Tag Archives: America

Remember Juneteenth: A Day Of Celebration

Celebrate Juneteeth and Father’s DayJuneteenth is the oldest known celebration that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. This celebration dates back to 1865 June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that those enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which became official January 1, 1863.

The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance. Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years.

The story that is often told is of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another story is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. Then there is yet another story that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. Regardless, the conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former ‘masters’ – attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom.

North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove the some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory. The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants.

The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date. A range of activities were provided to entertain the masses, many of which continue in tradition today. Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self-improvement. Thus, often guest speakers are brought in, and the elders are called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations.

Dress was also an important element in early Juneteenth customs and is often still taken seriously, particularly by the direct descendants who can make the connection to this tradition’s roots. During slavery, there were laws on the books in many areas that prohibited or limited the dressing of the enslaved. During the initial days of the emancipation celebrations, there are accounts of former slaves tossing their ragged garments into the creeks and rivers to adorn clothing taken from the plantations belonging to their former ‘masters’.

Economic and cultural forces provided for a decline in Juneteenth activities and participants beginning in the early 1900’s. Classroom and textbook education in lieu of traditional home and family taught practices stifled the interest of the youth due to less emphasis and detail on the activities of former slaves. Classroom textbooks proclaimed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, as the date signaling the ending of slavery – and little or nothing on the impact of General Granger’s arrival on June 19th.

The Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s yielded both positive and negative results for the Juneteenth celebrations. While it pulled many of the African American youth away and into the struggle for racial equality, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors. This was evidenced by student demonstrators involved in the Atlanta civil rights campaign in the early 1960’s, whom wore Juneteenth freedom buttons. Again in 1968, Juneteenth received another strong resurgence through Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C. Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor.

The future of Juneteenth looks bright as the number of cities and states creating Juneteenth committees continues to increase. Respect and appreciation for all of our differences grow out of exposure and working together. Getting involved and supporting Juneteenth celebrations creates new bonds of friendship and understanding among us. This indeed, brightens our future – and that is the Spirit of Juneteenth. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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Remembering Medgar Evers: The First Civil Rights Martyr

11Medgar Wiley Evers was born in Decatur, Mississippi on July 2, 1925; dying the victim of a racially motivated assassination on June 12, 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi after attending a rally. He was the third of four children of a small farm owner who also worked at a nearby sawmill. His social standing was impressed upon him every day, but Evers was determined not to cave in under such pressure. He once said his mission was evident at the age eleven or twelve when a close friend of the family was lynched.

He walked twelve miles each way to earn his high school diploma and joined the Army during the Second World War. Perhaps it was during the years of fighting in both France and Germany for his and other countries’ freedom that convinced Evers to fight on his own shores for the freedom of blacks. After serving honorably in the war, he was discharged in 1946; he began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1952. Evers traveled throughout the state of Mississippi trying to encourage voter registration and worked tirelessly to enforce federally mandated integration laws.

On 12 June 1963, hours after President John F. Kennedy gave a televised speech condemning segregation, Evers was shot in the back by a high-powered rifle while returning home. He crawled to the house and collapsed in front of his wife and three children; he died an hour later. The rifle found at the scene belonged to Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the all-white Citizens’ Council, a statewide group opposed to racial integration akin to the KKK.

Beckwith was tried twice but nearly thirty years later, thanks to the persistence of Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, the case was reopened and Beckwith was tried and convicted in 1994, and the conviction was upheld by the state supreme court in 1997. Evers-Williams published “For Us, The Living in 1967”; Beckwith’s trial was the basis for the 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi that starred Whoopi Goldberg.

Medgar Evers position in the civil rights movement was that of field secretary for the NAACP and recognized as one of the first martyrs of the civil rights movement. His death prompted President John Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the following year.

The Mississippi in which Medgar Evers lived was a place of blatant discrimination where blacks dared not even speak of civil rights; much less actively campaign for them. Evers, a thoughtful, and committed member of the NAACP wanted to change his native state. He paid for his convictions with his life, becoming the first major civil rights leader whose death was called an assassination.

