My brother Henry passed away five years ago. He was diagnosed with cancer, I can’t remember what kind of cancer. I wonder if that even matters, but I do remember the day our sister told me of his diagnosis. It was Thanksgiving, and I was in West Virginia, in a cabin on grounds where union and confederate soldiers battled. Believe me it was not a place of my choosing. In hindsight, it is rather strange that a Black woman would be present on a holiday that can be oppressive to Native Americans, in a place where Blacks were definitely oppressed. But that is a story for another time.
Henry died three weeks after his diagnosis. I got an opportunity to see and pray with him before he left us. I loved Henry. He was the brother who did not expect much. He told jokes and always had a smile and kind words for everyone he met. Henry loved me. I wasn’t an easy person to love, the youngest in the family and the one with privilege that demanded attention. Privilege because I did not have to pick cotton before school or call a white person, Sir or Madam. My generation wouldn’t take that crap, at least that is what we thought. No bowing down to the white man for us! In so many ways, my generation wanted to move on from those oppressive things, thoughts, emotions. All the things that reminded us of our struggles.
The family gathered to make Henry’s funeral arrangements. Henry’s daughter, Kimberly, comes to me and says, “Daddy wants you to sing, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral. I hated that song. I thought I had said this to myself but I blurted it out, loud with an emphatic “NO!” This song brought back all the things my generation, okay I, was trying to escape from. The song reminded me of the black struggle, the way my mother would sing it in the kitchen while she was cooking a meal of corn bread and collards! The song was depressing to me and really, don’t you think singing this would take us back another fifty years?!!!
After my drama subsided after a little while of privilege shaming, my niece touches my shoulder and calmly says, “Auntie, I know you love your brother.” She was right. I am so glad my niece is so much like her Dad. So I braced myself, walked up to the mic, and held my head high and sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” like it was the most natural thing for me to do. No, it didn’t sound anything like the great Mahalia Jackson in “Imitation of Life”, but I felt connected to our struggle. I felt the pain and burdens of my ancestors and found joy in that connection. I heard my ancestors say they were tired, but in their tiredness, they thought of me and others who would follow them. Henry understood that for his children, they needed to hear that he did his very best in a world that brought pain to a black man who did not require much, but simply wanted to live free and whole.
On this Sunday morning, I found myself humming this song. I saw my mother in the kitchen cooking and Henry sitting at the table smiling. I smiled, still humming Thomas Dorsey’s song in my head and realizing that the song is not a depressing one but it is a song of victory, for standing and moving in a world that often at times will hate you, but our God stands with us, giving us strength to walk on so that another generation will see just how far we have come.
In honor of Black History Month, I lift up Henry, my brother, who loves me anyhow! Listen to the words of this amazing song, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” song by Ledisi from the 2015 “Selma Movie Soundtrack” and be blessed!