“The question is not if we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Doesn’t time fly by so quickly in our lives? It just seems that it was just yesterday that I was hustling to go to school in Baltimore as a child. I was spending my summer days aimlessly playing from sun up to sundown never fully comprehending the world that was exploding around me. It caught with me the world that is when I was 14 years old and saw those military tanks and soldiers patrolling my neighborhood. They were protecting us from us or where they simply ensure that we didn’t move beyond our defined borders? Recently I noticed a quote from Senator Cory Booker, Democrat from New Jersey that he wasn’t born until after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Then I realized what he was saying that now 53 years had passed since that evening in April 1968 when the bullet pierced Dr. King’s head killing him instantaneously. 53 years had passed since they killed the King. He never knew the greatness personally of Dr. King nor did Senator Booker know the greatness of these warriors of justice who died too soon they refused to bend to injustice, refused to bend to oppression, and refuse to allow hatred to fester in their souls.
Also hard to believe that 68 years ago three black Americans were murdered victims of the hatred and deviltry of an evil nation. Reverend George Lee was encouraging his parishes to exercise the right to vote. His voice was silenced on May 7, 1955, George Lee was 51 years old at the time of his murder with nary whisper of remorse from the state of Mississippi as to who did the dastardly deed. In August simply because some retarded white savage heard a whistle, thought she heard a whistle Emmett Till, age 14, on August 28, 1955, was mutilated beyond human recognition by some beasts of hatred for a supposed whistle. Of course, on Christmas Day, 1955 the attack dogs of racism reared their ugly heads and blew Harry T., age 46, and Harriette Moore, age 49, to smithereens for simply being black and committed to working to gain black people’s civil rights. 61 years plus 14 years is the average life expectancy for a Black person living in America. Wow, pretty soon no person born the year these murders happened will be living in America.
Can you believe that September 15, 1963, is coming towards 60 years since that bomb exploded at the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama? 60 years since those 4 little girls, ages 14, and 11 were torn to bits by a sinister plot to foil human justice. Earlier that year on June 12, 1963, while going into his home Medgar Evers, age 37 who assassinated in the driveway of his home in plain sight of his family by a despicable human being dishing rage and hatred. It has been 60 years since those deeds of injustice. Then on June 21, 1964, James Chaney age 21, Andrew Goodman age 20, and Michael Schwerner age 24, were savagely murdered by racist thugs, oh yeah they indeed were thugs. Their bodies were covered up in an earthen dam to rot. Has it almost been 59 years since that savage event?
Then I stepped a little deeper into the abyss Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was an army veteran was 26 years old when he was killed in Selma, Alabama on February 18, 1965, protecting his mother against the onslaught of an outraged stormtrooper. Wasn’t the magnificent warrior, Malcolm X, age 39 murdered 3 days later at the Audubon Ballroom by agents of a repressive government? The American government is bent on delivering oppression to people of color in this nation. Those agents of hate knew that Malcolm X’s voice and actions would be a deterrent to the implementation of those vicious plans of continued injustice. Wasn’t it in March of 1965 that Viola Liuzzo, age 39, a white woman was shot dead simply because she had a conscious and couldn’t stand to see injustice continue to fester like rotten fruit on the vine of oppression? It was 58 years ago when those two bullets pierced his stomach sending Jimmie Lee Jackson, age 27 to glory 58 years ago. That same year 1965 Oneal Moore, age 22, celebrating his appointment as an officer of the law for Washington Parish, Louisiana was murdered in plain sight while his black patrol officer partner was blinded by bullets from a truck filled with raging white men out seeking mayhem and destruction. Can’t believe that it has been 58 years since that incident seared the nation.
It then pushed me to investigate just a little further. Two days after Dr. King was murdered Lil Bobby was killed in Oakland, California while involved in a police shootout led by Eldridge Cleaver and 10 other Black Panthers as they were being ambushed by police officers in Oakland. Bobby Hutton had just turned 18 years old at the time. Martin Luther King Jr. had just turned 39 when he was murdered. 53 years had passed between the murders of these two men one of whom never really had the chance to impact the movement. Robert James Hutton was to become a martyr to the cause. While Dr. King had given more than 13 years to the cause of civil rights beginning in 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. How many years between that boycott and today can you say 68 years?
Then I was pressed to dig just a little deeper into George Jackson, who was one of the Soledad Brothers, a member of the Black Panther Party For Self Defense and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family which he started while he was incarcerated in San Quentin Prison. George Jackson was 29 years old when he was killed unsuccessfully attempting to escape from the Marin County Courthouse. Was George Jackson guilty of something most likely but was he tried and unduly convicted because of his race, definitely.
The date of the foiled attempt and his killing was August 7, 1970. 1970 damn was it that long ago 53 years already? So many other Black bodies were dropped and forgotten in our struggle for basic civil rights. The reason for this post is that these are names that my daughter, her future daughter’s daughter must remember as they learn to value the contribution of our people.
Today’s Black martyr’s are entirely different than those who fought for our rights. Now today’s kids have the names of Martin, Gray, Garner, McDonald, Bland, Rice, Brown, and others killed not directly fighting for civil rights they were human murdered victims of denied rights that supposedly already provided us a nation’s people. Will, these names carry the same historical weight as those who sacrificed life and limb in the 50’ and 60s? Will the history books define today’s martyrs as heroes or simply victims of circumstances beyond their control? Back in the 50s and 60s black lives hardly mattered to those dishing injustice out in an oppressive nation. The question today seemingly remains unanswered still, do these lives matter?
We, as a community, must understand as Septima Clark stated, “that the greatest evil in our country today is …ignorance … We need to be taught to study rather than to believe.” We must not allow any of our youth to put to sleep the sacrifices of those who fought so valiantly for what little rights we attain today. Nor should we simply kick to the curb what these individuals fought for. They were beaten, killed, and maimed so that we as people could be delivered to participate in a just society.
I purposely placed the ages of those who died so that the readers can understand that many choose to die for something rather than to live for nothing. It is that spirit of the principled warrior that must never be exorcized from our being. We have to remember, we must never forget but we must begin to build for ourselves and those that will follow. We aren’t here forever so make it a mission to make each day a day the warrior in you stands tall. Do they still hustle to go to school in cities like Baltimore as we did as children? Do they spend summer days aimlessly playing from sun up to sundown? Do they never fully comprehend that the world is exploding around them? Will they see military tanks and armed soldiers protecting them from themselves or are those armed agents still ensuring that our children still don’t move beyond their defined borders?
Will that 14-year-old child wake up like I did to a world he or she never realized existed? Oh yeah, that happened last April again in Baltimore you understand why we must learn our history? 47 years past between the two April for those 14-year-olds awakening to the realities of a society gone wrong, one act was enflamed by a King while the other act was enflamed by a Gray. Yet both reactions are fueled by the feeding of continuous injustice in a beleaguered community. You had better go ask somebody because inside each of you resides the measure of a man or woman who can build the communities these lost resting souls sought.
“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man or woman you take it.”
Joseph Shelton Hall
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Tampa, Florida 33626
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