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Telling Stories/Preserving Culture

I’m not gonna lie- I’m a little brain fried and meant to post this sooner. I apologize if it doesn’t makes sense.

One of the questions raised today in class was “What do the stories we preserve tell about us?” Within the context of slavery, it says a lot. It took nearly a hundred years for any narratives beyond A Narrative of the life and times of Frederick Douglass, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Huckleberry Finn to address the realities of slavery in the 19th century. Or, more to the point, it took that long for people to begin to search for them. In Love Cemetery, Galland reflects on the lack of stories and records she can find for the people buried in Love Cemetery. She realizes that it is because of something along the lines of “history is told by the winners.” As part of Southern culture, this shows just how much (or rather how little) the stories of slaves mattered.

As a child, I loved the Dear America series of books. For those of you who weren’t reading middle grade fiction in the late 90’s, they were a series of diaries written from the perspective of young women (13-17) during various parts of history, like along the Oregon Trail or the American War for Independence or the sinking of the Titanic. But I remember one of my favorites was that of a young slave girl. I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly by Joyce Hansen is set in 1865 South Carolina and tells the story of a girl who grew up in slavery, but was recently freed. As a white girl living in Texas, I loved this book because it allowed me to enter the mind of someone completely unlike myself and share in their experiences (which is really the point of books, right?)

Anywho, reading Galland’s reflections made me realize how few people would actually enjoy or want to get into the mind of a slave or even a freed person who existed before 1965. The recent kerfuffle over the revision of Huck Finn (or massacre of it, depending on who you ask), reminds me that people (especially white people) don’t like being reminded of their humanity. Specifically the parts of their humanity that made them do stuff that through the lens of history was rather unflattering (or completely barbaric). It’s sad that we still live in a world, so full of free information, where we still feel the need to censor how we view history, either in apology or shame. Such censorship not only tears pages out of the story of history, but it also hurts our understanding of the culture we move through today. Present day events are built on the foundation of history and if you remove parts of that history bit by bit, eventually something that you don’t like is going to happen.

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