January 19, 2015
I grew up, like many young black kids, celebrating Black history week. I ran to the encyclopedias my father had wisely salvaged from someone else’s discards and wrote my traditional report on Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, or George Washington Carver and waited for next year to come around to repeat the process. As the years grew the list of black history makers grew to include such notables as Richard Wright, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the Tuskegee Airmen, etc. The week later became a month, and as they say, the rest is history as it became obvious that the legacy of a people couldn’t be contained in a week or a month.
Fast forward to the present and we find ourselves galvanized around Martin Luther King’s birthday as the day to celebrate the civil rights movement. As we do, I can’t help but look back on the reports I wrote year after year and get a since of been there, done that aka déjà vu. In fact, one could argue that the Civil Rights movement began with the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Some would even say it goes back to the founding of the United States of America and the Declaration of Independence, where the utterance of the founding fathers, that “all men are created equal” would give birth to a new nation. It just took them a few hundred years to realize that “all men” included blacks, natives, Hispanics, Asians, women, etc. but we digress.
The Civil Rights movement can no more be contained in a march, speech, or movie, as the history of a people can’t be contained in a week. It’s ever unfolding and growing as evidenced by the recent events in the U.S. centered on police shootings or events around the world. Movements don’t end! They ebb and flow like rivers toward their natural destination. Like mighty rivers they cut through time and carve out paths that only history will update hundreds or even thousands of years from now.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at how the monuments to three key figures are positioned along the Washington Mall. The Martin Luther King memorial, although a mountainous tribute to a tremendous American, sits in the shadow of, and is even dwarfed by, the Lincoln Memorial, as viewed from the steps of, where else, but the Jefferson Memorial – the architect of the Declaration of Independence. The Jefferson Memorial, in turn, has an unobstructed view from the Martin Luther King memorial. Coincidence – not likely but clearly not a part of the original blueprint Pierre Charles L\’Enfant created and stormed off with when he was dismissed by George Washington, and one Benjamin Banneker supposedly recalled from memory, but again – we digress.