Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Thrill Will Never Be Gone

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           On last Thursday, our culture and the world lost a giant of a man when the great bluesman B.B. King passed on to the next world, where I am sure he is gearing up to entertain as he did here.

What is most important is that we not concentrate on the lost of the physical man, but instead on the legacy of his music. B.B. King left his imprint on the culture much in the same way as Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois did in academics, Richard Wright in literature, and Jackie Robinson in sports. For that reason what he accomplished will live on. What more can an individual do in the short amount of time he/she visits this place called earth.

As far back as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson and Ethel Waters, blues has been one of the mainstays of music within the African American culture. Many argue it is an off-spring of spirituals and just like Paul Robeson brought spirituals out of the cotton fields of the South to Strivers Row in Harlem, singers like Muddy Waters and B.B. King brought blues to the cities of America and that is why it must be considered as an important foundation within the culture.

Many of us can remember and still appreciate the men and women who sang the blues over the years. We can still hear Muddy Waters singing, “Got My Mojo Working,” or Little Walter playing the harmonica and also singing, “My Babe.” How about Z.Z. Hill, “Cheating in the Next Room,” and “Down Home Blues.”  And of course there was B.B King’s counterpart, Bobby Blue Bland who gave us, “Members Only, It’s a private party. Don’t need no money to qualify. Don’t bring your checkbook. Bring your broken heart ’cause it’s members only tonight.”  I can’t leave out Johnnie Taylor with, “We’re Getting Careless with our Love,” and “I Believe in You, You Believe in Me.”

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            Then there was Lattimore telling his woman, “Let’s Straighten It Out.” Now some of you probably will disagree with my categorization of Bobby Womack as a singer of the blues, but I feel that his “If You Think You’re Lonely Now, Wait Until Tonight Girl,” and “That’s The Way I Feel About ’Cha,” is close enough to be considered in that genre of music. The same can be true of Etta James when she sang, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (to stop now),” and of course, “At Last.” This music and all these artists brought something magical to Black America. They made it honorable to be Black and tolerable to be poor.

The one person who best personified that magic was B. B. King. When he sang and played Lucille, one felt centuries of struggle, strife, compassion, love and endurance. If you listen closely to the words in the song, “Why I Sing the Blues,” you get entertainment, history and empowerment. No matter where you lived in this country, be it Brown Bottom in Jackson, Mississippi, Southside of Chicago, Hastings Street in Detroit, Watts in Los Angeles, or Harlem in New York, the sounds of B.B. King could be heard coming from tenement houses, row houses, apartments and projects, nightclubs and local bars, and even in parks on any given Saturday night or Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving or just a plain old weekend.

The King of the Blues was returned to his home state of Mississippi for burial. He had chosen Indianola as his home even though he was born in the very tiny country town, Berclair near Itta Bena. He chose not to be buried in Las Vegas, Nevada where he passed away, but in the Delta, the very roots of his beginning. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant ended his tribute to the state’s greatest musician with the quote, “He is the King. The thrill is gone.” Well, the governor got it half right. He is still the King; however, he also got it half wrong. The thrill is not gone and it will never leave us because of the grace and beauty of our culture captured in his music. The legacy has just begun.

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An Important Historical Fact

In the year 1890, Mississippi convened a special convention for the purpose of modifying that state’s constitution. Their goal was to exclude the Black population from voting in state elections, through systematic patterns of disenfranchisement. Even though African Americans comprised a majority in the state’s population, only one delegate at the convention was Black. Isaiah Montgomery was a very prosperous businessman and was instrumental in the establishment of Mount Bayou, a Black town in the Delta. He was also an accommodationist on issues of equality. Whites had come to regard him as a “safe” and “sensible” Black leader, no doubt explaining why the dominant white faction at the convention chose to seat him over his white rival. (Leon Litwack, Trouble In Mind, New York: Vintage Books Edition, August 1999, pg. 353)

Montgomery understood what his role was to be. As a Black man, he would lend credibility to the blatant, undemocratic removal of all Blacks from the voting rolls in the state. He carried out his assignment quite well. Speaking before the assembly, he was willing to sacrifice voting rights—“a fearful sacrifice laid upon the burning alter of liberty”—in order to end racial conflict, and “to bridge a chasm that has been widening and deepening for a generation.”  (Ibid, pg. 353) In order to bring peace to the South, Montgomery was willing to agree that Blacks should be forced to pass a literacy test and own property before they could vote. He rightfully knew these requirements would exclude his people from the polls. It was the ultimate concession to white supremacy.

