When young people today look back at Black history, and specifically 1963, they must be confused. The confusion comes when they compare 1963 to our living history today, in 2013. The year, 1963, was a banner year for civil rights. We lived the poet’s lament that talks of pain and pleasure. Kahlil Gibrahn wrote in “The Prophet”, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.” Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote about life saying, “A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in, a minute to smile and an hour to weep in, a pint of joy and a peck of trouble and never a laugh but the moans come double; And that is life! A crust and a corner that love makes precious with a smile to warm and the tears to refresh us; And joy comes sweeter when cares come after, and a moan is the finest of foils for laughter; And that is life!”
A child, today, stands in the midst of a battle over the N-word. White celebrity chef Paula Deen got fired from her million dollar jobs for using it. Trayvon Martin used it, but got killed by someone who considered him nothing more than the N-word, and said it. Former crack dealers like rappers Jay Z, dope smoking Snoop Dog, and former gun toting, gangster rapper 50Cent, proudly still make millions pronouncing it in rhyme.
These gangster rappers put in their contracts that they will call their own people N—ers, and whatever else, for a dollar. They, essentially, say they will feed the world the poison of trying to mainstream the language of racism, as long as they get paid. Politicians say they will not use the word, openly, but they will treat Blacks as if they were N’s with public policies like school closures and charter schools for a select few, private prisons for the masses, withdrawal of voting privileges, and health care for none.
Studying American history and looking at Black history, circa 1963, we find young Blacks on burning busses, traveling highways that their tax dollars built, being humiliated for wanting to sit at a lunch counter to get something to eat or a cup of coffee, being attacked by German shepherd police dogs for a children’s crusade, carried out by exercising their First Amendment right to express their desire for freedom, justice, and equality. We find names like Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robinson, and Addie Mae Collins who died, September 15, 1963, at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church for exercising their First Amendment right of religion and wanting to learn about God and his wonders.
Fifty years of history would take us back to 1963 and would magnify the names of Fannie Lou Hamer, arrested and beaten in jail for wanting to vote in Mississippi, and Medgar Evers, killed for helping organize NAACP members to register to vote in Mississippi. The people calling us N—er were authorities who were trying to keep us in darkness, without honor or rights, like Bull Connor and those who put fire hoses and dogs on our children. There was no dancing to the sound of rhyming the N-word like the rappers do, today. Now, rappers are paid to teach our kids to dress down and sing the N-word, so the young can dance while a Supreme Court retracts all of the rights gained fifty years ago.
There is nothing new about white folks like Paula Deen calling blacks the N-word. President Lyndon B. Johnson was well known for using the word in the presence of his black chauffer and servants, but he signed the contract in 1964 that gave Black Americans the right to share civil rights, including the right to vote. United States Chief Justices, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, acting as supreme gods, used their power and position like Bull Connor and took away the hard fought right to vote for many Blacks. They think they can call us the N-word, without paying for the use.
No sticks and stones, no dogs, no water hoses, no arrests, just words this time. Words on a page that say it is unconstitutional to guarantee the right to vote but not unconstitutional to deny the right to vote. The N-word does not appear in their decision, but the damage has been done.
We are disappointed, but not yet defeated. We’ve come this far by faith, and we won’t be turned around. Dunbar wrote a poem for the occasion entitled “Disappointed.” An old man planted, and dug, and tended, toiling in joy from dew to dew; The sun was kind, and the rain befriended; Fine grew his orchard and fair to view, Then he said: ” I will quiet my thrifty fears, for here is fruit for my failing years.” But even then the storm – clouds gathered , swallowing up the azure sky; The sweeping winds into white foam lathered, the placid breast of the bay, hard by; Then the spirits that raged in the darkened air swept o’er the orchard and left it bare.
The old man stood in the rain, uncaring, viewing the place the storm had swept; And then with a cry from his soul despairing, he bowed down to the earth and wept. But a voice aloud from the driving rain; “Arise , old man, and plant again!” In the words of Maya Angelou, “We rise”.
We still rise through the actions and deeds of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, in lifting their fists to the sky in 1968, the year Dr. King was killed. We will gather and close ranks with a new generation after this storm with words actions and deeds, to rise again.