george_santayana.jpgWe live in a time whose urgency is to think about the present and to pursue the material things in life. But if there is anything that our history as a people tells us it is to remember our past and how we overcame formidable, existential obstacles. t is useful to keep that in mind as we continue celebrating Black History Month this year.

This is not an occasion for paying lip service to our roots. It should be the high point of what we should do year-round: recalling the milestones of our past and use them as signposts to guide our path.

One such milestone is Rosewood, a name that lives on 90 years after the community which bore it was wiped out by racists.

The tragedy happened in our state. Rampaging white men attacked Rosewood, a town in Levy County inhabited by African Americans, on Jan. 1-7, 1923, following a claim by a white woman that she was assaulted by a black man. They burned the town and killed five residents and forced survivors to flee into the woods.

It is noteworthy that a handful of whites, notably businessman John M. Wright, offered shelter to some of the survivors, as is noted on a commemorative plaque erected on the site designated a Florida Heritage Landmark. But the prevailing sentiment at the time was that black folk were not the equals of whites. It is important to keep that in mind because, in the second decade of the 21st century, that sentiment still persists.

One notable example is the so-called “war on drugs” and the devastation it has caused the communities in which Africans in America live and which continues despite persistent evidence that it is being used to keep black people in legal chains, just as slavery and “segregation” did.

A story in today’s issue of this newspaper quotes Natisha Hawkins, a junior at Michael R. Krop High School in North Miami emphasizing the relevance of Rosewood today. She sees it in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. According to Natisha, time and distance do not mean that Rosewood “can’t happen again.”

She is right. Until all Americans embrace one another as equals not only in the secular sense but  more importantly in the spiritual sense, there will continue to be those who devalue us in their minds and use that as an excuse to do us harm.

We must be on guard against that happening. We must remember the words of George Santayana, the 20th century Spanish intellectual, who wrote in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1,  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Black History, for us, is a perpetual cautionary tale.