FINDING BLACKNESS

I have a friend who does an outstanding presentation to young Black American men. The title of his talk is, “What I would Tell You If I Were Your Father.” By the end of his talk, he is encouraging the young men that it is time to jettison the “Bling-Bling,” of all the superficial chains, rings, sagging pants, disrespectful and vulgar language for a new lifestyle. But unlike many other black leaders, he does not attack the young for their behavior, but instead tries to explain to them why they have a very negative mindset, one that is destructive and detrimental to their growth and demeaning to their culture. The basis of his approach is to reject the assumption made by many conservatives, both black and white, that the young black man’s behavior is of his own doing. That he is not the victim of centuries of an oppressive system, deliberately designed to destroy the black youth’s feelings of self-worth, of pride in who he is, and of the race and culture from which he comes.

But the conservatives are wrong. Two centuries of purposeful and vicious attacks on the most important principle in the growth for a healthy and positive young man, be it black or white or any other race, the belief in one’s self, is still being denied black youth in this country. But shame on us who have allowed this to happen. Shame on us who admire the negative portrayals of blacks in books, movies and on television. It is like we have come to the point that we get the same kind of enjoyment out of the negative images of the race, in the same manner that whites have gotten for over two hundred years. It is time for us to reverse this trend and change the paradigm. It is time for us to no longer be the exception, but instead to be exceptional. Let us begin to point out the great accomplishments of our race, and the exceptional men and women who have accelerated in their particular fields of endeavor. Let’s do something different for a change and take the high road, instead of settling for the ditch. We accomplish change by finding our blackness as a people and a culture. There is a war for the soul of our culture, and it calls for drastic steps from all who are concerned. Here are a few facts that we all can begin to share with our young; facts they need to know so they will know “they are somebody.”

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They NEED TO KNOW that Blacks excelled as jockeys soon after the Civil War. The first winner of the Kentucky Derby was Jimmy Winfield. In fact, 15 of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by Black jockeys. And the greatest jockey in the history of the sport was Isaac Murphy who won three Kentucky Derby races and 44% of all his races throughout his career.

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They NEED TO KNOW that Jesse Owens embarrassed the German dictator Hitler who had claimed the German runners were invincible, but defeated them in the 100-yard-dash. In fact, Owens won four gold medals in the Olympics that year, proving that Black excellence was unstoppable.

lockebuncheaydavisThey NEED TO KNOW Black exceptionalism does not end with sports, but can be found in academic circles also. There is no question that Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois was the country’s most gifted scholar of the 20th Century. He was the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a historian, sociologists, philosopher, novelist and all around brilliant thinker. Dr. Alain Locke, also a philosopher, attained Phi Beta Kappa status and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. He was the first Black Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and was known as the “Godfather of the Harlem Renaissance.” Jesse Fausett was the literary editor for Crisis Magazine during the Renaissance. She was the first Black female graduate from Cornell University and first Black woman to achieve Phi Beta Kappa status. Dr. Ralph Bunche became the first African American to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward bringing peace in the Middle East in the late 1940’s. Dr. Angela Davis is an accomplished scholar who has taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and wrote many political tracts critical of the oppression Blacks have suffered in this country.

opptymagcrisismagladyThey NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans have been publishers since 1827 when Samuel Cornish and John Russwum published Freedom’s Journal. Frederick Douglass published North Star in 1847, Robert S. Abbott, the Chicago Defender in 1905 and Edwin Nathaniel Harleston, Pittsburgh Courier in 1907. Black Americans also published some very influential magazines. Dr. Du Bois was editor and publisher of the Crisis Magazine associated with the NAACP, Charles Johnson published Opportunity Magazine for the Urban League, John Johnson published Ebony and Jet, Earl Graves Black Enterprise and Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingswroth and Johnathan Blount founded Essence Magazine, first published in 1970.

jb_stratfordluoullawilliamsThey NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans were successful entrepreneurs and that they can accomplish the same. They need to read about the great businessmen in 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma. Blacks had built a self-sustaining infra-structure of businesses, led by the great John Stradford, the richest man on Black Wall Street. He owned the most luxurious 54 room hotel and it was said that it matched for beauty, extravagance and comfort any hotel in the state of Oklahoma. Laurel Stradford, his great granddaughter is presently working on publication of his memoirs, and when they are released they should be required reading in every Black high school in this country. Other business men and women included O. W. Gurley who owned property in Tulsa, John and Loulla Williams and Dr. Andrew Jackson, all a part of the successful business class on Black Wall Street. Tulsa was not the only city where Black businesses flourished, just the most glaring example of success.

