Black History is a verb, not a noun. It should be made, not observed.
There are seminal moments in American life that change our culture in a pervasive and often permanent manner. Seldom in the moment, do you actually see events coming or even associate societal change directly with that particular event or development.
But whether you are acutely aware of the influence immediately or just realize somehow things are different, the influence is undeniable.
Though there are certainly myriad examples beforehand, the breaking of the color barrier in sports with Jackie Robinson becoming a Brooklyn Dodger in 1947 was important.
It was important, not just because he made it but because of how he handled the arduous challenge with such class, strength, intelligence and dignity. It was frosting on the cake that he became one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Many Americans north, south, east, and west could not imagine Black and white children ever going to school together. Even in the minds of some self-proclaimed liberals and moderates, it just seemed like too much too soon. Brown v. Board of Education did not change everything instantaneously, but it set the stage for unthinkable classroom experiences moving forward.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott and freedom riders, and those who sat at lunch counters, and the travels of those who marched in the face of police clubs, rifles, dogs, firemen’s hoses and even lynching, exposed via television, the brutality of the 60s and this nation never looked at itself quite the same, as it pertains to bigotry.
It should be quickly noted that change did not necessarily accompany that new awareness but it tugged at the conscience of the nation to see that hateful reality in the living room of their homes.
The 1963 March on Washington and Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech is heralded as a significant benchmark in the fight for justice in America. Lost on many is the tragic fact that months later, in retaliation, hate filled white racists in Birmingham bombed a church murdering four innocent Black girls attending Sunday school.
As high as Dr. King was after the march, this church tragedy broke his heart so deeply that he went into depression and questioned whether or not his valiant leadership was worthwhile.
Of course, over the next two years, there would be affirmations that would swing the pendulum in the direction of positive change, such as Lyndon Johnson ushering through Congress the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Act.
This was of course the line of demarcation for hostile Southerners who would never beyond that point support the Democratic Party as they deemed unforgivable what they felt was an assault on their way of life in the south.
Despite backlash and resistance, Black families traveling through the south no longer had to find lodging and restaurants using the iconic “green book” as they could not legally be turned away from the front desk of any hotel. It meant that when they were hungry, they did not have to solely rely on the meals they packed in boxes for travel but could go into restaurants and be served. Blacks could try on clothes in the stores, take advantage of goods and services that were up to that point reserved for whites.
It was not a panacea. But it was a major step in the right direction.
Once again, it seems celebrations of change in America were premature and short-lived. Malcolm X was assassinated. Shortly after, Dr. King was assassinated. Then presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, who stood for change, was assassinated.
Spiraling racial injustice and inequities ignited flames of rage in cities from Watts to Newark, from Detroit and Chicago to St. Louis.
Though the love we show America has never been returned, our resiliency, strength, faith in God, and persistence keeps us on a path from which we refuse to turn back or step aside.
Prejudice and hateful elements continue to drive us even as we move forward in 2022, still in the throes of the awful aftermath of a racist presidency just five years ago that opened old wounds and created new ones in this nation.
Police brutality was here before George Floyd, and has persisted after George Floyd. While some purposely conflate a phrase as simple as “Black Lives Matter” with politics, or pretend Blacks want to get rid of police, the truth is every American is still deserving of every opportunity and right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. More importantly, those rights are assured by God Almighty. For that reason, there can be no thought of quitting our struggle.
One of our main challenges is sustaining the level of faith necessary for young people to not only sustain, but to build on and elevate the level of activism and advocacy in America.
It would be a dire mistake to minimize the importance of young people to our struggle by pointing the finger at their apathy or inaction. Many young people have not become involved because they no longer see adults leading by example.
The Bible says how will they know lest they be taught.
And in many cases they are fervently involved in the movement for change but their actions just do not receive the attention the media gives to their age group when something foolish happens.
The bottom line is Black people will not continue to rise without young people in leadership. And more seasoned Black Americans must recognize the importance of passing the baton, not just as a matter of getting out of their responsibility but rather must view passing the baton as an opportunity to impart wisdom.
We must do whatever we can to close the generational chasm and strengthen the efforts of those who are just now coming of age in the struggle.
Lastly, we have to stop waiting for everyone to get on board. The battle for freedom was never a unanimous imperative.
Jesse Jackson said that while there were many who came to the March On Washington, there were other Black people sitting across from the Mall on U Street who were saying they would be glad when the man runs “them” out of town.
Never forget that Dr. King had to rely on children for many of his marches and demonstrations because adults were fearful, apathetic or out of touch.
There will never be a time when everyone is on board because we still have too many Negroes happy just to get crumbs from the table and who will never insist on their slice of the American pie. They not only could not care less about their circumstance but often harbor the self-hatred inherited from slavery making them willing to thwart the path of their own brothers and sisters trying to rise.
Then you have Black pseudo-intellectuals who believe people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, even if they are barefooted.
So the bottom line is do all that you can. Don’t look left or right. People are going to do what they’re going to do and they’re not going to get involved if they don’t feel it or have the courage to do it.
That has never stopped the movement from going forward and never will. It makes it more difficult because there is power in numbers. But we can’t wait for a majority, not even a consensus. We have to get involved for one reason, and that’s because it’s the right thing to do.
Martin Luther King Jr. said a change does not ride in on the wings of inevitability. Look in the mirror every day. Ask yourself what am I doing to make a difference? That is the bottom line.
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].