January 15 came and went. There were parades and tributes to Martin Luther King, Jr. We talked about having the dream – again. We moved on. I was buried in dealing with the biases of others that were stymieing my ability to realize my dream. So I did not publish a tribute to King. But I made many references to him and his causes in the various Comments posted to the different social media where I’m a member.
Then February and with it Black History Month became the current reality. Again, people talk about movies that deal with recognition of the Black contributions to the foundations and progress of our nation’s maturing into a place of freedom with real and equal civil rights. Throughout the month, there have been conversations in various social media about progress for Blacks, recognition of their struggle, the injustices suffered, the rising from the chains of slavery and injustice. I’ve had thoughts, some of which have been expressed through social media Comments. But as yet, there’s been no dedicated publication of mine that deals with Black History nor the progress of Blacks in the United States of America.
Today, after being saturated with so many perspectives and retrospectives and visions of the future, there are some things I need to say about Black History Month. These thoughts are expressed by necessity.
Many dramatic movies were considered for Academy Awards (the Oscar) that tell the story of Black contributions to our country. The Butler tells us of how a pivotal, unsung Black servant brought sanity and distinction to the White House. Fruitvale Station shows us how one young man was wronged and then executed because of the color of his skin. The Long Walk to Freedom tells us of how patience and intelligence, if held for the long run, will eventually lead to redemption and freedom. And 12 Years a Slave shows us not only what travesties befall a person’s dignity through being treated as a non-human but how devastating the status of “slave” can be when it is wrongly saddled on an educated person who is law abiding and landed. It also shows us how the generic “slave” deals with their circumstances in order to survive.
Which of these dramas is deserving of the Oscar for any of the categories for which they’ve been nominated. Taken in totality, they show us that Life as a Black person is not comfortable. Even when there are distinguishable accomplishments, there were herculean endeavors to make those a reality. They might have been even greater had it not been for the many obstacles and setbacks that came along the way. They might have been even greater if the observing public knew of the instances when the Soldier of Black had to deal with being put in their place and forced in various ways to stay in their place.
Many of the Civil Rights Era images have been displayed on social media by those who want to acknowledge those times and, like me, those who lived in those times. Some watched TV news footage in numbed shock and young children and wondered how such things could be perpetrated on other human beings. Some were actually among those who suffered the hostilities in order to pry the Doors of Freedom open for humanity. And the Movement grew.
It’s significant that those who are part of this nation either by choice (immigration) or naturally (birth) seem to be denied the blanket of rights for which they strove to win its sovereignty and preserve it. It’s troubling to page through history and see the injustices rained upon the Japanese, the Native Americans, the Chinese, and all other races who deliberately served in the armed services and battle lines of many wars so that they could prove their loyalty because of their citizenship. Yet those pieces of discrimination are part of what made this land. It was only a matter of time before an organization such as the NAACP would spring up in order to address the wrongs. It’s also significant that the founders of the organization were not just Coloreds. So it’s inappropriate to pin the wrongdoings on one race just as it is inappropriate to make any type of generalization. But it still happens.
There are rare stories of the Oklahoma town referred to as the Black Wall Street. The town’s name was Greenwood. It’s remembered for its affluence and grace as well as what is known in small circles as the Black Holocaust. Andrew Williams tells us that few know about Greenwood (no doubt because of the embarrassment of the matter) by explaining that “The events of the riot were long omitted from local and state histories. ‘The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place.’”
It’s refreshing to see that we have achieved a type of self consciousness about recognizing the plight of our downtrodden. In the last five years, increasing numbers of colored faces, particularly those of men, are appearing on news analysis, economic, political, and social programs as spokes persons. They are interviewed on such programs because they are the manager or the Ph.D. on the subject being discussed. They are tacitly held up and held out as knowledgeable in their subject area. And they prove themselves worthy of the distinction through their controlled, clear discussion of the topic with well enunciated words using proper grammar.
Television programs are less inclined these days to gratuitously show the bare chested Black man in order to allure viewers. And roles that depict an integrated couple but feature the Black husband in a cartoonish caricature aren’t enduring the ratings. But that’s also a signal of progress. Where misogyny was at one time against the law, the law is no longer valid and the interracial anything is making its way into being the norm. It’s simply a matter of depicting two people interacting with one another.
Have we made progress? There’s so much to consider; there’s so much more to be said. Perhaps all of us should evaluate and think before we answer that question.
- History for the IB Diploma: Civil Rights and Social Movements in the Americas
- Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South
- 2014 Black History Month Poster Civil Rights in America (Black Church B14BC)