Who Is Ms. Auburn (Ms. “A” fa’ shawt)? I’m a former employee of the Auburn Avenue Research Library (hence the tag) who believes in the power of words – written and spoken. I believe in lifelong teaching and learning, no degree required. A Real Wife of a Native Atlantan who was once a child of the SWATS myself (that whole left side of I-285 really ~ check my old school swag above). I have a slight issue with the passive way my generation is shepherding its legacy. With this column and your help, I hope to change that.
There used to be a practice among African-Americans known as “sittin at the knee.” The kids watched and listened while the adults taught them appropriate customs and practices and passed down the history, griot style. Ghetto Ya Ya Sisterhoods is how girls like I was once learned to sew and cook. But in a different age and time, I learned how to weave together a decent life and feed my family’s collective spirit by sitting at my mother-in-law’s table, all while bumpin’ Soul Food from the speakers. Sunday mornin’ where you eat-in’ at?
It was funny to me when she talked about walking down Hunter or Bishop Streets as a child, streets I now know as MLKing and 17th, respectively. She’d mention the parents of friends of mine and I could
understand a lot better why many of my peers made certain choices. I could also see why, as opposed to comparable major cities with large African-American populations, education and socioeconomics had little to do with why some of those peers sank and others will continue soar.
I don’t live in the past, but history is very important to me. I majored in it in college and if I have it with someone, they hold a premier place in my heart for life. Having a few good, loyal friends is what I’ve always espoused and it is our history that is the glue that makes us stick together through thick and thin. Something always told me the thin years that we’re about to enter would be coming and everyone would have to shave some acquaintances who rolled with us during the thick of it all. While those who don’t value the same usually end up leaving on their own, because of history, I’ve actually regained a few good peoples in these trying times. History has proven itself to have always been my ally. You might want to look back and give it a try, too.
With all of that said, I also feel a sense of consternation at the fact that the rest of the world seems to see no value in the cultural significance of knowing the full spectrum of our experiences. My mother-in-law and I are not alone in bonding over Our Atlanta. There are plenty of women and girls, men and boys who got raised up in this city sitting at some figurative knees. They learned all three verses of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” from them at Mrs. Linsey’s nursery. A lot of them fellas had to unlearn being a “Gent” to let their inner “G” out. There was, but there really wasn’t such a thing as Black History Month; it was just the Atlanta way. We are a dissertation in American Studies that, to my knowledge, no one has deigned to write. Yet.
Not that I think we as individuals are all that exceptional, but former resident Halle Berry hasn’t starred in a film adaptation of a Tayari Jones or Pearl Cleage novel. It’s crazy the untapped source material featuring the unique and resilient Phoenix-like flavor of this city that Hollywood regularly overlooks in favor West Coast action and East Coast bling. But, keep it real people, the person who coined the term “bling-bling,” introduced it into lexicons the world over, is an Atlantan. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.
This is the part of the conversation where folks start hurling the movie ATL at me.
While I liked it (a lot), it was a story of the generation between me and my own child. I could relate, but there was an inexplicable schism that happened in the mid-90’s when the world found us and showed up on our doorstep. That’s not better or worse, it’s just different. But, I digress…………
I now live in Atlantic Station. While most folk look at our neighborhood as this new, progressive, urban mecca (or a big shopping center and da club), it’s just gentrified Bishop Street to all of us. Bishop Street used to extend back into one of the neighborhoods where my mother-in-law purposely scuffed up her “white gul” tennis shoes (keds) and went to church every Sunday growing up. It was in that same church, as the choir sang Blessed Assurance or some such funeral hymn that I voted for this country’s first African-American president. It did not escape me, the irony of voting for this man in that church, that I now had a story to tell my child about her time and our shared place – Our Atlanta. While the country had come full-circle, our family had come back home.
Atlanta likes statements. Quotes. Raps. Life is spoken, lived, at a 5 Mics or Bust pace. Rhetoric tends to be careful and measured but deceptively heavy. Around here, slow ain’t always saa-low and short ain’t always shawt or shawty. One of the more heavily used quotes in this town goes a little something like this:
“A people without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots.”
Folks worldwide are bumpin’ our music with no context, no roots. Go on the internet to lyrics sites and you see words like “Eastepointe.” Where is that? I need you to help me tell folk where it ain’t. And all of that will come straight from the peach’s pit – Straight From The A.
**O.S.A.M. is a weekly feature on StraightFromTheA.com. We will be turning back the clock each Friday to reminisce about Old School ATL. Hit us up at [email protected] to share your favorite Old School Atlanta Memory. **