The richness of local Black history is undeniable to most, but if you had to judge its value by the number of students who visit the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society Display at the W.I.S.H. Centre, you might think otherwise.
Society Board Member Dorothy Wallace says that Black History can’t just be watched on a TV show or a movie: It has to be taught to people, focusing more on the youth.
“We celebrate once a year, in the shortest month of the year. I have yet to see a school teacher bring her children into this place,” Wallace said.
“If we don’t get the young kids and the schools in the system, who do we teach it to?”
Board member Gwen Robinson pointed out there used to be tours done by schools years ago. She also has been in schools in previous years, and to her it was “really wonderful” to talk to children about whatever questions they would have about Black History, and try to answer them in the best way possible. She said it now has slacked off quite a bit.
Wallace said the group has had some interactions with the kids that are usually at the W.I.S.H Centre, but the public doesn’t bother to look inside the room.
“People have walked past this room, and I don’t mean children. I mean grown adults who have lived in Chatham all their lives. They didn’t even know this was here,” said Wallace. “I don’t know what we can do to say, ‘Hey, we are here!’”
With Black History month fast approaching, members of the society are reaching out to the public to encourage them to learn more about Blacks in Chatham and the former Kent County.
The society formed in 1994 and moved into the W.I.S.H Centre in 1996, and wants the public to know about who they are.
“Black History is terribly rich in Chatham-Kent,” Robinson explained. “When I tell people Chatham was the home to seven black doctors between 1840 and 1870, they look at me like I am crazy, but the facts don’t lie.”
Robinson said the society is trying to basically get the truth out to people.
“Black History is not just important for Chatham-Kent. It’s important for humanity, because we’ve been left out of the textbook and the history, so it’s up to us to tell the story as honestly as we can.”
Robinson also wrote a book called, Seek The Truth: A Story of Chatham’s Black Community, which was released in 1986. Robinson said she has another book to be released, but they still have yet to name it, and it has more truth inside that has yet to be released.
“So many things have happened since then (the first book being published),” Robinson said.