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‘Study Is Liberation': A Dallas Group Seeks Reconciliation By Confronting Racist History

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From the collections of the Texas/Dallas History and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library.
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A view of the Elks Arch (bottom center) next to Dallas' first skyscraper, Praetorian Building in 1910. Elks Arch would be moved to Fair Park the following year. Allen Brooks, a Dallas Black man was lynched from the arch.

In a span of a year, many have witnessed an insurrection by pro-Trump extremists who demostrated racist acts rioting the U.S. Capitol, protests against police brutality and racism that ended in tear gas, rubber bullets and violence, and a global pandemic that’s disproportionately killing Black and brown people at high rates.

In a time where the world is confronting a racial reckoning, the National Day of Racial Healing brings in a new meaning to how Black and brown people can find peace and heal from racism.

These events have not only emotionally, psychologically and physically taken a toll on people, but have forced them to confront a reality that in journalist’s Nikole Hannah-Jones’ words is “the oldest story in this country.”

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The social justice organization Dallas Truth Racial Healing & Transformation (Dallas TRHT) hosted an event called “#HowWeHeal from Racism,” that explored what the City of Dallas can do as a community to heal from historical and contemporary racist policies and practices.

“Racism has left a deep and nasty wound and continues to wreak havoc on our nations and our individual psyche,” said Dallas TRHT’s co-chair Joli Angel Robinson. “My aspiration for you and me in 2021 is that you find a small piece of refuge, a sliver of peace, huge of intentional rest and a tribe to see you through.”

Since 2016, Dallas TRHT has pushed discussions around racism and narrative change.

“We can not relationship build or have equitable policy changes about racism until we talk about the truth,” said Jerry Hawkins, Dallas TRHT’s executive director.

The event’s first speaker was Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones. Her project has left a mark with its collection of essays and scholarly articles that details the legacy of slavery in America.

“I can pick any moment in history trace it back to slavery,” said Hannah-Jones.

During the event Hawkins brought out an 110-year-old postcard that showed a lynching scene of a Black man named Allen Brooks. This photo was captured in downtown Dallas in March of 1910 and shows a ceremonial arch lit up downtown at the corner of Main and Akard streets and a mob of several thousand white men surrounding Brooks. This image was included in the 1619 Project.

“A postcard is meant to be mailed to someone. So they would take photos of themselves doing the lynching, and then write a note and then mail it to someone,” said Hannah-Jones. “I think we really need to think about as we talk about racial healing what type of sick society would not just kill somebody at a public square, but create memorabilia from it that people would mail and then would keep. If you understand a society that produces that, then you understand a society that produces what we saw on January 6th.”

Hannah-Jones blames the lack of “real” history taught in school for the shock and disbelief many Americans experienced after the riots in the U.S. Capitol. Black history, the violence, suppression, and Black political rights is not taught in most public schools.

“The history that we’ve been taught has ill prepared us for these moments,” she said.

On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, the White House released a “1776 Report” led by President Donald Trump to promote “patriotic education.” The report seeks to reject the New York Times Magazine’s controversial 1619 Project and defends America’s founding.

“We have a need to downplay this history,” said Hannah-Jones. “You cannot get to reconciliation until you have truth.”

And this is why she believes she must continue educating, talking about her project and force people to acknowledge the truth of America’s history. This year, Hannah-Jones’ 1619 project will be turned into a book, a docuseries and a children’s book.

“Study is liberation. Understanding your world and not being spoon-fed by people who want to keep your understanding in a certain way is critical to your liberation,” Hannah-Jones said.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

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