Posts Tagged ‘African Americans’

Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr., and on heroism

January 15, 2012

 

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s been a holiday in all fifty states only since 2000, when Utah finally adopted it. MLK was a hero, and the holiday dedicated to him is a good time to reflect on his life and on the meaning—and especially the limits—of being a hero.

If we venerate some of our Presidents for their accomplishments, then we surely should venerate King. He arguably did more to make America a better nation than anyone since Lincoln. He dreamt that “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

America is not that nation yet—not quite—but we’ve progressed awfully close to it since King’s 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And the progress has been largely inspired by King. His insistence on non-violence sealed the commitment of African-Americans to it, and his description of what justice meant captured the conscience and then the heart of much of white America.

Yet when his birthday was first proposed as a national holiday in 1979—just eleven years after his death—it was so controversial that it failed to win a majority vote in the House of Representatives, and it took another twenty-one years for the fiftieth state to recognize it. Many reasons have been cited for the resistance, but surely a major reason (more…)

Lena Horne, battler for civil rights in Hollywood, dead at 92. (Oh, yes, she sang and acted too)

May 17, 2010

Lena Horne died last week at 92. I only knew of two prominent African-Americans when I was growing up in segregated Wilmington, Delaware. One was heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, and the other was singer Lena Horne. I knew she was a good singer, and quite beautiful, but I didn’t know anything else. I’m indebted to Jack Marshall’s EthicsAlarms.com blog for educating me about her groundbreaking role in the civil rights movement.

Marshall called Horne “Ethics Hero Emeritus” for her relentless fight against segregation and her principled refusal to play demeaning roles in the racist Hollywood environment of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Her career suffered, and she finally left Hollywood for Europe, where people didn’t seem to care much about her skin color.

There’s a fascinating PBS Fresh Air program, broadcast on May 14, that replays an interview that host Terry Gross conducted with Horne’s daughter, Gail Lumet Horne, in 1986. Listen to it for an inspiring story of this heroic woman.

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Palin was the best part of the Tea Party convention, the audience the worst

February 14, 2010

Sarah Palin gave a rousing speech at the Tea Party convention, raking and mocking President Obama with zingers like “How’s that hope-y, change-y stuff workin’ out for ya?” The crowd enthused, having paid $350 to hear the speech live, and the left’s commentators tut-tutted over Palin’s writing notes on her hand to help her remember her key points. All in good fun.

But there was a truly ugly side of the convention. Tea Partiers can no longer pass off the birthers as a tiny group of nuts that aren’t representative of true Tea Partiers. Not after the crowd’s wild enthusiasm for Tom Tancredo’s keynote speech. Ex-congressman Tancredo (R-CO) explained that “Barack Hussein Obama” was only elected because “we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote.” [Wild cheers]

“People who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House.” [More wild cheers]

I’m not sure who he was referring to. Perhaps it was Latinos and African-Americans who couldn’t have voted had there been a literacy test—like in the good old days when blacks were turned away from polls all over the South, no matter how literate they were, because the point of the tests was to turn them away.

I’m pretty sure, however, what the crowd was cheering. It was that Obama voters were others, a different species, not even entitled to be part of the American system. The crowd responded to hate speech with cheers.

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