Category Archives: Historian

Black History Month Lunch Menu?

Sambo

This week a California elementary school got into some trouble for a Black History Month lunch menu, which included fried chicken, corn bread and watermelon.   For the last few years, one of these menus has made its way to the Internet every February and received some backlash. For the most part I think these menus are honest attempts at celebrating Black History Month and do not find the general idea of them offensive.  February is an opportunity to celebrate Black history and culture.  Food, primarily soul food, is a huge part of our culture and has strong roots in our history.  African slaves were given the scraps from their white masters for food.  With a bit of creativity, slaves turned these scraps into edible dishes that still appear on African American dinner tables today.  My favorite example of this is pig guts, which are doctored up and called chitlins.  I personally have never eaten chitlins, but I appreciate the history behind it.

For those who were offended, we have to remember that we celebrate every holiday or occasion with food.  Holidays like Cinco De Mayo are not complete without a trip to your favorite Mexican restaurant for tacos and margaritas.  St. Patrick’s day is full of green foods and typical Irish fare.  Having a soul food menu for Black History month seems to be the same idea.  Now I do take issue with the addition of watermelon on the lunch menu.  If you are acknowledging African American history with this menu, then how could you miss the part with Sambo, Mammy and a pickaninny eating watermelon? The connection between African Americans and watermelon is generally offensive!  Personally the only connection I make in my mind with watermelon and black folks is the picture above.  The cooks in my family, whom I affectionately call the bootleg caterers, specialize in all things soul food and I cannot say that watermelon is a fixture on their menu.  So the lesson here is celebratory Black History month menus are okay, but avoid foods that some could deem offensive, like watermelon.

 

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Justice for Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin is dead and the man who killed him is still in the land of the living as a free man.  I am still wrapping my head around this reality. I am proud of our nation for standing up and fighting for justice for Trayvon Martin. Without the public’s initial disgust with no arrest, this trial would have never happened.  We would have still been dealing with what ifs. So that I say that is a step in the right direction.  Just hard because it does not feel like Trayvon Martin and his family got the justice they so rightly deserved.

My mind always looks at trends or deviations from history. After this verdict I immediately thought of cases from the 1960s such as Medgar Evers and Emmett Till.  Both black men killed in the South by white men.  Their murder trials were brought before an all white jury who would ultimately fail to return a guilty verdict.  These cases happened 50 years ago but I cannot help to see the similarities with Trayvon Martin.  We think about how far we have come but moments like this remind us about how far we still have to go as a nation.

As an attorney I hoped and prayed that our justice system could show not just Black America, but also the world that we are no longer the same system of the past but Lady Justice is truly blind in America for once.  I cannot say that happened tonight.  Hardest thing for me as an attorney is to concede to people that the system does not always work. It does not always put the guilty behind bars and does not always free the innocent.  African American men as defendants and victims in this justice system face different realities and are so often those who face the unjust “justice” system.

The NAACP is already calling for the Department of Justice to pursue federal charges.  The Federal government could chose to bring charges under civil rights statutes against George Zimmerman and not violate double jeopardy.  From the beginning I hoped the Department of Justice would be able to make a case.  I just do not think that they will be able to.   They need to show that he killed Trayvon Martin simply because he was black.  While his reasons for initially following Trayon would leave many of us to believe that, it is a leap in logic to use that to pursue federal charges.

In today’s society, being racist is not the politically correct thing to do.  The man who murdered Medgar Evers in 1963, Bryon De La Beckwith was very open about his hatred of African Americans.  We do not always see that today.  The scariest racist is often the one who you cannot see, the one who does not fully articulate their hatred. They may harbor ill will or truly believe certain stereotypes. In addition, they may act on these beliefs in ways that can be explained away with some legitimate reason such as you just were not qualified for the job as opposed to they did not want to hire a black person.  To some degree it is even unconscious for them. This is the racist of today and I think they are even harder to convict under a Civil Rights statute.  That is the difficulty I see here.  Even now, we do not fully understand George Zimmerman’s thought process that night. He very well could be harboring hatred towards African Americans but he never stated that and more importantly his actions can be explained away by “self-defense” and not purely a hate crime.

