editor’s note: In honor of Black History Month, we re-post one of Parlee’s Black History Month ICT columns.
But first, here’s MLK Jr:
… and President Obama, a leader we miss so intensely these days it hurts!! A mountain of a man (and orator) compared to the nefarious sack of Trump shit who usurped the Oval Office in November 2016 (my heart is broken!💔)
– R. Tirella
By Parlee Jones
There has been a lot of discussion lately as to the relevance of Black History Month. Is it still needed? Why should there be a Black History Month. For me, I feel that it is still relevant. Not only for Black people, but for all people. We celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King at the library this past January. When I ordered the cake, the woman who took my order, did not know who Dr. King was. Hmm. Yes, she was from another country. Welcome. Yes, she was enjoying the freedoms that were won through the Civil Rights movement. No, she didn’t know who he was. There are a lot of people enjoying the freedoms that were wrought from the Civil Rights movement who don’t know the history.
What hurts more is the fact that our young Black people don’t know who Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers or Emmet Till were. Yes, I concede that there have been improvements in regards to acknowledging the accomplishments of Blacks here in America, but there is still a lot of denial, resentment and straight out disdain for Americans of a darker hue. Just the blatant disrespect shown towards our President and the First Lady shows that America still has issues with Black people in power positions.
Knowledge of self to better yourself! Every people has a history. And, every people should know some of that history.
Black History Month had its origins in 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. This organization is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (“ASALH”). Through this organization Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. In 1976 this commemoration of Black history in the United States was expanded by ASALH to Black History Month, also known as African American History Month. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.
Fred Hampton (August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969) was an African-American activist and deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). He was killed in his apartment during a raid by a tactical unit of the Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO), in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Hampton’s death was chronicled in the 1971 documentary film The Murder of Fred Hampton, as well as an episode of the critically acclaimed documentary series Eyes on the Prize. He was shot twice in the head at close range.
Medgar Wiley Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was an African American civil rights activist from Mississippi involved in efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi. He became active in the civil rights movement after returning from overseas service in World War II and completing secondary education; he became a field secretary for the NAACP. Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council. As a veteran, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His murder and the resulting trials inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of art, music, and film.
Emmett Louis Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was an African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 after reportedly flirting with a white woman. Till was from Chicago, Illinois visiting his relatives in the Mississippi Delta region when he spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the married proprietor of a small grocery store. Several nights later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam, arrived at Till’s great-uncle’s house where they took Till, transported him to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound (32 kg) cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was discovered and retrieved from the river three days later. Till was returned to Chicago and his mother, who had raised him mostly by herself, insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1950’s America, the equality of man envisioned by the Declaration of Independence was far from a reality. People of color — blacks, Hispanics, Asians — were discriminated against in many ways, both overt and covert. The 1950’s were a turbulent time in America, when racial barriers began to come down due to Supreme Court decisions, like Brown v. Board of Education; and due to an increase in the activism of blacks, fighting for equal rights.
Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, was a driving force in the push for racial equality in the 1950’s and the 1960’s. In 1963, King and his staff focused on Birmingham, Alabama. They marched and protested non-violently, raising the ire of local officials who sicced water cannon and police dogs on the marchers, whose ranks included teenagers and children. The bad publicity and break-down of business forced the white leaders of Birmingham to concede to some anti-segregation demands.
Thrust into the national spotlight in Birmingham, where he was arrested and jailed, King helped organize a massive march on Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963. His partners in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom included other religious leaders, labor leaders, and black organizers. The assembled masses marched down the Washington Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, heard songs from Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and heard speeches by actor Charlton Heston, NAACP president Roy Wilkins, and future U.S. Representative from Georgia John Lewis.
King’s appearance was the last of the event; the closing speech was carried live on major television networks. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King evoked the name of Lincoln in his “I Have a Dream” speech, which is credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The next year, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Towards the end of his life, MLK Jr. was passionate about economic equality – for everyone. Poverty – as well as peace – were the two issues he was now speaking about. Then he was gunned down … . Here he is on economic equality:
“Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively…the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada.
“Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it. We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
Toward the end of the speech, King refers to threats against his life and uses language that seems to foreshadow his impending death:
“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
“So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything.
“I’m not fearing any man.
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Of course, people say they are tired of hearing these stories, but, until there is equality for all, these stories will need to be told! In the spirit of Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Nat Turner and all our ancestors who survived middle passage and helped to build this country, I salute you and will keep your memories alive ~ not only in the month of February, but 365 days a year!