Evers was featured on a nine-man hit list in the Deep South as early as 1955. He and his family endured numerous threats and other violent acts, making them well aware of the danger surrounding his activism. Still he persisted in his efforts to integrate public facilities, schools, and restaurants. He organized voter registration drives and demonstrations. He spoke eloquently about the plight of his people and pleaded with the all-white government of Mississippi for some sort of progress in race relations. To those people who opposed such things, he was thought to be a very dangerous man.

In some ways, the death of Medgar Evers was a milestone in the hard-fought integration war that rocked America in the 1950s and 1960s. While the assassination of such a prominent black figure foreshadowed the violence to come, it also spurred other civil rights leaders, also targeted by white supremacists, to new fervor. They, in turn, were able to infuse their followers with a new and expanded sense of purpose; one that replaced apprehension with anger.

Evers must have also had a sense that his life would be cut short when what had begun as threats turned increasingly to violence. A few weeks prior to his death, someone threw a firebomb at his home. Afraid that snipers were waiting for her outside, Mrs. Evers put the fire out with a garden hose. The incident did not deter Evers from his rounds of voter registration or from his strident plea for a biracial committee to address social concerns in Jackson. His days were filled with meetings, economic boycotts, marches, prayer vigils, and picket lines and with bailing out demonstrators arrested by the all-white police force. It was not uncommon for Evers to work twenty hours a day.

The NAACP posthumously awarded its 1963 Spingarn medal to Medgar Evers. It was a fitting tribute to a man who had given so much to the organization and had given his life for its cause. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Medgar Evers’ story lies in the attitudes of his two sons and one daughter.

Though they experienced firsthand the destructive ways of bigotry and hatred. Evers’ children appear to be very well-adjusted individuals. Myrlie Evers remarked, “it has taken time to heal the wounds [from their father’s assassination, and I’m not really sure all the wounds are healed. We still hurt, but we can talk about it now and cry about it openly with each other, and the bitterness and anger have gone.”

As a fitting tribute, Evers was interred at Arlington National Military Cemetery in Washington DC. How many of you are willing to give your life for something greater than yourself? And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

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Remembering: The Great Satchel Paige

2It happens every summer, America’s pastime celebrate the best in the game of baseball called the All Star Game where they supposedly present us with the best baseball player of each season. It is no secret that I am one who loves history and this game too. However, in today’s Major League baseball world I see a vastly different type of stars in the sport and frankly all sports with very few worth looking up too. Actually, I call this new breed – million dollar slaves.

In my youth, there were Murray Wills, Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, and many who played in the Negro League. The Negro League had the best baseball players of all-time and perhaps the greatest man to ever play the game of baseball – the incomparable Satchel Paige.

Satchel Paige was born around July 7, 1906, I say around because no one really knows for sure. However, we know it was in Mobile, Alabama, at a time of extreme racial unrest. Paige honed his pitching talents in reform school and made his professional baseball debut in 1926, moving up through various teams in the Negro Southern League, amassing a reputation as an ace pitcher. He made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians in July 1948, at the age of 42, and he continued playing for another 20 years.

A run-in with the law, a petty theft and truancy, got Satchel “enrolled” in reform school at age 12. But the Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs, Alabama, may have been a blessing in disguise. His baseball talent, coupled with big hands and feet on his long, lanky frame were recognized by the coach there, Edward Byrd, as assets that could be developed.

Byrd taught Paige to pull back, and then kick his foot high in the air and as he came down, bring his arm from way behind and thrust his hand forward as he released the ball. This gave the ball maximum power as it hurtled forward. Satchel later said, “You might say I traded five years of freedom to learn how to pitch.”

He played for teams all over the country, from California to Maryland to North Dakota and even outside the country—in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico. In between contracts, he had quite a following through barnstorming tours, sort of orchestrated pick-up exhibition games that included a wide array of talent. In one such game, against white ball players he pitched to Joe DiMaggio, who called him “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”

Because Negro League records were sketchy Paige insisted that he kept his own records. Reportedly, pitching in more than 2,500 games and winning more than 2,000, played for 250 teams and thrown 250 shutouts – staggering statistics. Paige was prone to some flamboyance, but experts believe much of it can be borne out. In July 1948, on his 42nd birthday, after 22 years in the Negro leagues, Paige became the oldest man ever to debut in the major leagues.