Going forward I think the best plan of action for those who want to ensure this never happens again through lobbying within the state of Florida to change some of their laws. With the nation watching you guys have dropped the ball twice, once with Casey Anthony and now George Zimmerman. Time to reexamine some things Florida.  First I think self defense should be rolled back to the common law version of self defense that worked just fine forever.  Under that, you have the duty to retreat if possible unless you are in your home. You cannot “stand your ground” and essentially have a modern day duel.  One of the biggest things that new legislation should highlight is that the initial aggressor cannot then use self defense after creating the situation.  Another interesting thing Florida could do,

Florida should also increase the number of members of a jury.  Six people is clearly not enough to get a fair cross section of the community.  I say clearly because the jury consisted of five white women and one woman who’s race has been debated.  She has been described by some as a Hispanic woman or black woman and others as a biracial woman.  When you have underlining issues of race I think it is even more important to have a diverse jury.  They all bring different experiences in with them to the jury box.  The prosecution also dropped the ball on their selection in this case as well but with only six spots there is only so much you can do.

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Researching my Family History this Black History Month

As I have said in many of my previous posts I love History! One of first adventures with History was researching my own family tree beginning when I was about fourteen.  Working with my mother we started the process that I would later pick up about ten years later.  As an African American the information out there is limited but there is still a lot of information that is worth discovering.  For about the last two years I have researched primarily using ancestry.com my family history off and on.  I picked up my research again this month, ironically black history month.  The experience has hands down been my favorite research project.

My favorite genealogy moment was finding out that my great great great great  grandfather, a farmer, lived in Boone County, Missouri, the same county that is home to my alma mater University of Missouri.  Before I found a census record with his name John Barnes, I was unaware that my family lived in Boone County in the 1800s.  It was such a wow moment for me! Although I was born in Kansas City, I grew up in Houston but for some reason I decided to venture back to Missouri to attend college and stayed for law school.  It was like coming full circle for me!  Mizzou was founded in 1839 and my 4x grandfather was born in 1849.  I wondered if he was aware of the nearby college that young white students were matriculating to every year.   Was it even fathomable to him that some day blacks would be able to attend this institution?  Could my 4x grandfather even imagine that he would have two 4x great grandchildren graduate from this institution about 150 years after he was born?  I walked across a stage in a county where my ancestors were farmers and marginalized.  That honestly made my degrees from the University of Missouri mean even more to me.

This is a picture of my great grandfather Homer with his father Willie Sims.  Before this picture Homer had not seen his father since he was seven years old and believed that he was deceased.  Finding anything else on Willie Sims including his parents names has been difficult and one of my biggest frustrations in my research.  Researching your family history is a rewarding and a frustrating experience at the same time but I will say that it is totally worth it! Here are a few tips that I learned over the years.  I do not consider myself an expert in genealogy but I have found quite a bit so far.

1.  People did not use their “government names”

You are going to find varying spellings of your ancestor’s names.  Do not discount a record because the name is a little different, or a nickname. For example my grandmother told me that she had an Aunt Gussie and Uncle Babe.  I found a census record with those exact names, so I thought wow they really named this man Babe! Well then I found another census record that matched up with birthdates but the name was Isaiah.  Another example is my great grandfather.  His name was likely James Monroe Harrison but I constantly see the name flipped as Monroe James.  It could be that everyone called him by his middle name. The changing names makes for very frustrating researching, but the birth dates or years helps cut down the confusion.

My great grandfather listed here as Monroe Harrison but often referenced as James Monroe Harrison.  I am starting to think Monroe may have been his middle name but what everyone called him.

2. Can’t find birth certificates? Don’t worry go for death certificates!

Death certificates are actually better because they give more information than a birth certificate.  The state of Missouri has death certificates from all counties from about 1900-1961 online for FREE!  I found death certificates for a lot of my ancestors and they included not only their birth date but also their date of death, their spouses’ name, their parents’ name, the state their parents’ were born in, and what their occupation was.  It will also tell you how they died.  From a death certificate I confirmed a rumor that a great great grandfather died from syphilis! This is one document that if filled out in it’s entirety is a great source of information!

