Last week on Thursday, threats of inclement weather got quite a few people nervous, but plenty decided to take the risk and pay a visit to the Montross branch of the Rappahannock Regional Library. The reason was none other than 36th Annual Black History Month Celebration, an event involving the Westmoreland Weavers Storytellers of the Word.
Comprised of professional-grade storytellers, the group, according to member Daisy Howard-Douglas, was founded on June 1, 1998 and consisted of 34 members. Since then, they have been telling stories on several continents, visiting daycare centers, elementary schools, museums, libraries, and countless other locations that request their storytelling. The group goes above and beyond when it comes to their annual celebration of Black History Month, however.
“For Black History Month, we not only share the stories,” Howard-Douglas commented. “We also do the African menu. But we go anywhere that requests us, and have been well-received since our founding. Some of our storytellers have graduated and gone on to college now. Quite a lot are teaching now too. They’ve left us and gone out into the world, sharing stories as they go. We’re glad to have new members wherever we find them, and we want to continue telling stories as long as we’re able.”
Stories told by Rita Wagstaff, Martha Newman, and Douglas were accompanied by poetry from the library staff, and singing from Jimmy and Tricia Ashley.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why do we celebrate Black History Month? It’s the shortest month of the year!’ I’ve always told them that it’s better to have a short month than no month at all,” Douglas explained after things got underway. She would later talk of Carter Godwin, and his efforts to get acknowledgment for the achievements of black people throughout the years. Originally just a week-long event, it was extended to the entire February month in 1976.
The main story of the evening, however, was of a man by the name of Dorie Miller. An enlisted man in the Navy just before World War II, Miller was part of the mess staff on a ship stationed at Pearl Harbor when Japanese soldiers attacked. Despite being tasked with kitchen duties, Miller took to the controls of a flak cannon on the ship and wound up blowing several Japanese planes out of the sky. He did not gain recognition for this until President Roosevelt stepped in to give the Navy a kick in the rear, resulting in him being awarded the Navy Cross. However, Miller never truly got promoted out of the mess hall, and was ultimately killed in 1943 by a Japanese torpedo.
The other person who was commemorated that night was the late, great Kobe Bryant, who needs no introduction, considering the colossal impact he had on the world of basketball. Recently, he was tragically killed just shy of 42-years-old in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter and several other people.
Events like this are vital, thanks in no small part to the old adage of those that are ignorant of history will inevitably repeat mistakes made in the past. One can either ignore the past, erase it, or learn from it, and as long as there are storytellers and historians, it’s a safe bet that the history of those who came before us will not be forgotten.