The Mystery of Black History Series
Seeking Truth and Identity
(Part 2 of 2)
|Hedi Rudd (l-r), Pamela Soward, Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., Stephanie
Bradley Wilson and Richard Scott are hosting monthly events on the
Mystery of Black History.
Mystery of Black History. The group is trying to use locally-generated materials as well as more nationally-available materials to tell the story of
history from an African American point of view because if you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you are going.
“What was interesting to me was taking history in high school and wanting to get deep into history,” said Hedi Rudd, a member of the group. “So
I’m a Black Latina. We were Mormon at the time. I grew up in a Black household. So for me, it seemed that every chapter was ‘Today we are
fighting the Mexicans. Today we are fighting the Mormons. Today we are enslaving the Africans.’ It was like dang. But you are supposed to be
an American. How are you looking at this history through which lens? So I am an American, so I am the good guy in history, but I’m also the bad
guy in history? And am I the bad guy? And it wasn’t until you went to college — I went to Madison College and took African American History —
then you learn this whole other perspective of history and then one, you are enlightened. And two, you might be a little bit angry. I remember
being at Madison College taking African American History and being angry. I was an adult in class with young people just getting out of high
school who are White and are wondering why they have to take the class. And they had an attitude about what they are hearing. And for me, I
was excited. Finally we’re not the bad guys. Now they were the bad guys, these White kids and they were like, ‘Wow, I don’t want to hear this
because now you’re making us look like we’re bad because we are the people doing this to these other people.’”
Scott agreed with Rudd about feeling good about yourself once you know who you are, that you existence and excellence began millennia
before American slavery.
“If you don’t feel good about yourself, then chances are, you’re not going to feel good about someone who looks like you,” Scott emphasized.
“There is a scriptural admonition to love thy neighbor as yourself. But if you don’t love yourself, how can you love your neighbor? So one of the
things that we see are things like Black on Black crime because we don’t value who we are because we don’t know who we are. How can you
value something that you don’t know even exists? These are the kinds of things that we hope Hidden Colors will bring out. We’re now
collaborating with the Wisconsin Historical Society. The majority of the people who came to the Mystery of Black History presentations had no
idea that we even had a historical society here. And I was on campus for six years and passed by that building a thousand times. I never knew
what was inside.”
Pam Soward, another member of the group, emphasized that our mental health is dependent on what we know of ourselves and if we don’t
know the truth, then it can cause all kinds of emotional and mental health issues.
“That’s why I showed the movies is because in the mental health field — I’m in the UJIMA program — we address the intergenerational trauma,
which is a part of that, the self-hatred because you don’t know who you are,” Soward said. “This has helped a lot of people to feel much better
about themselves. One guy saw Hidden Colors and he is now starting his own business. He said that this was instrumental in helping him feel
better about himself so that he didn’t feel, ‘I shouldn’t be in this arena. I have just as much of a right and even more so to be there as anyone
Since February — and Black History Month — has often been the only time that Black History is ever really explored by mainstream society —
and often forgotten when March 1st comes and goes, the committee has purposely made The Mystery of Black History coincide with the
academic school year.
“People ask me as a result of being in the school district, ‘Mr. Scott, will you come and do a Black History presentation,’” Scott recalled. “I did
that one time. Every year, they would call me. I would say no. But I will come and do a Black Mystery presentation. ‘What’s that?’ ‘If you want
me to come, I will tell you when I get there.’ Then I go into the whole concept that first off, I try not to do things just in February. Our Buffalo
Soldiers play wasn’t done in February. People said, ‘Why don’t you do it in February?’ No because there are so many things that are squeezed
right into that month. I said, ‘Our history did not begin or end in February.’ That’s why I think what we are doing has ramifications for a year
round program. And so, this first part was more like a trial, an experiment, to see what people would think. So now we see that people are
responding to this. Now we are planning to make it ongoing. That’s why we invited the school district to come because they should incorporate
this kind of thing. And even if they don’t do it in the classroom, they should give our kids academic credit for coming here.”
And the group is also interested in recording local Black History as well.
“There is a rich history in Wisconsin and in Madison, in particular,” said Stephanie Bradley Wilson. “All of the Blacks came up from the South to
places like Rockford, Beloit and Racine because of the factory jobs. I can talk about my father who came up as well as my mother in the 1950s
to get jobs. Even if you go from the 1950s to the current times, there are a lot of families in Madison who came up here and were here in the
early 1900s that have a rich history. You can talk about how Black folks moved from the near east side to the Greenbush area and then were
pushed out to South Madison and all of the things that happened because of that. Also there was a Black community in the Lake Geneva area.
Gwen Jones is from that area. We could talk about that richness.”
“Muriel Sims is in the process of doing a book on the Black History of Wisconsin and her family the Greenes,” Scott added. “It’s having folks
like that to be participants in this so that they can share it, so that we can understand that we just didn’t come here on a boat of our own
volition. When we came here, there was a purpose for us and it wasn’t a good one to us. But as a result, the majority of things that have been
created here in this country have been as a result of us being here.”
It is a movement that has also spurred the Wisconsin Historical Society to add three African American students as interns to interview local
African American elders about the local history. There is much to know and even more to find out so that Black History is a mystery no more.
The Mystery of Black History series will continue in March with the story of Vel Phillips. In April, Hanah Jon Taylor will talk about the History of
Jazz. And in May, Black History will be explored through UMOJA Magazine’s covers. Programming occurs the third Saturday of the month, 5-7:
30 p.m. at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park Street. It is free and open to the public.
By Jonathan Gramling
It is the victor, the conqueror, who writes history in their own image
and likeness. And nowhere has that proven to be truer than in the
treatment of African American slavery in the United States and
African American history in general, stories that protect Euro-
American sensibilities to the detriment of the telling the truth of the
Black Experience in America.
Before integration brought about by the Brown v. Board of Education
decision in 1954, African American history was regularly taught in
African American schools. It wasn’t taught in the Euro-American
school and continued not to be taught after the schools were
integrated. It was up to African American institutions to shoulder the
road, often times without the necessary resources.
Recently, an ad-hoc Madison group led by Richard Scott has put on a
series on African American and other indigenous people called The