The NEED TO KNOW categories are extensive and I could go on for pages writing about successful Black Americans whom we must begin to share with our youth. I know there are many different organizations that are doing that very task as I write. But we must do more and I will continue to write about the successes either on this blog or through future novels and anthologies. Hopefully, you all will do your part and together we can help our young find their Blackness from a very different perspective than what they have received over generations, from a racially biased education system.

Something Positive for Black America With Trump’s Election

For Black America, the election of Donald Trump might become a positive over the next four years. I know, many of you might think that this writer has become delusional. Let me try to explain why I would make such an assertion. I believe a certain degree of apathy has taken hold, and set in on most Black Americans after the election of Barack Obama. We became rather content, after all, we had a Black President. It couldn’t get any better than that. If you couple that with the fact that many of us are living a very comfortable middle class life, then our condition wasn’t so bad after all. We didn’t need another Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead us to the promise land. We were already there.

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But while we were playing golf on Saturday and attending one of our prosperity churches, listening to our ministers who drove up in Mercedes or Jaguars on Sunday, crime in our communities was escalating, police were using our young as target practice, and the job market was not friendly to our men and women seeking employment. And for eight years, the first Black President was constantly under attack by those detractors determined to make his presidency a failure, and by the way Trump led them. We saw this coming but did nothing to prepare. We just kept playing our golf, watching our games on television, and totally ignoring what was happening all around us.

mv5bmtqzmja5njq0nl5bml5banbnxkftztcwmjgwmzyxmq-_v1_uy268_cr10182268_al_But we now know that the lackadaisical attitudes of the past can no longer continue. We all must make a commitment to use our talents in ways that can improve the conditions of our brothers and sisters whose struggles are going to get real tense over the next four years. We all have a lot of work to do as we move forward into the Trump years in the White House. And even though Charles Dutton’s final speech in Spike Lee’s movie, Get on the Bus was geared toward Black men, it is applicable to the entire race. For that reason, I am compelled to share it with those of you who never saw the movie and the others that gave very little importance to what he said.

In the very last scene in the movie, Dutton addresses all the brothers who have made the trip to Washington, D.C. but did not participate in the Million Man March because one of the characters, Ozzie Davis, suffered a heart attack just before the march and many of the men chose to remain with him at the hospital. But once they do arrive at the Lincoln Monument, it is very late and the men are depressed. That is when Dutton walks toward the back of the bus, and delivers the most important and poignant message of the entire movie. And one that all of us, men and women, can use as a measurement of where we go from here. Dutton tells the men:

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“We’re here because God Almighty wanted us here. And he doesn’t care so much about what you already done. God asks what you going to do now…The real march ain’t even started yet. This was only the prelim, the warm up….The real Million Man March won’t start until we Black men take charge of our own lives, and start dealing with crime, drugs, and guns and gangs and children having children and children killing children all across this country. If you all are ready to quit your apathetic and unsympathetic ways as I am and take back control of the Black community. If you’re ready to stop being the boys and be the men that our wives, and our mothers and our children are waiting for and stand up against all the evils lined up against the Black man…and just say we’re tired of this shit and we ain’t going to take it anymore. If you’re ready to do that, then we got work to do. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

For the next four years, the intensity of that work is going to double. Despite his promise to be President for all the people, Trump’s early appointments signal that once again he is not being truthful, at least not with us. But Black America has risen to this challenge in the past. We have precedent on our side. We know how to survive under the roughest of conditions. Men and women such as Frederick Douglass, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not even consider the possibility of giving up. These great leaders struggled and survived and we must pick up their mantle of commitment and continue the work so that four years from now, when Trump is defeated, we will be stronger and wiser as a people.

 

 Be Strong and Stay Strong Black America!

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A POX on Both Their Houses

In a recent Reuters Poll conducted between March and June 2016, 16,000 European Americans were interviewed regarding their perceptions of African Americans. The poll was a result of both political candidates for President throwing negative comments at each other, regarding their positions on racial issues. Donald Trump has called Hillary Clinton a bigot because of her failure to support any meaningful change for Blacks. And Hillary Clinton accused Trump of normalizing white nationalism, and his failure to reject outright support from racist David Duke.

The European Americans involved in the poll were divided between those who support Trump and the ones supporting Clinton. Both groups were asked the identical questions, and the results are staggering.

32% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as less intelligent than whites.

40% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as more lazy than whites.

44% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as more rude than whites.

49% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as more violent than whites.

46% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as more criminal than whites.

Now we might argue that these statistics are not that surprising coming from Trump supporters, but what makes this poll so frightening is when the same questions were asked of Clinton supporters.

22% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as less intelligent than whites.

25% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as more lazy than whites.

30% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as more rude than whites.

31% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as more violent than whites.

32% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as more criminal than whites.

When we remove the Trump/Clinton factor and combine the two groups as one, it becomes very clear that a large percentage of European Americans’ perception of Black Americans is anything but acceptable. This absolutely staggering arrogance from a race of people that have no right to make such assumptions, is overwhelming. When we view each of these characteristics over time, it becomes very clear that European Americans suffer from a serious case of hubris.

These findings are so ludicrous I shouldn’t bother to even respond. But at some point, you begin to seriously wonder for how long can these distortions of reality continue to exist within the minds of European Americans? Are they so narcissistic that they actually believe their perceived superiority over Blacks in each of the listed categories? Probably not one of the 16,000 could come close to matching the intelligence of a Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Dr. Ralph Bunche, Dr. Cornell West, Johnnie Cochran, President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and the list of brilliant African Americans could go on for page after page.

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The perception that Blacks are lazier than European Americans would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. African Americans have always been hard working men and women. How do you think it was possible for slave owners to spend the afternoon drinking mint juleps, and at night raping Black women if the African American wasn’t doing all the work? After slavery, the same pattern continued under share cropping. Because of a skewed economic system in which most of the wealth and land has accrued to European Americans, Black Americans have always had to work harder for less economic gain in this county. Our ancestors had to, “make a way out of no way.” They worked longer hours for less reward but never gave up on life. And work, we have for generations.
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colin-kaepernickCan someone please explain to me how you measure rudeness? Who determines when an individual is being rude? I guess Sandra Bland was being rude when she refused to put out her cigarette in her own car. I guess San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being rude because he refuses to stand for the National Anthem. Maybe Tommie Smith and John Carlos were also being rude when they held up gloved clinch fists, while the National Anthem was being played at the 1968 Olympics. Or maybe Muhammed Ali was rude, tossing his Gold Medal in the river when he returned from the 1960 Olympics and was so disgusted with how his people were being treated. It might be something much simpler than that. We no longer tip our hat to white folks when we pass them on the street, or don’t bow our heads when coming in contact with a white woman. And we no longer say “yes suh, yes ma’am, when responding to some European Americans question. And we have the nerve to get on the bus and sit wherever we want, instead of waiting for European Americans to board first and take their seat. The same holds true for trains and airplanes.

The category dealing with violence was the most shocking of all. The pogrom of Native Americans, the slaughter of millions of Africans in the middle passage from Africa, the brutal treatment of Blacks during slavery and the incredible large number of lynching of Blacks, Hispanics and yes some European Americans (they lynched their own people) makes a mockery of the findings in this category. European Americans undoubtedly rank at the very top of the list of violent people in modern civilization.

Finally, there is no worst crime in the history of civilizations than stealing someone’s freedom. It is estimated that up 25 to 50 million Africans were taken from their homes and forced on slave ships, where approximately half died before they reached the shores of America. That was murder and murder is a crime. And if that is not sufficient to establish that no race has committed more crimes than European Americans, then the beating, raping, and often killing of African Americans during and after slavery as well as the shooting and killing of over 130 Blacks in the first six months of 2016 by the police, should be. How about the slaughter of innocent Native Americans over the centuries, based on the concept of “white man’s burden,” or “manifest destiny” as additional proof?

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Under the concept of hubris, an individual (or a larger body of people) will deflect their own insecurities and weaknesses to another person or body of people. That is exactly what European Americans have done for decades, and usually the recipients of those insecurities have been Blacks. The findings in the study done by Reuters proves that same practice still exists. My larger problem is that these people make up a substantial percentage of those who support the two primary presidential candidates. And because they do and I am not sure the candidates care about these perceptions among their followers, borrowing from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, I say, “A pox on both their houses.”

Considering the Tulsa Riot of 1921 from a Black Writer’s Perspective

Seven years ago I began my research into the Tulsa Riot of 1921. The result of that study was the release of Fires of Greenwood, a novel that chronicles the barbarous attack on a prosperous Black community, leading to the brutal killings of over three hundred men, women and children, and the destruction of thirty four blocks of successful businesses and beautiful homes. As we have witnessed throughout our turbulent history in this country, the official reason given for the massacre was the alleged attack of a young white girl, Sarah Page, by Dick Rowland, a nineteen-year-old Black bootblack. However, the actual facts of what happened in the Drexel building elevator on May 30, 1921 between those two, do not support the alleged reason for the massacre. I was, therefore, determined to write a novel depicting the real truth behind the slaughter of three hundred Black Americans, at the hands of a white mob.

