For nearly half of my life, Black History Month was Black History Week. In 1976, after Carter G. Woodson's initiative had been celebrated during the second week in February for 50 years, it became a month-long observance.
Although it's not official, not even announced, the Black History Month has quietly become Black History Season. It starts the day after Christmas, with Kwanzaa and runs through the end of February.
Dr. Martin Luther King's national holiday serves as the midway point for this season of recognizing Black History. So, it's befitting that Barack Obama would be sworn in as POTUS this year the day after MLK Day.
To mark that historical occurrence in these historical times, I was the keynote speaker at the King Day celebration a week ago today in Chicago Heights, thanks to an invitation from Mayor Anthony DeLuca and City Clerk Ethel Taylor invited to speak to their theme, "A Dream Achieved," which tied in Dr. King's dream to the Obama reality.
I don't believe we're quite there on the achievement piece, so here's the text to the speech I gave to to audience at Chicago Miracle Temple Church in Chicago Heights, Illinois:
The Dream Achieved
It was just a few months ago, when one of those opinion poll crews was canvassing Western Pennsylvania—you know, that area between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that may as well be Alabama? Anyway, one of the pollsters knocked on the front door of one of those western Pennsylvania homes. A woman came to the door. The pollster asked her if she was voting for John McCain or Barack Obama. The woman turned around and yelled, “Honey, who are we gonna vote for?” A male voice yelled out from the back of the house, “We’re votin for the nigger. The woman calmly turned and repeated to the pollster, “we’re voting for the nigger.” When I first told my wife, Joyce, this story, she thought that I was joking. I wasn’t. It happened. It was reported in newspapers. It was posted on the Internet. And, in a backhanded true-life sort of way, it lets us know that what Dr. King was addressing two score and six years ago is actually a dream half done.
The Pennsylvania couple may not have gotten past the color of Obama’s skin but they were able to see the content of his character. Speaking of seeing, I see puzzled looks on some of your faces. Wasn’t this supposed to be a speech about The Dream Achieved? Where’s this man going with this? Stay with me, okay? The original title of Dr. King’s 1963 speech was “Normalcy—Never Again.” That wasn’t exactly a title that would flow off anybody’s tongue or stir anyone’s soul. So, it didn’t take long or much imagination for Dr. King’s wonderful words to become the “I have a Dream” speech. Nor did it take long for his speech to get white washed by the mainstream media. In his speech, which was delivered at the March on Washington for jobs and freedom, Dr. King talked a little about his dream but a lot more about the American nightmare. He spoke less about what he hoped our nation would do and much more about what our nation had not done. That’s the part of the speech that gets little play on TV or radio. So, I’m going to read a key part of what Dr. King had to say. Before I say what Dr. King said, let me caution you: I’m going to say it without the wonderful flow or rhythm you’re used to hearing in Dr. King’s speech. I want you to hear the words stripped of the passion and flavor. "In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'" When Obama takes his oath of office tomorrow I want you to think of it as earnest money…not that we’ve been paid in full. There are still some matters that need to be cleared from the books. Right now, there are one million black men unemployed. That’s what Dr. King was talking about. Right now, half our children drop out city high schools before they graduate. That’s what Dr. King was talking about. Right now, there are a million black men locked up behind bars. That’s what Dr. King was talking about. And here’s something he said in his Dream speech that could have been a sound bite from him after Oscar Grant was murdered by an Oakland transit cop two weeks ago: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” I’m hoping that President Obama will be hearing Dr. King. Since he launched his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has been talking Lincoln but I suspect, that he was thinking King.
Yesterday, when Obama spoke in Washington, he stood in front of the Lincoln Monument but it was at the very spot Dr. King spoke 46 years ago. When I was on the Obama press bus last winter covering his campaign in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, I heard him quote from the Dream speech. At every campaign stop, Sen. Obama would explain to his overflow crowds that he was running for office because of what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now.” Well, come tomorrow, the time will be now, for President Obama to cash and carry some of that urgency. When he swears in tomorrow, the time will be now for President Obama to also pay some old dues to those African American giants that shed blood, sweat and tears to make his presidential dream come true.
You know the names all too well. Frederick Douglass. W.E.B. DuBois. Booker T. Washington. Thurgood Marshall. Malcolm X. Rev. Jesse Jackson. Harold Washington. Colin Powell. And then there are the strong black women whose contributions were critical. Harriet Tubman. Sojourner Truth. Rosa Parks. Fannie Lou Hammer. Shirley Chisholm. Barbara Jordan. And even, let me see if I can get this out my mouth, Condoleezza Rice. If these men and women hadn’t done what they did, Barack Obama wouldn’t have been able to do what he has done—or what he will have to start doing beginning tomorrow. Thanks to his predecessor, Obama has a lot of doing—and undoing--to do.
After all the galas and parties are over and the celebrating has ended, we will still have some difficult days ahead. George W. Bush has left us in one big mess.