He even pitched part of an inning when they went to the World Series that year with the Cleveland Indians. Paige was the first Negro pitcher in the American League and the seventh Negro big leaguer overall. Paige pitched for two other major league teams, the St. Louis Browns and the Kansas City Athletics, with whom he ended his career on September 25, 1965, at the age of 59. Although all during that time, he continued exhibition games and even did a baseball “skit” with the legendary basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters.

Paige died of a heart attack in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 8, 1982—less than a month before his 75th birthday.

Paige was famous for his hard fastballs, and he also developed his signature “hesitation” pitch, but he could do anything with the ball that he wanted. He held a number of firsts, most notably the first black pitcher to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, which he was fortunate to be able to see. He was also the oldest rookie and working player in the game.

I find it interesting that Paige rarely addressed the issue of his age, often quoting Mark Twain: “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Maybe that’s why he was the greatest pitcher ever to play the game and lives in the heart of a kid who thought of him as his hero. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Remembering: Fannie Lou Hamer

1Fannie Lou Hamer was one of the most courageous civil rights activist who was famous for saying she was sick and tired of the condition of black people, stood up and took a stand. She used a passionate depiction of her own suffering in a racist society helped focus attention on the plight of African Americans throughout the South. While working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1964; Hamer helped organize the 1964 Freedom Summer African American voter registration drive in her native Mississippi.

Born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi the daughter of sharecroppers, Hamer began working the fields at an early age. Her family struggled financially, and often went hungry. In the summer of 1962, she made a life-changing decision to attend a protest meeting. She met civil rights activists there who were there to encourage African Americans to register to vote.

Hamer became active in helping with the voter registration efforts, which few in Mississippi were brave enough to do. Hamer dedicated her life to the fight for civil rights, working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) after going involved with the struggle. This organization was comprised mostly of African American students who engaged in acts of civil disobedience to fight racial segregation and injustice in the South. These acts often were met with violent responses by angry whites.

At the Democratic National Convention later that year, she was part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an integrated group of activists who openly challenged the legality of Mississippi’s all-white, segregated delegation. For her devotion and commitment she paid a heavy price. She was beaten within an inch of her life. So brutally that it took months for her to recover but she never gave up the fight.

During the course of her activist career, Hamer was threatened, arrested, beaten, and shot at but none of these things deterred her from her work. In 1964, Hamer helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which was established in opposition to the state’s all-white delegation to that year’s Democratic convention. She brought the civil rights struggle in Mississippi to the attention of the entire nation during a televised session at the convention.

The next year, Hamer ran for Congress in Mississippi but was unsuccessful in her bid. Along with her political activism, Hamer worked to help the poor and families in need in her Mississippi community. She also set up organizations to increase business opportunities for minorities and to provide childcare and other family services.

Hamer died of cancer on March 14, 1977 from cancer. The encryption on her tombstone denotes her famous quote, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I’ll ask, when will this statement impact your life, whereas you will affect change. Mrs. Hamer put her life on the line for freedom. The next time you look in the mirror, ask yourself – WOULD YOU? And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

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On This Day: The Massacre Of Black Wall Street

462_160I am very glad that John Legend is bringing the story of horror to the movie screen for all to see. This story like the Nat Turner story should be seen and understood like many other atrocities that have been hidden for far too long. These stories and many others are not taught or even spoken about for the people who inflicted the pain and evil upon black people that would make Hitler blushI’m the author of the phenomenal novel “Just a Season” titled from the religious knowledge referring to a period of time characterized by a particular circumstance, suitable to an indefinite period of time associated with a divine phenomenon called life. During this passage through time I have come to realize that there are milestones, mountains, and valleys that we must encounter. This speaks loudly to the challenges of black people in America.