This is what I believe is my 4x great grandfather’s death certificate. Notice the different spelling of his name.  Here it is listed as Jno but other records including census records list his name as John Barnes. His date of birth and place of birth also indicates that he was born into slavery.

3. Remember important dates!

1890- In 1890 there was a census but unfortunately a fire ruined it about a hundred years ago.  I was SO mad when I found this out!  I think it may have held the information about my one elusive ancestor.

When slavery ended- Understand that there really is not one date for this and it really varies depending on the state.   I have kind of used the date of the 13th amendment, 1865, a few years after the emancipation proclamation was signed. This is benchmark date because before then you likely will not find you ancestors in census records.

-The Great Migration around 1910-1930 – This was the point where African Americans began to migrate north for better opportunities.  During this time frame I found my family moved from Southern states like Tennessee and Mississippi to Missouri.  This may be the time frame that you will find your ancestors moving as well so keep that in mind.

4. Don’t forget siblings!

At first I was only researching direct lineage and was not bothering with my ancestors’ siblings.  One day I got bored and started adding siblings and I discovered even more information just from them.  More importantly this will give you more sources for your direct ancestors.  For example my great great grandfather’s sister’s death certificate gave me an alternate name for their father, which was helpful with my research.

5. Realize that some information will be wrong and be open to conflicting information.

The main thing I find that is often wrong is birth dates.  I assume that many of them may not have really known their birth date.  Oral history is also helpful but can be wrong as well.  Be open to information that conflicts with what you heard from grandparents and others. Even more frustrating are official government documents that are completely wrong. Early on my in research I found my great great grandmother Gertrude’s death certificate which listed her mother’s name as Gertrude as well but no maiden name.  I was never able to find other supporting documents that her name was Gertrude but I went with it for about two years.  Just recently I finally found a census record that proved Gertrude’s mother’s name was in fact Cora and her death certificate was wrong.  I initially did not trust what my research uncovered particularly since my initial source was a death certificate but things seemed to fit with Cora better.  I was never able to find anything about Gertrude Sr. that fit other details I knew.  Once I switched to Cora I found a lot more information.

It is so easy for these things to happen!  Many African Americans could not read or write and had to depend solely on the staff at these government offices when filling out these documents.  That opens the door for plenty of room for error.   Then I cannot help but to question how their race played into how seriously their death certificates were taken by workers at these offices.   Then there is just plan human error on the part of the informants.   If they did not really know they may have guessed just to put something down.  Whatever the reason is you will find errors but you will have to use logic and other clues to find the real answer.

6. Keep your tree open!

If you decide to use ancestry.com to compile your research (I do recommend it) make sure that your tree is visible to others on the site.  Ancestry.com will not allow the public to see living people on your tree for privacy reasons..  This is a great way to find long lost living relatives as well as a source for more information for your tree.  Not long after I joined Ancestry.com I found one of my mother’s first cousin who she’d never met.  It was great to connect and share information.

Good luck researching! Let me know if you find anything interesting!

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My take on Red Tails

 

A few weekends ago I traveled to the movie theaters to see Red Tails!  I will admit from the beginning I was not excited about going to see this movie because I do not like war movies at all. Then after George Lucas’ made his comments about the importance of supporting this movie due to Hollywood’s perception of black movies I thought ah dang I guess I will go see it.  Not to mention I am critical of the current popular black cinema, therefore I felt like I had to support this movie. Overall it was a good movie.  Here are a few things that struck me about Red Tails and the conversation surrounding it.

 

1. Corny but decent

That is how I would sum this movie up.  If you are expecting an Oscar level movie then please look elsewhere.  This movie is honestly a step up from a Disney movie but I think that broadens its appeal.  A relatively young child could see the movie and follow along for the most part.  The music reminds me of music from a GI Joe cartoon, a lot of the acting was subpar and it wasn’t the best script but despite all of these negatives I still enjoyed the movie!  The overall story of how the Tuskegee Airman triumphed even when their own superiors doubted them is what makes this movie good.

