Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
When we start to examine the economic and social state of the Black community in America, today’s Black people are the first to come up with idea after idea on how to we should be doing this or how we should be doing that? But guess what?
Nothing is getting done. Nothing is really happening and nothing of any meaning is even being presented.
Nearly 50 years have passed, since we reached our pinnacle in this country with the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, and we’ve lost significant ground.
Many experts say that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the single most important piece of legislation passed by Congress in American history because these laws so dramatically altered American society.
We must always put these things in context and reacquaint ourselves with with this legislation.
Brothers and sisters, this was no “gimme” legislation. This was the closest thing we’ve had to a settlement between the American government and the Black community and to achieve it required the highest level of leadership from both the Black and White communities.
We must remember that this was done at a time when there were groups of very powerful senators and congressman pledging to “fight to the death” for segregation, launching the longest filibuster in American history in an attempt to defeat it.
The bill’s passage has often been credited to the political leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, and/or the moral force of Martin Luther King, Jr..
I contend that the battle for the Civil Rights Act was a story much bigger than those two men.
It was a broad, epic struggle, a sweeping tale of unceasing grassroots activism, ringing speeches, backroom deal-making and finally, hand-to-hand legislative combat.
The legislation would have never been presented, let alone passed, without pressure from the streets, the marches, the speeches, the leaders, and the tens of thousands of people who kept the pressure on the American government (organized and unorganized resistance) that helped create a mountain of public opinion for a deal to be developed.
Today we have not only lost our momentum but we have lost the public opinion (WE’RE ALL ACCOUNTABLE TO THE MOVEMENT).
Some people say that the deal that was negotiated wasn’t good enough and lacked the economic “teeth” needed to address the real issues that the Black community faced then and even now (resources).
While I agree with the general premise, I don’t believe that this legislation was supposed to be the end of the movement.
The movement wasn’t supposed to stop.
The movement never stops and if this legislation lacked the economics we needed, we should have continued the fight (movement) and to secure more historic legislation in 1970, 1980, etc. We took our foot off the pedal.
While this bill has fundamentally improved the quality of life for Black America, it should not have been our final destination because that same energy that so desperately fought against its passage, has morphed into either undoing the “teeth” of the legislation or redirecting the attack to other areas (i.e. war on drugs, elimination of social programs and entitlements, affirmative action, etc.). LEAST WE FORGET – WE’RE ALL ACCOUNTABLE TO OUR MOVEMENT.
Today we are all guilty of being ignorant of the facts and rely on myths and rumors when we discuss the conditions of the Black man in America ( follow the timeline since emancipation).
We must have a better context of the tremendous leadership of one of America’s greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, who single-handedly ended the American Institution of Slavery with issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the outcome of the American Civil War. While he had a number of enemies, his assassination can’t be overlooked as it relates to his historic position.
Just for the record, the Proclamation did not itself outlaw slavery, and did not make the ex-slaves (called freedmen) citizens. Around 20,000 to 50,000 slaves in regions where rebellion had already been subdued were immediately emancipated (as the Union army took control of Confederate regions, the Proclamation provided the legal framework for freeing more than 3-4 million enslaved Black people).
The civil war was fought from 1861 to 1865, after seven Southern slave states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) declared their secession and formed the Confederate States of America (the “Confederacy” or the “South”, which grew to include eleven states).
The Proclamation only applied to slaves in Confederate- held lands; it did not apply to those in the four slave states that were not in rebellion (Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and Missouri, which were unnamed), nor to Tennessee (also unnamed), and specifically excluded counties of Virginia soon to form the state of West Virginia.
Also specifically excluded (by name) were some regions already controlled by the Union army?
Emancipation in those places would come after separate state actions and/ or the December 1865 ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which made slavery and indentured servitude, except as punishment for a crime.
It was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House on January 31, 1865, and adopted on December 6, 1865.
Though the amendment formally abolished slavery throughout the United States, factors such as Black Codes, white supremacist violence, and selective enforcement of statutes continued to subject some Black Americans to involuntary labor and brutal and harsh treatment.
The states that remained in the Union were known as the “Union” or the “North”.
The war had its origin in the issue of slavery MAINLY THE EXTENSION OF SLAVERY INTO THE WESTERN TERRITORIES.
After four years of bloody combat that left over 700,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead and destroyed much of the South’s infrastructure, the Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and the difficult Reconstruction process of restoring national unity and guaranteeing civil rights to the freed slaves began.
Let’s be clear: The ramifications of the American Institution of Slavery, and the ultimate freedom of the enslaved Black man has never been adequately addressed (where you start is absolutely important).
Even today, there are a number of “right-wing, return our country to the Glory days” bigots, that want to show their patriotic fervor and wave the Confederate flag.
Not only is the Confederate flag a symbol to destroy the United States claiming hundreds of thousands of lives, it is also code to restore the American Institution of Slavery, or at the least to recognize Blacks as little more than slaves.
There is no honor to be remembered. The individuals who went to war against the United States did much damage to it and their own states for a cause that was unjust then and remains so now.
