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Civil rights strategies may be different, but relentlessness of the movement persists

Civil rights march on Washington, D.C. by Warren K. Leffler, 1963, Year, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-03128. Credit: Canva

Those of us who are children of the 60s were raised during the time in which we anticipated individual leadership as a beacon of light for our social paths. Of course, some of the most iconic representatives of the Black experience included Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley Chisholm and the Black Panther Party. We were largely as a people personality driven.

In various communities throughout the nation, those personalities took different forms. Those of us in Gary, Indiana, were influenced tremendously by the eloquence, integrity and character of Richard Gordon Hatcher. He was a role model at a pivotal moment of Black history. And yet being anything but autonomous, the mantle of Black leadership was always a double-edged sword.

Martyred after his untimely April 1968 assassination, arguably, the travails of the most revered American of the 20th century – Dr. King – were fraught with criticism, hatred, jealousy and infighting. There has never been consensus among African Americans in terms of direction of the movement or strategy. His tragic demise ended an era during which there was at least commonly held objectives to direct the general course of Black progress.

Our personality-driven movement began to falter in the 1970s and 1980s, at least on a national level. Fortunately, there was a shift that facilitated more regional and local initiatives for change. Ironically, the birthplace for that broader mindset was Gary in 1972 under the visionary Black Political Convention orchestrated by Mayor Hatcher.

This was a game changer. It was the single, strongest impetus for Black political empowerment at the national, state and local levels. It brought on a whole new attitude and started an organization that was both effective and stable for a while. We no longer viewed Black leadership as much of a personality-driven imperative, as opposed to philosophical, strategic and theoretical methodology for change.

That was significant in that it stopped us from looking for the next Black Messiah. But it was not a panacea for the many challenges that confront the path of Americans of the African Diaspora. So we remain as divided as we are united in the question of how best to approach present day dilemmas or even more daunting issues relating to our future. There is still no silver bullet to solve it all.

Perhaps most important is that compelling, compassionate, intellectual and relevant dialogue continues to flourish both within our braintrusts and at critical grassroots levels. Amazing young, emerging Black minds with revolutionary concepts are combining with some of the most brilliant and influential sages of our foundation to design blueprints for change and the means to facilitate progress.

Many TRY to camouflage the constant need for our focus on civil rights. Some try to sell the illusion that problems of the past no longer haunt us, and LINGERING ON THE PAST IMPEDES progress. Those most ACUTELY aware of our reality know that no matter how much things have improved for certain people, SERIOUS NEEDS remain. OUR work is not done!

Often, we become discouraged, because what we grew accustomed to is no longer the status quo. An unfamiliar environment by no means suggests that significant evolution is not continuing at a rapid pace. Black America simply must make the adjustments required to raise our acuity and expected outcomes to another level. We are on an unprecedented path of progress, and both those encouraged and frightened by it know the truth.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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