 

2. The Acting

Some of the acting was really bad but others stood out to me.   Other than Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. the actors in the movie are virtual unknowns.  That was an aspect that I liked, seeing so many black actors have a shot in a big screen movie.  Supporters of Tyler Perry always say he gives many black actors work but ironically I’ve never seen any of the actors in this movie in Tyler Perry movies.   I enjoyed the performances by Nate Parker (Easy) and Tristan Wilds (Junior) the most.  I look forward to seeing them in more movies. On the other hand I hope after this movie Neyo goes back to what he does best, writing music because acting really is not his thing.

 

3. The love story

I have quite a bit to say about this so bear with me.  A minor plot in the overall story is a love story between one of the black pilots and an Italian woman.  Keep in mind that neither of these lovers speaks the others language so the audience is to believe that despite that they manage to foster a strong love. Yeah right!  This portion of the story was boring and frankly unbelievable I could have done without.  Every movie does not need a love story for it to be a good story.   This part of the movie was noticeably absent from all the previews and write-ups that I saw too.  Without a doubt that was on purpose.  The target audience for this movie was African Americans. I bet some of the marketers felt that African American women would not support a movie with an interracial relationship.  Regardless of race, it was just a pointless aspect of the movie.

 

4. Where were the black actresses?

This movie was lauded as a great movie with an all black cast but there were no black actresses included! After seeing the movie I found an article that listed singer Jazmine Sullivan as part of the cast. Well I missed her in the movie, so I have to assume that her scenes were cut from the final product.  I wish they had included at least one black actress in this movie! At the very least it could have been a flashback.

 

5. The African American community rallied behind this movie

Red Tails did get a lot of support from the black community.  I tried to see this movie three times and each time it was sold out. Luckily the third time I purchased my tickets online ahead of time.  From social networks I saw a lot of my friends went to see it and enjoyed it as well.  It seems that George Lucas was successful in lighting a fire in the African American community.  After I thought about it a little longer I think Lucas’ comments were a little misleading.  When you take Tyler Perry out of the mix Hollywood has made successful and critically acclaimed movies with all black casts.  A few that come to mind are Precious, Dream Girls, Ray, and even Hustle and Flow.  I think this type of movie, a war movie, with an all black cast has had a hard time finding a strong audience and studio support.  Spike Lee spoke about these problems before when he released Miracle at St. Ana, also a WWII movie with a black cast.

I think the biggest surprise is that a George Lucas, the man who created Star Wars, would not be able to get funding for a movie. I would just assume that the powers that be in Hollywood would give his instinct some leeway considering it’s George Lucas!  It also makes me wonder what great movie concepts are out there with black-leading roles that are not being made?   I am definitely open to seeing more at my local theaters!  If Red Tails creates more support for a variety of black movies in Hollywood then I say great!

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My People…

As a race of people African Americans have spent centuries enduring injustice.  At one point we were considered property and not even worthy of the rights and guarantees of the constitution.  Generations of African Americans were lynched and murdered and never saw justice.  On the flip side they were also accused of crimes and faced all white male juries.  Justice was not served.  Although it was fiction, we often look at the novel To Kill a Mockingbird or the Scottsboro Boys Trials to illustrate the fate of many African American men in the American justice system.   I also think of victims like Emmett Till, who lost his life because someone thought he winked at a white woman.  The African American community responded strongly to Till’s death with thousands attending his funeral where his brave mother had an open casket so the people could see what happened to her son.  Unfortunately Till’s murders never served time for their crimes but this incident illustrates African Americans standing up against injustice.

When I think of this long history of fighting for what is right, the innocent, and the falsely accused I am utterly disgusted that we have degraded ourselves to defending horrible behavior today.  In November an eleven-year-old Hispanic girl was raped by eighteen Black men in a small town in Texas near Houston.  Community leaders and family members of the suspect have the nerve to be outraged about their arrests!   A meeting was held to discuss their concerns about the arrests and the investigation.  No concern that eighteen young men did not see anything wrong with raping a child, recording it, and dispersing the tape.

