History Matters, Just Ask Barack

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In 1963 four little girls, Denise McNair (11 years old),
Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins,
all 14 years old, were preparing for their lessons at the
16th Street Baptist Church when BOOM! A bomb exploded
in the church killing all four girls and severely injuring
many others. This heinous act prompted many men and
women to anger and they set out to kill whomever they
thought was guilty of this crime. Two of those angry people
were Diane Nash and Reverend James Luther Bevel,
strategists and architects of several of the most memorable
events and major accomplishments of the Civil Rights
Movement: Bloody Sunday, the Children’s March, the
March on Washington, and of course, the Birmingham
Project, which later became known as the Selma Right to
Vote Campaign.
When recounting the events of September 15, 1963
Reverend Bevel told me that he and some others felt that,
“any man that blows up little girls ought to die” and that
they seriously considered killing the man they all believed
was guilty of this act: ‘Dynamite Bob,’ a well known member
of the local KKK. The connection between the deaths
of the girls and the election of Barack Obama on November
4, 2008 is that Reverend Bevel and Diane Nash decided
not to be a part of a plot to kill Dynamite Bob and
instead went home and devised what they felt was the
appropriate response to the killing of the four girls. They
decided that getting black people the right to vote was the
best way to alleviate the anger, frustration and pain. They
knew that the negative energy permeating the black community,
and the country at that time could be used as a
tool for change.
My good friend, Ken Salo, reminds me often that ‘History
Matters,’ which is why I used history to transition into
my own personal thoughts about “Oba-Messiah” (just kidding)
being elected as President of the United States of
America. I am well aware that there is a vast history that
created the context for the right to vote campaign, but I
was asked to describe November 4, 2008 from my perspective.
After a long day of electioneering, my wife Carol and I
made our rounds to the Obama Party at the American
Legion where 99.9% of the crowd was African American.
We all wore t-shirts with President Obama on the front
and empowering statements on the back. Some were cautiously
optimistic about the results while others were guaranteeing
a victory. The common theme was that everyone
was waiting to erupt, one way or another. Because of
Carol’s county board race, we chose to run by the Champaign
County’s Brookens Institute to check the vote
counts. That’s where we heard the announcement that
Barack had won the election. Based upon the tremendous
support Barack received from white America and we were
in a room that was 99% white, we thought there would be
excitement, especially from the Democrats, but to our surprise,
Mr. “Big Al” Kurtz (recently appointed to the County
Board in district 7) and his wife Linda, seemed to be the
only people in the room who shared our jubilance! We felt
like screaming for joy and horror at the same time, so we
thought it best to just leave. Upon leaving we decided to
visit with Rev. Bogan and Ruth, who had decided to bring
the change in at home. After a short stay and a sharing of
thoughts with them, we went home to be with our children.
Of course, Jelani (my 13 yr old son) was following
the results on TV and we were just in time to see Barack
make his acceptance speech at Grant Park. I went to Amir’s
(my 7 yr old son) bedroom and woke him up so he could
see the first black President elected in the United States. I
wanted my two African-American boys to see the results of
years of sacrifice, commitment, optimism and vision. I am
relieved to know that this memory is forever etched in
their minds. It was our ‘Mandela Moment’ and it simply
felt good!
It was a relief of sorts because black folks in America
have always wanted to feel like America was our home and
today it feels more like home than ever before. The mental
chains that Carter G. Woodson spoke of many years ago
are all symbolically broken because of the election of
Barack Obama. All accepted images of white supremacy
have been demolished, with the election of Obama being
the final and most fatal blow. The last symbol of white
male superiority and colonial rule fell on November 4,
2008 and the whole world knows it. I am pleased that
black people in America can now loosen their grip on the
repressing thoughts of black inferiority. Black coaches
winning championships and individuals being great in
sports, especially in those typically known as ‘white sports’
such as tennis and golf, gave the oppressed/repressed
group of blacks in America some semblance of our ability
to achieve. However, to witness the American people,
black people for sure and white people in particular, supporting
and actually voting so enthusiastically for a black
man over a white man, is different from a personal
achievement by Serena, Venus, Tiger, Tony Dungy, or Doc
Rivers. This was a blow to the ignorant ideology of white
supremacy (the worshipping of skin color) and it was
delivered by a democratic majority of American citizens. I
could just hear that crowd at Grant Park yelling, “Tell me
what Unity looks like, this is what Unity looks like!”
Watching Michelle and Barack Obama non-violently
handle the attacks on their character and beliefs reminded
me again of what I learned from members of the civil
rights movement. That lesson is that education mixed with
action will always be victorious, even if you don’t see the
outcome immediately. They all agreed that educating people
was the equivalent of empowering people and that
eventually educated, inspired people would produce just
outcomes. They said the purpose of non-violence is to
train oneself to have the patience to educate and the
capacity to expose the ignorance of violence. Could Diane
Nash and James Bevel see Barack Obama as the President
40 years after they made the proposal to their colleagues to
work on the right to vote? What better crash course on the
benefits of that strategy than the landslide victory of
Obama? The support for a black man (remember the single
drop of African blood) by a vast majority of Americans
and citizens of the world, implanted a seed of hope that
must be nurtured in order to bloom, but it can never be
erased, because it is now another part of history that really
does matter.

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