Over 250,000 Americans participated in the March on Washington in support of passing the Civil Rights’ Bill and to purport racial unity and harmony. Hand in hand, arm in arm, side by side, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians marched together to declare that the time had come to completely establish what our forefathers had articulated in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal…”
Unfortunately, America in 1963 upheld a self-evident lie; that all men were not created equal and must be segregated, separated, and subjugated by any means necessary. The mean at the time in the South was through Jim Crow laws and in the North, the creation of urban pockets of dilapidated, inferior, cul-de-sacs of housing otherwise known as black ghettos. This dichotomous tactic was largely successful and was reinforced in the South by the KKK’s eagerness to lynch, burn, destroy, and decimate anyone or anything that attempted to promote equality and change. In the North, the KKK was unnecessary because city planners, bankers, tenant owners, and politicians strategically made sure that blacks living within these urban districts would remain there by working at the bottom of the barrel, bringing in harder earned but lower wages, while receiving little and mostly no protection under the law.
Yet, more potent than the KKK and northern politician’s strategic planning were the unspoken but widely held beliefs of Americans both black and white; the belief that white people really were better than black people. It was an insidious and infectious belief that was birthed when the first slave ships arrived from Africa carrying its cargo of dark-skinned, multilingual, deeply intelligent but petrified men and women from villages and places that we can only speculate about and whose native tongues were silenced the day they left the ship. And the day slaves became America’s greatest commodity, equality was forgotten and white supremacy was established on all fronts, thoroughly and strategically.
Educators reinforced white superiority by leaving black America completely out of U.S. History for hundreds of years and once black history was included, the paragraphs could barely create a reasonable historical chapter. Hollywood perpetuated the stereotypes casting African Americans as black-faced, white actors initially and then creating hard to resist images of black mammies and pappies that happily served, entertained, and deferred white power. Politically, with blacks not having the power to vote there was no black issue to bring to the platform so why bother fixing what systemically hadn’t been broken? Athletically gifted? Yes. Musically and artistically exceptional? Absolutely. But even most athletic and entertainment outlets were controlled by whites and led by white leadership again reinforcing supremacy over equality.
And sadly, many whites and blacks believed the lie. Whites believed that their “white-only” water fountain issued purer water than the “colored-only” water fountains and blacks believed that their “colored-only” water fountains had to somehow be less pure or else whites would have been able to drink freely from it. And white Americans living in Little Rock, Arkansas believed whole-heartedly that the 9 black teenagers that were being escorted by the National Guard to their first day of high school would surely destroy all the learning capabilities of the white students that would sit beside them during classes. And if 14-year old Emmett Till did speak to a white woman, he got exactly what he deserved when his eye was gouged out, his forehead crushed on one side, and he was shot in the head and thrown in a river, right? How dare he consider himself equal to a white woman? How dare Emmett Till walk in his own neighborhood, confront someone following him, get shot in point-blank range and suggest that George Zimmerman be held accountable. As J.W. Milam, Till’s murderer who was acquitted of all charges, explained so eloquently: “I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers in their place. I know how to work’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice.”
So notice was served, over and over again as blacks were murdered, mutilated, spit upon, water-hosed, cross-burned, church-bombed, bus-exploded, balcony-seated, and back-door served. Although the truth was self-evident that God has created all men equal, apparently there was a special clause as it related to the United States in 1963.
But in 1963, 250,000 Americans hoped that equality would be remembered. So, A. Philip Randolph organized, Bayard Rustin handled the logistics, and the Reverend, Doctor, Martin Luther King Jr., memorialized the march through his “I Have a Dream” speech: “…we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one; we can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No! No, we are not satisfied…”
But, Dr. King, we are satisfied. We have arrived! Your dream has manifested. We have Oprah, Denzel, TI & Tiny, BET, TV One, Radio One, HBCUs, Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and last but not least, President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama! Our children are no longer stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity because of “Whites Only” signs. You would be proud to know that our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity due to fatherless homes, drug and physical abuse, misogynistic lyrics and an overall identity crisis due to negative stereotypes reinforced through television, movies, and music. We are very, upwardly mobile, largely due to ghetto life being rhapsodized and glorified through the lyrics of Hip Hop. We can vote in Mississippi and in New York. We just choose not to. Our greatest fear is not being killed by a Southern white man. It is being killed by another black sister and brother in a senseless criminal act or due to the cross fire of gang violence. We are satisfied. We are oh, so satisfied. And as long as “me and my house” are okay, there is nothing to worry about, right?
On August 28, 1963, 250,000 Americans, like a dream deferred, exploded onto our nation’s capital to make sure that freedom would “ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city…when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last, Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
Thank God we are free, but the greatest threat posed to our freedom isn’t big government, policies, or the system. It is our own personal, deceptive, satisfaction.
Cheers to an incredible 50th. Can’t wait for the 100th. Can you imagine where our country will be?