Parents of the suspects argue that the girl looked and acted older. This may be true but I find it really hard to believe that an eleven-year-old could look eighteen. Yes she may have the body and attitude of a fifteen year old, but even that age does not allow her to consent to sex.   Regardless of how she looked, the law imposes strict liability when it comes to statutory rape so the rapist awareness of her age is irrelevant.  The adult carries the burden of determining the age of their partner.  Was this eleven year old probably a “fast tail” girl as my mother use to say.  Probably so.  Her mother also could have taken actions to curve her reported sexual behavior and adjusted her appearance to that of an eleven year old but all this does not change the actions of the young men involved in this horrific rape.

The bottom line is that we need to quit supporting foolishness!  Yes our young men have been wronged and mistreated by the justice system time and time again.  Some even argue that our system is set up almost as a trap for African American men.  Some injustice does not equal all injustice.  The greater injustice in this situation is if the men who perpetrated this crime do not pay for what they did this little girl.

This incident also makes recall another historical moment in the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks was not the first person to protest segregated buses but people stood up for her because here was a woman who worked hard, had no criminal record and did not seem to provide a reasonable threat to anyone.  An unwed pregnant teenager, Claudette Colvin, and a convicted felon made previous protests. The others were equally wronged by the segregated busing system but due to their past they could not be used as an example because those opposed to the movement could easily find fault in them. I use that story to illustrate that we have to be careful who we put our support behind.  The strength of our protest and dollar had not been demonstrated prior to the Civil Rights movement but we saw it was an effective tool when used correctly. We also saw that not everyone was worthy of it.  So why now do we throw it every fool who claims he has been wronged? Newsflash everyone in prison or jail claims they are innocent or their actions are justifiable.  Today African Americans, particularly African American men are still the victims of improper police behavior but we should not weaken the stories of those in the right by supporting those clearly in the wrong.  We know we have a strong voice but if we stand behind people like the men in Cleveland, Texas our support for the true victims is clearly undermined.

 

Black History Month: Celebrating the lesser known historical figures

A few Black History Figures that you might have missed

I LOVE history, especially African American history, so of course I love the month of February because it is a time of year that everyone stops to appreciate the history that I enjoy year around.  African Americans reached where they are today because of the sacrifices of so many African Americans over the course of history. Most Americans of any race can name the big leaders and activist, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to name a few.  Black History Month is a great time for us to look beyond the most famous African American leaders and look to others who made large contributions to the civil rights movements yet do not receive the same recognition.  Here are a few African American history makers they you may not have heard of.

1. Charles Hamilton Houston

We have all heard of Thurgood Marshall but few are aware of the mastermind behind the Brown v. Board case and the cases that led to that decision.  Charles Hamilton Houston a Harvard law grad set the path for the NAACP legal branch but unfortunately died before he could see his dream completed.  Houston was instrumental in making Howard Law School the training school for the nation’s greatest civil rights attorneys.  He saw it as an opportunity to build an army of attorneys who could carry on the fight for equality in America’s courts.  One of his students was future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  With a constant flow of the best-trained civil rights lawyers, Hamilton mounted one of the most important aspects of the Civil Rights movement, the attack on the legal front. Working for the NAACP legal branch, Houston litigated Murray v. Pearson, Gaines v. Canada , and other cases that laid the groundwork for the monumental case Brown v. Board of Education.  At the time of his death Brown was in its initial stages.  Colleagues stated that on his deathbed, Houston discussed with colleagues the possibility of attacking segregation itself as unconstitutional and unequal.  This of course was the theory that would later prove successful in the Brown case. Although he did not live to see the final outcome of his work Houston’s work changed the make up of American schools and the legal aspect of the Civil Rights movement.

2.  Fredi Washington

I recently encountered Fredi Washington’s story when I watched her in the original Imitation of Life.  In the 1934 version of Imitation of Life Washington played a young black women whose appearance allowed her to pass as white.  For Fredi Washington art imitated life.  As a young black actress trying to break into Hollywood in the 1930’s Freddi Washington’s light appearance would have allowed her to pass but Washington vehemently refused.  Of course the roles for African American women during this time were limited.   Due to her own experiences Washington became a civil rights activist, helping form the Negro’s Screen Actor’s Guild of America.  I personally find Washington’s story intriguing on so many levels.  I have been surprised with the lack of information that I have been able to find about Fredi Washington, there seems to be very little written on her.  I am currently searching for more information about her life.