Civil War history should not be denied, and facts of the Confederacy’s efforts should not be whitewashed into some “glorious past” but remembered as an attack on the United States and attack against Black people.
The Confederate flag is a sad fact of history to be kept in a drawer, not to wave in the air of a free land.
The point is that this type of behavior and sentiment is alive and strong and we should never take our eye off the prize (WE’RE ALL ACCOUNTABLE TO THE MOVEMENT).
Lest we forget our history in this country (there are so many of us today, Black and White, who just don’t have a basic understanding of our history) and how we got here.
That’s why most of my articles include a piece of history. We must keep it real no matter how much people don’t like it.
Freedom has existed in this country for only 150 years, and most of that time we have been fighting for our survival (literally).
Since receiving our “so-called” freedom, there has been one rumble after another from the massive migration of our people from the south to the north; the political battles to have equal political and civil rights; the massive lynching and organized terror; the inheritance of some of the worse slums (ghettos) in the country; the struggle with the worst education systems; police brutality, lack of equitable public services in our neighborhoods; and a whole host of structural discrimination.
We continued to fight to secure an equal footing with other groups in America.
All the while, America continued to grow and prosper becoming the world’s super power producing wealth and a life style for Whites that seem nearly impossible for Blacks to achieve(WE’RE ALL ACCOUNTABLE TO THE MOVEMENT).
Brothers and Sisters we have been in a fight in this country since we’ve been here. It hasn’t been pretty.
The Emancipation Proclamation, Brown versus the Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960’s represent the long and hard fought victories that were won because our people were accountable to the movement we so desperately wanted and needed.
While Blacks are no longer in physical chains, the state of our economic reality is tantamount to a different type of slavery.
Consider that when it comes to economics, Blacks control less than one half of one percent (-.5%) of the nation’s wealth.
This is the same statistical amount since emancipation.
At the end of the day, everything will go back to this alarming statistic.
This number will only get worse when you consider the anemic number of Black businesses and the nearly 70% of Black people either at or near poverty levels coupled with extreme levels of racial segregation (nearly 75% of Blacks live in 35 cities).
This produces more and more of our children living in abnormal conditions that over time become more and more normal.
I frequently quote A. Phillip Randolph : “There are no reserved seats at the table of life; you get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold; and you can’t take anything nor keep anything without organization.”
In part one of this article, I tried to describe the significant amount of organizations and individuals that contributed to the civil rights movement.
While many took different paths and it wasn’t as organized as one might think, the fact of the matter is that we had so many Black people committed to the movement for the self-determination of Black people.
Today, the movement is virtually dead and unfortunately there haven’t been any real legal challenges or gains in the path of more freedom for the Black community in America in fifty years.
How do we justify this? Or maybe we’ve come to believe that we’re equal. The numbers paint a much different picture where the disparities of Blacks compared to Whites are statistically alarming.
There has been some national movement against racially charged discrimination.
For example: Jena Six, where six black teenagers were convicted in the beating of Justin Barker, a white student and when Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old Black teenager, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed-race Hispanic at a gated community in Sanford, Florida.
In the case of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman was released by police because there was no evidence to refute Zimmerman’s claim of having acted in self-defense in accordance with Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
Ultimately, national attention by the Black community would shine light on both of the cases that produced a better outcome.
However, as what happens in all reactionary efforts, once the immediate effort is somewhat addressed, the movement retreats until the next outrage sparks it up again.
Recently, we witnessed a national organized response led by the NAACP to challenge the republican agenda to suppress the Black and brown vote across the country, which if successful, would have seriously threatened Barak Obama’s re-election in 2012.
If they had been successful, it is my humble opinion, that we would have another person representing the office of US president.
While most of the State courts reacted positively, we still having a major challenge brewing that could roll back our voting rights.
We must come to terms with the reality that these issues will never go away until we are able to address them on an ongoing basis and that we become a very strong an organized effort.
We are now fighting structural and systemic racism, discrimination, and bias because there is no longer “white only” or “colored only” signs in America.
Our people are not being whipped and beaten down in the streets, but the sting and the impact of racism will further derail the Black man’s plight for self-determination in America. Has that not been the objective for Black people in America for more than 400 years???
As I have previously mentioned I am part of an effort to organize the Black community in Philadelphia – The Philadelphia Community of Leaders, which is designed to create a table where we’re able to aggregate the capacity of our community and develop a long-term proactive solution to address our concerns.
We’ve been at this for nearly three years with limited success.
I say limited because we’re still building the foundation to support this monumental effort that will live and grow forever.
This is the only approach that will work because we won’t see the goals of these efforts in our lifetime but our children should have a better chance to succeed.
Please go to: www.philadelphiacommunityofleaders.org to learn more about what we are doing.
Absent of having the place that will consolidate our capacity in Milwaukee, we all can get more engaged in the political process.
Like the civil rights movement which represented a collective of unorganized activity, we can begin to increase our participation because it’s still through the door of the politics that Black people will achieve self-determination.
Unfortunately, our participation in the political process is at an all-time low.
This is the pathway that we must restart. I will elaborate more in my next article (WE’RE ALL ACCOUNTABLE TO THE MOVEMENT).