Tag Archives: MLK

Controversy Casting a White MLK in a PLay

Another one off the deep end. Kent University college production of “To The Mountaintop” has cast a white actor to play MLK to the inevitable chorus of protest by both the playwright and some others.

I seriously am not feeling this. First, because those of you familiar with the hottest play on Broadway right now, “Hamilton”…

Where a majority of the main actors are minorities, who play Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, Marquis De Lafayette, James Madison – and the music is delivered in Hip-Hop. Black folks and Hispanic folks playing dead white guys who were part of the Founding Fathers of our country.

Having read a lot of MLKs work, I have never seen anything as part of his vision that we should segregate on any basis, including the race of an actor. Nor were the objectives of his work limited to just freedom for black folks. It’s a play, dammit! I would imagine the howls if they put him in blackface…To be more “historically accurate”.

Ohio college production casts white actor as Martin Luther King Jr. in biographical play

Kent University production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop featured a white and black actor, which Hall says was ‘disrespectful’ and a ‘disservice’

The casting of a white actor as Martin Luther King in an Ohio university production of Katori Hall’s acclaimed play The Mountaintop was “a disservice to not just Dr King but an entire community”, the playwright has said.

Hall wrote an essay for the African American cultural website the Root on Monday about Kent State University’s production of her play, which dramatizes the night before King was assassinated in 1968.

Hall told the Guardian that director Michael Oatman’s decision to double-cast the six-show production with a black actor and a white actor as King went “deeper than just casting a white man in the role of MLK”.

“I just really feel as though it echoes this pervasive erasure of the black body and the silencing of a black community — theatrically and also, literally, in the world,” she said.

Oatman, who like Hall is black, said in a statement in August promoting the play that he chose a white actor for the production “to explore the issue of racial ownership and authenticity”.

“I didn’t want this to be a stunt, but a true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” Oatman said. “I wanted the contrast … I wanted to see how the words rang differently or indeed the same, coming from two different actors, with two different racial backgrounds.”

Oatman did not respond to a request for comment, but Hall said she had a respectful phone call with the director about a month after he staged the play at the university’s Department of Pan-African Studies’ African Community Theatre from late September to early October.

She said that Oatman did not discuss the decision to use a white actor with her before the play ran and called the decision “disrespectful”.

Hall said she thought that if a director was going to experiment like Oatman did, then they should include a discussion with the audience or create another forum to measure the success of such an exercise.

“With a playwright’s intention being dangerously distorted, Oatman’s experiment proved to be a self-serving and disrespectful directing exercise for a paying audience,” Hall wrote.

Hall learned about Oatman’s decision to use a white actor in the production after the show had closed. She immediately notified her agent, who contacted the theatre licensing service Dramatists Play Service, which then wrote to the university questioning its decision.

Since the Kent State University production ran, Hall has adjusted The Mountaintop’s licensing agreement to say: “Both characters are intended to be played by actors who are African-American or Black. Any other casting choice requires the prior approval of the author.”

She said that the issue of representation is a common discussion topic for theatremakers of color, but rarely gets attention beyond that community. The decision to cast a white man as one of the country’s best known civil rights figures, however, changed that.

“I feel as though a lot of theatermakers were a bit appalled at the choice that the director made – and that it was supported so wholeheartedly by the institution,” Hall said. “So it was really a moment to talk about playwright intention, but to then, beyond that, talk about much bigger issues, about not only being a black artist but also being a black person in America.”



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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in The Definition of Racism


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Stone Mountain…To Get “Integrated”!

Talk about the “Heart of the South”. Stone Mountain Georgia is the confederacy’s’ Mt Rushmore. None of the confederate icons on Stone Mountain were born in Georgia. Indeed, Robert E, Lee and Stonewall Jackson were Virginians, and Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky. Martin Luther King was a native son of the state, born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Stone Mountain to get new monument: MLK memorial will join Confederate heroes

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 1915, marking the re-establishment of the KKK with it’s base at Stone Mountain.

It has been called the “Confederate Mount Rushmore” — a tribute etched into Georgia’s Stone Mountain depicting Confederate war heroes Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. The NAACP has demanded its removal. One local artist has suggested adding Georgia rap duo Outkast to the carving.

Now state authorities have announced plans to use the space to also honor the nation’s most beloved civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The monument to the martyr would stand amid America’s pro-slavery heroes, on a storied spot that once served as a gathering place for the Ku Klux Klan, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. It would feature a tower that would include a likeness of the Liberty Bell — a symbol of the country’s independence — along with a line taken from King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”

“It is one of the best-known speeches in U.S. history,” Bill Stephens, chief executive officer for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, told the Atlanta newspaper. “We think it’s a great addition to the historical offerings we have here.”

