Speaker Warns: Black History is Fading from American Landscape
BY JOSH ROUSE
STAFF WRITER, The Lawton Constitution JROUSE@SWOKNEWS.COM
As members of the Lawton chapter of the National Pan Hellenic Council gathered Saturday for the annual black heritage banquet, keynote speaker Clyde Ellis Jr. warned the last vestiges of black history are slipping from the American mindset.
“Black history is starting to fade from the American landscape,” Ellis said. “We are American history, but our little piece of the pie is fading.”
Ellis, a 26-year Army veteran, returned to Lawton after more than a decade to speak at this year’s banquet, which celebrated the theme of “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories.”
He recalled an experience during his time at Fort Sill with historian Towana Spivey, who pointed out the nearly invisible remains of a pitcher’s mound at the Old Post Quadrangle, where the Buffalo Soldiers once played baseball. It was hard to see and would pass unnoticed by anyone who didn’t know it was there. Ellis said what has happened to that pitcher’s mound is what is happening to black historical landmarks across the country — a problem that will affect everyone in time.
“The history of black America is one of struggle … and often sadness,” he said. “It’s impossible to tell of the struggle without preserving the places that are important to African-American history.”
Ellis named many places that were defined by black history, including numerous stops along the Underground Railroad, plantations and 125th Street in Harlem. But he said most people recall African-American history with the image of shotgun houses — small narrow homes that often housed poor blacks trying to earn any sort of living as they could. He said people remember shotgun houses, but forget Greenwood, the “Black Wall Street,” or any number of black towns across the country, where African-Americans fled to and proved they could govern themselves successfully and peacefully.
“Many black Americans fled those communities to get away from what I thought was dead Jim Crow,” Ellis said. “Now, that history is becoming lost to us. It’s disappearing. We all stop for a minute and look at these places and then it’s not there anymore.”
Ellis called upon those in attendance at the Mc-Casland Ballroom to revitalize these historic neighborhoods so that they will not die, nor the history with them. He said the only way for black history to avoid the same fate as that pitcher’s mound on Fort Sill is for the African-American community to take a vested interest in its history and ensure that it lives on for future generations to remember.
“If we don’t do this, it will all be a dream that will — over time — fade away,” he said.