The 2008 Democratic National Convention begins. How exciting. But there are some major players that have made it historically possible, and their voices are missing. Their voices are hushed.
They have helped set the stage for the diversity in the hall and the Black candidate to be front and center. They have made the dream a reality. Where are the civil rights leaders? When do they speak? What role do they play in Denver? Are they to be cast aside or left behind or just placed on the historical page? Perhaps they are to be indexed and/or footnoted.
So, what do we do with the Civil Rights Movement's gray haired men?
It was nearly 45 years ago, on August 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C., on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream Speech."
On that hot hot summer day he said, "It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual."
The historical bookmarks for America's progress are clearly defined from King to Barack. But what happened along the way? What happened between 1963 and 2008?
Do we recall or forget Fannie Lou Hamer's "Freedom Democrats" in the summer of 1964? Do we forget her plainspoken speech before the Convention's Credentials Committee? Her speech that challenged, disrupted and changed the party. She told us she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
She said, "All of this is on account we want to register, to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings in America?"
Does Reverend Joseph Lowery have a platform to address from here to now, as he has become the senior statesman of The Movement? His career began with Rosa Parks' arrest in 1955.
What night does Ambassador Andrew Young speak? He was an administrator of King's and became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. He also served as a Congressman from the State of Georgia for four years.
And even after the Rev. Jesse Jackson put his big foot in his mouth, do we allow the hot-microphone-minute to dissolve a lifetime of work that definitely contributed to the 2008 National Democratic Convention? He ran two presidential campaigns. In 1988, the second campaign, he captured 6.9 million votes and won 11 contests. He changed and challenged the Democratic Party, giving it a brand new face.
Do we have a place for the Democratic Party's very own, Congressman Charlie Rangel who serves the state of New York and chairs the House of Ways and Means Committee.
What about Detroit's Congressman John Conyers, who has served 21 terms and is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus?
Does John Lewis, Congressman of Georgia, the theology student turned politician, the son of sharecroppers who heard Dr. King's voice on the radio calling for a boycott, speak? Does the "conscience of the U.S. Congress" have an opportunity to stand on stage to recall his 40 arrests and severe police beatings for freedom? He would be so eloquent in accounting his experiences from then to now.
Is it important to speak to the history that has occurred? Are the Black gray-haired gentlemen's civil rights deeds ignored or forgotten? Or do we wait to acknowledge them at their funerals? Like it or not, these people are major contributors to the 2008 National Democratic National Convention. They served and performed in their time. They have been the leaders of America's third political party, the Civil Rights Movement. Don't kid yourself. Had they not risen to the occasion in their day, Barack Obama would not have his historical moment.
Are they cast away? Do we forget them or do we remember? Do we act like they are accidents and incidents that have lead to this momentous moment? Do we try to rewrite history, like this moment just happened? Do we forget purpose, intent and contribution? Do we let them speak, or is it assumed they have already spoken? Do we record the history correctly or ignore it and just move on? Is it important? Do we punish them for their ill-spoken comments? Do we remember them only during Black History Month? Are they mere history notes that get tucked away as facts for the political nerds? Do we just move forward and forget? What do we do with the gray-haired black gentlemen of the Civil Rights Movement as we approach the House on the Hill?
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