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Black Winners and Studies

Secretive and sensitive information was often anonymously relayed to me during my days and nights in the 1960s and 1970s Black Movement.  Whether or not the information was factual or a ploy, I know not.  However, I was faced with the task of evaluating the info and ‘wisely’ handling or not handling it.

Stokely ‘Black Power’ Carmichael (lka Kwame Ture) would say that living for your people will prove to be more difficult than dying for your people.  He explained that anyone can die.  Stokely’s question to me was:  Can you live for your people?

The emotional upheaval was heavy for yours truly.  I saw many of the brothers and sisters who gave and gave and gave literally ‘lose it’ behind their ever-reaching desire to bring about righteousness in America.  America was a cesspool of racism and Whites played that ‘race card’ with ease.  Whites openly argued that nothing-of-worth existed without White validation or White discovery.

Whites equated words like black and dark as negatives while equating words like white and light as positives.  Whites did not like Black people’s use of the word ‘Black’ in describing ourselves.  And, Whites were made uncomfortable when ‘Black’ was linked with the word ‘Power’.  Whites were sent off-kilter by Black men and Black women who rejected being called “girl” and “boy”.  A sister who wore a natural was looked upon with suspicion by Whites who felt it was a sting and a rejection of White values and limits.

Ralph Featherstone (Feather) — a young Black man in the ‘Movement’ — would often and regularly ask me if there was a ‘contradiction in a sister, clad in a mini-skirt, wearing a natural’.  Sadly, Feather died in a car bomb explosion before I ever had the insight or the wherewithal to answer his question.  For a myriad of reasons, Feather’s death – like many others’ — will likely remain etched in my memory forever….

We in the ‘Movement’ realized the seriousness of winning.  We knew that Black people needed to see us win.  Stokely emphasized that our people needed to see us win – regardless of the costs.

There was a real disconnect between Washington, DC’s ‘Black’ Howard University and the Black community of DC.  As we formed and organized the ‘original’ DC Black United Front (the Front), one of the many issues we confronted was the separation of Howard students from the community.  Folk in the community said that the Howard students thought they were ‘better than and different from’  the Blacks in the community.  They spoke of how the students shunned the community and rarely—if ever – lifted a finger to help the community.

In response to the Howard University ‘problem’, we in the Front knew we had to act.  After careful deliberation and strategizing, the Front decided to push for student involvement in the community as well as a Black studies program at the school.  We reached out to ‘active’ Howard students and they reached out to us.

We knew that administrators of Howard University would be most resistant to community involvement.  And, we knew that the strongest possible resistance would come from ‘Black’ Howard University’s administration to formulating a Black studies program at the school.  But, we were determined and, as Stokely explained:  When Howard falls, the other universities and colleges will prove to be ‘mickey mouse’ to us who mean ‘business’.

Stokely’s assessment and familiarity with Howard University was right-on-target.  Active resistance was employed by the University and the school ‘forced’ its students to organize sit-ins and more.  Eventually, Howard University’s administration responded by having its students tear gassed, etc. and the campus was soon ablaze in fire.  Vehicles were overturned and the campus appeared as a ‘war zone’.  In the end, however, the students and community won as Howard University agreed to a Black studies program and more….

Following Howard University’s agreement to institute Black studies, the DC Front sent letters to other colleges and universities reminding them of ‘what had gone down at Howard’….  Needless to say, the response received from other schools was overwhelmingly positive and inviting….  Thus, the advent of Black studies on campuses throughout America resulted from the blood and sweat of both the Black community and Howard’s Black students.

Stokely was never really comfortable with the label “leader”.  He saw himself as a community organizer and often spoke of himself in that manner.  In private and intimate conversations with me, Stokely shunned the idea of being referred to as a Black ‘leader’.

It is interesting that Stokely, Marion Barry, Rev. David Eaton, and so many of us came together in DC at a particular time to help in organizing and formulating a Movement that brought such impactful racial change to America.  How many people know that Stokely used to teach Sunday school to children, Marion studied Chemistry in school, etc.?  Each of us – and others — stepped away from that which was comfortable in order to fight the good fight.  What we accomplished was nothing short of a miracle.  We willingly gave our lives and our dreams to the ‘Movement’….

Black folk in the 1960-1970’s Black Movement knew each other.  It did not matter whether the organizers – or ‘leaders’ as some chose to be called – were from California; New York; Oregon; DC; Philadelphia; Atlanta; or NewArk, New Jersey….  We soon got to know each other as a result of our ‘Black’ activism.

I remember my first time meeting Stokely ‘Black Power’ Carmichael.  The DC head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (lka Student National Coordinating Committee) vouched for me, and Stokely and I immediately became fast friends and more.  Although I had spoken to David Eaton on numerous occasions via phone, I well remember the first time we met.  David and I, likewise, formed a fast and intimate friendship and more.  Often, we were involved in ‘political’ trips together and I became a part of his ‘family’.  I recall the first time I met Lester McKinney, Dick Jones, H. Rap Brown, Imamu Baraka, Malauna Ron Karenga, Jesse ‘the Country Preacher’ Jackson, and so many many others.