“Black Wall Street” is a history lesson that may cause some not to believe something so dastardly could happen in America. It is intended to inspire, enlighten, empower, and share the history of a people at a time when the odds were against all odds. It was during a time called segregation when Jim Crow ruled and separate but equal was the law of the land. Because of this de facto Apartheid-like system African American were forced to live in communities dependent upon each other in order to survive and survive they did. Every town had such a place and during this series of articles, I will visit those communities to sharing their rich histories.

Let me ask you never forget – Tulsa Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street” and what white folk did to this community. The name was fittingly given to the most affluent all-black community in America. This community was the epitome of success proving that African Americans had a successful infrastructure known as the golden door of the Black community during the early 1900’s. Although, it was in an unusual location Black Wall Street was a prime example of the typical Black community in America that did business far beyond expectations.

Let me explain, the state of Oklahoma was set aside to be a Black and Indian state that included over 28 Black townships. Another point worth noting, nearly a third of the people who traveled in the terrifying “Trail of Tears” alongside the Indians from 1830 to 1842 were Black people. The citizens of Oklahoma chose a Black governor; there were PhD’s, Black attorneys, doctors and professionals from all walks of life contributing to the successful development of this community. One such luminous figure was Dr. Berry, who also owned the bus system generating an average income of $500 a day in 1910. During this time physicians owned medical schools to empower and develop African Americans.

The area encompassed 36 square blocks, over 600 businesses with a population of 15,000 African Americans. There were pawn shops everywhere, brothels, jewelry stores, churches, restaurants and movie theaters. Their success was monumentally evident in that the entire state of Oklahoma had only two airports, yet six Blacks owned their own planes. Just to show how wealthy many Black people were, there was a banker in a neighboring town who had a wife named California Taylor. Her father owned the largest cotton gin west of the Mississippi. When California shopped, she would take a cruise to Paris every three months to have her clothes made.

There was also a man named Mason in nearby Wagner County, who had the largest potato farm in the west. When he harvested, he would fill 100 boxcars a day. Another Black man not far away was doing the same thing with a spinach farm. The typical family averaged five children or more, though the typical farm family would have ten kids or more who made up the nucleus of the labor.

What was significant about Black Wall Street was they understood an important principle – they kept the money in the community. The dollars circulated 36 to 1000 times within the community, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community. Something the African America community of today does not fully appreciate or practice because a dollar will leave the Black community today in 15 minutes. This community was so tight and wealthy because they traded dollars hand-to-hand because they were dependent upon one another as a result of Jim Crow laws.

Another powerful image, and extremely significant, was education. The foundation of the community was to educate every child because they understood that education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair. When students went to school, they wore a suit and tie because of the morals and respect they were taught at a young age. Also, nepotism contributed greatly to the success of this community as a way to help one another – a tactic that needs to be instilled in our culture today.

A postscript to Tulsa’s legacy is the world renowned R&B music group the GAP Band. The group of brothers Charlie, Ronnie & Robert Wilson, chose the group’s name taken from the first letters of the main thoroughfare Greenwood Avenue that intersects with Archer and Pine Streets; from those letters you get G.A.P. Another legendary figure from Tulsa is their favorite son, basketball great and jazz musician the late Wayman Tisdale. These are just a few luminaries that Tulsa has produced, surely the most recognized today.

An unprecedented amount of global business was conducted from within the Black Wall Street community, which flourished from the early 1900 until 1921. Then the unthinkable happened, and the community faced a valley or more accurately stated fell off a cliff. The Black Wall Street community suffered the largest massacre of non-military Americans in the history of this country. As you might well imagine, the lower-economic Europeans looked over and saw how prosperous the Black community had become and destroyed it. I don’t know the true reason; jealousy was mentioned, but racism was certainly at its core. Lead by the infamous Ku Klux Klan, working in concert with ranking city officials, and many other sympathizers.

The destruction began Tuesday evening, June 1, 1921, when “Black Wall Street,” the most affluent all-black community in America, was bombed from the air and burned to the ground by mobs of resentful whites. In a period spanning fewer than 12 hours, a once thriving Black business district in northern Tulsa lay smoldering. A model community destroyed and a major African-American economic movement resoundingly defused. The night’s carnage left some 3,000 African Americans dead and over 600 successful businesses lost. Among them were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores and two movie theaters, plus a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half-dozen private airplanes and even the bus system.

