SURRATT: City and nation’s history should be learned, embraced

Published 4:00 am Friday, August 25, 2023

I had the opportunity over the past two weeks to attend events honoring two local heroes.

The first was the Aug. 12 unveiling of a historical marker honoring Dr. David D. Foote, one of the organizers of the Vicksburg Branch of the NAACP.

Founded on June 9, 1918, the branch was the first NAACP branch in Mississippi and Dr. Foote’s home at 710 Cherry St., where the marker was unveiled, was the site of meetings to form the Vicksburg Branch.

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The second event was a symposium this past Saturday honoring Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister, a Vicksburg native who was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1929.

Both of these people in my mind are heroes; they worked their way up through adversity in the segregated South to become leaders in their community and serve as an example for others to follow. They are part of Vicksburg’s history and the South’s history; parts of a story of our region, a story that is full of people who in their own way made an impact in our country — people whose names you may not find in the history texts but are visible through research.

As I was listening to speakers at both events, I did something dangerous. I started thinking. I began going back to my school years and my junior high and high school history classes and tried to recall what I learned sitting in class and compare it to my education in history after I graduated high school.

One thing I remember was there was no mention of people like Dr. Foote and Jane Ellen McAllister; no mention of the U.S. Colored Troops in the chapter on the Civil War or the Tuskegee Airmen when we studied World War II. We learned about George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, but only in passing. My eighth-grade history book had a small sidebar on the Ku Klux Klan that made the Klan sound like a social club of community helpers rather than an organization formed to prevent former slaves from exercising their rights.

There are now, so I’ve been reading, groups and legislatures that want to change the way history is taught and to eliminate or reduce the study of slavery and Jim Crow laws. One reason I’ve heard for the change is to eliminate people feeling ashamed of themselves. Granted, the history of our country has some rough and tragic periods, but if someone has a personal problem with that they need to address it and not try and force others into being “dumbed down.”

One of the reasons we study history is to learn the story of our country and how we got to where we are now. Another is to learn from the mistakes of the past so it’s not repeated.

Our country has an amazing history and it should be studied, flaws and all.

Vicksburg has a wonderful history and we should do all we can to learn it, embrace it and enjoy learning the stories of Dr. Foote and Jane Ellen McAllister and others.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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