February 23, 2013

The Rev. Rodney B. Weaver: Still we rise

We are now nearing the end of the month of February 2013. Historically, it has been designated as “Black History Month.” This annual designation, the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson, is a way to honor the accomplishments of black Americans.

February was chosen because of two men who figured greatly in the history of blacks in America. Abraham Lincoln, the president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery, was born in February. Frederick Douglass, one of the nation’s leading abolitionists, was also born in February.

During February, the important contributions and events in the history of the African-American diaspora are highlighted. The African diaspora has always played a part in the history of the Christian religion. The presence of Africans (blacks) in the Bible is often overlooked, but nevertheless noteworthy.

Hagar, an Egyptian black woman, was the first surrogate mother in the Bible. Although forced to be impregnated, she gave birth to a child for Abraham and Sarah. The Jewish man who passed for black and led the Israelites out of African slavery was Moses. Joseph took Mary and Jesus, fled to Africa to hide from ruthless King Herod. The first non-Jewish convert to Christianity was a black man — the Ethiopian eunuch. Queen of Sheba was a black woman.  Jesus called a black man (Simon the Canaanite) to be one of his disciples. The man forced by the Romans to carry the cross of Christ was a black man from Cyrene (nowadays it is called Libya).

Blacks have also played a viable part in the history of the United States. To name a few, one could mention Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver, W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Thurgood Marshall and Barack Obama.  

Our present day lifestyles have been enhanced by the noteworthy contributions of black Americans. The ironing board, the comb, the hairbrush, the dust pan, the mop, the clothes dryer, the fountain pen, the refrigerator, the pencil sharpener were all invented by black Americans.

Other inventions by black Americans were the letter drop mail box, the elevator, the air conditioner, the furnace, the filament in the light bulb and the traffic light.

Locally, blacks have been key players in Dalton. For fear of omitting anyone, this writer will not share names. A tour of the Emery Center (on the corner of Emery and Pentz streets) will educate and highlight the contributions of local black Americans.

In Dalton, blacks were dispersed in certain areas of town. There was the “Hall Corner” area in south Dalton. It was named after the Masonic Hall, which was located there. Blacks lived, played, worshipped and were educated in this area. It consisted of South McCamy Street (now called South Hamilton Street), Railroad Street, Emery Street, Spring Street, Oxford Street, Gaston Street, Brooks Street and Franklin Street.

Blacks owned their own businesses in south Dalton (i.e., barbershops, cafes, hair salons, a sweet shop, a dry cleaners, kindergartens, a flower shop, a funeral home, a taxi service, doctors offices, a pool room, a plumbing business and a mop and broom shop.   

Worship centers were located there (New Hope Baptist Church, Liberty Baptist Church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and St. James Overcoming Church of God, better known as the “Holiness Church”). Emery Street School was the educational center of life.  

In north Dalton, another congregation of blacks resided. They lived in the Glenwood Avenue, Matilda Street, Spencer Street, Tarver Street and Elm Street area. Mount Ridge was where blacks in that area of town worshipped.

East Dalton, historically called “New Town,” had another grouping of black families. They lived in the Greenridge Drive, McAfee Street, Straight Street, Grimes, Bogle Street and Waugh Street area.  

In these areas, blacks raised their children and sent them to the local schools and churches. Leaders emerged from these areas that represented blacks in the educational, political and social arenas of Dalton.

Yes, this is Black History Month. With this in mind, we reflect on the presence and the contributions of blacks in the Bible and on the national and local levels. Blacks have survived by the sweat of their brows, by their intellect, and by their faith in God. Modifying the words of Maya Angelou, one of our national poets:

“Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear …

“Bringing the gifts that our ancestors gave,

“We are the dream and the hope of the slave.

“We rise.

“We rise.

“We rise.”  

Rodney Weaver is the pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church.

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