Do Black Truths Matter?

by Susan O’Donovan

aejThat was the question Dr. Andre E. Johnson of the Department of Communications put to a packed room on February 16 at the University Center. In a moving address, Dr. Johnson reminded his audience that black truths do not always matter today. Black testimony is too easily discounted and disregarded. This is especially so when the person who offers those truths is considered “imperfect”: a poor person, a person with an arrest record, a desperate person who does whatever is needed to get by. But as Dr. Johnson also reminded his audience, this has not always been the case. There have been moments in American history when black truths mattered, and mattered a lot.

One of those times was in May 1866, when in the wake of the Memphis Massacre, a crowdcongressional delegation headed by Elihu B. Washburne gathered testimony from 170 eye witnesses to and victims of three days of racial terror. The truths that Washburne and his delegation collected and took seriously helped change the course of our nation’s history. They were part of an avalanche of black truths that ushered in new law and gave new meaning to citizenship and freedom. So much did those black truths matter in America of 1866 that the testimony Washburne’s delegation collected has been enshrined at the Library of Congress. Read that testimony. Remember when black truths mattered.

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