Ida Cochrane

,
Ida & the Sphinx

Growing up, how did I learn about the accomplishments and struggle of African Americans. Once in school, our parents were surprised to learn that Black History was not being taught in our classrooms, therefore they made it their mission to expose us to the study of Black History at home and in our everyday lives.
I grew up in Pacoima, CA, during a time when we knew all of our neighbors, and they knew us. We relocated as a family of five from San Francisco to California’s San Fernando Valley, when red-lining was the common practice, and Pacoima was one of the few communities to which potential African American home buyers were directed. Post World War II, it was 1952, and new homes were being built throughout the San Fernando Valley, so with a $200 down payment, our parents bought a brand new house in a nice neighborhood.
Our parents spent their teenage and young adult years in Tulsa, Oklahoma and, as our mother told us, their education was separate, but equal, and then some. Their curriculum included a study of all history, with a strong emphasis on the accomplishments of African Americans. When they realized that this was not a part of our formal education, they taught us in the oral tradition, as well as brought books and other literature into the home for us to read. The family eventually grew to seven children, and evening meals around the dinner table often included discussions covering some aspect of Black history. We learned about “Black Wall Street” and the destruction of Tulsa’s African American community, although these events were long before their families settled in Tulsa. We also learned about the Tuskegee Airmen, before they became Hollywood stars. Family gatherings included travel to our grandmother’s home and visits with her brothers who had grown up in Texas and Oklahoma. We learned about our great-grandparents who lived in Texas in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. We also learned that our great-grandmother had an opportunity to participate in the Oklahoma land rush, but “didn’t want to live out there with the wild Indians.”
We gathered as a family to watch “Roots,” then discussed our feelings. On occasion, to earn additional income, our mother served at parties hosted by Jewish clients in Encino, and proudly brought home a copy of Roots, autographed by Alex Haley who attended one of those gatherings. Both of our parents traded their shoes for wings in 1986 and 1987 respectively, but they left us with a yearning for education and taught us not to accept anything casually, but to ask questions until we receive an acceptable answer.
My knowledge and understanding of African-American history has broadened and changed during my journey through high school, college and simply day to day adult life. I recognize that prejudice and racism continue to exist, but as human beings, we grow up in an environment and model ourselves after those who raise us, and as adults, we have the ability to decide if we want to continue practicing those same habits, or if we want something different
For future generations, I believe the most effective way to pass along this rich and radiant African American history is to continue the oral tradition of storytelling. In addition, every home should have books and other literature about African American history and culture, and parents should take time to talk to their children about what they read. African American’s are descendants of great people, with a rich and diverse history and culture that should be embraced.

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The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a film by Kunhardt McGee Productions, THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Inkwell Films, in assocation with Ark Media.