The “freedom bell” itself will periodically ring from the mountaintop, the Journal-Constitution reported. An exhibit to celebrate African-American Civil War soldiers has been included in the plans, which are likely to be formally rolled out “sometime before the holiday season,” according to the newspaper.

[More cities celebrating ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ amid effort to abolish Columbus Day]

The announcement followed an op-ed from Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Galloway, who had called for such recognition. After nine black parishioners were shot and killed in June inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., there was a national backlash against Confederate flags and icons.

So Galloway suggested an idea: An addition to Stone Mountain, to show another side of history.

“Stone Mountain may be required to serve as a Confederate memorial, which makes the subtraction of history difficult,” he wrote in July. “But state law doesn’t rule out the addition of history. To respect the dead is well and good. It is not always wise to give them the last word.

“Perhaps a few words, carved in granite, once spoken by a fellow who had a dream of freedom ringing from the top of Stone Mountain.”

An Atlanta City Council resolution also called on Stone Mountain to consider adding others to the monument, possibly including King.

The idea apparently caught the governor’s attention.

“The governing body of Stone Mountain and the private company here, they went far beyond that and they decided there ought to be a monument,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said, according to WSB-TV.…More…

There is also discussion of adding a Memorial to black soldiers who served in the Civil War.

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Posted by on October 12, 2015 in The Post-Racial Life


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Twisted – Freddy Gray and MLK


Yeah…I got a problem with this. Putting Freddy Gray, a victim of out of control police violence in Baltimore next to Martin Luther King seems a bit of appropriation that just doesn’t belong here. Martin developed a philosophy, moved a nation with his words, and fought against the forces of Jim Crow oppression, and ultimately gave his life. He stood up, knowing exactly the extent to which racist forces in America would go, suffering imprisonment and beatings for the simple act of non-violent resistance, and ultimately being murdered. Gray was a street kid and a drug dealer. Which doesn’t make his murder right at the hands of Baltimore Cops…But he “ain’t no hero” in terms of what he may or may not have accomplished while alive. He is a small part of a black community which suffers in small part due to his illicit acts.

Injustice in this case was a purely personal event.

Seems folks worry more about the racial background of a few folks working to end this type of injustice…Than the fact those folks are working for the betterment of the entire American community.

And no – I am not buying into the black-on-black crime racist meme – because all crime in a largely segregated America is intra-racial. Crime is more a statement of opportunity, than any wall painted large of cultural or racial dysfunction. The most dangerous thing for the BlackLivesMatter movement is an identification with the victim, instead of a disgust and opposition to the crime, and it ever happening again. I don’t think (and I hope) that is any secret to the folks at BlackLivesMatter.

3 year old Mckenzie Elliot, whose murderer has yet to be brought to justice.


“He shouldn’t be up there with Martin Luther King”: A mural of Freddie Gray with the civil rights leader provokes disgust, on my ride-along with the Baltimore Police

The streets are quiet tonight in West Baltimore. I’m in the backseat of a car on a ride-along with two Baltimore City police officers in late May, nearly a month after the riots following the death of Freddie Gray. There have been 26 murders this month to date, a number that will leapfrog to 43 before May draws to a close.

The media is calling this a “surge in violence” and touting theories to account for the spike, everything from officer apathy to a plethora of looted prescription drugs flooding the market and causing gang violence, but tonight the streets of West Baltimore are largely deserted. We see one group of young men hanging on a corner and a few kids pedaling around on bikes, but otherwise it’s eerily quiet.

I’ve come on this ride-along because I want to see for myself what’s happening on the streets in the wake of the riots. Many of stories told by the media have sympathized either with the protesters or with the police, thus setting up an “us versus them” dynamic that feels reductive.

I don’t buy into this good guy/bad guy type of narrative. I don’t believe that the majority of the rioters were bad people or that the majority of police officers are bloodthirsty brutes. What I believe is that most of the rioters were good people engaging in bad behavior and that most of the police are good officers doing the best they can while working in deeply flawed system, a system that revolves around the “War on Drugs,” a system that targets poor, black neighborhoods.

