Johnson speaks at Black History Month program

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 23, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Sen. Robert Johnson doesn’t have time to research his roots as author Alex Haley so famously did, he told an audience Saturday.

But he knows that his history was born in the struggle of African-Americans &045; a struggle he said he embraces.

&uot;The African-American history and struggle tells me there’s a greater power working here today,&uot; Johnson said, speaking at the annual black history program sponsored by the Mississippi Welcome Center.

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Johnson’s personal history &045; he was raised in Natchez, received his law degree in Illinois, then came back to Mississippi to practice &045; shows he is someone who &uot;didn’t forget where he came from,&uot; said his cousin, Adams County Supervisor Darryl Grennell.

&uot;He had the option to go all across the United States, but he came back to his home state,&uot; Grennell said.

Saturday’s program celebrated &uot;The Souls of Black Folk,&uot; lifted from the title of a 1903 W.E.B. Du Bois work in which the author set out to show &uot;the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century.&uot;

Johnson told the audience he tried to read Du Bois’ ground-breaking work as a high school student &045; and quit after the second page because he found it so challenging. But he read it later in life and &uot;gained new understanding of the text.&uot;

&uot;There would be no need&uot; for Black History Month celebrations, Johnson said, &uot;if the history of African-Americans had been fully exposed.&uot;

But that history, he said, is American history.

&uot;The African-American experience is the most shining example of what this country was built on &045; the Declaration of Independence,&uot; he said.

Recalling that so many black spirituals mention the desire to get to heaven, Johnson said heaven had a double meaning for his ancestors. &uot;Heaven for them might have been just crossing the Tennessee River to the north,&uot; he said.

&uot;As far as we’ve come, we’ve found ourselves always saying, ‘well, when we get to heaven Š’&uot; Johnson said.

Johnson said his faith tells him that he has been promised a &uot;greater existence&uot; than his ancestors had. He laughs when people answer his complaints about current problems with &uot;well, why don’t you just leave.&uot;

&uot;Why would I want to leave until I get what I know the Constitution promises me right here?&uot; he said. &uot;It’s enough for me to know that my grandfather and grandmother survived even though they didn’t have 100 percent of freedom and liberty. But for the fact that they asked for something, I wouldn’t be here today.&uot;

The struggle of his ancestors though, &uot;tells me I’m born of sterner stuff,&uot; Johnson said.

In addition to Johnson’s remarks, the audience was treated to performances by the Voices of Hope and the New Vision Praise Team.