3. Lloyd Gaines

Without his pioneering effort I literally would not be where I am today.  Lloyd Gaines was a graduate of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri who dreamed of attending law school in his home state.  Although he was clearly qualified to attend University of Missouri School of Law, he was denied admittance because of his race. With the help of NAACP legal fund led by Charles Hamilton Houston, Gaines took his fight to the courts. University of Missouri and the state of Missouri suggested building a law school at Lincoln University or sending him to a law school outside of the state of Missouri just to prevent Gaines from attending University of Missouri School of Law.  Before the Supreme Court, Charles Hamilton Houston argued that this was not enough.  A hastily established law school would not meet the separate but equal standards the court set to uphold.  The Supreme Court agreed and held that Gaines was entitled to admittance to the University of Missouri School of Law.  Building an equal law school or forcing blacks to attend law school outside of the state would not suffice.

Unfortunately Gaines never had the opportunity to attend the University of Missouri School of Law.  He disappeared not long after the Supreme Court made its decision.  There has been much speculation about what actually happened to Lloyd Gaines.  Many believe that he met the fate of so many other pioneers during that time and others feel that the pressure got to him and he left the country.   I personally am more inclined to believe that Gaines was the victim of foul play.

Older African Americans often tell younger generations that people died for you to have these rights and privileges yet you do not exercise them.  For me it was eerie to look at Lloyd Gaines picture prominently hanging in the law school lounge because I knew, that without his sacrifice, which likely cost him his life, I would not be able to attend the University of Missouri School of Law.  It has honestly makes me emotional at times.  I will always appreciate his sacrifice and his fight for equality.

4. Harry Belafonte

I am sure you heard of Harry Belafonte as an actor and singer but did you know that he was also a major player in the Civil Rights movement?  In his book Why We can’t Wait, Martin Luther King Jr. highlights how instrumental Harry Belafonte was in the Civil Rights Movement.  Belafonte’s home was the site of many meetings between other Civil Rights leaders in New York.  During the times when Civil Rights leaders such as Martin Luther King were arrested following demonstrations, they looked to people like Belafonte to raise funds for bail.  Belafonte is credited with raising fifty thousand dollars for bail money for Dr. King and others.  The actor financed many other activities including the freedom rides and voter registration drives.  Belafonte is an excellent example of a celebrity using their fame to benefit others.  His type of dedication is so rare among the celebrities of today. At 83 Harry Belafonte continues to advocate for civil rights and similar causes around the world.  A documentary entitled “Sing Your Song” profiling Belafonte’s life as a civil rights activist recently premiered at the 2011 Sundance film festival.

5. Barbara Jordan

My knowledge of Barbara Jordan is mainly due to the fact that I grew up in Houston.  My mother worked at the main post office in downtown Houston that was named in her honor and while I was touring colleges in high school I visited the Barbara Jordan papers collection at Texas Southern University.  Barbara Jordan is definitely considered a history maker in Texas African American history but I think she also deserves to be honored outside of the great state of Texas.  After being the first African American woman to serve in the Texas state legislature, Barbara Jordan was elected to the United States Congress.  Jordan was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress from a Southern state.  While in Congress Jordan served on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment trial of Richard Nixon.  Jordan also delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1976 making her the first African American woman to do so.  Barbara Jordan, a trailblazer, opened the door for so many other African American women lawmakers.

6.  A. Phillip Randolph

The 1963 March on Washington is a pinnacle moment in African American history but it was not the first time that this type of event was attempted.  Almost twenty years before in 1941 A. Phillip Randolph planned the first March on Washington.  The organizers of the first march hoped that they could bring the attention to the plight of African Americans seeking employment in the defense industries during wartime.  Following the successful planning of the march, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which prohibited discrimination in defense industries.  The President and his advisors feared the image that a March on Washington would portray during wartime and worked hard to reach another solution.  With their goal reached, the 1941 march was called of.  Randolph was also credited with the founding of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first black labor organization to receive a charter from the American Federation of Labor.   Randolph’s contributions to history are overshadowed by the greats that came after him but he clearly laid the foundation for what was to come.