We ride by the burned-out CVS and the boarded-up buildings. We slow down next to the huge mural that has been painted on the side of a row house in Sandtown-Winchester, close to the spot where Freddie Gray was first arrested. Two chimney-like structures divide the mural into three panels. In the center is a huge painting of Freddie Gray’s face; on the left Martin Luther King Jr. is depicted marching with a group of protesters, and on the right, Freddie Gray’s family also marches.

We all stare at the mural in silence for a moment. It reminds me of the statue that towers outside of Baltimore’s Penn Station, which features two bisecting body profiles, one male and one female. Baltimoreans either love or hate this polarizing piece of art. Whenever I look at it, I both understand it and question it, which is the same way I felt when the riots occurred.

The riots made no sense to me and yet, they made perfect sense. For years, I’ve heard stories from young, black men about their experiences with the cops — young men who have been pulled over without cause, who have been illegally searched, who have been spoken to disrespectfully. Some have been physically assaulted.

I have also been witness to some of these acts on a handful of ride-alongs that I went on several years ago with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). I went with the goal of writing about the fraying relationship between the BPD and the black community, but every time I tried to put pen to paper, the task felt impossibly complex.

On one of the ride-alongs, I watched a car full of young black men dressed in bright polo shirts and cocked ball caps get pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The driver of the vehicle handed over his license and explained that he was a college student, and that he and his friends were on their way to meet some friends.

The young man was polite and respectful, but it was easy to see that getting pulled over like this was not a new experience for him. There was a lilting impatience in his voice, the slightest tinge of angry exasperation that he attempted to keep tucked away. After the young man answered a few questions, the officers let him off without issuing any sort of traffic citation.

I remember watching him drive off and wondering what he would do with the remnants of that anger that he’d kept so neatly tucked beneath those polite answers. I have long wondered where that young man and all the others like him put their anger over this kind of degradation.

But I stopped wondering on the day of the riots; when I saw the images of young people lobbing bricks, stomping on cars and looting stores. There, I thought, the anger is right there.

The riot was a release. A giant exhale on a long held breath that has been waiting for the proverbial arc of justice to bend toward it.

“He shouldn’t be up there with Martin Luther King,” one of the officers finally says of the Freddie Gray mural, a note of disgust in his voice.

These officers, one Caucasian, one Hispanic, knew Freddie Gray long before the media ever uttered his name. At the station where we started the night, there were photographs of Gray hanging on the wall. In the photos, he was surrounded by a posse of baby-faced young men who mugged for the camera. In one picture, Gray held up his middle finger. There were handwritten numbers above the head of each of the young men and below a list of names that corresponded with the numbers.

When these officers look at this larger-than-life mural with Gray in the center, they see a drug dealer next to the greatest civil rights leader of all time and they can’t seem to make sense of that.

“Put that little girl up there. McKenzie. Not him,” the officer says.

He is referring to 3-year-old McKenzie Elliot, who was killed in a drive-by shooting last August. “Why weren’t there riots for her? That, I would understand.”

McKenzie Elliot and Freddie Gray — the former was presumably killed by drug dealers (although nobody has been arrested despite the fact that the crime occurred in front of multiple witnesses), the latter indisputably died in police custody….More


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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in The Post-Racial Life


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Another Republican Pulls the MLK Card

Don’t you just love it when the folks who were standing on the Pettis Bridge with pipes, chains, and sticks to beat the Civil Rights protesters (including MLK!), try and misquote or appropriate “What would MLK say”? To racist purpose.

Here, Republican candidate afterthought Mike Huckabee tries the appropriation game…

Mike Huckabee: MLK would be ‘appalled’ by Black Lives Matter movement

Appearing on Meet The Press, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee refused to condemn the state of South Carolina for flying the Confederate flag, instead saying the state can’t possibly be racist because they elected an ‘Indian’ governor.

Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee believes Martin Luther King, Jr. would be “appalled” by the Black Lives Matter movement — telling CNN that racism is “more of a sin problem than a skin problem.”

During an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday evening, the former Arkansas governor touted the “all lives matter” mantra and said he was troubled that the movement focuses on one ethnicity. Huckabee added that the late civil rights leader would feel the same.

“When I hear people scream, ‘black lives matter,’ I think, of course they do. … But all lives matter. It’s not that any life matters more than another,” Huckabee said. “That’s the whole message that Dr. King tried to present, and I think he’d be appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.”

Huckabee’s remarks come as the Black Lives Matters movement ramps up its presence on the campaign trail — pushing candidates to more aggressively take on the issues of police violence and institutional racism.

That Meet the Press.


