Sheryl Goodline, president of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Commission and a former Glen Cove School District administrator, opened up a city council meeting on Thrusday by talking about the history of Black history.
Goodline herself is a part of the fabric of Glen Cove’s civil rights movement: When she was a young child in the late 50s, her father successfully sued on her behalf to desegregate the school district.
She explained that black history didn’t always exist, but that pioneering African Americans had to write it into the history books themselves.
When Carter Woodson, a black Virginian, the son of slaves was growing up in the late 1800s, he noticed that in his history books, African Americans were either misrepresented, or ignored completely. “He took on the task of writing African Americans into the nation’s history,” Goodline said. Woodson eventually founded the “Journal of Negro History,” and launched Negro History Week, the second week of February, in which both Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas’s birthdays are celebrated.
Goodline ran through a history of African Americans on Long Island. “There are references to free blacks on Long Island as early as 1657,” she said, although slavery in New York persisted until 1827, 28 years after it had been abolished.
African Americans built up communities for themselves across Long Island through the 19th and 20th centuries, Goodline said, until “when working class whites began to abandon older areas and settle in newly constructed, but racially restricted, G.I. bill communities.” African Americans moved into the older communities that whites were leaving, including Hempstead, Freeport, and Roosevelt.
“Glen Cove,” she said, “had a black middle class. Unfortunately, in early 1950, the bulk of these law-abiding, tax-paying families was up-rooted by urban renewal, which was called urban removal in black neighborhoods.”
“Be careful that history does not repeat itself,” she warned, addressing the council directly. “In 2018, this program might be called by a different name. It may be presented from a different perspective, but the results will be the same.”
Goodline closed her presentation with a poem by Latorial Faison that asked, “What is black history?” It wove between eras, jumping from slavery in the south, to civil rights, to Jim Crow, to Barack Obama, before concluding, “Black history is the story of you, and of me.”