Abu-Jamal's Radio Broadcasts
Side of Black History
version: mp3, 4 MBs,
Short version: mp3,
3.2 MBs, 4:34
The idea of
Black History Month has always filled me with ambivalence.
On the one hand,
there is understandable pride in the accomplishments of ones
ancestors; people who fought long and hard for their place in the
sun, against monstrous odds, and indeed, against American white
supremacist terrorism. They used every means imaginable to sustain
themselves against a system that was predicated and dedicated to
their spiritual, psychological, and material destruction. When one
studies the life of Harriet Tubman, or other freedom fighters like
her, it is almost impossible not to be moved.
On the other
hand, the institutionalization of Black History Month, by corporate,
and political America, has resulted in a kind of 'dead history',
by which I mean the uses of advertising and even stamps, to promote
historical figures, many from the distant past, who portray a 'safe'
side to a history that was, and is, anything but safe.
This has resulted
in the promotion of Black historical figures as one-dimensional
icons, or advertising gimmicks, that reduce them to familiar names,
but little else of substance. Thus, Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes
the icon of choice, used by everything from insurance companies
to dry cleaners to drum up business among the burgeoning black middle
and working class. It has contributed to the selling of Black history,
as something that looks, almost endearingly, to the past, as if
there is not an awful lot of Black history to be made today. There
is also a deep, troubling bourgeois
factor in popular black history that seems to remember the well-to-do,
yet ignores those who struggled from among the ranks of the poor,
who didn't wear clean suits every day, and didn't think that the
vote represented the end-all or be-all of the Struggle. I speak
of the forgotten ones; those people who fought for freedom and Black
Liberation, not at news conferences, or in editorial board meetings
with bored journalists, but in the fields, in the shops, in the
streets, among the people.
In this new
kind of bourgeois, safe, corporate Black history, people such as
these make no real appearances. It's almost as if these agencies
strive to create a kind of 'black history lite', that will not disturb
the sleep or the stomachs of white Americans.
This is a shame,
and a disservice to both white, and black Americans, and all who
really want to know about the history of this country.
It is therefore
fitting to recall those names of people who lived in the hearts
and minds of their people, and who, in their own way, fought for
freedom, but are rarely mentioned in most history books, and wont
be seen on U.S. postage stamps (at least anytime soon, for capitalism,
if anything, learns how to co-opt almost everything for profit,
eh?). Here are a few:
Ola Mae Quarterman:
Long before the famed Rosa Parks refused to take a seat in the back
of a Montgomery, Alabama bus, Ms. Quarterman, a bright, sensitive
18-year old girl boarded a bus in Albany, Georgia, and refused to
move when the white driver ordered her to. She responded, "I
paid my damn ten cents, and I'll sit where I please." When
the segregationist-trained driver began to wag his finger in her
face, she quite rationally responded, "Get your damn finger
out of my face." What happened next was in some ways similar
to what happened in Montgomery, and in other ways different. Ms.
Quarterman was convicted of violating the segregationist laws, and
sentenced to 30 days in jail. Dr. King even brought his fledgling
organization down to Albany to respond to a campaign that was beginning
to brew against this outrage. The differences were critical, however,
for in Albany, the movement was divided. The president of the local
college where Ms. Quarterman was enrolled expelled her, and the
local support was so splintered that a disgusted King quit the city
for home. Ms. Quarterman, alone, and without support, drifted into
despair and depression. Her life options severely restricted in
the apartheid South, she suffered what was diagnosed as "paranoid
schizophrenia", committed to a mental institution, where she
presumably remains to this day. (Question: Was she schizophrenic,
or was the system of racial segregation and white supremacy?). Her
life teaches us, not the impotence of resistance, but the necessity
of united action in resistance to social wrongs. She was right;
those who failed to support her, for any reason, were wrong.
There are, of
course, others whom we will doubtful glimpse on U.S. postage stamps;
like Margaret Morgan, a fugitive captive who fled to Pennsylvania
in the 1840s, and was seized by a slavecatcher, Edward Prigg under
the draconian Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. Legal scholars may recognize
the slavecatcher's name as a famous caption in the case,
Prigg v. Pennsylvania
most Americans, if asked the identity of Ms. Morgan, would probably
ask, "What picture did she star in?" She was at the center
of the case, for her freedom hinged on the decision of the U.S.
Supreme Court. 'Justice' Joseph Story (of Massachusetts) held on
the side of the slavecatchers, and gave judicial blessing to the
return of Margaret Morgan to a bitter bondage in the South
with her children the youngest born into a 'free' state.
That freedom proceeds from the struggle for freedom, not from the
courts of the rich and influential.
Will there be
any postage stamps to honor the historical contributions of Dr.
Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party? To Ramona Africa,
the courageous fighter and resister who survived an urban holocaust
on May 13th,1985? To George (or Jonathan?) Jackson? To Ruchell Magee
a brilliant jailhouse lawyer whose work has led to the freedom
of over 40 young(er) men, but who is perhaps the longest-held Black
political prisoner in the Americas? To the great Seminole warrior,
Coacoochee (also called "Wild Cat") who fought for Red
and Black freedom from the American slavers, and his brother fighter,
John Horse (Coacoochee & Horse fought over 400 American outlaws,
soldiers and bandits in 1851 in northern Mexico, and beat them,
with 60 Seminole warriors)? We think not.
isnt 'safe', it's challenging, and troubling, and speaks to
the lives we live now, under the illusion of "freedom".
It aint MLK alone, but the many who followed, and the many
who did not.
Why not jettison
Black History Month, just as Black History Week was jettisoned?
Why not a Black
Liberation Month? That would concentrate our minds, not only on
history, but on the sometimes painful lessons of history; but more
importantly, it would point us to the undiscovered land that beckons
us all the future.
Check out Mumia's
"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life
of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com
The Power of Truth
is Final -- Free Mumia!
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.