Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first observed in 1986. Check out Marcus Baram's recap of how millions of Americans, led by Stevie Wonder, shamed Congress and President Ronald Reagan into showing Dr. King some love.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. By staying in her seat, she stood up for racial justice.
Parks’ civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 380 days. The economic boycott gave birth to the modern Civil Rights Movement. On Tuesday, NPR’s Michel Martin will host a national conversation focusing on whether the bus boycott still matters.
You can join the conversation via Twitter using the hashtag #busboycott60.
On Saturday at the Merriam Theater, bassist Christian McBride performed like it was 1969. McBride’s “The Movement, Revisited” is centered around the words of four Civil Rights icons, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali.
McBride shared that he grew up reading Jet and Ebony which gave him a history lesson in the black experience. The four icons stood out for him. “The Movement, Revisited” stems from a commission by the Portland Arts Society to compose a piece for Black History Month:
The genesis for this project began in 1998 when McBride was commissioned by the Portland (ME) Arts Society to compose THE MOVEMENT, Revisited, a two-part composition for small instrumental group and gospel ensemble. This year, McBride envisioned a project of wider scope on the same theme and it has grown into a full-scale, 90-minute production.
The narrators brought to life the personality and passion of their character. I particularly enjoyed McBride’s exuberant “Rumble in the Jungle.” The choir evoked the spirit of the Freedom Singers with “I’m So Tired” and “Freedom, Struggle.”
I don't want to predict anything, but the magnitude of the piece - why it was written, what it was about - I can't imagine I'll ever write something as monumental on this scale again. I do get overwhelmed playing it, and every time I do, it feels new. Sometimes, I play this piece and still go, “Wow, did I really write this?”
If the standing ovation is any indication, the audience was wowed by the piece.
McBride’s message music harkens back to earlier generations of jazz greats who were inspired by the struggle for racial justice. In 1929, Louis Armstrong asked, “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue.” Composed by Fats Waller, it is considered the first American popular song of racial protest.
Billie Holiday told the world about the horrors of lynching.
Both Armstrong and Holiday are featured in an exhibition at the Library of Congress, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.” The multimedia exhibition explores the events that shaped the Civil Rights Movement. It includes manuscripts like Dr. Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” composed in 1954 and popularized by Nina Simone in the 1960s.
In 1959, bassist Charles Mingus composed “Fables of Faubus,” a satirical protest against Arkansas governor Orval Faubus who had deployed the Arkansas National Guard to Little Rock Central High School to prevent nine African American students from entering the segregated school.
Jazz has an element of freedom. It is that freedom that allowed jazz musicians to use their platform to sound a message of defiance and resistance. From John Coltrane’s “Alabama” to Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” jazz was a soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement.
Last week, Congressman Chaka Fattah was charged with racketeering, conspiracy, bribery, bank fraud, money laundering and falsification of records. As I read the 29-count indictment, I thought the ancestors must be rolling over in their graves. The struggle for voting rights was about empowering African Americans to vote for candidates who would represent their interests.
Fifty years after Bloody Sunday, we have an entitled political class that is more interested in advancing their personal interests, and that of their family and friends.
In a Fox29 man-on-the-street interview, a constituent said it best:
He’s [Fattah] supposed to be bringing us up, not taking from us.
And that’s precisely what Fattah allegedly did. Co-conspirator Herbert Vederman allegedly sponsored Fattah’s live-in au pair.
A nonprofit run by a Fattah crony received a $1 million grant from NASA to support a STEM program for members of underrepresented groups. The crony, now co-conspirator, allegedly used some of the funds to repay a political loan.
This scheme should take the steam out of those who are quick to holler that black elected officials are harassed. If your hand is not in the cookie jar, you don’t have to worry about unfair scrutiny.
The allegation that he is the legislative equivalent of a capo didn't seem to impress Fattah, who has been under investigation long enough to repeatedly seek and win reelection regardless. While glibly allowing that the indictment is more significant than "Deflategate" - an airy scandal involving footballs - Fattah answered a disturbingly detailed 29-count indictment by reiterating a general denial and vowing to "try not to have it be a distraction."
In fact, the charges are so serious as to render Fattah's service a distraction. Even if he hasn't serially abused his office, as the charges suggest, he will be a busy defendant. As neither is compatible with his continued service, he should step down.
Such grave allegations, along with the pleas that preceded them, are a blot on what seemed to be a distinguished political career, and the latest in a long line for Philadelphia Democrats. Fattah is entitled to be presumed innocent unless proven otherwise. But he is not entitled to his office.
If Fattah doesn’t resign, his trial may a “distraction” for Democrats when they convene in this notoriously “corrupt and content” city for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the civil rights demonstrations at Girard College in protest of the segregated all-white boarding school. The demonstrations were led by then-Philadelphia NAACP President Cecil B. Moore and legendary radio broadcaster Georgie Woods who served as vice president of the local chapter.
The voice of the community, Georgie, as he was affectionately called, was the “Guy with the Goods.”
Georgie produced and sometimes emceed shows at the famed Uptown Theater. He also staged sold-out “Freedom Shows” that raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Civil Rights Movement.
In addition to a plaque on Philly’s Walk of Fame, Georgie is immortalized in a mural on a wall of the Uptown.
It’s said that “blues ain’t nothing but a botheration on your mind.” I’m bothered that developers are erasing African Americans’ cultural heritage.
In Philadelphia, developers routinely – and without notice – build in front of or demolish murals that are paid for in part by City taxpayers.
Murals are part of Philadelphia’s cultural fabric. The Mural Arts Program creates murals that engage the community. They reflect a community’s history, identity, hopes and dreams.
City Council members can use Councilmanic Prerogative to require that developers of publicly-subsidized projects replace murals of social or cultural significance. Who will determine which mural meets that threshold? Let’s stipulate that murals that tell stories about events or persons who are the subject of books, songs, documentaries, national holiday, or City and congressional resolutions are culturally significant.
The how of replacement is negotiable. What is non-negotiable is that developers can erase African Americans’ cultural heritage because, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, there is “no controlling legal authority.” A Council member is the controlling legal authority in his or her district. He or she decides which projects go forward and which ones go nowhere. While developers view murals as disposable, Council members must exercise their prerogative and demand that they respect that which came before.
If you are concerned about cultural heritage preservation, get involved with Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) Committee on Arts and Culture, which I chair. For more information, call ATAC at (215) 552-8785.
For updates, follow #BlackCultureMatters on Twitter.