Don Roach: 50 Years Later, The Negro Is Free
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
During that speech, he said, “…one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free” referring to Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the1963 issues facing of the black man despite his “legal” freedom.
But, 50 years later, the Negro is free.
The most powerful aspect of Martin Luther King is that he was able to take all of the garbage of the day, mix it together, and somehow turn it into a palatable, if not tasty, substance that a large swath of America consumed. In word, MLK hit the right notes to get his message across and in deed, took the steps necessary to force change. He was powered by love, buttressed with truth, and armed in non-violence.
Today, we live in a different world because MLK passed through America when it needed a voice to lead it towards racial equality. America needed a voice that could build consensus, challenge our beliefs, and make us dream that tomorrow would be better.
But, today’s column is not just to wax poetic about MLK and his exploits. Instead, I want to make the argument that “the Negro is free” and that as people descend upon Washington, D.C. we must recognize the change that has occurred in 50 short years.The ripples of King’s legacy have led us to a day where freedom is no longer just a dream – it’s our reality.
So why are many black leaders still in reach mode?
Along the way to freedom, we still cling to oppression
Freedom implies choice; I can choose to go to the left or I can choose to go to the right without being stopped (or hindered) by an outside force. And for those that no nothing but freedom, the lack of choice never enters their consciousness because they only know that they are the masters of their destiny.
Allow me to stay on that point for a moment to compare 1963 and 2013. In 1963, African Americans couldn’t choose to go to school wherever they wanted, they couldn’t have any reasonable assurance that if they outperformed their peers they would get the promotion, and they also could not always choose where to live (without significant stare downs, comments from neighbors, and daily hassles). Those choices were taken from them due to their skin color…in 1963.
But in 2013, we’ve got choices we didn’t have in 1963 and I feel we do a disservice to King and those who marched with him if we try to say that we’re still stuck in the attitudes and laws of that era. Not only would that be a disservice it is intellectually dishonest.
Further, the black race appears rudderless and those sitting in the captain’s chair haven’t adjusted their aims post oppression. In my opinion, King would be sorely disappointed that we’ve attained freedom and yet still live in the oppression.
That may sound sacrilegious but King only lived during the time of oppression. He talked about the mountaintop and dreams of being judged by the content of his character but he never saw those dreams come true. His aims were focused on civil equality without which one can never entertain thoughts of equality within the economic arena.
Who knows what he would say to the high number of black Americans on welfare, the disproportionately incarcerated black men, and black leaders who seem to want to keep people hooked on the past and not striving towards the future.
Our leaders need to lead people away from “oppression” and towards the revolution King envisioned; a revolution where his people - all people - took the opportunity to do and be whomever they wanted to be. For King, the evil was the infrastructure and those who allowed the infrastructure to exist knowing it was wrong. The infrastructure that I’m calling out today is that of civil rights leaders whose words rang true in the 1960s & 70s but are repressing the progress of the 2010s.
However, I can understand why.
True freedom embraces personal choice
When you aren’t getting beat upside the head because you want to sit at the front of the bus any longer and you can choose your destiny, what do you do?
If I could sum up what black leaders post King have done wrong it’s this – they have defined black people by what society did, does, and/or will do to them and not by what black people can do to effect change upon society. That’s exactly opposite of what King did and espoused.Where are our black leaders calling out the wonderful exploits done by black people and challenging the next generation to go farther? Where are our black leaders lauding the many young college graduates who are taking the world by storm? Where is the Jesse Jackson who once quipped, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.” Has he no mind to conceive a world full of hope in 2013? Has his heart lost faith to believe that black people can do anything they set their minds to in 2013? And does he doubt he can because a man in 2008 told us “Yes we can” but never delivered?
As I said, freedom is choice and I’m thankful to have choices my forebears didn’t. I also embrace those choices and understand the responsibility that entails. If I make bad choices, I expect bad outcomes, if I make better choices I expect better outcomes. In MLK’s world this wasn’t the case and black folks were not free.
But what he did that day in 1963 enables me to write what I am writing today. That is true freedom and 50 years later, the Negro is free….we just need to start to act like it.
Black leaders, please come around to this fact.
Don Roach is a free black man and trying to be a different kind of black leader. Don can be reached at email@example.com.
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