You would think this historic event would be common knowledge, but not so. One would be hard-pressed to find any documentation concerning the incident, let alone an accurate accounting of it. Not in any reference or any American history books documenting the worst incidents of violence ever visited upon people of African descent. This night of horror was unimaginable. Try if you will to imagine seeing 1,500 homes being burned and looted, while white families with their children standing around the borders of the community watching the massacre much, in the same manner, they would watch a lynching. It must have been beyond belief for the victims.

I wonder if you are aware of this little-known history fact; this is where the word “picnic” came from? It was typical to have a picnic on a Friday evening in Oklahoma. The word was short for “pick a nigger” to lynch. They would lynch a Black male and cut off body parts as souvenirs. This went on every weekend in many parts of the country with thousands lynched in the first part of the last century. Unfortunately, that is where the word actually came from.

The riots weren’t caused by anything Black or white. It was caused as a result of Black prosperity. A lot of white folks had come back from World War I and they were poor. When they looked over into the Black Wall Street community and saw that Black men who fought in the war came home as heroes also contributed to the destruction. It cost the Black community everything – justice and reconciliation are often incompatible goals because not a single dime of restitution was ever provided, to include no insurance claims have been awarded to a single victim.

As I began, there are milestones, mountains, and valleys which surely encompassed this community and its people. This is why it is so important to teach these lessons because those who neglect the lessons of the past are doomed to see it repeated. Life is not a race you run, it is a relay and it is your responsibility to pass the baton. Our youth, the next generation, must be prepared and know when they look at our communities today that they came from a people who built kingdoms. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

Source:
“A Black Holocaust in America.”
Ron Wallace, Jay Jay Wilson

JUST A SEASON


The Origin Of Memorial Day

2Black folk celebrate every holiday with vigor, yet most don’t know the origins or the reason why. DID YOU KNOW? Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers, who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated.

The truth is the custom of holding observances the laying of flowers on burial sites to remember and honor those who gave their lives in military service goes back many hundreds if not thousands of years. In the United States, that custom has long since been formalized in the creation of Memorial Day formerly known as Decoration Day. A federal holiday observed on the last Monday in May to remember the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

What we celebrate or know as the modern Memorial Day originated with an order issued in 1868 by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, for the annual decoration of war graves. Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children of Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

The story of Memorial Day, some say, began in the summer of 1865, when a prominent local druggist, Henry C. Welles, mentioned to some of his friends at a social gathering while praising the living veterans of the Civil War; it would be well to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves. On May 5, 1866, the Village was decorated with flags at half mast, draped with evergreens and mourning black. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, roughly two dozen places claim to be the primary source of the holiday. An assertion found on plaques, on Web sites and in the dogged local historians across the country.

In his book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Professor David W. Blight made the case for Charleston, South Carolina, as Memorial Day’s birthplace, as that city was the site of an obscure (possibly suppressed) May 1865 event held at a racetrack turned war prison. During which freedmen properly reburied hundreds of Union dead found there and then held a ceremony to dedicate the cemetery.

The official dedication ceremony was conducted by the ministers of all the black churches in Charleston with prayers, reading of biblical passages, and singing spirituals black Charlestonians gave birth to an American tradition. In so doing, they declared the meaning of the war in the most public way possible by their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of roses, lilacs, and marching feet on the old planters’ Race Course.

After the dedication, crowds gathered at the Racecourse grandstand to hear some thirty speeches by Union officers, local black ministers, and abolitionist missionaries. Picnics ensued around the grounds, and in the afternoon, a full brigade of Union infantry, including Colored Troops, marched in double column around the martyrs’ graves and held a drill on the infield of the Race Course. The war was over, and Memorial Day was founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.

Professor Blight termed it “the first Memorial Day” because it predated most of the other contenders…” he said. Today, this celebration has morphed into, as Howard Zinn remarked: “Memorial Day will be celebrated … by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication.”

