In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”:
What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful…
…But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?
For me, July 4, 2016 means that in a little over two months, I will join thousands of African Americans for the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The museum has been 101 years in the making. At last, everyone will now know that when we celebrate black history and culture, we, too, sing America.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.
Chalmette National Cemetery was established in 1864 as a final resting place for Union soldiers – including United States Colored Troops -- who died in Louisiana during the Civil War.
Though now closed to new interments, it is the final resting place of over 15,300 veterans and casualties of American military campaigns from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. There are only four graves of War of 1812 soldiers, one of whom was at the Battle of New Orleans.
March is Women in Jazz Month. To mark the occasion, the U.S. Postal Service is issuing the Sarah Vaughan Forever stamp.
Jazz legend Sarah Vaughan is being honored with a U.S. Forever stamp, which will be released March 29 with a free concert at her hometown's Newark Symphony Hall.
Vaughan, who sang in the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Choir and attended Arts High School, joins the ranks of Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash, all part of the Postal Service's Music Icons stamp series. The stamp is an image of a Bart Forbes oil painting based on a 1955 photograph by Hugh Bell of Vaughan in performance.
The Grammy- and Emmy-winning singer nicknamed "The Divine One" and "Sassy" died of lung cancer in 1990 at 66. A member of the Jazz Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Hall of Fame, her hits include "Misty," "Broken-Hearted Melody," and "Send in the Clowns."
The First-Day-of-Issue dedication ceremony will be held on March 29 at 11:00 a.m. at the Sarah Vaughan Concert Hall of Newark Symphony Hall. The gala event features a Proclamation from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and remarks from Grammy Award-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves. The musical highlights include performances by actress and singer Melba Moore, the Mount Zion Baptist Church Choir and the NJPAC Jazz for Teens Ensemble with Jazzmeia Horn.
Information on how to obtain free tickets for the concert is available here.
I had a visceral response to news that City Councilman Mark Squilla introduced a bill that would impose new rules for a “special assembly occupancy” license. Among other things, applications for an SAO license must be approved by the Philadelphia Police Department. Promoters and venue operators would be required to provide the police department with the “full name, address and phone number of all performance acts scheduled to perform during the promoted event or special event.”
There is concern the bill is racially motivated. That it’s targeting venues that promote hip-hop artists. Capt. Francis Healy, the PPD's legal adviser, told the Philadelphia Inquirer Squilla’s bill has “nothing to do with race,” adding:
I could see where it could be [interpreted as such].
The police department has a sordid history with black musicians. During Philly’s jazz heyday, clubs were under police surveillance. Jazz venues would be raided because black and white patrons were fraternizing. In a piece for Hidden City Philadelphia, Jack McCarthy shared a news report from 1949:
A preholiday raid by… detectives… once again smacks of racial prejudice on part of the law enforcers… [The] Downbeat is the favorite hangout for the be-bop fans and is the only downtown spot which never has discriminated against Negro patronage. In fact, crowds here have been interracial in character, attracting everybody from the intelligentsia to the rabid be-bop fan.
Nat Segall, former owner of the Downbeat who originally established the room, gave it up a year ago rather than give in to certain political powers who urged he adopt a segregation policy for the room. When he refused to give in, Segall, a former musician now in the booking business, was pestered by police raids and finally sold out.
Charges of underage drinkers at the Downbeat, basis for the raid, is a weak one when you see the patronage of purity-white places… you’ll find teenagers any night of the week in practically every night club in town.
Police harassment put the legendary club out of business. Philadelphia police and federal narcotics agents hounded Billie Holiday. Indeed, Lady Day was the first casualty of the War on Drugs.
On Nov. 17, 1955, Ray Charles and his entire band were arrested on drug charges. Although the charges were later dropped, Brother Ray vowed never again to perform in Philadelphia.
Sixty years later, there are echoes of Brother Ray’s concern about the climate for musicians. As currently written, the police department would maintain a registry of performers. Musicians are posting on social media that if Squilla’s bill passes, they will skip Philly.
Heard enough? Then take note and join the protest against Bill No. 160016 at City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 9 a.m. For more information, visit March for Musicians Against Bill #160016 on Facebook.
Don’t let Squilla stop the music.
UPDATE: Councilman Mark Squilla’s bill struck a sour note. At a hastily-arranged meeting with music industry leaders, Squilla said:
There’s a distrust between some performers and the government, a feeling of “big brother watching you.” That was not my intent.
In the wake of the social media backlash, Squilla will “withdraw the bill and start over from scratch.” Strike up the band and let the music play.
Veterans Day 2015 I want to thank the brave men and women who have served in the military. I want to give special thanks to the Tuskegee Airmen. Although a U.S. Army Air Corps' study tried to prove African Americans could not be pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen met the challenge.
You can show the veteran in your life some love by helping him or her story share their story with the Veterans History Project (VHP), a project of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress wants to preserve history:
VHP's mission is to collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.
Share your story, if you're a veteran. Simply sit down with a friend or loved one and record a conversation about your military experiences for 30 minutes or longer. Interview a veteran in your family or community. Collect a veteran's historical documents.
Collaborate with your local high schools and universities, retirement communities, veteran service organizations, churches, area businesses, and other community groups.
For more information, including how to get a VHP Field Kit, go to www.loc.gov/vets.
Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia this weekend. Vast areas of Center City already are on lockdown. Schools and colleges will be closed for the papal visit. Given the givens, this is the closest I will get to the People's Pope.
It's maddening that Philly can find money to host large events, e.g., World Meeting of Families and the 2016 Democratic National Convention, or make a down payment on the school to prison pipeline. But there's no money to fund programs that will lift its citizens out of persistent poverty.
Sure, visitors will love Center City, which sparkles day and night. Fact is, Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the nation. According to the 2013 Census Bureau American Community Survey, the city's poverty rate is 26.5 percent; over 400,000 of the city's 1,560,000 residents are living in poverty. More than 190,000 live in deep poverty, meaning their incomes are less than half the federal poverty level.
As of this writing, the city still hasn't signed a contract with the World Meeting of Families. It's safe to assume that taxpayers will be stuck with the bill for the Pope in Philly. Meanwhile, many public schools are without nurses, librarians, guidance counselors, substitute teachers or arts education.
I grew up in the Baptist church but right now, I'm unchurched.That said, I pray that city leaders heed the Papal Mass and “rescue the poor, the weak, and the abandoned from their distress and provide with generosity for their needs.”