This article appeared in the February 10, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Bringing ‘forgotten’ history to the fore

National Portrait Gallery/AP
Ignatius Sancho, seen in this 1768 painting by Thomas Gainsborough, was born on a slave ship and matured into a notable figure in the cultural life of London. His musical compositions were widely celebrated in his day but largely ignored by modern history.

They might seem unrelated: forgotten musical compositions, an overlooked obituary, the heralding of an Olympic athlete. 

But they all speak to black history, which is celebrated this month, and to the values a society reveals in the stories it chooses to tell. 

Take black composers Ignatius Sancho and Florence Price. The pair, one an 18th-century Briton, the other a 20th-century American, both now figure in an initiative of Music by Black Composers, which has resurfaced more than 350 classical works. Violinist Rachel Barton Pine, the group’s founder, told CBS News, “Our primary motivation … is to inspire young African American students that classical music is part of their history.”

Or take Homer Plessy. The New York Times’ rich “Overlooked” project has been filling out a 150-year-old archive it calls “a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers.” It recently published an obituary of Plessy, the African American plaintiff who powerfully though unsuccessfully challenged segregation in a seminal 1896 case. As the Times writes, “he all but vanished into obscurity. ...”

And then, take Aquil Abdullah. He was the first African American man to win a title at the Henley Royal Regatta, in 2000, and the first to make the U.S. Olympic rowing team, in 2004. Athletes at Row New York, a program for underserved, largely minority youth joining a sport that is working to diversify, can connect with his example – this time, in real time.

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This article appeared in the February 10, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 02/10 edition