I learned a lot before I ever had the privilege of meeting particular people in the Movement.  I learned a lot while working with and for specific folks in and out of the Movement.  And, I have learned a lot since.  When I was but a child, my father told me that I would soon learn that the more I learn, the more I will grow to realize how ‘little’ I actually do know.  My Daddy was right!

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A Black Woman’s Strength

Looking back at the 1960s – 1970s Black ‘Movement’ from my most-intimate and involved vantage point, I am now comfortable in stating that there were sacrifices – great sacrifices.

My Oregon parents and their neighbors were questioned regarding me.  There were threats from America’s law enforcement community to my livelihood, my life, etc.  I was offered money, a leadership position, and ‘protection’ to sell-out.  My home was entered while I was away.  At least one attempt was made on my life.  I was relentlessly followed.  And, yes, there was more.

It was not uncommon for me to look up from my paid job with the Neighborhood Legal Services Program and see FBI agents coming to take me into custody.  At times, I was placed in handcuffs.  At other times, I was not handcuffed.

I was often escorted from my job, driven away in a car, and questioned at a different location – usually in a downtown DC building.  There were sometimes veiled threats.  At other times, I was told outright that I could or would be harmed if I did not cooperate.  Needless to say, I NEVER knew anything.  Therefore, I was NEVER able to give any information to the FBI or any of the other law enforcement ‘agents’ assigned to follow and monitor me.

I recall one occasion when I was taken away by two FBI agents and interrogated relative to an ‘alleged’ relationship between Muhammad Ali and a ‘Chicken Man’….  Although I responded that I had never personally met Brother Muhammad Ali and I had no idea who ‘Chicken Man’ was, the futile questioning continued.  Finally, after repeated questions, I was told that my life was in danger ‘because of my refusal to cooperate’ with law enforcement.

My position in the ‘Movement’ commanded a keen sense of awareness.  I was trusted with ‘sensitive’ information.   At times, I had to make split-second decisions.  I can truthfully say that never did I waver nor have I ever regretted any of the decisions I made with respect to the ‘Movement’.

Encouragement – for me – came from a c.93+ year old Black woman who mailed us (Stokely ‘Black Power’ Carmichael and me) a note with two dollars to help in the ‘Movement’.  Her note expressed her gratitude and faith in us to keep up the struggle.  She wrote that she could ‘die in peace’ knowing that we were continuing the fight for our Black people….  Letters and sentiments like that brought heaviness to my heart and tears to my eyes.  Our elder sister’s words-on-paper reinforced my commitment to righteousness.  Indeed, I was privileged and ‘chosen’ by a power beyond man….

Because our lives were intertwined with the ‘Movement’, caution and awareness were employed.  I became an intimate confidant of Stokely’s and Martin’s (Martin Luther King) and David’s (Rev. David Eaton) and others’.

I recall being driven around DC by the son of the Ambassador from Pakistan.  I recall dinners in New York and at the home of Tanzanian Ambassador Gosbert Rutabanzibwa.  I recall dancing with Charles Diggs.  I recall contemplating a move to Cuba and changing my mind.  I recall reading Chairman Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ and the passage regarding men and oral sex.

I recall being ‘almost’ raped by a well-known ‘Black’ man (deemed a “leader” by the White media) who I fought and struggled with to the point of sweat-ridden exhaustion.  The man finally stopped his vicious assault on my person only after I managed to say that if he stuck his ‘thing’ in my vagina, I would tell the ‘world’….

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Black Dues and Hunger in America

Knowledge of the past can help us to avoid repeating the mistakes as we move forward.

It seems that life has always been about ‘purpose’ for me.  I have tried to be responsible and loyal while allowing myself the freedom to make mistakes.  While I was but a young child, my father told me that ‘it is better to do something than to walk away and later wish you had done something’.  That is one of the mantras in my arsenal.

While working with the Citizens Advocate Center in DC, I found myself in need of a secretary.   There were deadlines to meet and the Hunger In America report, which I was charged with coordinating, was a project of immense importance.  I quickly put the ‘word’ out that the Center was hiring.

After interviewing several Black prospective applicants, I went back into my office to make that all-important decision as to who I would hire.  While mulling over my choices, a rather shy looking young Black woman entered our offices.  I was summoned to the greeting area to meet and possibly interview the young woman for the secretarial position.  Although the lady had arrived late for her interview, I chose to hear her story.

The sister was in her twenties and she had dropped out of high school as a tenth grader.  She expressed that she did NOT know how to type, etc.  In fact, she was convinced that she would not be hired for the job because of her lack of secretarial skills and more.  As tears began to fill her eyes, she fidgeted with her clothes and nervously told me that she knew she should not have showed up for the interview and she apologized for taking up my time.

