It’s the stories that haven’t yet been told that I’m the most interested in. Moreover, I’m enamored of the bits of history that bring the people into fuller focus. Often our attention is spent on the leaders, the men and women whose grace or charisma or bravery lead us to wonder at what they have already done and what they will do next, but those few, however wondrous they may be, are only single figures in the larger life of the communities that they led. What about everyone else?
Friday night, at the invitation of Ms. Martha Johnson, I attended the first event of the annual Newtown Reunion, primarily because I’m interested in these histories, but more pragmatically because a fellow teacher and I will be leading our students in collecting some of the personal histories from Newtown this fall, as part of an Alabama Bicentennial grant-funded project. The first event of the Newtown Reunion is called Elders Day (or A Day for the Elders), and the emphasis is placed heavily on the value of the past, of heritage and its importance to raising up both the community and its forthcoming generations. It seemed a fitting start to our efforts, since what we really hope to do is connect our students to one more piece of our local heritage in Montgomery. The program was a prayerful one, full of song and poetry, and it allowed us to introduce ourselves and speak for a moment on how we hope to help their stories to be told properly. Before dinner, the program ended with an address by County Commissioner Isaiah Sankey of District Four, which encompasses Newtown. Sankey is a product of Newtown and, with a gracious smile and good-natured humor, reminded the assembled group of the community spirit that sustained them during hard times.
In the coming months, I’ll have more updates on our work to aid our students in gathering, archiving, and sharing the history of Newtown. We’ve been set off course slightly by the fire at our school, but will certainly get where we need to be soon.