Almost every weekend, Mount Airy United Fellowship Church hosts Black History Saturday, an informal lecture series that focuses on passing down the wisdom and experience of an older generation to the next. The topic of this particular lecture was slavery.
Gwen Ragsdale, co-founder of Lest We Forget Slavery Museum, was the speaker. She has spent many years researching the transatlantic slave trade. She wrote a fictional novel and produced two award-winning documentary films on the topic.
During her talk, she described the extremely harsh conditions enslaved Africans experienced aboard slave ships.
Our people were held in the holes of these death ships, quite frankly, for months and weeks at a time,” Ragsdale said. “Many died on board those ships.”
Ragsdale also stressed to the audience why she thinks it is important to include slavery in the discussion of black history.
“We owe our people a debt [of] gratitude to understand and more importantly appreciate what they did and the contributions that they made in the building of America,” Ragsdale said.
Joe Williams, pastor of the church, created Black History Saturday because he felt there was a need for what he calls “corrective teaching” – educating people about the parts of black history that are not commonly discussed, such as the brutality of slavery and little-known black inventors.
“We see a lot of misinformation, and we’re not who they say we are,” Williams said. “We’re more than hip-hop and a lot of the things you see now.”
Williams said he was only taught a portion of black history growing up. He remembers having Negro History Week in elementary school in the 1950s. They would talk about George Washington Carver and a few other people, but that was pretty much it.
With Black History Saturday, Williams hopes to eliminate the invisibility that he and other older members of the African-American community have felt, and give young people information about the African-American experience he feels is often missing in books. But Williams admitted it is a challenge to draw young people to the lectures.
“It’s not glamorous enough. You’re competing against TV, texting, iPhones,” Williams said.
There were not many young people in attendance on this particular Saturday. Ragsdale brought her thirteen-year-old granddaughter and an audience member, Arlene Edmonds, brought her six-year-old granddaughter, who spent most her time coloring.
Edmonds said although it looks like her granddaughter is distracted, she hopes the lecture will benefit the six-year-old in the future.
“I think it’s good to know where you come from because you can understand yourself, you can understand your family dynamics better, and it explains who you are,” Edmonds said.