African Americans, in Georgia; In the South?
After the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the United States' Civil War, formally enslaved Africans, built lives for themselves all over the country. In many places, African Americans, who had been blocked from education or official titles or offices, became Senators, doctors, and teachers creating positive lives for themselves and their families. They did this despite their challenges by finding ways and means to educate themselves, use their skills, and build lives that served them.
They built communities that were successful and prosperous. While many of them were skilled in areas that people needed such as agriculture, masonry, metalwork, sewing, childcare, cooking, animal husbandry, carpentry, upholstery, among hundreds of other professions, white Southern Americans who relied heavily on the skillsets of enslaved Africans, were now suddenly required to pay these free men and women for their services. African Americans were in a good position to do well for themselves and this made many in the South very upset. Councils and committees were set up to figure out ways to stop their progress. Eventually, the U.S. government started campaigns that displaced them from the communities they had built.
In Santa Monica, California, the federal government used eminent domain to build Interstate Highway 10 through a historically African American community displacing more than 600 African American homeowning families. These families were not duly compensated.
Tulsa, Oklahoma is another, more popular example, where in 1921, white Americans, were envious of the wealth that had been aggregated in this African American community often called, Black Wall Street. There were dozens of millionaires and many more generally wealthy families who, one generation out from enslavement, had created businesses and empires that afforded them economic power. All of this, while living in segregated communities and under oppressive laws.
Another successful African American community was an agricultural hub near Orlando called Ocoee. Here African Americans were citrus farmers. The people felt like they were full citizens because they had the right to vote. However, nearby cities had white residents and public officials who sought to curb the African American right to vote. July Perry, a wealthy African American agriculture broker, worked with white Americans and African Americans to broker transportation of agricultural goods. He was well known for his stern business acuity in the area and beyond. July would help poor African Americans pay their poll tax so that they could vote despite white terrorist groups' efforts to intimidate them. Two white men are believed to have tried to attack July Perry at his house and were killed. Some terrorists formed a mob and lynched July Perry and burned down Ocoee, Florida.
Closer to home, in Georgia, Lake Lanier was built to provide drinking water and hydroelectric energy for Atlanta in the 1950's. This area was called Oscarville and was a successful Black town. Oscarville was set on fire by Night Riders, also known as the Ku Klux Klan when they are in the act of terrorism. Oscarville was founded in the late 1800's. The city had schools, churches, and was thriving while most of Georgia continue to struggle after the Civil War. There were more than 300 children in the city. The town was known for its successful craftsmen, farmers, and carpenters. In 1912, a white woman was found dead in the forests in a nearby town. No one knew who did this to her so the whites in the community went to Oscarville to terrorize and burn the town. The African Americans were lynched or forced out. Finally, the building of Lake Lanier covered all evidence of the city.
Right in our own backyard is the Pleasant Hill Community. Pleasant Hill was set firmly in the heart of Macon, Georgia. Here were the African American doctors, teachers, lawyers, and thinkers who had built legacies for their families and descendants. In 1957, Highway I75 was built directly through Pleasant Hill disrupting the community, displacing families, and causing several ripple effects. Home and land ownership allows the building of equity and generational wealth. All of this was lost when people were forced out and most were not provided the value of their homes and were forced to the outskirts of Macon.
Despite what you may have learned, despite the challenges in the past (and today), African Americans indeed have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and created legacies for themselves and their descendants. Unfortunately, some of those legacies have been attacked and were almost forgotten. These African Americans imagined a world where each man or woman's work, gifts, and talents were his own to sow into his community and reap the benefits of that work with his community and were in the process of creating that world for themselves and for all of us.
So how will you build your community? You don't have to build an actual city from scratch, but building community starts with taking responsibility for yourself and for those around you. Knowing that what you do today, impacts the future. Building community is all about adding to the legacies of those who came before us and imagining a world better than what we see. Then we must do our very best, in our own special way, to create it. We remember and honor the people of yesterday, who bled, fought, and sacrificed everything for our today through our efforts to continue to dream big, create ways and means, build legacies, and work together. This is our African American Ancestral Obligation to Learn©!