50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
Emancipation 2013: Field Negroes Needed
By N Oji Mzilikazi
Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 23, Number 17 August 22, 2013
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom
Cause all I’ve ever had redemption songs
All I’ve ever had redemption songs
These songs of freedom
Songs of freedom
— Redemption Song
— Bob Marley
August 28, 1963, was a momentous day in the history of America, and Black people everywhere. On that day, hundreds of thousands of people; men women, children, Blacks, whites, Jews, gays and lesbians, marched on Washington in the most significant protest of the civil rights era.
It was on that day, there in Washington; on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech, inarguable one of the greatest 20 Century speeches.
King’s speech prompted William Sullivan, the FBI’s assistant director of domestic intelligence, to recommend: “We must mark him [King] now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous negro of the future of this nation.”
The March on Washington — the standing up for equality, human rights, and social justice was both catalyst and immovable uncompromising force, which led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And a new day for people of African descent in the United States of America.
For all the greatness and good things about America, America was founded on the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, disenfranchisement of Blacks, and race bias, prejudice and bigotry informing policy and legislation. As such, racism is deeply embedded in American society — came automatically to Americans — is part of their national identity.
Consider the case of Dred Scott: Scott brought a suit to the court claiming that under the Missouri Compromise, his residency in a territory in which slavery was banned made him a free man. The US Supreme Court declared that as a Negro, Scott could never be a citizen of any State.
Predicated on economics, racism was about keeping Blacks poor educationally, economically, politically — protecting white privilege and hegemonies. Thus Jim Crow laws, the Grandfather Clause that stipulates only Black males with high literacy and property qualifications or those whose fathers and grandfathers had been qualified to vote on January 1, 1867, could vote, and the right to vote bestowed on only Blacks who could read or write.
In the face of Black gains, America’s hardcore racist machinery disguise and reshape racism to ensure those who profit from racial discrimination and inequities continue to do so.
In a 1981 interview, Republican strategist Lee Atwater explained the development of the G.O.P.’s Southern strategy thus: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like…”
And it’s in the encoding of words and new language that racism and discrimination endures. Thus the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land — the American presidency, created a new racism; the description of a post-racial society, and the “You’ve got a Black president, so what is there to complain about? Stop whining! Stop the race talk!”
The unanticipated election of Obama had, and has a racist backlash. More guns were sold than ever before in the history of America. Membership in right-wing militias and racists organizations increased, and the mood of the country changed.
Prior to the inauguration of Barack Obama, the influential Rush Limbaugh declared he hopes Obama fails. Shortly after his inauguration, William Kristol told Republicans to deny Obama making history. They must “find reasons to obstruct and delay. They should do their best not to permit Obama to rush his agenda through this year. They can’t allow Obama to make of 2009 what Franklin Roosevelt made of 1933 or Johnson of 1965.”
In June 2013, the US Supreme Court rescued racism. In nothing but trying to ensure another Obama would never sit in the White House, the US Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In gutting a key element that protected Black voters, the ruling released Southern States from anti-discrimination constraints. Texas and North Carolina immediately went ahead to implement changes to election rules.
Black America is under heavy siege on numerous fronts. The huge underclass; the uneducated, jobless, and under-employed Blacks inhabiting its inner cities, and the plagues of gangs, drugs, and violence create an even more hopeless and segregated environment – a nightmare, in respect to Dr. King’s dream.
The workload is heavy and the labourers few. Badly needed are the field Negroes. For only they have the understanding, the much needed patience, the right foundation, the right education, and revolutionary spirit to inspire, attack self-sabotage and self-defeating behaviours.
What does this have to do with us in Canada, you ask? When your neighbour house is on fire, through water on yours.
On 28 August, 2013, President Barack Obama will deliver remarks on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.