“I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history,” sniped celebrated actor Morgan Freeman in a CBS 60 minutes interview.

The year was 2005. America had yet to elect her first African-American president, to coddle several rounds of Black Lives Matter riots, to cancel anything and everything stamped with a scarlet R for “racism”. 

When Mike Wallace then asked how we should get rid of racism, the actor responded apace, “Stop talking about it.”

Thirteen years ago, major celebrities could make assertions like Freeman without being canceled.

Even nine years ago, in a 2014 CNN interview with Don Lemon, Freeman utterly despised any suggestion that wealth disparities were linked to skin color. By the end of the exchange, Don Lemon even agreed with him.

America had yet to cement itself into a race-baited polis.

Freeman’s conviction that black history is American history has a deep and enduring past, with roots stretching back before the Constitutional Convention and the Declaration of Independence.

And perhaps it is the key to our future.

A prominent and influential poet, born in Africa in 1753 expresses it best.

At the age of seven, Phyllis was taken from her homeland by slave traders to the American colonies. She was bought by the wife of a respected Bostonian tailor, Susanna Wheatley, as a domestic servant.

Once the Wheatley family recognized Phyllis’ quick mind, they taught her to read and write in English, Greek, and Latin as well as encouraged her study in classical literature, the Bible, astronomy, geography, and ancient history. She published her first poem, influenced by John Milton and Alexander Pope, with the help of Mrs. Wheatley in 1767 and her first book of poems in 1773.

SEE ALSO: Black History Month reviewed

Phyllis Wheatley entered adulthood a free woman, a correspondent of George Washington, and an authenticated author vouched for by John Hancock.

Her poem titled “To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for North America, &c.” celebrates the growing independence of the colonies from Great Britain.

Wheatley’s words encapsulate the complexity of a freed slave’s affections toward America and the enduring justice that rejoices when tyrants are conquered and freedom prevails:

No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievances unredress’d complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t’ enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good, 
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatched from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat: 
What pangs excruciating must molest, 
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seized his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway? [emphasis added]


SEE ALSO: Colin Kaepernick Redefines “Racism”

Perhaps Wheatley’s generosity toward America wells from her commitment to the God of the Bible, who she diligently sought in the words of Scripture from her early days at the Wheatley home to her death in her early 30s.

Though she had no contention with Americans at large for their practice of slavery, the slight chide in her poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” asks Christians to consider the image of God within their black neighbor:

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Phyllis Wheatley and Morgan Freeman, though their lives are separated by two hundred years, a Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 15th Amendment, the civil rights movement, and a black president, together see clearly that their history is American.

Their lives, their legacies will be part of the great American story to which we all belong.

Now that is something we can be proud of.

Catie Robertson is an intern with the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Government.