Africans in America should be aware that 2013 is a year of great significance. It will mark the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Medgar Evers and the 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington. The question is whether 2013 will be a year of superfluous commemorations, ceremonies and celebrations, or will it be a year of destiny for Africans in America where we create new history? The recent State of the Black World Conference III was organized around the theme – State of Emergency in Black America: Time to Heal Black Families and Communities. We selected this theme to emphatically declare that we have yet to achieve the “dream” so brilliantly articulated by Martin Luther King, against the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial a half century ago. Hence, the choice is clear, it is imperative that 2013 be a year of historical reflection on the deeds and events of the past as the foundation for concerted action to fulfill our destiny as a fully free and self-determining people in the U.S. and the world.
While reflecting on Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, we should be ever mindful of Lerone Bennett, Jr.’s, assertion that the 16th President of the United States was “forced into glory;” that his “greatness” is to be found not in his love of African people or his desire to abolish slavery but his steadfast and unwavering commitment to “save the union” with or without slavery. Moreover, the glorification of Lincoln obscures the fact that the Proclamation, which only “freed” some of the enslaved, was prompted by his recognition that Africans were already striking blows for our own freedom by deserting the plantations in droves.
Equally important, we must remember that “emancipation” and Reconstruction may have temporarily bestowed political rights but failed to provide that which formerly enslaved Africans needed most urgently -- social rights, land, property, capital, reparations for the centuries of free labor which contributed mightily to the emergence of the American nation. We were not and have not ever been paid restitution to repair the cultural, spiritual and physical damages done during the holocaust of enslavement. As a consequence, a huge “wealth gap” persists between Euro-ethnics and Africans in America today – despite the fact that we have thousands of Black elected officials and a Black family in the White House. The State of Emergency in Black America would be eliminated if the government were compelled to award reparations to the sons and daughters of Africa in America. One hundred and fifty years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, there must be a renewed demand for reparations.
Medgar Evers, a veteran of World War II and NAACP Field Secretary, was gunned down in his driveway in Mississippi for actively fighting to restore those rights supposedly guaranteed by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States and the Reconstruction Civil Rights Statutes; rights which were repealed de facto by white supremacist terrorist organizations in the Post-Reconstruction era. It is not enough to simply remember Medgar Evers; if 2013 is to be a year of destiny for Africans in America, then our reflections must be matched with a determination that “we ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around,” that “we will not be moved” by voter suppression laws and efforts to repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Racist and reactionary forces in America must know that there are no barriers or obstacles that can be thrown in our path that will stop us from marching on ballot boxes to promote and defend our interests and aspirations.
Who would have thought that when Martin Luther King, Jr. mounted the stage to deliver his renowned “I Have a Dream” oration that fifty years later an African American would occupy the most powerful seat in the world as President of the United States – a stunning symbol of “racial progress.” But, who could have also imagined that fifty years later, Africans in America would be in the throes of a State of Emergency in America’s “dark ghettos” characterized by massive, chronic joblessness, thousands of inadequate schools dispensing inferior education, out of control crime, and an epidemic of violence/fratricide and mass incarceration – with no meaningful targeted policy response. This should be a stark reminder of the “bounced check” part of King’s speech where he complained that the “promissory note” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” embodied in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution keeps coming back “marked insufficient funds” when it comes to the sons and daughters of Africa in America. Therefore, with our memory refreshed, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington must mark a renewed determination to press this administration to “cash the check,” to recognize the crises in Black America and promote policies designed to ensure the kind of social and economic security King was fighting for at the end of his life. Anything short of that coming from the President will simply be more ceremony without substance -- and unacceptable!
If 2013 is to be more than a year of empty celebrations, Africans in America must muster the determination and rediscover a spirit of resistance required to heal Black families and communities. As Richard Allen, Booker T. Washington, the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Mary McLeod Bethune, Madame C.J. Walker, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and numerous other leaders have taught, the first priority is to “do for self” – to utilize what we have in “our own hands” to empower African people to effectively advance a freedom/liberation agenda. With a trillion dollars in Black spending power, we must intensify the struggle to build and strengthen Black social and economic institutions as the first source of our empowerment and sustenance as a people. In this regard, the Institute of the Black World 21st Century unites with the goals of the Freedom 2013 Initiative spearheaded by the Rev. Dennis Dillon of New York. The goal of this Initiative is to use the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation to galvanize Africans in America to amass our economic/financial resources for Black empowerment.
Second, as we discussed at State of the Black World Conference III, if 2013 is to be a year of destiny, then Africans in America must demand that businesses and private sector institutions that thrive on Black dollars reinvest in Black communities. A renewed spirit of resistance dictates that we unapologetically employ economic sanctions to punish those institutions which take our dollars but do not hire sufficient numbers of Black people or invest in Black communities. Nobody should be allowed to do business in our communities without agreeing to a covenant to employ Black people and reinvest in our communities.
Finally, Africans in America pay taxes, vote and participate in various facets of the electoral political process. But, for our participation to be meaningful we must demand that the system be responsive to our needs. Fifty years after the March on Washington, it is inexcusable that the masses of Black poor and working people are still suffering near the bottom of the social/economic ladder in this country, despite the “gains” of the Civil rights and Black Power Movements. Therefore, it would be inexcusable for Black leaders, activists and organizers to countenance a Commemoration of the March on Washington that does not match the militancy of the heroes and sheroes who assembled on the National Mall in 1963. The Congress of the United States and the Obama administration must hear the voice of Fannie Lou Hamer crying out that the masses of Black folks are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” If 2013 is to be a year of destiny for Africans in America, then the objective of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington must be to end the State of Emergency in Black America.
Faced with the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Africans in America must decide that our destiny is in our hands!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.