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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meet my niece, Danyel Smith, with unidentified subject ...

Danyel is the brilliant young managing editor of VIBE magazine. As such she was in Washington, D.C. to oversee a photo shoot for a cover of a recent issue of the magazine.

When I think of the long list of accomplished women in our family I feel a growing sense of pride laced with frustration -- and not as an African American -- but as an American. It is clear that the cost of racial segregation has been inestimable over all the decades; costs borne by us all. When one remembers that we've probably sacrificed at least 1/10th of the human potential of our nation at the altar of racial bigotry, it is staggering! And from the look of things, we're not out of the woods yet. A walk through any inner city school is ample proof that we have a long way still to go before full equality of opportunity has been achieved for all who aim high.

At an earlier time Danyel and the many like her would have been encouraged to forego any thought of entering into journalism -- particularly women -- due to the lack of opportunity for those of color. She came along when the bars were being lifted and she has soared!

But what of all th
e other Danyels wasting away in inadequate educational institutions in a dying system of public education?

And what of yesterday's' Bettys whose fate -- until 1941 -- was limited to working in the fields and/or the service industry (
mopping floors, making beds, and tending white children)? We made it, but at what cost -- and against what odds?

I interviewed a Buffalo
Soldier this past week, and learned more about the lives of black servicemen and women during WWII... .I'll save that for another post. I'm still absorbing his story while awed by his ability to "forgive us (Americans) our trespasses".

But yesterday I attended the 64th Annual commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion at the Concord Weapons Station (now a NPS memorial monument site) and I haven't yet shaken off the effects of meeting with the few still-living survivors and/or families again. It was a weekend of contrasts. With few as stark as is represented here in these photos.

The emotional distance between these two pictures above is on the one hand excruciatingly slow to those of us who lived it; but dizzyingly fast when viewed in terms of the time normally required for significant social change to occur; often centuries.

Nothing is more indicative of progress than these two photos.

It was the tragic explosion at Port Chicago on July 17, 1944, in which 330 young Americans (220 or whom were black) lost their lives in the worst home front accident in our nation's history. That event brought about the beginnings of the modern Civil Rights Movement that unfolded over the next twenty years. In 1948, after continued unrest as the result of public reaction to the mutiny trials (see Robert Allen's book, "Mutiny at Port Chicago") President Harry Truman was finally convinced to eliminate all racial barriers throughout the armed forces.

But we must now revisit those years and have those conversations that we've avoided for the past 64 years. And anything that invites that discussion (yes, even the now infamous New Yorker cover) will facilitate that happening is a godsend. We must take the time to process the changes we've experienced in order to get some measure of the road traveled -- to gain a sense of just where are in history -- and of how we got here.

(Congratulations, Danyel, if you're reading this!)


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