There are two wars waging. There’s the deep recession. There are tens of thousands of Americans losing their homes. There are nearly 50 million of us without health insurance. And nobody knows where the money is coming from or going to. And there’s a lot more that we can’t expect a President Obama to take on. Some of it is on us. Before the Dream can really be achieved, we’ve got to take care of our own business. Right now, only 25 percent of black children have a father in the house. That wasn’t Dr. King’s dream. Right now, our youth are killing our youth in record numbers. That wasn’t Dr. King’s dream. Right now, our senior citizens are afraid to leave their homes at night; afraid they’ll be mugged or murdered. That was not Dr. King’s dream. So, right now, I say that when President Obama is sworn in, that we flip the script.
In our public schools, rather than having the thugs in the in crowd and the brainiacs isolated and ignored, let’s make it hip to be smart.
Let’s see if our daughters can just say no to knuckleheads who want to see how many babies they can father but not bother to raise.
Let’s see if we can’t take Dr. King’s wise words and President Obama’s string of accomplishments and make them the new dream for the new generation and the generations to come. Let me remind you of the prophetic words in Dr. King’s Memphis speech, he spoke these words the night before he was murdered. “I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain top. 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.” Obama, obviously, is there. A lot of us are there with him. But there’s still some dreaming to do and work that must be done. None of us can afford to forget about those we’ve left behind. We owe it to Dr. King’s vision. Thanks and God bless.
While we're at it, here's the full length version of Dr. King's 1963 speech in Washington.
In the light of his historic victory and Tuesday's swearing in, I keep hearing that we are now in the post racial era. Now that the people have spoken. Now that they have declared the leader of the free world a black man, Abracadabra! Presto, change-o! Just like that, racism has disappeared across the land, throughout the minds and hearts of American men and women.
Not so fast. Although many Americans, who are not of color, have gotten more used to the idea of a President Barack Hussein Obama, they're not quite yet there. Read the right-wing blogs or listen to Rush "Screw America,I want Obama's policies to fail" Limbaugh. When it comes to That One, these folks have no love even for a brief presidential honeymoon period. They're already whining and wolfing. And hating.
In fact, they were behaving badly right after he won the election. Talk about change you can believe in, Joyce and I picked up the defaced Five Spot above, with the Confederate stars and bars over President Lincoln's face, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at a toll booth when we handed over a sawbuck while we were returning from a Trotter Group meeting in Washington, D.C. in mid November.
The wingnuts, like many native southern whites seven score after the Civil War ended, are losing ugly.
I'd offer them a chill pill but I'm not sure it would be the correct, I mean, the right remedy. So, why don't we all just watch a movie, Our Negro President! Actually, a video tape. Yeah, that's the ticket. Check it out, it's magically funny. Shazam!
The revolution was the real must-see TV.Itsopening salvo was aired on a sub-zero day on February 10, 2007 in Springfield, Illinois in the shadow of the old state capitol where Abraham Lincoln gave his house divided speech. That was when Sen. Barack Obama began the assault on the greatest whites only symbol in America: The White House. The strikes and counter-strikes were on television day in. day out, week in, week out for the next 21 months. We caught it all. We saw the talking heads on cable TV explain why Hillary Clinton was a cinch for the Democratic nomination. Then we saw the victory speech in Iowa, realizing that the junior senator from Illinois was a contender. One primary battles after the next played out on our TV screens, sometimes---like on Super Tuesday--a volley of them at once. And, as the battles waged on, we surveyed the maps on who had staked out which states and how many he needed if the revolution was going to be real. We witnessed, first Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then Father Michael Pfleger, as they were made into men for media destruction. Then we were on the lookout as Obama knocked down that subterfuge and cleared away those smoke screens. Armed with remote controls in the comfort of our homes, we were eye witnesses to the victory march. We beheld the victory celebrations in Denver's INVESCO Field and in Chicago's Grant Park. We saw history made. We saw it all. And yesterday, we saw the beginning of the real struggle on TV--the inauguration. Now that the revolution has been won, the real battle begins--righting so many wrongs. And, as I watched that play out from day-to-day, I'll keep recalling how wrong Gil Scott Heron was four decades ago when he wrote his poem: The Revolution Will Not be Televised.
I am not alone in my belief that our 43rd president was the worst ever--Rolling Stone Magazinemade that assertion in April 2006. And while some may argue that James Buchanan did a worse job than George W. Bush, only the visually or mentally challenged will think he wasn't the worst president in modern times; he'll leave office with the lowest approval ratings in history, 22 percent
On Inauguration Day, it will be out with the worst and in, I'm hoping, with the greatest.
Nor am I alone in believing that Barack Obama will perform above and beyond the call of duty. You can tell by the numbers; 65 percent of Americans believe #44 will be an above average president. We may be in a deep recession but Brand Obama--from magazine covers to commemorative coins to wacky and weird merchandise--is booming. And you can tell it by the art. There's the iconic portrait by artist Shepard Fairey and a countless number of Obama-inspired art.
There's also a bunch of inspired poetry and music--which brings me to my long-time friend, Joe English.
Joe, a wealthy old hippie who is in his mid-60s, has had faith and hope in Barack since the beginning. In fact, he claims pride of authorship for one of Obama's early campaign slogans--Obama Right from the Start--which is a reference to the Illinois senator's opposition to the war in Iraq.
