The beginnings of the Civil Rights Era is considered to have begun when Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. There were many people before and after Mrs. Parks who did the same thing, but never received any accolades for their actions.
After the Civil War, many southern states passed “separate but equal” laws that came to be known as Jim Crow laws. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the new federal law took precedence over the existing state laws.
While watching the delegate counts come in Tuesday before last, I heard a political pundit comment that Sen. Barack Obama winning the democratic nomination will be the final nail in the coffin for the Jim Crow-era laws. Now I don’t believe Sen. Obama’s historic run will end racism. But as he said in his earlier speech on race, America hasn’t been static. We are not the same country we were 40 years ago. Many people who have made their living off the back of the black community, and who remain stuck in that time warp, are now in a quandary. Sen. Obama’s win means the simplistic response of “America’s racism” cannot be the answer to everything. Rather, we will have to look at individuals singularly and not at the country as a whole. That is a reason to celebrate.
But more importantly, Sen. Obama’s win, using the mantra “Change We Can Believe In,” should also become the rallying cry for the black community. It is high time we begin to change as well. We have been stuck with the label of “ghetto” for so long that we have become our own worst enemy. Every other ethnic/racial group that has come to this country has taken whatever they could find and run with it.
In the meantime, the black community keeps mouthing the words “a black can’t do this” or “a black can’t do that.” Not only have we mouthed it, we also believed it, accepted it and even to a large degree upheld it by not challenging ourselves to do better.
Well we now have a black man who will soon win the office of the president. That is the greatest achievement to which any American can aspire. For the black community, the belief that we would never see a black person become president in our lifetime will no longer be true. So if that one belief is about to die, we need to put to death a lot of other beliefs that have created mental shackles, which have kept us from succeeding against the odds.
We have to believe in the possibilities, and we have to be willing to change as part of that process. And the first change must be outlook. We must change our outlook on life from the negative to the positive.
When Senator Obama is officially given the democratic nomination for president on August 28, 2008, it will also be the exact date, 45 years to the day, that Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. How fitting that that day will now boast another historic event.
And speaking of historic events, it was on June 19, 1865 that slaves in Galveston, Texas learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two and a half years earlier, freeing them from slavery. They marked that occasion with a celebration called Juneteenth. This Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., the Gateway Project will sponsor a Juneteenth celebration in the 700-900 blocks of North Mayfield. The event is free and will include music, vendors, food and more. For more info, call 773/308-8636.