Past is Prologue: Black History Month at Monroe Library

Black History Month asks us to celebrate and reflect on a complex and painful past, but it also prompts us to direct our thoughts elsewhere. The thing to remember about history is that it was once the present. Looking back at pivotal acts, people, and struggles in Black history, many of us can only guess what it might have been like to live through Jim Crow or apartheid, to live under national laws overtly designed to keep a part of the polity from thriving. What must it have been like for Ruby Bridges to brave the shouting protesters outside of Frantz Elementary in the Ninth Ward? How did former slave Toussaint Louverture feel when he was made lieutenant governor of his native island, Saint-Domingue? What does it feel like to live and witness monumental events?

Obviously, we can’t know what was in people’s heads at these kinds of moments, and history is more than a story of big moments. Indeed, it’s just as much a story of small moments of everyday experience, of people persisting in ordinary-seeming ways. To know what it felt like to make history, big or small, we look to eyewitness accounts, film and pictures, and artifacts from the time to feel our way into history. And libraries are a great resource that can help us do this. Check out some of Loyola’s holdings that shed light on those different-sized moments in Black history. (Also check out our book display in the Monroe Library Learning Commons. All books and DVDs are available for checkout!)

In wondering about history, we can also consider ourselves as actors in a drama that will soon become history. What’s the Black history of our present? Maybe it’s hinted at by the names of people such as Trayvon Martin or Colin Kaepernick, of Kamala Harris and the Obamas, of Neil deGrasse Tyson, of LeBron James? The saying that past is prologue is borne out by the persistence of issues like voter rights and equal opportunity protections. Court cases, legislation, and nationwide marches are examples of tectonic political movement, but history can also tell us about what forms small daily resistance can take. The first step to knowing where we’re going as a country is knowing where we’ve been, and the library is a great place to start!

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