This week, Isaiah Montgomery was reincarnated in the persons of Ron Christie, Mike Meyers and Deneen Borelli. These three Blacks appeared on the Sean Hannity Show for the sole purpose of supporting his vicious and blatant attack on First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech to the graduating class at Tuskegee University.

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Hannity has become FOX Cable News’ point man in the station’s attack against President Barack Obama and their apologists for the escalating police use of force against young Blacks. Just like Montgomery understood what his role was to be at the convention back in 1890, Christie, Meyers and Borellie understand their role with FOX. They are there to make Hannity legitimate.

FOX has a procedure. Hannity will throw the bait to the attackers and they will take it from there. In this particular case, he asked, “Why is she (Michelle Obama) so angry?” The first to respond was Borellie who accused the First Lady of playing the race card and race baiting. Then it was Meyer’s turn and he made gestures and weird sounds as if to imitate the First Lady and the President. Finally, Christie called on his White House experience to tell us that the speech was vetted by the political operatives, and therefore approved by the President. This has been FOX’s method of attack for the past six years. Hannity usually has his number one “yes boy” Jesse Lee Peterson, to do his dirty work. However, using others instead serves as proof that he has additional Black support in his attacks of the President and the First Lady.

However, just like Montgomery really did not represent the sentiments of African Americans when he told that racist crowd in Mississippi that it was okay to take their vote away, these three apologists for Hannity in no way represent Black opinion in this country. But if it makes that crowd over at FOX feel good, go for it.

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Mama in Black America

“I’ll always love my Mama,

She’s my favorite girl.

I’ll always love my Mama,

She brought me in this world.”

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The Intruders probably had no idea when they recorded “I’ll Always Love My Mama” back in 1973, that it would have such a universal outreach over generations and decades. What they were able to express through song, was that “Mama” has been the pillar of the African American family from the first time our ancestors landed on these shores, through slavery, through apartheid and right up to last week when that mother walked on the scene in Baltimore, and chased her son home from the mob. She was doing nothing more than what “Mama” has done for centuries in this country. In fact, there has never been a time or period that the Black mother did not have to worry about her children.

During slavery they worried that their babies would be sold right from under them because, as the slave owners proudly proclaimed, the children were their property and that took precedence over any notion of motherhood. Often these same owners would rape our women and force them to carry to birth, a child conceived through an act of violence. But still these mothers loved their children; a strong indication as to just how special they were as “Mama.”

Post Reconstruction years were also turbulent times for Black mothers. They understood the rules of apartheid; but often, young children did not. Every day and every hour their children went out into the rigid world of white racism, they worried if they would safely return home. Black mothers and, in some instances when fathers were around, assumed an awesome responsibility. They needed, as Ralph Ellison would observe, “to adjust the child to the Southern milieu…to protect him/(her) from those unknown forces within himself/(herself) which might urge (them) to reach out for that social and human equality which the white South says (they) cannot have.” (Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act, New York 1964).

The responsibility that “Mama” assumed during those terrible years was not only for the safety of her children but also to feed and clothe them, and put a roof over their head. “Mama” did all kinds of jobs to make that happen. She scrubbed floors, washed and ironed clothes, cleaned homes and cooked meals as domestics so that her children could eat. Often “Mama” would have to bring home leftover food for the children.  Writing about his childhood in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong said of his mother: “When Mayann took up domestic labor, she worked for a white family on Canal Street. That job probably gave her ‘toting’ privileges, allowing her to bring food and perhaps clothing home to her children, a common practice in the South.” (Carol Marks and Diana Edkins, The Power and Pride, Stylemakers and Rulebreakers of the Harlem Renaissance, Crown Publishing, New York, 1999)

The plight of “Mama” today, is not quite as drastic as it was during the turbulent years of apartheid. But the struggle continues for these keepers and protectors of the race. The threat of retaliation for perceived poor behavior from a previously racist oriented society has waned, but the threat that young Black boys face everyday from the established law enforcers in their community, still exists. In that light, the struggle continues.

The beautiful Black “Mama” who smacked her son right in front of the entire world that troubled day in Baltimore, expressed generations of frustrations she and her fellow sisters of the race have encountered for much too long. But through it all, one constant remained; “Mama” loves her children. Despite the hardships over the centuries, she stayed steadfast and diligent, dedicated to her family. And for all the pain she has endured; the worry, the fear, and the love, “Mamas” in every part of this country share the same feelings as the great gospel singer Shirley Caesar when she sang, “No Charge.”

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