* There are a few more weeks left in February.  I may add an additional post if I think of any other history makers.

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Sellout by Randall Kennedy

I’m on a mission.  I want to create a library in my house, reminiscent of the Beast’s library in the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. I want the ladders and everything. I figure to complete this mission I should start early so whenever I am on a break from law school I pick up a few books from Barnes and Noble hoping to finish them before school starts again.  A few months ago I picked up a book entitled Sellout by Randall Kennedy.  I was not familiar with the author but I figured this was a Michael Eric Dyson esque book which would solidify my belief that sellouts in the African American community are horrible and we should HATE them with a passion, a strong passion.  Yeah that didn’t happen.

The author combines strong historical background with legal analysis.  It’s like this book was written just for me!  Then he opens up by mentioning the BIGGEST sellout of them all. Clarence Thomas.  My disdain for him is strong.  I have wholeheartedly argued that he is a sellout to the black community with my conservative colleagues.  I even assisted one of my law school classmates in removing Clarence Thomas’ picture from a Black History Month display in the law school library.   Although I do have a newfound understanding of Clarence Thomas, I must say including him in that display was offensive and I do not regret it!

Kennedy argues that we cannot slap the “sellout” label on just anyone. We should have strong evidentiary support for our arguments.  Evidence that shows that their actions are knowingly and intentionally.  My initial response to that was yeah so???  Kennedy then provides Cory Booker as an example.  Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark was quickly labeled an Ivy League educated sellout after he received praise from white politicians. Mayor Booker recently spent his time shoveling people out of the recent snowstorm. He even answered calls for help on twitter!  That does not fit my definition of a sellout.   It’s also troubling that his education made him an easy target. The quick labeling of Booker opened my eyes to the flaws of this “sellout” label.

I began to question how this term was being used in African American society today.  Then I had to ask what exactly are we selling out from?  Who decided that African Americans are supposed to believe this or that? I have a strong feeling that somewhere Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are making decisions on what we should and should not believe in as African Americans and that just disturbs me!  For one I never voted for them to be the leaders of the black community, and their intellect is suspect.  I am also really suspicious of any “professional” in a church suit.  Furthermore the African American community is not a political party that takes a stance on an issue.  Although we share the same color and history we are not all the same.  From social economic background, religion, and education the differences among African American people are worth noting. Even more importantly, these differences illustrate that we as a people cannot possibly all share the same views and opinions on hot button topics such as welfare or even abortion.  So why are we expected to?

In the past we were fighting for one goal, equality.  That one goal united us.   I always think back to Jackie Robinson who realized that in everything he represented African American people.  He could not fight any and everyone who called him a “nigger” when he took the field because this opportunity was not just about him.  Then I fast forward to Michael Jordan, and realize that things have changed, dramatically.  I am not saying that Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier so that Michael Jordan could become a mega star and sell $150 sneakers to kids in the hood.  The distinction between Robinson and Jordan shows that we are now at the table and free to be who we are and not carry the burden that every action must be for the benefit of our race.   I cannot say that I will take this “freedom” as far as Michael Jordan because I do have a passion for the plight of African Americans in America today.   I feel as though so many people fought and died for us to be able to fulfill and live our dreams just as other Americans have always done.  If my dream is to become a partner in a huge firm rather than public interest work in inner city communities I should be able to do this without being called a sellout.

If we are free to be the people that God created then we should not attack people like Clarence Thomas for their views simply because they do not fall inline with what we believe the majority of African American’s think.   Lets raise real questions about his stances from a legal standpoint not from a racial standpoint.  So now I will just say that Clarence Thomas is an idiot whose arguments against affirmative action are weak and ridiculous.  I will not attack him for not following the “party line” i.e. African American community.   I will not attack him for using the great Thurgood Marshall’s seat on the Supreme Court to attack policies that Marshall worked so hard to establish. I will not even hit below the belt and discuss his choice in mates.  This may be difficult.

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