18. August 2016 15:23
by Administrator

Was the Civil Rights Movement Necessary? by Charles Woods, III

18. August 2016 15:23 by Administrator | 0 Comments


     “Why did people want to treat Black people badly?” said the little girl looking up at me at my first outreach as the new Outreach Coordinator for BCRI. (This particular outreach is called Tug – o – War and illustrates the struggles between the establishment and equality during the Civil Rights Movement and how it was young people who were able to tip the scale and cause lasting change.)   All I could say at first was “Good question,” “Goood question,” then I thought about it and gave her the best answer I thought a 4th grader would understand. This question sent me back to my grade school days when I asked a similar question “Why did Black people have to go through all of this.” (Relax this is not going to be a talk about the horrors of slavery or how evil white people are), but I would like to attempt to answer why was the Civil Rights Movement necessary?

                The United States of America is one of the youngest countries in the world but has one of the oldest constitutions.  You can attribute this to many things but the most common one is that the constitution has an amendment process that allows for change as the people change and ideals change.  After the civil war during reconstruction we hear about many Blacks who were able to be elected to important political positions. People such as  Hiram R. Revels and  Blanche Bruce both of Mississippi, Benjamin Turner of Alabama, Robert DeLarge and Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, and Josiah Walls of Florida were all elected as the first Blacks to Congress. I know that these people were elected during reconstruction when Union troops were in control of southern state governments, but the point is that Blacks were using their newfound rights and participating in the voting process. Blacks were actively seeking the American dream, so what happened? Besides sharecropping, the KKK, terror, Jim Crow, lynchings, literacy test, poll taxes, etc.  Reconstruction ended and now the southern states were free to deal with the newly freed Blacks how they wanted.

                After reconstruction Blacks started many prosperous self sustaining communities, where they had all they needed, provided by Black business owners.  So why integrate? What was so important about having an integrated society? At this time Jim Crow was the law of the land and nothing was equal for Blacks especially in the south. Even in the North, Midwest, and West Blacks were treated as second class citizens, Why did we want to integrate with people like that?  We know that separate is not equal, but integrated didn’t mean equal either. So during the 50’s and 60’s Blacks with the help of others marched, protested, sat in, and boycotted to fight for equality. Not equality so that society would be integrated but for equality as a full citizen of this country. The 14th and 15th amendments were passed to give Blacks the rights they needed to be citizens of the United States of America, but socially and politically no one honored those rights. Many times absurd measures were taken to purposely deny or scare them into not trying to use their rights.  Then it dawned on me, the civil rights movement was not about wanting what white people had, or being able to sit anywhere on the bus, or being able to sit down and eat in an establishment, or even being able to vote.  It was all about making the United States of America live up to it’s promise.  It was about making all that rhetoric in the constitution true and real for everyone in the United States of America including Blacks. It was about holding people accountable when they purposely denied or inflicted terror to keep Blacks from exercising their rights. So the Civil Rights Movement was necessary, not because Black people were tired and fed up, but because this country promises to provide an environment where everyone has the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Charles Woods, III is BCRI Outreach Coordinator 

3. August 2016 14:03
by Administrator

Perspective by Ahmad Ward

3. August 2016 14:03 by Administrator | 0 Comments

As a Black man just entering his 40’s, I freely admit that there was a time when I believed certain things would not be achievable in my lifetime.  I thought that we may eventually see a Black Secretary of State or Attorney General, but I never thought that I would see a Black President or Vice President in my lifetime.   I realize that this sounds funny to say in 2016, but that was my reality.  Even with the impact that Jesse Jackson had in the 1984 and 1988 Democratic Primaries, and the attention to our issues those campaigns ushered in, still…in the back of my mind I couldn’t see it.  My basis for feeling this way was the history I had heard about and what I had seen.  I was born after the Civil Rights Movement, but right in the middle of busing and changing community demographics.  I was in grade school by the time crack was introduced in our neighborhoods and began to dismantle family structure in a major way.  By the time I was teenager, I knew I was an endangered species with a life expectancy of 21, depending on my decisions or by my living environment.   Fortunately for me, my living situation was stable and supportive by two parents who pushed their kids to excel and to get an education.  I also knew that everyone didn’t have that benefit.

So I became jaded.  I still am to an extent.  As a fairly militant college student, I buried myself in all of the positives of my culture.  I had Hip Hop music that encouraged me to stay in school and flaunted Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  We had television shows that showed normal Black families and talked about being positive and striving to be anything you wanted to be…..including President of the United States.   I soaked all of that in, but even with all that ammunition, I never had it in my mind that I would see a Black President in my lifetime.  Maybe we would see a woman.  That would have still been a victory, but no one from African descent.

Fast forward eleven years to Election Night 2008.  I was thirty-three with three year old and 7 month-old daughters.   As I watched the results come in, I still didn’t want to believe what I was seeing.  Even though Barack Obama appeared to have a commanding lead over John McCain…that jadedness, that feeling that life experience had given me still had me questioning to the very end.  “Something could still happen.” “They’re not going to let him have this.”   After the commentators called the contest, my wife turned to me with tears in her eyes and said “He won!”  I remember standing in the middle of my living room with my hands on my head…mouth open…trying to reconcile what just happened.   What I believed would never happen in my lifetime had just taken place.   I walked up the steps and went into the rooms of my two angels as they slept and stared at them.  Their world would be so different than mine.  Their experience would be so much richer and would be absolutely boundless.

Whatever your opinion is of President Obama’s time in office, the impact of his ascension to the highest office of the land cannot be measured.  Removing politics from the equation, the Obama presidency has taken the limits off of what little Black boys and girls can accomplish in the country and the world.  Recently, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to receive a Presidential nomination from a major party.  Ninety-six years after women secured the right to vote, there is a chance that a woman might lead the country.   Whether she wins the election or not, every little girl that wants to dream about being President now knows that it’s at least, possible.

I grew up not believing that I would see a Black President.  My children have only known of a Black President during their lifetime.  Now as females, they could see a woman take that office next.  Regardless if you’re a Republican or Democrat, that is a powerful thing to imagine.   My girls won’t know any barriers to their careers and lives.  In a country that has not always been open and accessible to minorities and women, there are no strikes against them that they can’t conquer.  No reason to be jaded about their prospects.  How incredible is that?

Their perspective is light years away from where mine was when I was their age.  I am very grateful for that.

Ahmad Ward is Vice President of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI