Grateful to have this happen in my lifetime
- sung by Billie Holiday
“The accusations against persons lynched, according to the Tuskegee Institute records for the years 1882 to 1951, were: in 41 per cent for felonious assault, 19.2 per cent for rape, 6.1 per cent for attempted rape, 4.9 per cent for robbery and theft, 1.8 per cent for insult to white persons, and 22.7 per cent for miscellaneous offenses or no offense at a 11.5 In the last category are all sorts of trivial “offenses” such as “disputing with a white man,” attempting to register to vote, “unpopularity”, self-defense, testifying against a white man, “asking a white woman in marriage”, and “peeping in a window.”
- as cited in The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States,1880-1950
So, I have been around for a while. I have seen a number of things in my life. I’m not yet ancient, but I have been around for a while and I know what things were like, not so very long ago.
We think the world is going to hell in a handcart. We think we have entered into some sort of era of hopelessness and despair, whiners and pansies that we sometimes can be.
And then I turn on my television and I see a black man, and I hear him talking and I hear him described by the title ‘President’. This black man is the President of the United States! Sorry, but I still get choked when the realization hits me. Not because I am a wishy-washy liberal (I mean, I can be, depending on the situation, but can also be a wishy-washy conservative), or because I hero-worship, or fawn. I do none of the above because people are mainly just people, not gods. But, for crissake, A Black Man is the President of the United States! I find that amazing – and arguably and symbolically one of the most wonderful things I’ve experienced in my life.
I was a child in the comedy age of Amos ‘n Andy – loved that old Kingfish: “Holy Mackul dere, Sapphire!” Saw nothing wrong with it back then. The mindset was different. Jack Benny’s sidekick and retainer was lovable old Rochester with his gravely voice. Nat King Cole, as widely viewed as his delicious velvet voiced croonings were, could not get a sponsor for his show, so it was dropped.
“Mel Torme, Nat Cole and I walked into the bar at the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco in the early 1950s,” jazz pianist George Shearing told me in a newspaper interview I conducted some years ago. “We were refused entry because Nat was with us. I never set foot in that hotel again.”
Uber white-bread singer Pat Boone sang sanitized versions of Little Richard songs and made more money than the original artist (and songwriter). “Can’t have decent white kids listening to them jungle beats, now can we. Who knows how may girls’ll get knocked up as a result.”
Reactionary sleazeball columnist Walter Winchell launches a personal crusade against Josephine Baker, forcing her to close in New York and go back to Paris, whence she stayed.
Singer extraordinaire Paul Robeson is accused of communism and his career is destroyed.
Eartha Kitt is refused entry by the front door of the White House.
English songstress Petula Clark gets viewer flack in 1968 for daring to affectionately place her hand on the arm of Harry Belafonte during a TV special.
And there was Selma, and there was Birmingham, and Little Rock and Rosa Parks and Authorine Lucy and top cop Bull Connors with his snarling dogs and Medgar Evers and, of course, Dr. King. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ indeed, as much as I love the song.
And so it went.
And now the President of the United States is a Black Man!
Excuse me for being astonished.
And grateful. Hey, he may even turn out to be a lousy president.
That has nothing to do with anything.
It’s the everything else that counts. And, in my lifetime, yet.