I am a veteran and have yet to receive any gratitude for my service in the war, came home, and was less free than when I left. However, I am very grateful I survived the carnage and horrors of it! The fact is, if we could stop war there would not be a reason to celebrate this day! Only the rich can truly celebrate this day because of the wealth they receive! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Remembering: Muhammad Ali

The Greatest of All Times

thMuhammad Ali, known as the greatest boxer of all times and viewed by most as the “Champ,” retired as the first three-time Heavyweight Champion of the World. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., the elder of two boys in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, 1942. He was named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., who was named after the 19th-century abolitionist and politician, the owner of Clay’s ancestors. Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964.

Clay was directed toward boxing by a white Louisville police officer whom he encountered as a 12-year-old fuming over the theft of his bicycle. After an extremely successful amateur boxing career, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Ali said in his 1975 autobiography that he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River after being refused service at a “whites-only” restaurant.

Not only was the Champ a fighter in the ring, but he also had the courage to fight the U.S. Government in 1967 when he refused to be inducted into the U.S. military based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges, stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was successful.

Standing tall at 6 feet, 3 inches, Clay had a highly unorthodox style for a heavyweight boxer. Rather than the normal style of carrying the hands high to defend the face, he instead relied on foot speed and quickness to avoid punches and carried his hands low. He coined a new technique called the rope-a-dope where he rested on the ring ropes and let the dope, his opponent, punch himself out. He was also known for his pre-match hype, where he would “trash talk” opponents on television and in person before the match and often with rhymes.

These personality quips and idioms, along with an unorthodox fighting technique, made him a cultural icon. Ali built a reputation by correctly predicting, with stunning accuracy, the round in which he would “finish” an opponent. While still Cassius Clay, he adopted the latter practice from “Gorgeous” George Wagner, a popular professional wrestling champion who drew thousands of fans. Often referred to as “the man you loved to hate,” George could incite the crowd with a few heated remarks, which Ali used to his advantage.

As Clay, he met his famous longtime trainer Angelo Dundee during a light heavyweight fight in Louisville shortly after becoming the top contender to fight Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston. Despite his impressive record, he was not widely expected to defeat Liston, who was considered a more sinister champion than Iron Mike Tyson. In fact, nobody gave him a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the fight against such a dominant champion.

The fight was scheduled for February 25, 1964, in Miami, Florida, but it almost never happened because the promoter heard that Clay had been seen around Miami and in other cities with the controversial Muslim Leader, Malcolm X. The promoters perceived this association as a potential gate killer to the fight where Liston was overwhelmingly favored to win. However, it was Clay’s colorful persona and nonstop braggadocio that gave the fight its sole appeal.

The ever-boastful Clay frequently taunted Liston during the buildup to the bout by dubbing him “the big ugly bear” among other things. During the weigh-in on the day before the bout, acting like a wild crazy man, Clay declared for the first time that he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” He summarized his strategy for avoiding Liston’s assaults this way: “Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.”

By the third round, Clay was ahead on points and had opened a cut under Liston’s eye. Liston regained some ground in the fourth, as Clay was blinded by a substance in his eyes. It is unconfirmed whether this was something used to close Liston’s cuts or deliberately applied to Liston’s gloves. What is clear, boxing historians and insiders have recalled, is that in at least two other Liston fights a similar situation occurred, suggesting the possibility that the Liston corner deliberately attempted to cheat.

By the sixth, Clay dominated Liston and was looking for a finish. Then Liston shocked the boxing world when he failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, claiming his shoulder was injured. At the end of the fight, Clay boasted to the press that doubted him before the match, proclaiming, “I shook up the world!” When Clay beat Liston at age 22, he became the youngest boxer ever to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion, a mark that stood until the Mike Tyson’s reign began.

What is significant about Clay winning the bout is this: he said, “I am pretty, I can’t be beat” as he yelled into the cameras for the world to see. In the early sixties, this was not the language Negro’s were using to describe themselves. Those words and that brash act was the catalyst for the black is beautiful movement, Afro-American, and black power. So from that perspective, yes, he shook up the world.

