When a black history exhibit was defaced at his overwhelmingly European American high school, Marc Morial was surprised not only by the vandalism but also by a question it prompted from his principal.
The principal was getting questions from white students asking about having a white history celebration, and asked Morial and two of his friends how he should respond.
“I don’t know where this came from, but I told him if the Italians, Irish and Germans understood their own history, they wouldn’t be threatened by ours,” Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, said Tuesday during a Black History Program at Jarvis Christian College.
Morial, a former two-term mayor of New Orleans, challenged students to understand and embrace their history while being open to the history of others.
“Every ethnic group made contributions to the United State of America. If I know my own history, I am not threatened by the glorification of another group’s history,” Morial said. “We are not trying to take anything from anyone else but so much of our contributions have been suppressed.
“Now, whether we got here as immigrants or slaves, this was not our land.”
Morial said African-American history was somewhat different because of suppression and sharing of incomplete versions. He argued, for example that slavery didn’t start in 1619, which is widely held. He said data suggest there were people of color who arrived with Columbus in 1492 and that slavery had been practiced in the Caribbean’s and South America long before it came to America.
“Sometimes our history is incomplete,” Morial said. “Stuff is left out. I don’t care how much black history you think you know. We don’t know the half of it. We may not know all the stories, but they exist.”
Dr. Lester C. Newman, Jarvis’ president, presented Morial with a plaque following his presentation. “We got a history lesson today,” Newman said.
One of Morial’s key points was what he called the three Bs – the ballot, the buck and the book. “Every young person should make sure their voice is heard in the 2020 elections,” he said, urging also to use the ballot to hold elected officials accountable and participate in all elections.
With the buck, he said, our economic system could stand an overhaul. “I don’t get giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and then telling the rest of us to eat cake,” he said.
The book was Morial’s metaphor for education – “Excellence. Preparation. Leadership,” Morial said, who also talked specifically about Jarvis.
“This school was started in 1912, when Reconstruction was over and the Ku Klux Klan was running rampart and all our gains were being reversed. This school must survive. So, I call you to leadership. I call you to service. I call you to excellence. Say no to the naysayers, the player-haters.
“My name is Marc H. Morial and I approve this message.”