I’ll never forget the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL on September 15, 1963. Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Carole Robertson (age 14), Cynthia Wesley (age 14), and Denise McNair (age 11) were all murdered in the explosion that took place after Sunday school, while 22 victims were injured. The youth of Birmingham were known as the backbone and foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement in the city. They had the most numbers when it came to the protests and other peaceful demonstrations. The 3 Klansmen (KKK members) who targeted the church aimed to scare the children and their parents away from demonstrating. The Klansman who was identified as placing the bomb near the steps of the church was found not guilty of murder by Alabama court only a month later. He was charged $100 for illegally possessing dynamite and sentenced to 6 months in jail. It amazes me at the magnitude of hate someone could feel and to then direct that hatred towards innocent children. It’s also ironic how America has the War on Terror when not more than half a century ago, it was ran by insurgents who bombed churches, terrorized innocent citizens, and institutionalized hatred of other people.
The first person I thought of was Ruby Bridges. At the age of 6, she selected as the only student to integrate the then White-only William Frantz Elementary School of New Orleans. She was escorted daily by U.S. marshals through an angry mob of White people who yelled slurs, threw rotten vegetables, and taunted her with nooses and miniature coffins. She is said to have never cried or even flinched as she braved the monstrous protestors. Her father was fired and her grandparent (sharecroppers) were evicted from their home for allowing Ruby to integrate the school. Many parents withdrew their children from the school and many teachers refused to teach as long as Ruby was in attendance. None of this made little Ruby change her conviction. I can’t imagine making the decisions she made to pursue a better education and change history at such a young age.
“Before there was Beyoncé and Jay-Z, there was Ozzie and Ruby Dee.”
I posted this 20 weeks ago and felt it most apropos for this month. No other couple in entertainment has done so much for their community as Ozzie and Ruby Dee Davis. Not only did they breakdown barriers in Hollywood with their acting careers, they used their status to help Civil Right causes. They marched shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. and Malcolm X. They’ve both won many awards and honors for their acting and activism endeavors. I think it’s amazing how they worked side by side on film and fought hand in hand against injustice and oppression. I can’t imagine the friendship, love, and bond they possessed.
“If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches, and pull it out 6 inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wounds that the blow made.” — Malcolm X
We are often treated with an attitude of “slavery and Jim Crow is in the past, so get over it,” when the blade of oppression is still wedged in the backs of our community. Our families are still coping with the ghosts from that time period that still haunt us mentally, economically, and socially. That past is not so far away as many would like to believe. There are many people living today who witnessed the Civil Rights Era and Jim Crow first-handedly. There are even some who are only 2 generations removed from slavery (i.e. my grandmother). Sure, we re-elected the first African-American President of the United States, pulling that knife out 6 inches; however, the case of Trayvon Martin reminds us that the blade is still ⅔ lodged in our backs. THAT’S NOT PROGRESS!!!!!!
We must remember this dark chapter in our history and American history to ensure it never happens again. Institutional slavery brainwashed Africans into accepting ‘White Supremacy’. Mothers and fathers were separated from their children on auction blocks. Slaves were beaten for speaking their native languages or practicing any form of their heritage from Africa. By disunifying and isolating slaves, slave owners were able to control large slave populations with minimal slave hands or helpers. Many of the societal ailments that plague the Black community today are direct results of institutional slavery (i.e. slave mentality, gang violence, single-parent homes). Africans were dehumanized to the category of property along side cattle and other farm equipment. Stubborn slaves were beaten, amputated/castrated, auctioned off, raped, or murdered. The economic and capitalistic success of America was built from the blood, sweat, tears, and dead bodies of treasures stolen from Africa.
With Pres. Obama giving the first State of the Union address for his second term, I am proud to recognize him as a role model. Pres. Obama has forged a very successful political career. He holds steadfastly to the values and ideas that has garnered him much support from the everyday American. He commands respect with his constant fight for a better quality of life and a chance at the “American Dream” for all citizens. It’s evident through the love and support he receive from his wife and daughters that his personal and family life has not suffered from his endeavors. Pres. Obama is proof that an educated, African-American man can excel in his career while being an exceptional husband and father.
I honestly was going to skip this day until I remembered how these 3 women have dominated 2013 already. Jennifer, Alicia, and Beyonce have all been the entertainment for 2 of the most televised and most viewed events in America: The 57th Presidential Inauguration and the 47th NFL Super Bowl. I have never witness this magnitude of Black women on such powerful presentations… EVER!!! I am so glad I did not let this monument go unnoticed. Marion Anderson, Lena Horne, and Dorothy Dandridge would be so proud.
I dedicate part of today to Marvin Gaye (1942-1999) who transcended racial barriers by touching hearts of all people with his music. Many children have been conceived while Marvin crooned in the background. Marvin’s music has been recently sampled by T.I., Kanye, Jay-Z, and too many others to mention. His tragic and untimely death at the hands of his father was the greatest loss to the entire music community. I think “What’s Going On” is very appropriate for BHM, the recent wars, racial unrest, our economy, and other societal ailments of today. Although, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” is probably one of my favorites.
Marvin’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1983 NBA All Star Game is my all time favorite rendition.
I dedicate part of today to Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999) who made many contributions to music and film. Mayfield is credited by many for providing the “Soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement”. His lyrics often provided an anthem for the what Black youth felt during this time period. He also provided the soundtracks to movies such as “Super Fly”, “Claudine”, and the original 1976 “Sparkle”. His music has been sampled many times in recent years by greats like Kanye, Ludacris, Monica, and even Beyonce. I think “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue” is very appropriate for BHM and our culture today.