My great grandmother was full blooded Cherokee. I would not make this declaration if I did have proof via a short biography my grandfather published in a publication of the histories of families raised in his very rural town. What I do not have proof of, though my mother spoke of it, was that my great grandmother was a part of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

“In 1838 and 1839, as part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee people called this journey the “Trail of Tears,” because of its devastating effects. The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march. Over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died.”

As I think on Ferguson and ‪#‎michaelbrown‬, New York and Eric Garner ‪#‎ICantbreathe‬, and all the other lives suddenly stolen, I can’t help but think that our trail of tears, begun in Africa, continues today as we struggle/fight/claw our way to justice for us ‪#‎justus‬.

Our timeline in America has been soaked with our tears.

“As westward expansion took hold, the question of whether the United States would be a proslavery or antislavery nation took on new importance. In the North, antislavery forces included abolitionists, who wanted a future without slavery so that black people could be free, and Free Soil advocates, who resented having to compete with owners of slave-tended plantations for use of new lands. White Southern planters wanted a future for themselves and their prosperous way of life, which depended on the institution of slavery.

“As the New York Tribune announced, ‘We are two peoples. We are a people for Freedom and a people for slavery. Between the two, conflict is inevitable.” Rising conflict led to Civil War in 1861, and the country was torn asunder. After four years and the loss of 617,000 American lives, the Union was saved, African Americans were promised the rights of citizens, and slavery was abolished’.”

James Weldon Johnson, on the cusp of the Harlem Renaissance (supported by white patrons) was a principal at a school that was to be visited by Abraham Lincoln. He wrote a poem in honor of that occasion. This poem later became the lyrics to “The Negro National Anthem,” and yes I use the old title intentionally.

The anthem is a snapshot of the African American’s journey in America, a journey from despair to faith and hope.

“Listen” to this verse:

“We have come, over a way that which tears [boldness mine] has been watered
We have come, treading out path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out of the gloomy past, till now we stand at last,
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”

While there is still hope for us who trust God (not wistful thinking, but confident expectation) we still travel a trail of tears. We have moved from African to Colored to Negro to Black to African American and yet our journey to self-identity continues to morph, but what seems to be struggling with transformation is our sense of self, our sense of community and our decision to make it clear to the “Other” that we shall not be moved; we shall not languish in our complacency simply because you want us to remain invisible, go underground because you won’t play nice (THE INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison)!

We African Americans must understand that a unified front is absolutely necessary for such a time as this. We must teach our children our history of strength and resilience and pride. We cannot solely entrust our stories to those who do not know our stories even as they profess they can tell it better through revisionist history in school books.

W. E. B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington were at odds with one another as to the newly freed slaves place in America.

Washington, in a speech at the “Atlanta Exposition” (read full text here, included the following in his speech:

“In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

“WE. B. Dubois coined the term “Atlanta Compromise” to denote the agreement Washington assented to which included more than this probably better known part of Washington’s speech. The term “accommodationism” is also used to denote the essence of the Atlanta compromise.” Read Mr. Dubois’ critique here:

Whether we agree with Washington’s concept or Dubois’ position, we cannot allow division of theory or thought keep us from presenting that united front in America.

I was raised in the Jim Crow South, cloistered in a community forced by “law” to live on the outside looking in. We may have chafed at the isolation but we knew how to support and encourage one another; we knew that greater was coming but when greater showed up, replete with its promise of full access and liberty, too many of us abandoned community for what was really a nebulous “Greater,” that which continues to elude us even today because we are so obviously “different,” different being defined by the “Others” who still don’t know us or care to understand.

Yes, we still travel this trail of tears but we shall overcome the hardship, the neglect and the derision just as your ancestors and my great grandmother did, but only if we commit ourselves to the well-being of our community first as we press our way to JUSTICE!

I am a woman of faith so I will continue to trust God through the chaos of this season. My prayers continue for all of us, every one who declares “I am an American,” because whether we see it now or not, we really do need each other!
“GOD of our weary years, GOD of our silent tears
Thou Who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light
Keep us for-e-ver in the path we pray

Lest our feet, stray from the places our GOD where me met thee
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand

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