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Dr Cornel West and the Politic of Hate

Cornel West on CNN


CORNEL WEST: You can’t talk about wealth and inequality, you can’t talk about education, you can’t talk about massive unemployment and under employment and you can’t talk about drones being dropped on people in other parts of the world without talking about white supremacy and its ways in which it operates. It doesn’t have to be overt. The president is right about that.

But too many black people are niggerized. I would say the first black president has become the first niggerized black president.

CNN ANCHOR: What do you mean by that?

WEST: A niggerized black person is a black person who is afraid and scared and intimidated when it comes to putting a spotlight on white supremacy and fighting against white supremacy. So when many of us said we have to fight against racism, what were we told? ‘No, he can’t deal with racism because he has other issues, political calculations. He’s the president of all America, not just black America.’ We know he’s president of all America but white supremacy is American as cherry pie.

We’re talking about moral issues, spiritual issues, emotional issues. White supremacy has nothing to do with just skin pigmentation, it has to be what kind of person you want to be, what kind of nation we want to be. Democrats and Republicans play on both of those parties in terms of running away from the vicious legacy of white supremacy until it hits us hard. Thank God for Ferguson. Thank God for the young folk of all colors. Thank God for Staten Island and fighting there. Thank God in Baltimore, now the precious folk in Charleston.

President Obama delivers the eulogy for the dead in Charleston…


RESIDENT OBAMA: Giving all praise and honor to God.


The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died, the scripture tells us.


They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance, a man of service, who persevered knowing full-well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed, to Jennifer, his beloved wife, Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters, to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.

I cannot claim to have had the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well, but I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina back when we were both a little bit younger…


… back when I didn’t have visible gray hair.


The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor, all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.

Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived, that even from a young age, folks knew he was special, anointed. He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful, a family of preachers who spread God’s words, a family of protesters who so changed to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.

Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching. He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth nor youth’s insecurities. Instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith and purity.

As a senator, he represented a sprawling swathe of low country, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America, a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment — a place that needed somebody like Clem.


His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long. His calls for greater equity were too-often unheeded. The votes he cast were sometimes lonely.

But he never gave up. He stayed true to his convictions. He would not grow discouraged. After a full day at the Capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him. There, he would fortify his faith and imagine what might be.

Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.

No wonder one of his Senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us, the best of the 46 of us.”

Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of AME Church.


As our brothers and sisters in the AME Church, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation but the life and community in which our congregation resides.”


He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words, that the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week long, that to put our faith in action is more than just individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation, that to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.

What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized, after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man.


You don’t have to be of high distinction to be a good man.

Preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith.

And then to lose him at 41, slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God — Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.

Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people.


People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, who persevered, people of great faith.

To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church.

The church is and always has been the center of African American life…


… a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah…”


… rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.

They have been and continue to community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harms way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.


That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.

There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church…


… a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes.


When there were laws banning all-black church gatherers, services happened here anyway in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.

A sacred place, this church, not just for blacks, not just for Christians but for every American who cares about the steady expansion…


… of human rights and human dignity in this country, a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.

That’s what the church meant.


We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history, but he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…


… an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.


God has different ideas.


He didn’t know he was being used by God.


Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.

The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.


The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley, how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond not merely with revulsion at his evil acts, but with (inaudible) generosity. And more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.


This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.


The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know — Amazing Grace.


How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.


I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.


According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.


As manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace — as a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.


He’s given us the chance where we’ve been lost to find out best selves. We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace.

But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens.


It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise…


… as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.


For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression…


… and racial subjugation.


We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.


The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.


It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.

It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.

By taking down that flag, we express adds grace God’s grace.


But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.


For too long, we’ve been blind to be way past injustices continue to shape the present.


Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty…


… or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.


Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias.


… that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement…


… and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.


Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal…


… so that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote…


… by recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin…


… or the station into which they were born and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American. By doing that, we express God’s grace.


For too long…


For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.


Sporadically, our eyes are open when eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day…


… the countless more whose lives are forever changed, the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happening to some other place.

The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners want to do something about this. We see that now.


And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.


We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it.


But God gives it to us anyway.


And we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says, “We have to have a conversation about race.” We talk a lot about race.


There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.


None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.

It will not. People of good will will continue to debate the merits of various policies as our democracy requires — the big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates.

Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.


Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.


To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”


What is true in the south is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.


That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.

That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”

That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible.


If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.

Amazing grace…



… how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now, I see.


