My first nerdy Thursday happened by chance.
I was leaving the New York Historical Society when stopped by a young gentleman who asked me if I was attending the Black Gotham event.
I had no idea what Black Gotham was but became totally interested in it particularly because while we spoke, I saw young black people climbing the granite steps with amazing energy. They were greeting one another and the young man with smiles, hugs and hand shakes.
What’s Black Gotham?
‘We get together and talk about history- black history. It was started by my friend Kamau Ware who was asked by a student after giving a tour in Manhattan, ‘”What about the Black People?” He found he could not answer that question and started his own research about the history of enslaved Africans in New York. Before you knew it, he had started his own walking tours focusing mainly on people of color. Are you coming?’
I would love too!
That night was amazing. I met beautiful people who enjoyed eating cheese, sipping wine and simply talking about black history…..and it happened in one of my favorite places, the New York Historical Society!
In the rafters, above us, a young musician strummed melodies from her violin as attendees arrived and networked. I met educators and other historians. The young man who sat beside me, Chris, told me about his trip to France and how he saw an exhibition about Emmitt Till in the museum there. You think we tell our history? He said, try reading about our history in a different county and language, it’s worse!
That night, the focus was on Dr. Hall’s forthcoming (at that time) book, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts.
Mr. Ware started the event with a call and response, telling us that he wasn’t there to talk to us but with us. He wanted to hear our voices as well. This got the crowd going and before long, the silence and nervous chatter was exchanged for hearty laughter and delightful repartee.
When Dr. Hall told us about her research on the history of slave ships and asked the crowd who -did we think – started the most insurrections, of course we thought the men. When she told us actually, the women were the ones revolting, the sisters in the room snapped their fingers while shouting ‘Talk about it, talk- about -it!”
The event ended with a question and answer and Dr. Hall showed us documents that she gathered while researching the topic. Some documents she traveled to England for. She pulled up pictures of the slave catchers journals and told us how to read the very difficult writing. She told us how hard it was to research something that not too many people was interested in. And, how she filled in the empty spaces in the book.
When in history, documents are missing and important information, I leave it just like that, she said, I don’t fill in parts with my imagination.
When one person asked Dr. Hall- What about the white people or anyone who don’t believe you are telling the truth- or want to argue with you about your research, her body jotted up and very sternly replied, I’m not writing this history for them! It’s for us! It’s about time we write our own history for ourselves!