February 17, 2012
By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Baseball season is just around the corner. Baseball fans of all creeds and colors have honored baseball legion Hank Aaron as one of the first great black professional baseball players. During Black History Month, the Milwaukee Brave’s champion is honored as a man of moral principals and ethical standards. He was one of the most significant participants to break the color barrier of American baseball. Not one day goes by when customers at Ronnie’s Barbershop talk about Aaron beating legendary Babe Ruth’s home run record.
When the regular baseball season ends, and before Black History Month begins, the superstar could be seen inspiring and encouraging black children to use the bat of education for a home run hit against racism. When author Langston Hughes writes about the rivers of black history, he phases how since the dawn of man, blacks have demonstrated strength and courage beyond the call of patriotism. His writings reflect how Jim Crow is dead because of our inherent heritage to survive and overcome obstacles.
Despite her bitter experience from enrolling at segregated Oberlin College, the Neo-Classical sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis looked to her survival from a severe physical beating as a source of artistic expression. The European trained artist depicted the 1867 sculpture, Forever Free, to symbolize that blacks were technically free, but still restrained by the reconstruction era chains of institutional racism.
Lewis must have known that black progress must adopt a never ending struggle to break the chains of restraint, redundancy and revisionism. The Enforcement Act of 1870, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and the 1964 Civil Rights Act are civic examples of America’s continued legacy to fight injustice, by any means necessary. De jure racial segregation is again specializing in systematic patterns of social, economic and educational forms of 19th century Black Codes. This redundancy of disfranchisement in the 21st century replicates a history of denied human rights and ignored civil liberties. Once again, blacks must prove they are citizens before they can vote. Wisconsin’s new law of black apartheid is the same disguised Confederate policy that requires blacks to recite the constitution before we could vote. Once upon a time, Jim Crow laws were enforced by legalized paramilitary mobs that intimidated liberal candidates and physically assault voting blacks who did not carry clandestine identification.
Disfranchisement from basic human rights is nothing new to your patriarchal fathers, grand-fathers, and great-grandfathers. National violence and massive ballot box fraud were standardized racial covenants used against your matriarchal mothers. To injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate citizens from voting was against an 1870 federal law; but some state courts ignored voting violations to protect flagrant election officials and citizen lynch mobs.
As recent as 1989, America had more then 400 de facto Jim Crow laws that regarded blacks as second class citizens. So when you celebrate Constitution Day this September, remember how states like Oregon and Oklahoma required blacks to read, write and cite all or parts of the constitution before they were allowed to vote. In Rhode Island, only property owners were allowed to vote. Ironically, a realtor could go to jail if he sold property to a black family. In 26 states, a selective property poll tax was used against black voters who did own property.
A 2011 rollback to racist voting policies was recently enacted with Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law. The fundamental right to vote effectively suppresses the right to vote for a representative that shares your views and represents your community. Having current and validated identification curtails the rights of those who are less likely to have a state driver’s license or a costly state I.D. The politicians who restrict voting by the economic poor, physically disabled, people of color, rural populations, migratory students and senior citizens are committing two misfortunes. They do injustice to democracy and injustice to the people democracy serves.
A slave’s chain links are symbolic of injustice. Each broken link can represent a black history event of life and/or death. The murder of Emmett Till, the boycott of Atlanta buses by Rosa Parks, the Brown Bomber’s dramatic fight, and the Tuskegee Airmen’s sky battles are monumental links to black history. These occasions are worth a day of celebration or a day of grievance. Not only should we remember courageous occasions during black history month, but offer a prayer on the day this history was made. When the whole world was watching 6-year-old Ruby Bridges enter a segregated school, that September day redefined the world’s definition of American liberty and black freedom. Discrimination does not take a holiday off or honor the sanctity of a church basement. Let us also celebrate black history in the fall, spring, summer and winter seasons of history. When we honor President Lincoln on President’s Day, we should also commutate the winter February birthdays of Malcolm X and Frederick Douglas.
When you attend Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park for the annual jazz concert, recall how 5,000 abolitionists marched here on a March day, to successfully free runaway slave Joshua Glover from local policemen and southern slave catchers.
When celebrating the July anniversary of the Supreme Court’s elimination of separate but equal public education policies; we would be remiss if we dismissed celebrating Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s birthday and President Lyndon Johnson’s “bully pulpit” speech attacking racist politicians. When we celebrate Mardi Gras parties, we should remember this black celebration was circumscribed from New Orleans’ slaves who incorporated different African festival celebrations into the carnivals costumes, music, and dedications of the New Orleans festival.
There are also everyday people who make a difference each day of the year. Celebrate your bus-driver father for going to work each day. Celebrate your sister, who studies hard and long at the library. Celebrate your grandmother, for in her wizened eyes of past memories, she sees a wide-eyed future for you.