Having decided to work on Jan. 21, the day designated to celebrate the birthday Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I thought about A. Phillip Randolph’s struggle to gain equal economic opportunities for one of the first Black labor organizations, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union, of which he was the president.
At the behest of Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Randolph was invited to the White House to voice his concerns about the unequal treatment accorded to the members of his union. After listening to Randolph’s problems and solutions, FDR replied, “Most of his constituents always came with grievances, but in order to get them resolved, they made me do it; therefore, you have to make me do it.” Following that meeting, Randolph proposed the first gigantic rally to be held in Washington, D.C., which took place some 20 years later.
I decided then to provide books, taped lectures and other paraphernalia of the three Black men who followed in Randolph’s footsteps with profound impacts on the nation’s capital: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 at the historic March on Washington; Minister Louis Farrakhan, who in 1995 conducted the monumental Million Man March; and President Barack Obama, who of course was at the center of his unprecedented and historic inauguration as president in 2009.
The site where I would venture to carry out this endeavor would be Boys and Girls High School in the Black community of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. The Carter G. Woodson tutorial program under the leadership of Stan Kinard was hosting a celebration there honoring King’s birthday. I have been both a social studies teacher and track coach at Boys High School, prior to being the head coach of track and field at Brown University in Rhode Island and most recently secretary of Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in Harlem. Two of the greatest men of the 20th century, Ministers Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan, were cultivated by Messenger Elijah Muhammad and presided over Mosque No. 7 during the era of King and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
With some members of the Boys and Girls High School track team, including Renee Sterrett, the assistant coach, I helped set up the exhibit, but to our disappointment there were no more than 50 people in attendance, although the capacity of the auditorium is at least 1,000.
There were many reasons given for the small turnout for such a great man, not least of which was the distraction of the second-term inauguration of President Obama.
After hearing President Obama’s State of the Union message, which seems to be air marked for business, labor, and women, the issues he focused on were climate control, gun control and on the economy, which doesn’t address the needs of Black people directly, but indirectly may have some affect on our lives. Theologically is reported that the many disaster afflicting the United States (rain, drought and earthquakes) are because of the mistreatment by the largest society on black people in this country.
The question then arises: Are we Black people being short-changed? Black people didn’t select Obama, but we certainly did elect him, contrary to the pundits who keep crediting Latinos, gays/lesbians, white women and young liberals for his victory. It was Black people who gave him 97 percent of their votes; Black entertainers, talk-show hosts, athletes and religious leaders all generated money for his campaign war chest; he made several trips to Harlem and other Black communities in New York, collecting millions of dollars even though most of the communities were impoverished.
But where is our big payback? Gays got an endorsement of the right to marry; Latinos got an immigration bill proposal; women got a right to be in combat units in the armed services. Those who selected him got a stimulus package in the billions of dollars; no convictions for mortgage fraud; no punishment for the 2008 meltdown of the economy.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate now has a record number of white women, but no Black elected senators, male or female.
The Congressional Black Caucus, as our representatives, needs to follow the example given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and “make the 44th president do it.” Starting with REPARATIONS!