Point of View Columns

A Voice from the Past

It seems like yesterday, but 44 years ago this month I had the privilege of both graduating from Dartmouth College and speaking at the commencement exercises. I was reading that speech recently and I was amazed at how much has changed and how little has changed. I hope that you will appreciate this “Voice from the Past”.

Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Mr. President, Faculty and Guests:

We are gathered here this morning to celebrate what is supposed to be a great day, a day of significance, and a day of meaning for all those involved. But what does this day mean for us, what does this day mean for us, the Black students who have survived the Dartmouth College experience?

This day means that we recognize ourselves as being the result of years of labor and sacrifice, the labor of fathers, the sacrifice of mothers, the encouragement and help from brothers and sisters, the support of friends. What we owe for this labor, this sacrifice, this encouragement, this help, this support, we can never pay back in material terms no matter how hard we try. For what we have been given can never be measured in terms of money, the god of fools. For what we have been given was given in the spirit of love and we must return in the same that love, otherwise we have not survived the Dartmouth experience, but rather we have been crushed by it.

If we are to make the years of labor and sacrifice meaningful, then we must dedicate ourselves to our people. We must dedicate ourselves to Black freedom and Black peace of mind, no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the barriers, no matter what the side alleys that lead to dead ends of frustration and negation. We must dedicate ourselves to putting an end to the sad humor of the contradiction of a Black man in a white man’s school trying to learn how to free himself.

We were made to be free, Black men and Black women were not meant to be anybody’s hand servants or slaves, we were meant to stand tall and proud under the sky of liberation without any clouds of oppression or injustice on the horizons of our minds. And if we are to be free once more, then we must not be surprised by whatever America tries to do to us. Three hundred years of oppression, three hundred years of blood, three hundred years of brutal and inhuman treatment should have taught us that much.

But, when we were first put in chains, our ancestors were surprised; when Reconstruction was found to be a sick white joke we were surprised; when Marcus Garvey was railroaded to prison, we were surprised; when Emmett Till and Mack Parker were murdered, we were surprised; when Malcolm X, the prince of blackness was murdered in cold blood we were surprised; when Martin Luther King, the prince of peace, was killed were still surprised; when Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed by the animals that masquerade as Chicago police, were we were still surprised; and even last month, when more of our brothers and sisters were shot down in Augusta and Jackson, we were surprised.

Well, we can’t be surprised any longer. What goes around comes around, and it’s time for the other folks to be surprised.

We have been told to believe in America, to believe that there was something deep down inside America that was good. And what has happened?

Black brothers die daily in the Indochina madness that is just another example of the sickness of America spilling out all over the world, and still be try to believe; Nixon tells Black people that he doesn’t give a damn about us, that he would rather put a white man on the moon than put food into a Black (or white) child’s stomach, and still we try to believe; the Congressional Records of the United States detail the construction and planned use of concentration camps and still we are supposed to believe.

The time has now come for us to believe in ourselves. The time has come to make ourselves free. Our stars of freedom still shine and our saints of righteousness do live. You only have to look around.

The stars are in the eyes of little Black babies and children who were born destined only for freedom, the saints of righteousness are the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters who have provided the strength for Blackness to survive in the face of the forces of evil.

The time is coming, the time has got to come, when freedom will be seen in our smiles, and our Blackness will mean freedom. We have to believe this, because this is the only reality left to us.

That is what we are about, that is what today means for us. To best sum up our feelings though, I would like to quote a poem written by Brother Herschel Johnson, of this Class of 1970, as this poem speaks for the souls and spirits of all of us:

For you mothers with dirt-rough hands

For you with backs aching from bending

And flushing and scrubbing

For all you women on transit

You with brown bags under your arms

Bringing home the leavings of white folks

Bringing it to your children

For all you Black mothers and fathers

Who had to live with humility

And yet have had the pride to survive

For you Black mothers and fathers who raised us

Your men are now with you.

Thank you and may a beautiful Black peace always be with you.

 

This was written 44 years ago – it could have been written today.

 

Wallace Ford is the Chairman of the Public Administration Department at Medgar Evers College in New York City and the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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Point of View Columns

Why SCOTUS Should Remember Harry T. Moore

The recent United State Supreme Court decision virtually disabling the Voting Rights Act is arguably the most racially negative decision since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. In that decision SCOTUS confirmed the constitutionality of state-sponsored racial segregation, legalizing most iterations of Jim Crow in the process. In the wake of this most recent decision it is time for all of us, especially the ScaliaAlitoThomasRoberts gang to remember Harry T. Moore.

While there is plenty of time for legal experts to parse through the armada of arguments that justify the evisceration of a key foundation of the modern civil rights era, it is time to put this entire issue into a human perspective. The Voting Rights Act was never just about enabling black Americans to vote, it was also about putting into law a key element of full citizenship – citizenship that had been explicitly denied to black Americans since the founding of this country.

The issue of race has been a source of contradiction and hypocrisy, cruelty and denial, virtually from the time that the first European settlers came to that part of North America that eventually became the United States. The establishment of a slavery system totally based upon race was historically unique and particularly malignant because it created the malignant slime of racism that has been immune to the vaccine of emancipation and liberation.

The Slave Codes, the Dred Scott decision, the calamitous end of Reconstruction and the abandonment of the newly freed slaves, the blind eye turned to the rampages of the Ku Klux Klan, the case of Plessy v. Ferguson – all of these historical facts and many more have contributed to the American institutional effort to make America a living Hell for black Americans.

The slow and grudging progress towards some semblance of equal rights and the attainment of full citizenship took place in the face of outright violence. Justice Antonin Scalia should be ashamed of himself for referring to the Voting Rights Act as “racial entitlement” as if the VRA was part of some grand legal exercise. In point of fact the VRA arose out of the need to protect and preserve the place of black Americans in this very critical aspect of citizenship – the only “entitlement” in the VRA is meant to “entitle” black Americans to the same rights that Justice Scalia’s Italian immigrant parents obtained as soon as they could pass an English literacy test and a perfunctory civics exam.

From the earliest colonial times terrorism of black Americans was literally the law of the land in the American colonies. And, because literacy could be a key to liberation, access to literacy was severely limited when it came to black slaves.

The United States Constitution, ratified by such icons as George Washington (slave owner), Thomas Jefferson (slave owner), James Madison (slave owner) and James Monroe (slave owner) referred to black slaves as 3/5th of a person for electoral allocations but even that 3/5th designation failed to protect black Americans from the twin depredations of slavery and institutional racism.

After the Civil War the displaced slave hierarchy in the South immediately realized that upon emancipation the battle lines for depriving black Americans of citizenship no longer would be drawn at the point of literacy, but rather at the point of enfranchisement – voting rights. The Ku Klux Klan was born as a terrorist organization dedicated to keeping black Americans from voting. After the death knell of Reconstruction was sounded in 1876 as the bastard child of yet another soulless political bargain, every Southern state immediately established as many statutory barriers to black enfranchisement as possible.

For almost a century black voters have had to risk their lives and livelihoods just to get the right to vote. And that is why SCOTUS should learn about Harry T. Moore, the head of the Florida NAACP who, in 1951 was blown up along with his wife, for having the temerity to attempt to secure the right to vote for black Americans.

The Voting Rights Act was the legacy of Mr. and Mrs. Moore and the thousands of black and white Americans who literally died in order to this right to become a reality. To suggest that 50 years of the VRA is enough to erase the racial slime of over three and a half centuries is sadly preposterous and a dangerous proposition.

The rights won by these martyrs are not so safe and secure – as the voter suppression campaigns of 2012 proved.

June 24, 2103 was a shameful day for SCOTUS.

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