Monday, February 1, 2021

Most important Black History Month ever


     Timothy Thomas Fortune was a New Yorker. But don’t hold that against him. Nobody’s perfect, and he faced challenges greater than ours: Born into slavery in Florida in 1856, he moved to New York, where he spoke and wrote — he edited Booker T. Washington’s autobiography.
     In 1890, Fortune gathered 141 delegates from 23 states to Chicago on “the free soil of Illinois” for the first meeting of the National Afro-American League, an early civil rights organization. Fortune gave an impassioned speech, trying to move his audience to action.
     “Apathy leads to stagnation,” he said. “It is a narrow and perverse philosophy that condemns as a nuisance agitators.” Those who stand up, he said, are in fact essential to establishing their people as proud, free, equal and valued American citizens.
     Fortune saw a different path than history took: He thought the violence America used against Blacks ought to be met in kind: “The arsenal, the fort, the warrior are as necessary as the school, the church, the newspapers and the public forum of debate,” he said. “It’s time to fight fire with fire.”
     Were I a teacher, I might ask my class to discuss whether Fortune’s strategy would have worked better or worse in the slow crawl toward attaining the rights the Constitution hints all Americans deserve.
     That isn’t why I picked Fortune to kick off Black History Month. But for what he said when listing the reasons for his organization. The first is: “The almost universal suppression of our ballot in the South.”

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  1. Neil - one of the most important columns you've written. The execrable Josh Hawley, it must not be forgotten, was trying to subvert the election by cancelling black votes in Pennsylvania. Proof that Trump's ego is more important than our democracy to these fiends - proof that they are stone cold racists.

    1. Trump himself was trying to cancel black votes in Georgia, and michigan. Institutional violence against african americans continues . But was thwarted

  2. The American ideal, no longer really in fashion among the followers of the I've-got-mine party, is a quandary for the traitors. It can hardly be expressed more succinctly or aptly than this: "The history of our Founding Fathers creating a legal framework designed to help themselves, but in doing so accidentally, like scientists in a lab, creating the virus of legally-mandated freedom. Which once loosed upon the world, not only infected them, but infected others, unintentionally: women, Blacks, other groups."

    The twice-impeached, big-time loser used to ask of Black people "What have you got to lose?" by backing him. It doesn't get much more basic than the right to have one's vote counted. Quashing that right was THE major focus of the last 3 months of his term, having been a focus for his party for generations.

  3. "The most important Black History Month ever" seemed hyperbolic at first glance and perhaps an unwittingly setup for a fearsome backlash from both left and right, just as I suspected that capitalizing Black might draw unnecessary attention to the racial distinction even when such is not intended or is irrelevant to the Black person or persons so named. But that this Black History Month might indeed be the most important one (up to now anyway) has convinced me. Up to now, I've never been captivated by the themes prevalent in the celebration of Black History Month -- yes, there have been distinguished Blacks in every profession, most of whom I had never heard of, which didn't ring the bell it ought to have. But today, interest in the accomplishments and the social benefits conferred on America by Black individuals and Black organization is swelling. Acceptance of Black writing, Black music and theater, Black spokesmen, and Black leadership in politics and business is at its height. We see Blacks on TV, in newspapers, in business and it's normal. Obviously, the world has not changed from White to Black or even Blackish just yet; Blacks are still at a disadvantage everywhere. But the time is right to press for the oft cited and less often implemented "equal opportunity," to give civil rights heroes equal standing with sports, business and political figures, to make a case for the assertion that diversity benefits all, even the bigots and the racists, to discard the notion that whites must call the tune and the rest of us must dance to it. Or we can let this moment, this month, pass as previous ones have, with inattention, boredom, disdain, and cynicism. Thank you for the wakeup call, Neil.



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