Besides the mysterious relationship between the Dick and Sarah, what I found most compelling was discovering just how prosperous Black Americans were in their segregated community known as Greenwood. In fact, when Booker T. Washington past through the city on his way to speak in Boley, Oklahoma in 1905, he was so impressed with the number of successful businesses in the Greenwood corridor, he coined the term “Negro Wall Street” (once the term Negro was no longer acceptable, it was changed to “Black Wall Street”) as the best way to describe the area. Years later, in March 1921, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was just as impressed with the number of successful businesses, when he visited the community and delivered a speech at the Dreamland Movie Theater, owned and operated by Black entrepreneurs John and Loula Williams.

Dreamland Theater Rebuilt

Stradford HotelMy research also brought to life the Gurley and Stradford Hotels, places of lodging for Black visitors to the city. Dr. Du Bois actually stayed at the Gurley Hotel during his visit there. However, it was not considered the better of the two; the Stradford was the finest Black owned hotel in the country, and easily matched the white hotels in Tulsa for convenience, luxury and comfort. John Stradford and O. W. Gurley were two of the richest Blacks in Tulsa. Both men had become millionaires before all was lost on that dreadful day in 1921.

In addition to the Gurley and Stradford, there were William Anderson’s Jewelry Store, Henry Lilly’s Upholstery Shop, A. S. Newkirk’s Photography Studio, Elliott and Hooker’s Clothing Emporium, H. L. Byar’s Tailor Shop, Hope Watson’s Cleaners and Lilly Johnson’s Liberty Café that served home cooked meals at all hours, while nearby Little Café is where people lined up waiting for their specialty chicken or smothered steak with rice and brown gravy. And there was the famous Little Rose Beauty Shop, run by the matriarch of the community Mabel Little.

Black Wall Street (Pre-Riot)The area possessed fifteen Black physicians and Dr. Andrew Jackson was recognized by the prestigious Mayo Clinic as one of the finest doctors in the country. The community also built its own hospital and the magnificently structure Mt. Zion Baptist Church, known to rival any other church in Tulsa or the entire state of Oklahoma. All this came crashing down, as the invaders dropped turpentine soaked firebombs that lit up the entire community and torched many unsuspected men, women, and children.

Riot Survivor in AshesThe tragedy that befell the prosperous Greenwood district, as well as other similar communities in this country, was that Black Americans were too successful, and a jealous and envious white community was determined to eradicate those businesses. That egregious attack on innocent citizens was not about a Black man accosting a white girl. It was about Black men and women who had bought into the Booker T. Washington position that hard work and a commitment to the American dream of capitalism would pay off handsomely. O.W. Gurley, a strong advocate of the accommodationist approach, found out just how much whites respected successful businessmen and women of the darker hue when they shot his wife and burned down his hotel.

Tulsa clearly points out that the only acceptable behavior whites would condone was for Blacks to be passive and subservient to them. “Uppity” became synonymous with Black men and women stepping out of the role as servants and field hands. However, the positive message that shines through the pages of Fires is that Blacks in Tulsa refused to condescend to the arrogance of the majority, and were willing to fight and die rather than allow an innocent Black boy to be lynched by the mob. Finally, this writer portrays the relationship between Dick and Sarah in a manner not pursued by the many other researchers, who have studied the causes of the riot. The portrayal of their involvement makes for an interesting and entertaining read, which should always be the goal of the novelist.

This novel re-creates the events that led to this slaughter and brings to life true heroes who stood up to the evil and fought back. It is imperative that Black writers begin to “tell our story our way,” and that is what I have done in the pages of Fires.  Eminent scholar and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree noted that, “Frederick Williams has taken the 1921 Tulsa Riot to new heights and reminds us all that we cannot forget the African American community that battled to protect their dignity and respect. We will never forget what happened to the members of “Black Wall Street’ and will make sure that generations of people will forever remember the hard working men and women who fought to preserve their dignity.”

Prosperity Publications, the publisher has contracted to convert this work into a screenplay and will pursue producing a movie that will be as compelling as recent movies such as Selma, The Butler and Twelve Years A Slave. In the meantime I invite you to purchase the novel through Amazon or communicate with the company at www.prosperitypublications.com., or leave a message here on my writer’s blog.  A novel is always more comprehensive and thorough than the movie and that will be true with Fires. 

Greenwood MonumentYou can also visit the website of the Greenwood Cultural Center at www.greenwoodculturalcenter.com or the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park at www.jhfcenter.org both located on the grounds of the tragic events that happened on June 1, 1921, 95 years ago.

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