Clementa Pinckney found that grace…


… Cynthia Hurd found that grace…


… Susie Jackson found that grace…


… Ethel Lance found that grace…


… DePayne Middleton Doctor found that grace…


… Tywanza Sanders found that grace…


… Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace…


… Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace…


… Myra Thompson found that grace…


… through the example of their lives. They’ve now passed it onto us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure.

May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His Grace on the United States of America.


Dr. Martin Luther King said:

“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”

Think it’s time Cornel West heed those words.

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Posted by on June 28, 2015 in Giant Negros


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What Martin Luther King Actually Accomplished

“The negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect”

March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the United States Supreme Court This article talks a bit about the horrors of the Jim Crow era in America.

Mary Turner 1918 Eight Months Pregnant Mobs lynched Mary Turner on May 17, 1918 in Lowndes County. Georgia because she vowed to have those responsible for killing her husband arrested. Her husband was arrested in connection with the shooting and killing Hampton Smith, a white farmer for whom the couple had worked, and wounding his wife. Sidney Johnson. a Black, apparently killed Smith because he was tired of the farmer’s abuse. Unable to find Johnson. the killers lynched eight other Blacks Including Hayes Turner and his wife Mary. The mob hanged Mary by her feet, poured gasoline and oil on her and set fire to her body. One white man sliced her open and Mrs. Turner’s baby tumbled to the ground with a “little cry” and the mob stomped the baby to death and sprayed bullets into Mary Turner.  

So…One of the things MLK did was to finally put the skids, if not the end to this sort of “domestic terrorism”, against black folks. Now, our black conservative Uncle Toms would like you believe that liberals are using the past as an excuse for everything. But do you see the Jewish people forgetting the Holocaust? Black conservatives, and white conservative racists they support are big on black on black violence. But the thing hy won’t tell you, and you will never find in their pseudo-scientific statistics is that 92% of the men locked up or child sexual abuse …Are white. During Jim Crow white men were free to rape, sodomize and brutalize not only black women…But black children. While lynchings were sometimes reported, these other categories of violence and sexual predation were entirely swept under the rug.

The second thing they lie about is the violence statistics. Sexually abusing a child in the FBI’s version of the violent crime world doesn’t qualify as a “violent crime” – and thus is excludes from the statistics which include murder, and the rape of adult women (or men). We are going to count veggies, but green tomatoes don’t count.

Back to that pre-Civil Rights time – there was little or no hope of actually prosecuting these white criminals in the southern “Justice” system. Laying the groundwork of why black folk will never trust the conservative judges the right is so desperate to appoint.

Gaining the right to walk down the street unmolested may not seem like that big a deal solely from a cynical intellectual viewpoint – but it is pretty freaking important if it is you trying to get down the street.

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did

This will be a very short diary.  It will not contain any links or any scholarly references.  It is about a very narrow topic, from a very personal, subjective perspective.

The topic at hand is what Martin Luther King actually did, what it was that he actually accomplished.

The reason I’m posting this is because there were dueling diaries over the weekend about Dr. King’s legacy, and there is a diary up now (not on the rec list but on the recent list) entitled, “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Not Yet Realized.”  I’m sure the diarist means well as did the others.  But what most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans.  And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general.  His main impactwas not to make white people nicer or fairer.  That’s why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind.

I remember that many years ago, when I was a smart ass home from first year of college, I was standing in the kitchen arguing with my father.  My head was full of newly discovered political ideologies and black nationalism, and I had just read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, probably for the second time.

A bit of context.  My father was from a background, which if we were talking about Europe or Latin America, we would call, “peasant” origin, although he had risen solidly into the working-middle class.  He was from rural Virginia and his parents had been tobacco farmers.  I spent two weeks or so every summer on the farm of my grandmother and step grandfather.  They had no running water, no gas, a wood burning stove, no bathtubs or toilets but an outhouse, pot belly stoves for heat in the winter, a giant wood pile, a smoke house where hams and bacon hung, chickens, pigs, semi wild housecats that lived outdoors, no tractor or car, but an old plow horse and plows and other horse drawn implements, and electricity only after I was about 8 years old.  The area did not have high schools for blacks and my father went as far as the seventh grade in a one room schoolhouse.  All four of his grandparents, whom he had known as a child, had been born slaves.  It was mainly because of World War II and urbanization that my father left that life.

