Black History Month is not just a commercialized celebration of how blacks took our place in American history. African-Americans nationwide, internalize Black History Month. It is not only about our African-American pioneers and trailblazers, but it’s about us. Our families. Our heritage. Who we are and whose we are, a mantra instilled in me through my four years in undergraduate. Black History Month has never been so significant to me as it has been this year.
Last week I posted on my Facebook page that I was listening to my son sing the National Negro Anthem (yes, I said Negro and anthem) Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson, to his grandmother. I charged both my sons with learning the anthem after moaning and groaning ensued at my attempt to teach my sons about the song. I ended up lecturing them on the pride they should have in knowing, understanding, and embracing their heritage. I required that they learn the song. I specifically remember pointing my finger, hand on hip, saying,
“How can you have pride in yourself, know where you want to go in life and what you want to do in life, if you don’t take pride in knowing where you come from?”
In that very moment, I heard a little voice in my head say , “That applies to you too Candace.”
What the flip? Where did that come from?…
Well, fortunately that moment in Black heritage ended well for my boys, but for me, it was just the beginning.
For various reasons, I never really knew a lot about my grandfather. He died when I was three years old. I always knew what type of husband and father he was and, oh yeah, he was also a journalist. Somehow, I interpreted that as being an afterthought.
As a girl, I remember seeing a few newspaper articles he had written. One article in particular featured my grandmother, sitting near a window, caring for a plant. I always loved that photograph of her, but for the life of me, I have no idea what that article was about, nor did I ever give him or the article a second thought as I set out on my life endeavors.
The moment I heard that little voice in my head while lecturing my sons, I instantly knew that I needed to find out more about Granddaddy. This would be a difficult feat. It always had been. His father died when he was young and his mother remarried. His new stepfather adopted him as his own and through the years connections to his birth family had been lost. For one reason or another, my family never really spoke much about him. But this is 2015. Times have changed and thanks to advances in technology we have the means to dig a little deeper and go a little further on the information highway, even when it seems we’ve reached a dead end.
After so many failed attempts to find anything about him on the Internet, I had to rely on what I already knew and start there. I needed to make a phone call. I knew he used to write for the Call & Post, the historically black newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio. I made the pivotal decision to contact the Call & Post in Cleveland to inquire about obtaining access to old articles my grandfather had written as a journalist. Unfortunately, I was informed that their archives only date back to 2010.
“Oh” I thought. Dead end. But then the woman on the phone told me to contact the public library because their periodicals for the Call & Post date back to 1934. She gave me the number. I contacted them immediately.
After four transfers and repeating my intent four times, I ended up in the Microfilm Department. I explained my intent to the kind woman on the opposite end of the line to which she responded with, “Oh.” Another dead end, I thought. But, within a five minute conversation and a few instructions, I suddenly had access to the online archives. And right there, at my fingertips, at my ratty, old laptop that sounded like a rusty car engine, my legacy unfolded.
With a lump in my throat I scrolled through article-after-article of my grandfather’s work. What a privilege – to read through such a rich history of a city’s black community and know that it was my grandfather who boldly contributed to keeping the black community informed at a time when we were considered less than.
Despite all this, the real discovery came when I came across an article that was about him. This brief article outlined my grandfather’s professional experience. It was in that moment that tears streamed down my face. It was then that I learned how my life parallels my grandfather’s. It was then that I learned how I am truly walking in his footsteps. It was then that I discovered my legacy.
Woody L. Taylor, my grandfather, attended a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). He attended Lane College in Jackson, TN. When I went off to college, I decided to attend a small, HBCU for women because it was right for me. I attended Bennett College in Greensboro, NC. Of course, I attended my HBCU by choice. My grandfather didn’t have that same luxury at the time. Because of my love of writing and the English language, I majored in English and later received my B.A. in English and went on to explore different fields from editing to legal assistant, curious to learn all the different avenues down which an English degree could take me.
After being in the workforce for a few years, I eventually followed my passion and became a certified teacher. I taught for seven years. According to this article, my grandfather, Woody L. Taylor, was a former public school teacher in Oklahoma. His journalism career came after his teaching career. Sound familiar? Have you noticed my tagline?
These were things I never knew about Granddaddy. It is breathtaking how eerie life can be – the way history repeats itself. Without any knowledge, I followed – am following in Granddaddy’s footsteps. From teacher to writer has an entirely different meaning to me now.
I now feel a profound sense of responsibility to my family – my children – to see where this journey takes me. For writing is truly in my blood. And I must continue to write with passion and conviction . . . it’s my legacy. This is my Black History.