Linda Ballard

IT takes knowledge and understanding of the past to move forward into the future. And so it was on Saturday, Jan. 18, when friends, family, pastors, entertainers and those who simply wanted to learn met at Greater Saint Chapel’s Church in Liberty City to kick-off a presentation to celebrate Black History.

The walls were lined with quilts, framed portraits of men and women significant to history and other memorabilia from the past. Sitting on the front pew were nine mannequins representing the Scottsboro boys who were African American teenagers, ages 13 to 20, falsely accused of a crime in Alabama. A Caucasian mannequin also sat among them representing Attorney Samuel Leibowitz who helped fight against the injustices placed upon them. So realistic were the mannequins, those in attendance wanted to speak to them or move out of their way so as not to obstruct their vision even though each mannequin held in their lap a framed photo containing their name.

Director Mable Streets stepped to the podium to provide a welcome message and said, “This is the fifth annual program we have given to provide a message that it took all of us, no matter what race, to be where we are today. It takes one year of preparation for us to provide what you will see here today and you will see the influence and help of Caucasians like Abraham Lincoln and others who brought us into their churches to prepare us for our journey to escape from slavery. God has blessed us all.”

Speakers included Loraine “Lady” Caldwell who surprised the audience as she chose to speak about the history of hairstyles and the effect it had on history. She said, “We all know, sisters, we know how to do hair; for centuries we have weaved our way in and out of unique situations.” Health problems had taken Lady’s own hair in the past few years and she used her own “crowning glory” as a pun throughout her talk. She spoke also of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, calling her a “global icon,” and spoke of her hairstyle as a “crowning achievement” even though she did not allow slaves and servants during their time to reveal their own. Lady went on to say, during times of slavery, black women had to wrap their hair as slave owners didn’t want their natural beauty to show through. She also pointed out black women had gone from braids to dreadlocks although it wasn’t until 2019 that some of the oldest laws were abolished concerning how women were to wear their hair. Those same hair styles can now be seen worn by other races.

A “codes quilt” called the Tumbling Block was made by Marshal Mapps and was on display. Other quilts with messages also on display were made and presented by Johnnie Masseburge. During a presentation on the history of the Underground Railroad Code Patterns, Johnnie told how slave masters didn’t know about the slaves using the quilts as a means of codes to help them escape, to know where to find food, what tools would be needed to prepare for a long journey, paths to take and where to seek shelter. The quilts, it was explained, were hung on the lines in the morning with the “message” quilt being hung in the middle of the line in plain sight for the slaves who walked the same way each day to work the fields to know what was going on. Johnnie used hand-outs to help explain the detailed messages sewn on each one. She also displayed a replica of a church that showed a mixed congregation of figurines sitting in the pews. The church had been made for her by her brother, Leon Pickett, and the figurines inside were given to her from a Caucasian lady who ran a second-hand store in Mineola. Johnnie used the replica to explain how it was the Caucasian people who had helped the runaway slaves seek refuge inside the church. She played a tape of the gospel hymn, “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” and spoke of the hidden messages even within hymns to “rise, shine and give God the glory to encourage and keep on trying.”

The mannequins, too, were provided by Johnnie, who bought the smallest one at a Halloween store sale. Johnnie contacted the manufacturer and bought the other ones and painted them to look authentic. Clothing and other donations were given for her to make the replicas of the Scottsboro boys and the attorney. She gave special thanks to Mable Streets and MLS Boutique for all their help with the presentation.

Johnnie, who is 83 years old, retired from UT Health Center in 1996 and stays busy with her quilting and working on the presentation.

She said, “I love doing the presentation and only do one or two a year. I change out what I take to each one.”

THE FINALE came when Alan Pollard stepped to the podium to deliver his message called “Look Where God Has Brought Us.”

He began with a Bible verse from Isaiah 51: “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord; look unto the rock whence ye are hewn and to the hole of the pit whence ye came.” He said, “In spite of our background and thanks to our history, look where God has brought us from.”

Alan provided a review of history over the last 100-plus years after the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. He gave a sample of Jim Crow Laws taken from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ListofJimCrowlawexamplesbystate. Some of which included: By law, Black people were separated from white people in restaurants, buses, trains, water fountains and bathrooms.

By law, schools were segregated. It was unlawful for white teachers to teach Negros in Negro schools and for Negro teachers to teach in white schools.

Interracial marriages were also prohibited by law. 1943: Miscegenation (Statute) Prohibited marriage of whites with anyone with one-eightht or more Negro, Japanese or Chinese blood.

“Look where God has brought us from,” he reiterated as he read through significant laws and years of voting rights, housing laws, adoptions and accommodations. He then spoke of the Black people prominent in sports, politics and other walks of life and spoke of the successes of current day living.

Alan closed with Psalm 40:2-4 and by saying, “HE has brought us from bad history. If you forget where you came from how can you have a future? History has a way of repeating itself. If you do not know your history and learn from your history, you cannot plan a future. Every nation, creed and race can give praise to God. Look where He has brought us from.” He received a standing ovation after the conclusion.

Entertainment and other speakers throughout the program were provided by singers Frances Warren, Cynthia Holland, Bobbie Norris, Minister Harry Caldwell (singer/speaker), Pastor Ella Mae Walker and Pastor Gery Evans.

A meal was served after the program and was provided by Ida Austin and Bobbie Norris.

The program served as an excellent learning tool through history and song and is given the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A special thank you to Janice Cameron for her assistance in note taking and photos.

May His Love and Laughter Fill Your Hearts and Your Homes Throughout the Week. In the meantime, we may be reached at chitchatlinda@aol.com or 903-984-2593.

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