We commemorated the Martin L. King ‘s (MLK) 50th Anniversary March in August 2013 in which I attended and wrote the article/story for Splash Magazine, October 2013 “Martin L. King’s March on Washington and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination changed America forever 50 years ago” . As we approach Dr. King’s ”85th" birthday on January 15, 2014 and Black History Month, I want to remind others, and myself that we cannot and we shall not forget our American history.
A month later after being so inspired by the March, I was invited to go on a journey to the South with Katrina Shannon, Executive Director of Life’s Big Pictures and Creator of Cottonistic: A Historical Pictorial honoring the Cotton Pickers of America. Her photographic exhibition, Cottonistic: The Beginning is featured at Better Family Life Cultural, Educational and Business Center in St. Louis, Missouri , October 2013 – February 19, 2014.
It was an amazing, spiritual journey traveling through Alabama, Tennessee and South Georgia actual seeing the cotton fields. We were even more excited after interviewing several individuals who actually picked cotton and others whose ancestors picked cotton. One of the most amazing stories was uncovered by Ms. Barbara Howard, a brilliant person who is the Deputy Director for Program Operations, and Health disparities for Research and Education, Tuskegee University, Alabama.
Ms. Howard obtained photos of cotton pickers from Jim Peppler (Southern Courier Photograph Collection), who was The Southern Courier Newspaper Photographer (1965-68). She went on a journey throughout her home County of Montgomery, AL asking about the unique photos, "Do you know this person?" Amazingly, she had a photo of a cotton picker who lived to be 102 years old and died in 2002. She asked one lady who said, "THAT'S MY MOTHER"! This was one of the highlights! We visited and interviewed the daughter of the cotton picker.
Stay tuned for the documentary in print or who knows maybe on the Oprah OWN Network by Ms. Katrina Shannon with Ms. Sudderth, Ms. Howard and Ms. Nikki Ervins by her side. This may take place after Author Ervins publish her book “Victorious Over Loneliness” in mid August 2014.
The recent Golden Globe Award Winning “Best Drama” “Movie of the Year “12 Years a Slave” by director Steve McQueen depicted many cotton field scenes. Even though the main character was a freed slave who was abducted from the North to the South to pick cotton and perform other slave duties, the movie made you feel you were really on the cotton field plantations.
“Cotton Fields” a popular song written by blues musician Huddie Ledbetter “Leadbelly” made the first recording song about being in the Cotton Fields which is worth listening to.
Staying in touch with your history is an amazing and appreciative feeling. Prior to taking the route to Montgomery, Alabama, we stopped in Tuskegee, Alabama where we met the Seven Term-Mayor Johnny Ford’s and was part of his press conference on The Affordable Health Care Act/The Obama Health Care Reform. I was impressed by how much Mayor Ford does for his city and others. Former Mayor/Author Randy Murray who served 8 years in Toccoa, GA, was also in Tuskegee, attending a Mayor’s conference. Katrina and I both share a great interest in history and we were truly blessed to meet with Mayor Ford and Murray and learn about their extraordinary experiences over lunch.
Amazingly, Mayor Ford’s classmate, Ms. Dyann Robinson, President of Tuskegee Repertory Theatre and Dance Studio toured us around her breath-taking studio that features plays, dance and many memorable historical items. She says she can still dance like she did in the Broadway musical hit play “Bubbling Brown Sugar”. I highly recommend you visit and be part of her studio. Afterward, she escorted us around the Tuskegee campus.
I know that I will be returning to Tuskegee because of the excitement, history and the great hospitality offered to us by everyone we met. I plan to visit sites where the Tuskegee Airmen made aviation history by being the first black pilots to fly during World War II. They were given First Lady's approval when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt actual came to Tuskegee to be the first to test the flying skills of a black pilot, Charles Anderson. Her validation of, “Well, you can sure fly alright” started the history of Black pilots flying side by side with white pilots during the wars.
Because of the Tuskegee Airmen’s high achievement, the United States Air Force became an independent branch of the armed service in which I’m still serving proudly over 30 years.
I thank God I was part of Martin L. King’s 50th Anniversary March that led me to the South to learn more about our American History which included those cotton picking years. Knowledge is Power and you can take that where ever you may go in life. You should not only want to learn history but strive to be part of history. Thanks goes to Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and others who paved the way and made our extraordinary history want to be told from generation to generation.
Copyright © 2014.January This story written by Renee Sudderth for Splash Magazines. It is not to be sold or reproduce without written permission of Renee Sudderth