During a recent bedtime with my children River and August, we read a book that was a gift from their aunt Rahula S. Janowski. Freedom Soup is a beautiful picture book about a Haitian grandmother telling her granddaughter about Black people fighting back against the ruling class and leading the Haitian Revolution against slavery and colonialism. The grandmother is preparing Freedom Soup, denied to enslaved people before, as their family and friends come together to celebrate.
“They won!” River exclaimed.
“It’s like the Civil War,” my little four-year-old August says.
“Yes, in the Civil War, thousands and thousands of Black people fought back against slavery and freed themselves, just like in Haiti. The revolution in Haiti both scared the racist people in power, and inspired the people here in the United States who had been forced into slavery to fight back before and during the Civil War. They were a major part of ending the slave system here.” I shared.
River asked questions about the Civil War and August mentioned how families were divided on different sides of the Civil War, as they’re learning about it in his pre-kindergarten class.
“Malcolm X had his family separated when white supremacists burned down his house.” River said, and his eyes got big as he starts making historical connections. River did a Black History Month project on Malcolm X last year and is learning more about him this year.
“What else do you know about Malcolm X’s life?” I asked River. He listed a handful of moments in Malcolm X’s life while August and I listen.
“And Harriet Tubman fought back against slavery too.” River added. He continued, “She freed herself and then freed lots of other people from slavery and helped them get to a country where slavery was illegal.”
“They covered themselves in hay,” August jumped in. This led to a conversation about the Underground Railroad and how people used hay to cover themselves up riding in wagons and other ways people hid, as well as the Black and white abolitionists who hid people in their wagons, boats, and houses.
August and I snuggled and read stories about Frozen while River read a kid’s book about Harriet Tubman. Periodically over a couple of years, I had been asking River if he’d like to read the very book he was now reading, but he had said no. Now, he was the one who brought up Harriet Tubman, he was the one who wanted to learn more.
Before they both went to bed, we talked about how important it is that it’s Black History Month and that a Black man named Carter G. Woodson, who lived here in Kentucky, two hours from Louisville, in Berea, taught history and created Black History Month and that because people fought and organized for justice, we now have Black History Month in our schools. Racism doesn’t want us to know these histories, but people fought back, just like in our book Freedom Soup, that aunt Rahula gave you.
I prayed that night with gratitude for all who have fought back, who have brought leadership to and participated in the vast efforts to make Black History Month a reality and who continue to expand what is possible, expand what kids and adults are learning, and making Black History Month part of movements for Black Futures where there is racial justice and collective liberation. I prayed for movements to end the malnourishment of white people’s souls and historical knowledge by white supremacy, so that white people rise up against this death culture too, and can get inspiration from the Haitian Revolution, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, and Black and white abolitionists, inspiration to get free.
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