They lived in a valley or hollow or “holler” in which all the landowners and tenants were black.  In the morning if you wanted to talk to cousin Taft, you would walk down to behind the outhouse and yell across the valley, “Heeeyyyy Taaaaft,” and you could see him far, far in the distance, come out of his cabin and yell back.

On the one hand, this was a pleasant situation because they lived in isolation from white people.  On the other hand, they did have to leave the valley to go to town where all the rigid rules of Jim Crow applied.  By the time I was little, my people had been in this country for six generations (going back, according to oral rendering of our genealogy, to Africa Jones and Mama Suki), much more under slavery than under freedom, and all of it under some form of racial terrorism, which had inculcated many humiliating behavior patterns.

Anyway that’s background.  I think we were kind of typical as African Americans in the pre Civil Rights era went.

So anyway, I was having this argument with my father about Martin Luther King and how his message was too conservative compared to Malcolm X’s message.  My father got really angry at me.  It wasn’t that he disliked Malcolm X, but his point was that Malcolm X hadn’t accomplished anything as Dr. King had.

I was kind of sarcastic and asked something like, so what did Martin Luther King accomplish other than giving his “I have a dream speech.”

Before I tell you what my father told me, I want to digress.  Because at this point in our amnesiac national existence, my question pretty much reflects the national civic religion view of what Dr. King accomplished.  He gave this great speech.  Or some people say, “he marched.”  I was so angry at Mrs. Clinton during the primaries when she said that Dr. King marched, but it was LBJ who delivered the Civil Rights Act.

At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.

My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this.  If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished.  Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about.  But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea.  Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them.  You all know about lynching.  But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running.  It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty.  With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”

This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father’s memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people.  The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.

This was just one of many humiliating practices we were taught to prevent white people from going berserk.

I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparent’s vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank.  They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness.  My strong, valiant, self educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men.  Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict.  Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.

This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

If you didn’t get taught such things, let alone experience them, I caution you against invoking the memory of Dr. King as though he belongs exclusively to you and not primarily to African Americans.

The question is, how did Dr. King do this — and of course, he didn’t do it alone.

(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of non-violent resistance, and taught the practices of non violent resistance.)

So what did they do?

They told us: — whatever you are most afraid of doing vis a vis white people, go do it.  Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter.  Sue the local school board.  All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be OK.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad.  They taught black people how to take a beating — from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses.  They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating.  They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

And you know what?  The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad.

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicked on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south.  Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song.  The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another.  This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.

Please let this sink in.  It wasn’t marches or speeches.  It was taking a severe beating, surviving and realizing that our fears were mostly illusory and that we were free.

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on.  But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears.  So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today.  If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

That is what Dr. King did — not march, not give good speeches.  He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn’t the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us.  It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid.  So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one.  Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done.

PS.  I really shouldn’t have to add this but please — don’t ever confuse someone criticizing you or telling you bad things over the internet with what happened to people during the civil rights movement.  Don’t.  Just don’t do it.  Don’t go there.

PSS  Weird, but it kind of sounds like what V did to Evie.

UPDATE:  There is a major, major hole in this essay as pointed out by FrankAletha downthread — While I was focusing on the effect on black men, she points out that similarly randomized sexual violence against black women was as severe and common and probably more so, because while violence against black men was ritualistic, violence against black women was routine.

UPDATE 2: Rec list — I’m honored!!!


Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Black History, The Post-Racial Life


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He’s Black!

At least back in 1939 when Marian Anderson had to sing here (on the National Mall) “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” rather than at the Constitution Hall because they said the reason was she was black. At least they were honest back then. Today in American politics you have people like Donald Trump who hangs around with Mitt Romney talking about the president being an illegal immigrant, basically being a con artist on the street corner. You’ve got people talking about nullification of the law of the land. You got people talking impeachment like Coburn. You’ve got Ted Cruz out there. They never say their problem with Obama is that he is black, but look at the pattern. The pattern is rejection of his legitimacy at the first point, saying he is not really here legally. It’s rejection of the law he has passed, the landmark bill passed in 2010. It’s an attempt to impeach him on no grounds. At least the Daughters of the American Revolution knew what they were saying, and they said it out loud. He’s black. She’s black, she can’t sing here. These guys today use all of the techniques of nullification and talking about illegitimacy and accusing the president of being a crook basically for even being president because he’s here illegally. And then they talk about impeaching him on grounds they can’t even come up with. At least in the old days they were honest about it. Today, they’re not. And that’s how rough it’s going to be today, I think. – CHRIS MATTHEWS

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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in The New Jim Crow


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