Editorial: Learning loss is bad everywhere, and demands immediate action
“Somewhere the world is going to die,” said Toni Morrison some years ago. Her words seem so prophetic, today, as her words from the 20th century come to mind.
In her essay “Forgotten Women,” Morrison, a Pulitzer prize winner, describes the lives of several women, many of them black, who have lived in the United States since the mid-nineteenth century. Many were slaveholders who died in life and were forgotten in death. Others died alone or with a husband from a “broken home.”
She described as “almost impossible” the task of trying to learn the lives of these forgotten women because they were not given space in history. She wrote, “One thing history cannot do with the dead is to tell us about the dead, to describe their lives, their deaths and their graves. We cannot know their deaths.”
The deaths of slaves in antebellum America and in Africa have been largely invisible to historians and American society. Yet for all the talk about the “black underclass” and black poverty, the numbers of black deaths in modern America are not even close to those of the more than 500,000 black slaves who died in the United States in the 19th century.
These deaths have occurred over and over again, especially in the early 20th century, when the country was changing rapidly. These deaths were due to the economic and social systems of the period.
The deaths of black women have been particularly ignored; black deaths during this period of rapid change are still, today, unknown. Why?
In most cases, these deaths were unintended, but they have also occurred when society was at risk of death.
I am not talking about the deaths of young black males because they were not in the same world as those women who died. The deaths of black women who died in “white heat” in their homes, by their own choice and actions, are