Speaker: Honor black history in more than just FebruaryPublished 12:54pm Thursday, February 18, 2010
By AARON MUELLER
CASSOPOLIS – Sonya Hollins believes that history needs to be shared.
And she sure is doing her part. Hollins, an author and journalist from Kalamazoo, has made it her mission to tell the stories of African Americans who made a difference in southwest Michigan.
She shared some of her research on black history in the area at the annual Black History Breakfast at the Cassopolis VFW Tuesday morning.
“We have people right here in our own community who have done remarkable things, exciting things not just in February, not just one time of the year, but every day for decades and decades for hundreds of years,” Hollins said. “And we need to embrace that, let our children know the stories that aren’t being told.”
Hollins’ book, “Here I Stand: One City’s History,” started when as a reporter in Battle Creek she heard about a black musician named Wade Flemons. She came to find out he was one of the co-founders of Earth, Wind and Fire and one of many black musicians who got their start at a club called El Grotto in Battle Creek. That got her started on a journey of talking with community members about African American musicians in the area.
“It was exciting to be able to talk to these people and get their stories,” Hollin said. “When the book came out in 2003 at the release party, one of the guys said ‘now I know someone will remember me and what I did.’ That always stuck with me.”
Hollins went on to talk about other southwest Michigan heroes, including Lottie Wilson, who created a painting of Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln and presented it to Theodore Roosevelt in the White House in 1902. Her painting currently hangs in the Niles District Library.
She also mentioned Charles Mahoney of Decatur, who in 1954 became the first black man to be named a U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly.
Hollins believes African Americans have a lot of stories to be proud of, but they need to be told.
“We need to write these stories down. I challenge you to do what you can,” she said. “Sit at your grandmother’s knee, pull out those old photos, ask about their family. Let’s make history, let’s write history, let’s read history, not just in February but all year round.”