August is the month that Harlem Week kicks into full blast. The 39-year-old event has become New York City’s prime family affair in Harlem. It’s running now through Aug. 24. There are events of interest for everyone, from New York City Economic Development Day, the Children’s Festival, to Senior Citizens Day, the Historic Black College Fair and the Junior Tennis Classic.
While Harlem Week is celebrating “Motown the Musical,” this year’s theme is “Living the Dream: Celebrating History in Tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington,” which will take place on Aug. 28 in Washington, D.C.), and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.
It should be noted the Emancipation Proclamation was based on the president’s constitutional authority; it was not a law passed by Congress. The Proclamation did not outlaw slavery and did not make the ex-slaves citizens. The Proclamation made freeing the slaves a goal of the Union war effort and was a step toward outlawing slavery. It was the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865 that made slavery illegal everywhere in the U.S.
In celebrating these two events, Harlem Week recognizes the African-American fight for equal rights since slavery. The fight for civil or human rights began with the first slave who tried to escape from his master’s plantation. Attempting to escape was more than just a civil rights move, which was a bold militant run where being caught usually ended in death.
Many lost their lives under the banner of civil rights, including Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, the four young girls in the church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., and Emmitt Till.
The March on Washington on Aug. 23, 1963, was one of the largest political rallies for civil rights that ever came together. With over 250,000 people, protesters filled more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners and loads of cars. (The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington will be celebrated on Aug. 28 in D.C., and there will be a full week of celebrations.)
The march was planned by A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and organized by the leading civil rights organizations, such as James Farmer (president of the Congress of Racial Equality), John Lewis (chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), King (president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Roy Wilkins (president of the NAACP) and Whitney Young (president of the National Urban League). All of these leaders spoke with the exception of Farmer, who was arrested in Louisiana following a protest march. His speech was read by Floyd McKissick and there were performances by Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.
Some of the demands of the march included the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2-an-hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, also known as the “Chocolate City” for its Black majority.
Ironically, for most people, even those at the march, it boils down to one thing: King standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial giving his “I Have A Dream” speech. The march is credited with helping to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The 1960s proved to be a turning point in American history with civil rights; the Black power movement; the Black Panthers; Vietnam War; and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister of the Republic of the Congo.
There was a political and cultural revolution going on in America, and the record label that ignited a new Black sound during these pivotal times was Motown Records, founded by Berry Gory Jr. in 1959.
Today, the lyrics and music of the Motown sound is still prevalent, such as the Temptations “Ball of Confusion” (“That’s what the world is today/politicians say more taxes will solve everything/and the band plays on”). Smokey Robinson and the Miracles “Got a Job”–isn’t that what most people are looking for now? Also relevant is Edwin Starr’s “War” (“What is it good for/absolutely nothing”), and definitely Marvin Gaye’s album “What’s Going On,” and Stevie Wonder’s albums “Hotter Than July” and “Music of my Mind.”
Motown, which got its start in Detroit in Gordy’s Hitsville U.S.A. Studios, is a music and cultural legacy that for over a decade defined Black music, film, fashion and dance. Today, tourists as well as Harlemites who actually saw the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the Jackson 5 at the Apollo Theater are flocking to Broadway for “Motown the Musical,” which boasts acts from the Contours to Mary Wells.
Harlem Week activities are celebrating with Motown songs; on Aug. 17 at the Children’s Festival, the Motown musical theme is “ABC” by the Jackson 5 (135th Street between Malcolm and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. blvds.). At noon the same day, the Historic Black College Fair & Expo (same location), the Motown musical theme is “Brick House” by the Commodores.
On Aug. 18 from noon to 7 p.m., it is Harlem Day with an all-day salute to “Motown the Musical.” On Aug. 24, the Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run takes place at 8:30 a.m., and at 10 a.m., it’s the “Anti-Gun Violence” Walk for Peace.
The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival commences on Aug. 23-24 at Marcus Garvey Park (123rd Street and Mt. Morris Park West). Aug. 23 features the Jimmy Heath Big Band and the world premiere of “Bird is the Word” (7 p.m.-9 p.m.). On Aug. 24, it’s another must-see lineup with saxophonist Kenny Garrett, vocalist Cecile McLorin Savant, drummer Kim Thompson and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw.
For a complete Harlem Week schedule, visit harlemweek.com or call 877-427-5364.