Archive for the ‘post-segregation America’ Category

Good-bye Ms. Height, See You in the Morning.

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010


Our matriarch of justice passed this morning.

Dorothy I. Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) who fought for most of her life on behalf of women and blacks, died at the age of 98.

The last time I saw Ms. Height she was in her wheel chair, poised, eagle-eye alert, wearing her signature church lady wide brim hat, and in full control of everyone and everything.

President of the National Council of Negro Women for more than 40 years, advising presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton on both civil and gender rights, Ms. Height helped advance landmark legislation on school desegregation, voting rights and equality in the workplace.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Make no mistake about it, Ms. Height was among the coalition of African American leaders who pushed civil rights to the center of the American political stage in the years after World War II, often standing alone as a woman amidst a den of black male preachers, challenging sexism, decrying foolishness, negotiating between factions, calling egos on the carpet, making deals without losing her soul, and calling movements to moral order.

I remember the first time I met Ms. Height. She called me on the phone to invite me to speak at a NCNW meeting. I couldn’t believe it was Ms. Dorothy Height on the other line. It was 9pm where I was, 10pm there in her office in DC.  She was in her 80s back then. “Ms. Dorothy, what are you doing in your office this time time of night?” I asked incredulously. “Where else do you suppose I’m  supposed to be, Renita?” “Yes Mam.” I answered.

A few weeks ago after speaking at Howard University Rankin Chapel I was greeted by my mentor and friend, Dr. Marian Wright Edelman who mentioned that she was off to visit Ms. Dorothy who was in the hospital.  “How’s she doing” I asked. “Ms. Dorothy is doing what she’s always doing –even from her sick bed– in charge and giving out orders to everyone.” We laughed.  “She ordering even you around, Dr. Marian?” I asked. “Child, all any of us can say in reply to anything Ms. Height tells us is, ‘Yes Mam. That includes me!’”

Yes Mam.

You have to admire a woman who didn’t mind taking care of business.

Fifty Years Ago, Today

Monday, February 1st, 2010

On February 1, 1960,  four black freshmen from North Carolina A&T State University sat in at the Whites-only lunch counter in the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth’s store: Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond. The act of simply sitting down to order food in a restaurant that refused service to anyone but whites is now widely regarded as one of the pivotal moments in the American Civil Rights Movement.

greensboro sit-ins

The waitress ignored them, as did the store manager and a pacing policeman. Some white customers taunted the students, while two others patted them on the back, whispering “Ah, you should have done it ten years ago.”

The next day, the four young men returned with 19 supporters. By the third day, the number had risen to 85, including white and black students from neighboring colleges. Before the week was out, there were 400. They demonstrated in shifts so they wouldn’t miss classes.

On July 25, nearly six months later, Woolworth’s agreed to desegregate the lunch counter.

student sit-ins2

Meanwhile, energized students staged smaller sit-ins in seven other North Carolina cities as well as in Hampton, Virginia, and Nashville, Tennessee. By summer, 33 southern cities, including Greensboro, had integrated their restaurants and lunch counters. One year later, 126 cities had taken the same step.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund and first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi state bar, writes in today’s HuffingtonPost about being a student at Spelman College during the time of the Greenboro student sit-ins and how that incident led by students in another state became the spark that changed her life and American history forever.

Yell, Curse, Scream, Even Throw a Shoe If You Disagree

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

It was disgusting.

Someone yelled out and interrupted President Obama’s speech last night on health care with the words, “You lie!” The president was in the middle of saying that Democratic health proposals would not cover illegal immigrants.

For a moment everyone sat stunned by the outburst.

“No president has ever been treated like that. Ever,” said White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel who after the speech immediately sought out senior Republican lawmakers urging them to identify the heckler (the outburst came from Emmanuel so he wasn’t sure who it was). Emmanuel demanded that Republican leaders see to it that an apology be issued to the President of the United States pronto.

It didn’t take long for the heckler to be identified. Congressman Joe Wilson, Republican from South Carolina.

It was hard enough watching Republicans scowling in unison during the president’s speech, but Wilson’s outburst was over the top. Disrespectful. Offensive. Outrageous. Treasonous, even. But let’s be honest: Wilson’s outburst was typical of the sort of antics Republicans specialize in to disrupt public forums on any topic about the common good.

That said, let me be clear: Let it not be said that those of us who are outraged at Wilson’s antics are some of the same ones who guffawed at, gave each other hi 5’s, and relished passing around the video showing an Iraqi journalist throwing a shoe at Bush last December at a press conference. You can’t sanction shoe throwing because it supports your feelings about Bush, and turn around and condemn Republican vitriol because you love and support His O-ness (a fellow blogger affectionately term for Obama). Be suspicious of a president. Disagree with a President. Despise a president if you want. But protocol stands. Respect the office. Be civil.

obama health care address

Now I’m not one who’d go so far as the prophet Paul who in a desperate attempt to protect the budding Christian movement from any hint of scandal of being labeled insurrectionists and rabblrousers writes in Romans 13:1-3 urging followers to submit to  government, saying that all authority comes from God and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.  I can sympathize with Paul’s dilemma, but I can’t go there with you Paul. Blacks would still be slaves, women would still be chattel, and the poor and disenfranchised would be ground to dust by the rich and powerful if we swallowed that divine authority rationale without critical examination.

