Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Finding Your Roots - Freedom Tales

I usually don't make it a point to promote history-related television shows or movies on " Random Thoughts," but when I do see something that I find beneficial and well produced, I feel a certain obligation to share it with as many people as possible.

Last night's episode of the PBS show, Finding Your Roots, hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. featured NFL hall of famer Michael Strahan and popular actress S. Epatha Merkerson. In this episode, titled "Freedom Tales," Gates helped dig up the East Texas roots of Strahan and the fascinating story of  Merkerson's family ties to Georgetown College's sale of 272 slaves in 1838.

In one short segment of the show Gates shared with Merkerson what appeared to be a period account describing the living conditions of Maryland's enslaved people. It told of the slaves' bedding and how it looked terribly uncomfortable. The part that really caught my attention was the phrase that went something like this: "A custom softens things." I couldn't help but extend that thought about the bedding of the enslaved to the peculiar institution and other oppressive social practices at large. 

To those that practiced slavery, it likely stuck them at a young age that something seemed wrong about holding another person as property. But over time, and with through the acceptance of society at large, its harshness became "softened." The same goes with prejudice, discrimination, and bullying. 

Why do we celebrate the achievements of people like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, not only during February's Black History Month, but also year round? Why? Because they selflessly challenged and acted against institutionalized customs that had softened our country's promised freedoms over time. The next time you have the opportunity to fight against "softening," don't miss the chance to act.

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