Tag Archives: African Americans

Across America’s Racial Divide: Michael Jackson, Rest in Peace

michaeljackson.01Barack Obama has certainly brought Americans together in unprecedented ways, but America’s black and white racial divide still exists.

And every once in a while, an event happens that starkly reveals how just deep this racial divide remains.

The untimely death of Michael Jackson is such an event.

Last week, at a meeting of progressive Democrats in Southern California, I heard speaker after speaker bemoan the fact that Michael Jackson’s death had taken over the cable news, shunting to the side what they believed to be obviously more significant topics – the revolt in Iran, the fight in Congress for new health care legislation, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I see similar comments from many of my politically progressive Facebook friends.

None of them seems remotely aware that their disdain for the wall-to-wall news coverage of Michael Jackson’s death is a reflection of their own racial perspective – or that black people might view it differently.

For many, perhaps most, white people, Michael Jackson was, at best, a fading pop star and entertainer, someone whose music and persona they may have liked in their childhood but not now.

For black people, Michael Jackson was, and remains, a cultural figure of heroic, almost mythic, proportions, someone who changed not just music but the world, and who tirelessly worked for African and African-American causes and charities.

Today Michael Jackson will be honored and memorialized as a hero.

As a white American, I may not really get it.

But I get why I don’t get it.

And for that reason, I give my respects today and I say:

Michael, Rest in Peace.

Advertisements

John Hope Franklin (1915-2009): Historian and Fighter for Social Justice

johnhopefranklinAcademics and intellectuals  – and college professors in particular – are often thought of as living in an Ivory Tower – dispassionate, disconnected, and aloof from the everyday world.

And, for the most part, this reputation is deserved, especially in America, where we have often demanded a quiescence  that poses as objectivity from our academics and have little tradition of intellectuals who actively engage in the social and political struggles of their times.

But the Ivory Tower could not contain Dr. John Hope Franklin — historian, professor, and passionately engaged civil rights activist — who died yesterday at the age of 94.

Franklin achieved a long list of firsts in his career: the first African-American president of the American Historical Association; the first black department chairman at a predominantly white institution, Brooklyn College; the first black professor to hold an endowed chair at Duke University; the first black chairman of the University of Chicago’s history department; and the first African-American to present a paper at the segregated Southern Historical Association, one of many groups that later elected him its president.

He was also a pioneer as a historian.  His first major work, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” published in 1947, began the long process of establishing black Americans as dynamic actors rather than as passive victims or mere objects of America’s long struggle for social justice.

It was a struggle that he witnessed, and participated in, throughout his life.

Armed white rioters with dead African American, Tulsa, 1921.

Armed white rioters with dead African American, Tulsa, 1921.

Franklin was born on January 2, 1915, in the post-Reconstruction and Klan-controlled South – in the all black town of Rentiesville, Oklahoma – where his family moved when his father, a lawyer, was not allowed to practice law in Louisiana.  He experienced first-hand the indignities, humiliations, and fears engendered by Jim Crow laws — and saw his father’s law office burned by white racists (and probably had friends and family members killed) in the vicious Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, when as many as 3,000 African Americans were murdered by a white mob who were engaged when a black man accidentally touched a white woman in an elevator. He was also denied admission to the University of Oklahoma solely because of his race.

By 1947, Franklin had a Ph.D in history from Harvard and had moved North with an appointment as a history professor at Howard University.  He could have concentrated all of his efforts on publishing his historical research and building his academic career.

But Franklin was not content to be an Ivory Tower academic.  Instead, Franklin joined forces with both Martin Luther King’s on-the-ground grassroots civil rights movement in the South and the NAACP’s legal battle in the federal courts for integration.  Franklin advised Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Team in the cases leading to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education and marched with Dr. King in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Dr. Franklin with President Clinton, 2005.

Dr. Franklin with President Clinton, 2005.

“As a student of history,” Franklin said, “I have attempted to explain it historically, but that explanation has not been all that satisfactory. That has left me no alternative but to use my knowledge of history, and whatever other knowledge and skills I have, to present the case for change in keeping with the express purpose of attaining the promised goals of equality for all peoples.”

When President Clinton awarded Franklin the Medal of Freedom in 1995, he said that he had never confused “his role as an advocate with his role as a scholar.”

More importantly, Franklin taught us that to do justice to the role of a scholar, the scholar must be also an advocate for justice.

Orange County Republican Mayor’s Racist Email — “You Gotta Laugh”

Los Alamitos’ Republican Mayor Dean Grose recently sent an email to friends that showed a picture of the White House with a watermelon patch imposed as the White House garden under the title “No Easter egg hunt this year.”

watermellon

Image sent in email by Los Alamitos' Republican Mayor Dean Grose

One of the people who received the email was local business woman Keyanus Price, an African American.  She said she was horrified and appalled.

I won’t pretend that I’m appalled.

In fact, I’m delighted.

Once again, Orange County’s Republican officials have exposed themselves as among the most racist, and moronic, politicians in the country.

If I were a Republican, I’d be deeply embarrassed.

But I’m not.

Grose said that he didn’t think the email was racist.  “The way things are today, you gotta laugh every now and then,” Grose said when the email was made public.

Now Grose has said that he’ll resign.

No doubt the Orange County Republican Party will find another brilliant public servant to take his place.

UPDATE

It now appears that Dean Grose is planning to resign only from his ceremonial job as mayor, not from his seat on the Los Alamitos City Council.

Grose is also not planning to resign as a director of the League of California Cities Orange County Division and the Southern California Association of Governments (where he represents the communities of Cypress, La Palma and Los Alamitos).

You can tell Grose what you think of his email by sending him an email of your own:

dgrose@ci.los-alamitos.ca.us