After winning the championship, Clay revealed that he was a member of the Nation of Islam. It was the movement’s leader Elijah Muhammad who gave Clay the name Cassius X, discarding his surname as a symbol of his ancestors’ enslavement, as had been done by other Nation members. On Friday, March 6, 1964, Malcolm X took Clay on a tour of the United Nations building where he announced that Clay would be granted his “X.” That same night, Elijah Muhammad recorded a statement over the phone to be played over the radio that Clay would be renamed Muhammad – one who is worthy of praise, and Ali – rightly guided.

The rematch with Liston was held in May 1965 in Lewiston, Maine. Ali, who had changed his name by this time, won by knockout in the first round as a result of what came to be called the “phantom punch.” Many believe that Liston, possibly as a result of threats from Nation of Islam extremists or in an attempt to “throw” the fight to pay off debts, waited to be counted out. However, most historians discount both scenarios and insist that it was a quick, chopping punch to the side of the head that legitimately fell Liston. Ali would later call the punch an “anchor punch” used by the Great Jack Johnson.

Aligning himself with the Nation of Islam made him a lightning rod for controversy, turning the outspoken but popular champion into one of that era’s most recognizable and controversial figures. Appearing at rallies with Elijah Muhammad and declaring his allegiance to him at a time when mainstream America viewed Black Muslims with suspicion and outright hostility made Ali a target of outrage, as well as suspicion. Ali seemed at times to provoke such reactions with viewpoints that wavered from support for civil rights to outright support of separatism.

For example, Ali once made this comment in relation to integration: “We who follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad don’t want to be forced to integrate. Integration is wrong. We don’t want to live with the white man; that’s all.” Or this remark about inter-racial marriage: “No intelligent black man or black woman in his or her right black mind wants white boys and white girls coming to their homes to marry their black sons and daughters.” It was clear that his religious beliefs at the time included the notion that the white man was “the devil” and that white people were not “righteous.” Ali would also make claims that white people hated black people.

In early 1966, Ali was reclassified to be eligible for the draft and induction into the U.S. Army during a time when the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. When notified of this status, he declared that he would refuse to serve in the Army and publicly considered himself a conscientious objector. Ali believed “War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.”

Ali also famously said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them, Viet Cong … They never called me Nigger.” It was rare for a heavyweight boxing champion in those days, or now, to speak at Howard University where he gave his popular “Black Is Best” speech in 1996. Ali was invited to speak by Howard’s sociology professor Nathan Hare on behalf of the Black Power Committee, a student protest group. The event of 4,000 cheering students and community intellectuals was surely another step toward his iconic stature.

Appearing shortly thereafter for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces on April 28, 1967, in Houston, he refused three times to step forward at the call of his name. An officer warned him he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more, Ali refused to budge when his name was called. As a result, he was arrested and on the same day the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title as did other boxing commissions, for being unpatriotic.

At Ali’s trial, after only 21 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Ali guilty; the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction; the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. During this time, the public began turning against the war and support for Ali began to grow. Ali supported himself by speaking at colleges and universities across the country, where opposition to the war was especially strong. On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court reversed by unanimous decision his conviction for refusing induction. The decision was not based on, nor did it address the merits of Clay’s/Ali’s claims per se; rather, the government’s failure to specify which claims were rejected and which were sustained constituted the grounds upon which the Court reversed the conviction.

The legacy of the “Greatest” is the stuff movies are made of – Muhammad Ali defeated every top heavyweight in his era, which has been called the golden age of heavyweight boxing. Ali was named “Fighter of the Year” by Ring Magazine more times than any other fighter and was involved in more Ring Magazine “Fight of the Year” bouts than any other fighter. He is an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and holds wins over seven other Hall of Fame inductees.

He is also one of only three boxers to be named “Sportsman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated. In 1993, the Associated Press reported that Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as one of the most recognized athletes, out of over 800 dead or alive athletes, in America.

I have met Muhammad and was so impressed I named my only son after him, hoping his example of courage and fortitude would be shared. He is my hero, and I say: thank you for your example and sacrifice. You are the Greatest of All Times. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…..

Black History is American History


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