Now that the candidate is about to become the president, the muse hit Joe up again. This time, rather than a mere slogan, it turned out to be a poem which then turned out to be a song--Five Fifths Strong: Redemption Song.
The title alludes to the infamous "three-fifths" compromise" of the Founding Fathers when they were constructing the U.S. Constitution in 1787. For those of you who are a little rusty on your American history, the "three-fifths" clause decrees that, for the purposes of counting each state's population to determine its number of Representatives in Congress and the distribution of taxes, African slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a human being.
We now have a man of African descent about to occupy the Executive House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue which is more than a gesture affirming black Americans' rise to full citizenship.
I think Joe's song does an incredible job of capturing the triumph of the moment. While it's Joe's lyrics, the music is by Atiba Jali. Five-Fifths Strong is sung by Ray Balkcom with the All City Elementary Youth Chorus of the Chicago Public Schools.
Take a listen and let me know what you think. Just click on the blue link below.
A chance meeting between a dull kitchen knife and my left hand as I prepared Christmas dinner turned into blood at first sight. So, I'm just now healed enough to be able to type with both hands. In other words, this is a lame excuse on why I haven't posted in three weeks.
But now, I'm back. Here's a column I wrote for Ebonyjet.com about Gov. Rod Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to Barack Obama's vacated senate seat. The selection may be as much about jury selection as it is about good governance.
Here's what I had to say.
Mr. Burris Goes To Washington
The appointment of Roland Burris to Obama's
Senate seat is anything but a simple plan
January 6, 2009
By Monroe Anderson
I missed the exact
moment when Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate post became a blacks only
seat. No one sent me an email declaring it was ours. Nor did anyone hit
up my cell or Facebook page. I didn't even get a tweet.
But, apparently, the
seat that once belonged to the president-elect now commands exclusive dibs from
black pols in Illinois, period. No whites need apply. Asians or Hispanics
shouldn't bother either.Rep. Bobby Rush said
as much. During Gov. Rod Blagojevich's news conference last week announcing the
appointment of Roland Burris to Obama's vacated seat, the Illinois congressman
from Chicago emerged from the press pool to commandeer the mike. "Let me
remind you that there presently is no African American in the Senate,"
Rush said, talking through the media to address state and national Democrats.
"I would ask you not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to
castigate the appointer."And while the
appointer kept asserting during the news conference that it was all about the
appointee, I didn't quite buy it.I believe that it's
about Burris as the black appointee as much as it is about the red
herring to be introduced at the governor's jury trial. Blagojevich hasn't
been indicted yet, but the big money is betting that he will be come spring.
Anticipating the inevitable, the governor has hired Ed Genson, the high-priced
super lawyer who got R. Kelly off, as his defense attorney.When the trial begins,
the Burris appointment—if it plays out badly with the Democrats over the next
couple of days—may play well in Blagojevich's defense. Think O.J. If the
Senate Dems have a fit, denying the one seat vacated by an African American to
be filled by another, then any blacks on the jury may be sympathetic enough to
the governor to vote to acquit him—striking another symbolic blow against
institutional American racism.I know it sounds a
little far-fetched but so does the idea that a governor would try to sell the
U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. But it also sounds far-fetched
that in 21st-century America, blacks have no representation in the U.S. Senate,
while there are 13 Jewish Americans, three Hispanics and two Asians. It
is also outlandish that in this time of change, Democratic leaders would ignore
the law to play politics.Illinois State
Democrats are in a mad rush to impeach their defiant governor and U.S. Atty.
Patrick Fitzgerald is working overtime to indict him, but so far Blagojevich
has not been proven guilty of anything but having a filthy mouth. That
means the governor is lawfully empowered to appoint Burris, who is untouched by
any hint of corruption and unquestionably qualified to perform the duties of
the post.Thirty years ago,
Burris became state comptroller, the first black Democrat elected to statewide
office in Illinois. After three terms in that office, he was elected the
Illinois attorney general. Since then, he's become a lovable loser. He
has run three times for governor, and one time each for mayor and U.S. senator,
each time coming up empty handed.That's why Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Dems are doing so much hand wringing.
Although he denies it, Reid has been reported as
saying he did not want the seat to go to Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr.,
Danny Davis or state Senate President Emil Jones because he believes that none
of the three black men could win the statewide election in 2010.If the Democrats
insist on taking a bad situation and making it worse, it may be a moot point.
Secretary of State Jesse White, the highest-ranking black official in Illinois
right now, has refused to certify the Burris appointment. The Democrats
in the U.S. Senate insist that they won't seat Burris when he arrives at the
chambers today.They may want to
rethink that. Rep. Rush, a former minister of the Black Panthers who is
now a Baptist minister, Sunday night called the Senate "one of the last
bastions of plantation and racial politics in America," then warned that
the Senate Democrats who fight Burris' appointment are "going to ask for
forgiveness" from the black American voter.Hmmmm. Come to think
about it, that seat may need to be black after all.
Anderson is an award-winning journalist who penned op-ed columns for both the
Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. Check out his blog at monroeanderson.typepad.com