You can tell how long ago that was by the Negro reference. It was in the early '60s when the Civil Rights movement was producing palatable progress. Dr. Martin Luther King was a force to be reckoned with. Malcolm had not yet been murdered. And many a young Negro who was planning of making something of himself wore his hair closely cropped in what was called a "collegiate."
In case you're wondering, the collegiate was identical to the hairstyle President Barack Obama sports now.
On June 16, 1966, both the hairstyle and the sense that the whole nation was our oyster went out of vogue--as did Dr. King and his nonviolence movement. That was the day Stokely Carmichael, the 25-year-old fiery orator who had replaced John Lewis as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, defined a new social movement in America. In a stirring speech in Greenwood, Mississippi before 3,000 civil rights volunteers who were gathered to protest the shooting of activist James Meredith, Carmichael expressed his anger in a surefire manner.
"We been saying 'Freedom' for six years," he said, referring to the chant that movement protesters used as they were beaten by hostile policemen pointing water hoses and unleashing vicious attack dogs. "What we are going to start saying now is 'Black Power!' "
For me, and many other young Black Americans, "Black Power" and the "Black is Beautiful" mantra that followed were psychologically liberating. But, with the murder of Dr. King and the urban uprisings that followed, inner-city Black America went under siege; most of the businesses that hadn't been burned out shipped out and with them went far too many of the jobs.
Racial integration made it possible for educated and motivated Blacks like me to follow the opportunities, leaving those not as fortunate behind. Drugs invaded and occupied the Black community in overwhelming quantities; unrelenting crime and violence followed.
Soon, for many poor, unskilled Blacks, the only Good Times was a sit-com on TV.
As a general assignment reporter for the Chicago Tribune, each year I'd cover the State of Black Chicago speech given by James Compton, the president of the Chicago Urban League. The list was a long litany of depressing facts dressed up in unrelenting despair. On a couple of occasions, I covered the National Urban League's annual conference when I heard more of the same.
That's pretty much been the state of things and the outlook for things to come until about a year ago. That, of course, was when it became clear that Barack Obama had a real shot at becoming the POTUS.
Now that we have a Black man in the White House, argues Danielle Belton, on her blog, "The Black Snob," we're in a different era.
Some like Tavis Smiley haven't gotten the message. So Belton takes the radio/TV host to task for partying at his annual "State of the Black Union" gathering--as if it was 1999.
Rather than taking some the same point of view, Belton says that we may want to look up rather than hang our heads down. Take a look at her blog to see how she sees it.>
The State of the Black Union concluded in Los Angeles this weekend after the input of various scholars, activists, political leaders and pundits, mixed with the fear of the recession (or depression if you're just talking about black people. Economically things have been nightmarish for African Americans for some time) with the optimism of President Barack Obama's election.