But I do get the point about respecting leadership and the office of a leader, even when I disagree with leadership and think the leader is a moron.

Speaking of former President Bush, like many I was not impressed with W and was convinced he was a puppet for the regressive political agenda of right-wing conservatives. Regardless, I did not delight in seeing the former President in the humiliating position as a world leader of dodging shoes hurled at him at a press conference. I winced at seeing the video when CNN ran it over and over. I refused to participate in the hoopla as it made its round in blogosphere.

It was just a matter of time before last night’s outburst was going to happen. Civil disagreement has gone the way of the typewriter. Vitriol, humiliation, acrimony, put downs are the way public discourse goes these days, especially when the cameras are rolling.  From the outrageous fist fights that break out on talk shows like the Maury Pouvich show, to the sulpurous rancor passing for journalism on Fox News, to the tactless, hurtful comments judges make to contestants on America’s Next Whatever, to the caustic yelling matches that go on at town hall meetings. Calling an American president a lie at a speech by the President in the joint halls of Congress may be an insult that’s never been displayed on American soil before, but the ground for it has long been in the making. That it happened on an African American president’s watch makes many of us want to go banshee. If yelling down Obama in the halls of Congress can happen, what’s next? Don’t answer that.

A confession is in order.  I have a vested interest in this topic. As a minister and former professor, I know first hand how fragile power and authority actually are. There have been occasions when I’ve had to stare down racist, disrespectful detractors who came intent upon ‘dissing my authority and showing me up as incompetent or not worthy of the honor others held for me. What did they have against me? Who knows? That I was female, young, black, liberal, nappy headed, a womanist, my position on a topic, that I was just different… Take your pick. But I had a job to do. And if I’d let them have their way I’d lose the rest of the audience and the cause that had brought me before them.

The morning after Obama’s speech to the Congress on health care colleagues on both sides of the aisle have condemned Wilson for his behavior. Wilson has issued a private apology to the White House, but few of us looking on take it as serious.  The President has accepted the apology which he must in order to look presidential. But I join others in calling for his O-ness to toughen and wise up and stop playing concilator with folks aiming arrows at his throat.

If it’s alright to throw shoes at presidents, if free speech  is the defense for yelling “you lie” to the president as he stands speaking before the American people (or anyone else who has the floor at the moment), then don’t be shocked or offended when it’s your turn to take the mike and no one is impressed when you introduce yourself as the one now in charge.

How does the saying go? You reap what you sow.

Join me in writing and calling Congressman Wilson’s office and voicing your condemnation of last night disrespectful antics against the President of the United States. You can call (803) 939-0041 /Fax: 202-225-2455. / U.S. Mail: The Midlands’ Office 1700 Sunset Bl……vd (US 378), Suite 1. West Columbia , SC 29169. (Someone send me his email address.)

Better yet, put your money where your mouth is: open your wallets and join thousands of others across the country who are so offended by Wilson’s outburst that they’re donating $25 to to Rob Miller’s Democratic campaign to unseat Joe Wilson there in South Carolina.

The Death of A Liberal

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

I never thought I’d live to see the day when the word “liberal” was a bad word. Progressive is the preferred appellation these days to describe those who believe in justice and fairness for all. But debating the difference between “liberal” and “progressive” is not why I came on the blog today.

With last night’s passing of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts comes the end of an era. The death of Camelot, again? Yes. The death of the Kennedy franchise in politics? Yes. But also the death of old line liberals  and old fashioned liberalism Senator Ted Kennedyin this country. For years there you could find portraits of  Kennedy’s older brothers, John and Bobby, along with that of Martin Luther King, on the walls of black homes, black business, and on the fans of black churches. “Good white folks” are what black folks white folks like the Kennedys. Meaning they were the kind of white folks you could count on to speak up on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.  I will resist the urge to romanticize what documents  amply show, which is that Ted Kennedy, like his brothers before him, was a very imperfect of a man. But the last of the Kennedy dynasty did manage to do something his brothers before him did not, and that was to die the death of a patriarch. Ted Kennedy died both patriarch of the Kennedy clan and patriarch of a particular era in American political history.  Patriarch, you say? Yes, patriarch. Meaning Kennedy lived long enough to outlive his sins and to ascend to the ranks as  sage and icon in his profession.  Sure, he died with one of his lifelong goals, universal health care, within reach though struggling on Capitol Hill. But you can bet that he managed to accomplish lots of good in his 47 years in Congress.

Anybody here remember an  old song from the 60s written as a tribute to Abraham (Lincoln), John (Kennedy), Martin (King) and Bobby (Kennedy) whose politics left them murdered at an early death? Ted Kennedy outlived King and his brothers, but he couldn’t outlive the influence of the era in which they lived and worked. The song captured the hopes (and tragedies) of that era . Scroll down and click to hear the late Moms Mabley’s beautiful rendition of “Abraham, John, Martin and Bobby.”

Here are the song’s lyrics.

Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young
You know I just looked around and he’s gone

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone

(brief instrumental interlude-organ)

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone

Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free
Some day soon, it’s gonna be one day

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John