I quickly handed the young sister a box of Kleenex and got her a soft drink and told her that I had ‘all the time in the world to hear her story’.  After getting as much information as I could from the young woman, I told her that she was hired.  I expressed that her job as my secretary would be to ‘return to school’.  I expressed that she would learn how to file, how to type, English and more while working as my secretary.  As she continued to cry, I told her that she could start that same day or the next day – it was up to her!  And, as a welcome to the job, I handed her money from my purse.

The Executive Director of the Citizens Advocate Center was Edgar S. Cahn – a Jewish attorney.  Attorney Cahn was not initially pleased with my hire, however, after I explained my ‘reasons’, he quickly jumped on board to help.

The young woman I hired was in search of her ‘family’.   Her nine brothers and sisters — all children — had been removed from her care years prior by social workers who discovered the circumstance of their living conditions.  The young woman’s parents were both deceased and the woman had biological children of her own to support.  The woman feared that even her own biological children would be taken away by social workers because the place they were staying in was uninhabitable.

Quickly, I began making phone calls and sending out ‘feelers’ in an attempt to locate the young woman’s siblings.  Attorneys handled the legal turf as Black community activists and others stepped in with support and more.  Within a matter of weeks, we had the entire ‘clan’ together and we secured a large home in Northwest DC for the young woman and her ‘family’.  We furnished the place (two refrigerators were donated) and went shopping for clothing, groceries, and other items needed for their ‘home’.  Our ‘no-walls’ support for the family continued….

Later, I hired another employee for the Center and that sister assisted in putting together a thorough ‘first-ever’ report on Hunger In America.  To her surprise, I made a conscious decision to credit her on the final report.

BlackParentSpeaks contends that God provides us with countless opportunities to ‘do the right thing’ and to pay our dues.  In the Movement, some of us would sometimes quip that we were ‘over’paying our dues and paying the dues for all of us.  And, yes, I do know that there is an African proverb that states ‘behind jest is sometimes seriousness….’

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Black Purpose and 2014 New Year

There are times when each of us should take leave of ‘self’ in order to truly see.  Our lives do have purpose even if we know not the purpose.  Have a useful, purposeful, and committed 2014 New Year.

In my thirst to learn and grow, I listen to what people say and I hear some things that are unsaid by others.  I see that which is oft-times unseen and I tap into my ancestors for overstanding.  I allow myself to hear and feel as I welcome and seek the wisdom that comes with Black consciousness.

We who are Black must be grounded in who we are.  The trappings of temptation abound and many of us wake up one night to discover that we, too, are lost in lascivious lifestyles that are void of purpose and commitment – void of Blackness.

Do not idolize or put on a pedestal any man, woman, or child.  None of us is perfect.  We are human and we are all capable of doing wrong and making mistakes.  Some of our mistakes and wrongs afford us and others additional opportunities to learn and grow.

Material possessions do not make any of us better than others.  Attributes that matter include involvement in and supporting us who give of ourselves for the betterment of future generations.

We who are Black must look at accountability and we must keep it relevant to who we ‘really’ are and what we should be about….  Excuses and apologies are not attractive; we must ‘keep it real’!

Offers to compromise our Blackness and to sell-out our fellow Blacks have been around for a long time.  The lures include money, sex, drugs, the facade of power, authority, stardom, celebrity status, a ‘position’ – you name it, the lures are plentiful.  Know that temptation can be a very powerful magnet.

So, we who are Black must be aware.  We must periodically give ourselves a self-constructed litmus test.  We must not get so caught up in ourselves that we become arrogant and think we are above temptation.  Strength demands awareness.  And, we must remember that ‘as long as there is breath, there is hope’.   We must love each other in spite of our mistakes.  Again, ‘as long as there is breath, there is hope’.  Undying Love for Black People!

My litmus test measures who I am.  And, it measures how far I have – or have not — progressed along the line of Black commitment.  As pointed out in an earlier post:  ‘many are called, few are chosen’….  I truly believe that I was ‘chosen’ and my life had — and continues to have — ‘purpose’.

I am in awe at the force that brought the likes of Marion Barry, Rev. David Eaton, Stokely ‘Black Power’ Carmichael (lka Kwame Ture), KoKo Hughes, Chuck Stone, Francis Welsing, Calvin Rolark, Betty Diggs, myself, and so many others together in DC during the 1960s.  Our commitment and work ignited a ‘Black’ force that reverberated throughout the world.  So many things were accomplished and we truly did ‘raise the bar’.  Many many people have benefitted as a result of the things we did and the actions that we took to bring about real change for Black people and all people.

In remembering the past, I think about Martin (Dr. King) and his ‘side’ trip to DC to speak with some of us before he returned to Memphis.  I think about Martin’s words – which I recorded — questioning whether or not White folk, in fact, had a conscience.  I think about the fact that Martin and I both knew that he would likely never return from Memphis and I remember that he was okay with whatever the future held for him.  I remember our talk and I remember that the ‘word’ was out that Martin would be killed if he returned to Memphis….

There are a lot of stories yet to be told.  Fact is, however, most of the stories from the 1960s and 1970s Black Movement will remain untold….

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