“Black history is full of tragedy, triumph and struggle. Black history is American history.”
Those words were shared by Tamika Seaton, the first speaker at Sunday evening’s “African-American Read-In” at the Collier County Museum that honored Black History Month.
With both light moments from personal stories to somber moments recounting the tragedies, triumphs and struggles Seaton alluded to, the program was an affecting tribute to the beautiful time-woven tapestry of African-American history.
Held each year in February, the event is a partnership between the Collier County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Collier County Museum. Last year, 276,649 participants nationwide took part in the National African-American Read-In. Started nationally 22 years ago, with the goal of encouraging people to read African-American authors, Collier County’s NAACP chapter has been sponsoring a local read-in for the past 12 years.
“My niece, who lives in Dallas, told me about a read-in she’d gone to there, and I said, ‘I can do that here,’” stated Dr. Iris Bland, founder of the local read-in and facilitator of Sunday’s event. “The purpose is to inform the community of achievements in art, literature, and science that blacks have contributed.”
Throughout the program, readings ranged from personal oral histories to free-flowing poems, essays and historical recounting.
Sojourner Truth, played by Irene Williams, paid the crowd a visit and wowed them with her seemingly endless list of inventions made by African-Americans. The list included the typewriter, the mechanical gearshift, the traffic signal, the elevator and many, many more.
Also in costume was Harold Weeks, president of the NAACP Collier County branch. Dressed as a Buffalo Soldier, Weeks recounted, in character, his tales of bravery on the frontier. Between fighting outlaws like Billy the Kid and bringing law and order to mining and frontier towns, the Buffalo Soldiers earned their nickname from the Cheyenne indians, for the spirit of their fight.
“Despite being given inferior uniforms, inferior food and tents and secondhand guns, our desertion rates were far less than those of other units,” narrated Weeks.
Also on the program was a lecture by Collier County Museum’s curator of education, David Southall. The presentation was titled “Black Seminoles, Caught Between Two Cultures.” The lecture dove into incredible detail on the subject, tracing Black Seminole history from early Colonial days all the way through the Civil War and beyond. You could hear a pin drop as the entire room took in each word Southall said, with his easy oratorical style making the entire presentation seem more like a story than a lecture.
Not that the evening had been short on story telling. Rhonda Cummings read an essay she wrote, entitled “Wisdom of my Grandparents.” The stories in the essay painted a vivid portrait of a generation gone by, and the relationships we have with our grandparents. Carolyn Maxwell shared her own story, a few paragraphs from a collection of “Front Porch Stories” she’s currently writing. Both pieces spoke to the strong oral traditions of African-American history, and to the warmth and color that make the history so rich.