“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
- Carter G. Woodson, historian and founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History
The study of Black people who have who have made significant contributions to society at large tends to be the focus of Black History Month. It’s wonderful to shine a spotlight on the inventors, the scientists, the adventures, the activists, the musicians, as they are all essential to remembering Black history and to fighting the erasure of our importance to the world at large.
But what about those of us who aren’t on the map as having changed the way of the world or having made what society considers a lasting contribution? Where is the bar of achievement on who should be celebrated?
For me, a huge part of Black history is celebrating who we are as a people. Celebrating us. Not that we are all alike – far from it. But there is a history we share – as powerful or as painful or as beautiful as it may be – that should be also be a part of our focus. When we talk about Black history, we should also talk about our folklore and mythology, and our culture as a whole. And how we can all contribute to history.
Our folklore and mythology are part of who we are. Enslavers tried to strip that away from us because they knew the truth of Woodson’s quote above. The folklore, mythology, and traditions we have managed to hold onto despite the inhuman effort made over centuries to strip it away from us is a marvel. Even so, our history is more than pain, more than trauma. We have connections, we have ancestral ties, and we have stories. Lots and lots of stories!
Gullah Geechee people have held on to so many of our folk tales and myths. Some of those stories are what I drew on to write Root Magic. I remember a shiver going down my spine the first time my grandmother told me a story about boo hags. The late Virginia Hamilton recorded some of our trickster animal tales featuring Bruh (Brer) Rabbit. One of the biggest folk hero stories is told in "The Ballad of John Henry" and has inspired many works, including DC Comics superhero Steel, and the Netflix movie John Henry (2020). Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky features both Brer Rabbit and John Henry.
It hurts my heart to hear Black people say we have no mythology or folklore of our own. It hurts to know Black kids were raised believing this. Our folkloric tales are restorative and uplifting. They teach lessons, issue warnings, and encourage our children to be brave, decisive, and that they matter in this world. All of which is of the utmost importance to instill in young people.
Because our history is so marvellous, we should celebrate it: tell those stories, sing those songs, and cook those dishes, all while we remember those who came before us.
“Root Magic isn’t just a book about family, friendship, and monsters. It’s also a book about folklore, traditions, ancestry, and a real, living magic that is still practiced today.”
-Eden Royce, in a letter within Root Magic’s educational guide
Yes, it seems self-indulgent to use my own quote but we’re celebrating Black History and Root Magic was born from my desire to bring stories of my people to the fore. Unfortunately, not all Black kids hear those stories. They grow up believing they can’t be heroes or dreamers or magic users or even part of the story at all. Because they haven’t seen or heard themselves reflected as such.
Folklore, traditions, ancestry are all part of who we are as a people. Historically so many of our achievements, successes, and accomplishments have been either taken from us, hidden, or attributed to other people. I’m a proponent of learning, reading, and researching for yourself; not relying solely on school-issued history books. Many of those history books minimize or exclude Black people. It’s important to remember our history, remember the sacrifices of our ancestors, and record history from our viewpoint.
Black History Month isn’t only about celebrating the achievements of well-known pioneers. It’s about celebrating our folklore and telling our stories. If we don’t share those stories we are in danger of losing ourselves.
Root Magic is a story of not only celebrating and recording our history, but learning from it no matter how troubled our past is. It’s a strong history of finding a way when there is no way. We are here. Our history is here, as is our future. Celebrate us.
About the Author
Eden Royce is from Charleston, South Carolina, and is a member of the Gullah-Geechee nation. Her short stories have appeared in various print and online publications, including Fiyah, and she is the recipient of the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Diverse Worlds grant. Root Magic is her first book. Eden now lives in England with her husband and cat. You can find her online at edenroyce.com.
About Root Magic
It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. Her beloved grandmother has just passed away. The local police deputy won’t stop harassing her family. With school integration arriving in South Carolina, Jez and her twin brother, Jay, are about to begin the school year with a bunch of new kids. But the biggest change comes when Jez and Jay turn eleven— and their uncle, Doc, tells them he’s going to train them in rootwork.
Jez and Jay have always been fascinated by the African American folk magic that has been the legacy of their family for generations—especially the curious potions and powders Doc and Gran would make for the people on their island. But Jez soon finds out that her family’s true power goes far beyond small charms and elixirs…and not a moment too soon. Because when evil both natural and supernatural comes to show itself in town, it’s going to take every bit of the magic she has inside her to see her through.