At the Democratic Party National Convention in August, 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer coined the phrase, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." She said to then-vice president nominee Hubert H. Humphrey, "You mean to tell me that your position to become vice president is more important to you than 400,000 black peoples' lives?"
It was Hamer's undying love for her race that gave her the courage to speak out on our behalf without compromising her principles for fame and fortune. She's one of those "fallen black heroes" I mentioned last week in this column. As we enter the first week of Black History Month 2005, most of our Afro-American aldermen have been taking the position of Humphrey in 1964 instead of acting like Hamer of 1964.
Last month, Jesse Jackson Jr. spoke out against the recent shameful scandals that have afflicted Chicago City Hall?"especially the job-contract scandals that have hurt black families the most. Jesse Jr. just said, what many of other residents in Austin and the entire West and South sides of the city have been saying for over eight years: that the city council, which is the legislative body of city government (not of Mayor Daley and his "inner circle"), should grab those scandals by the horns and clean up the corrupt and phony programs. And he's correct. Since Daley was elected overwhelmingly by black voters in all black wards of the city (the first time in history), he should take the lead.
What Jesse Jr. said did not fall on "deaf ears" like our eight years of crying out in the wilderness to major news media has. He gave "voice" for the "voiceless" in Austin and the entire urban center of Chicago.
Here are the facts: Since Daley became mayor over 15 years ago, millions of dollars in special contracts reserved for minorities have been awarded to firms that said they were run by women and minorities, without the city checking whether the business had changed management after being approved for the program. But the truth is that when the late Mayor Washington was in office, he started this set-aside program in 1983 and when he died, approximately 19 percent of those working in the set-asides were black. Today, under Daley, only about 5 percent of those working in the set-asides are truly black. The rest of set-asides must be "fronts" for blacks. Just look around and see how many black faces are working on construction sites? Is this progress?"or a setback?
Where was the huge public official outcry before Jesse Jr.? And who's to blame for these scandals? The answer is: Daley and his city council, especially the black members, are to blame. All, except four women with backbones, voted for the present 2005 draconian budget and now Alderman Carothers (29th) and a few others have the gall to criticize Jesse Jr. for doing what they should have done years ago?"hold Daley's and former acting purchasing director Alexander Grzyb's feet to the fire.
Black alderpersons should hold public hearings on only two major people: the present city council inspector general, Vroustouris, hired by Daley, and former chief negotiator acting purchasing director Alexander Grzyb. It would also be helpful if the city council hired its own man to inspect corruption.
Briefly, a civic lesson for the students at the Frazier and Hay academies on the West Side: Politicians, like the aldermen in Chicago City Council are not leaders but legislators?"elected officials only. Also alderpersons have zero job requirements (no drug testing, educational requirements, mental fitness, and it's a part-time position). Leaders should know their black history where most black leaders are scholarly.
Finally, it's best to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. That's exactly what 29th Ward Alderman Carothers did near the end of January on talk radio station WVON during the Perri Small and Matt McGill show. The scholarly and articulate Perri Small held her ground like a modern-day Ida B. Wells against the verbal assault and the "bring 'em on" bully tactics of Carothers. Other radio stations would have cut him off. But it was a good lesson for the young and older residents of the 29th Ward to hear the ranting and raging and the nonsense rhetoric of their elected official.
Trying to defend wrongdoing in the city government and the "mootsville" actions of his black council members, Carothers is a stumbling block, like the others, to black progress. Since February is the shortest month of the year to celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of black Americans, I will wait until March instead of next week to explain federal Judge James B. Morgan's 2003, 31-page decision on the 1996 case filed against the city minority set-aside programs.
Remember, race mattered to Fannie Lou Hamer. Self respect, family unity, and cultural enrichment mattered to her. Fannie Lou Hamer did all the above with very little formal training; proving once again that formal training is not a prerequisite in the struggle for black liberation; but if used properly, it can be an asset. Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Acting as participants rather than spectators does make a difference.