If our modern-day African American community had what our predecessors had, i.e. perseverance with a tremendous determination to succeed, unity in the community, a love for their people, and a strong faith in God. And if our predecessors had what we currently have i.e. a multitude of black millionaires and billionaires, a Jim Crow free society and laws to guarantee their rights as citizens. Today’s generation of African Americans would be one of the most powerful and one of the most revered groups in the entire world.
From the pastors of our mega churches to the black professional athletes and entertainers, far too many successful African Americans are so preoccupied with living for the moment that many fail to recognize and honor those who paved the way for their success.
As a writer and a researcher, I was asked by baseball all-star Harold Reynolds and the late great Buck O’Neil, (a former player of the Negro Baseball League) to help produce a script for a new movie on the Negro Baseball League. During my interview with Buck, I asked him: “How many of the current black major league players have supported and visited the beautiful multi-million dollar Negro Baseball Museum [which he founded] in Kansas City?” With tears in his eyes, the old man dropped his head and said, “very few.”
Each season, a number of black millionaire ballplayers take the field without giving one thought about the Jackie Robinson’s, the Willie Mays’ and Hank Aaron’s who paved the way for their success. This may also be true for other professional athletes in other sports as well as for other blacks in other professions. I often ask:
Do the Denzel Washington’s and the Halle Barry’s ever think about the Louie Armstrong’s, the Lena Horn’s and the Nat King Cole’s who were forced to exit the Las Vegas Casinos (through the kitchens after their performances) and forced to travel to the ghetto on the west side to stay in run-down hotels and boarding houses, simply because they were black?
Do our black doctors and dentists ever think about the first black medical students who were forced to sit in the back of the class behind screens that separated them from other students as a condition to attend those medical schools?
Do our hip-hop and pop artists ever think about the Motown artists who had to travel by bus and were forced to play and stay in segregated facilities?
Do our black educators ever think about the poorly equipped sub-standard one room school houses (with second-hand books and materials) that their predecessors were forced to use to educate our children?
Do our black preachers from mega churches ever think about their predecessors, country preachers who were forced to walk to church (if they did not own a horse or a buggy) to preach to a congregation that could barely read or write, congregations that were made up of members who often times had no money so they compensated their pastors with food from their farms and gardens?
In the past, African Americans knew that they needed each other. They also knew that unity in the community was a must for their survival. Unity was emphasized throughout their society. In a speech by Frederick Douglass in 1883, he told the National Convention of Colored Men the following:
“If six million of colored people of this country, armed with the Constitution of the United States, with a million votes of their own to lean upon, and millions of white men at their back, whose hearts are responsive to the claims of humanity, have not sufficient spirit and wisdom to organize and combine to defend themselves from outrage, discrimination and oppression, it will be idle for them to expect that the Republican party or any other political party will organize and combine for them or care what becomes of them. Men may combine to prevent cruelty to animals, for they are dumb and cannot speak for themselves; but we are men and must speak for ourselves, or we shall not be spoken for at all. Parties were made for men, not men for parties.”(1)
A similar message was delivered by Booker T. Washington in 1896 during his opening remarks at his National Negro Convention. In that speech he stressed the need for every citizen of every profession to join together to solve the pressing problems in their community. He told his audience:
“The aim will be, as in the four previous years, to bring together for a quiet conference, not politicians, but the representatives of the common, hard working farmers and mechanics and the back bone and sinew of the Negro race, the ministers and teachers. I want to emphasize the object of these conferences. When they were first instituted, it was to confine ourselves mainly to the conditions within our own power to remedy. We might discuss many wrongs which should be righted; but it seems to me that it is best to lay hold of the things we can put right rather than those we can do nothing but find fault with. To be perfectly frank with each other; state things as they are; do not say anything for mere sound, or because you think it will please one or displease another; let us hear the truth on all matters. We have many things to discourage and disappoint us, and we sometimes feel that we are slipping backwards; but I believe, if we do our duty in getting property, Christian education, and character, in some way or other the sky will clear up, and we shall make our way onward.” (2)
If America requires history classes so that each generation will remember, honor and recognize our nation’s founding fathers (as imperfect as they were), why shouldn’t blacks encourage the same for their black pioneers? And if America can proudly display the photos of their white historical figures, individuals who paved the way for the present generation, why shouldn’t African Americans do the same with their historical figures?
Every major league black baseball player should proudly display in their million dollar homes, the photos of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. They should also support the Negro Baseball Museum and sponsor tours of the museum for inner city little leagues teams, so that each succeeding generation will always know who paved the way for them.
Every black medical doctor and dentist should proudly display in their medical offices the photos of Dr. Daniel Williams, Dr. Charles Drew and Dr. Ben Carson so that their patients will be exposed to - and gain an appreciation for - the black pioneers in the medical profession.
Every black movie star and professional singer should proudly display in their homes and studios, the photos of Lena Horn, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Hattie McDaniel, Paul Robeson and other early black entertainers.
Every black hair stylist and/or black cosmetics company should have a photo of Madame C.J. Walker so their clients and customers will know of our history in the area of cosmetics.
Every professional athlete should proudly display photos of Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Arthur Ashe, and other greats in sports who paved the way for our current black athletes.
Every black newspaper should have a photo or a painting of Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russworm, the editors of our first black newspaper: The Freedom Journal (1827).
Every black scientist should proudly display photos of Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Ernest Just, and Dr. Julian Percy, three of our many pioneers in the area of science.
Every black manufacturer should have photos to remind them of other black pioneers in the area of manufacturing and inventions. Their display should include photos of Lewis Latimer, Jan Matzeliger, Ben Banneker and other modern day pioneers in the computer industry, including individuals such as Dr. Mark Dean of IBM.
Every black educator should have displayed in their classrooms photos of W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington and Mary McLeod Bethune.
Every black financial institution or corporate executive should have a painting of “Black Wall Street” to remind blacks of our past economic achievements.
Every black military officer should have a photo of Cripus Attucks in their office to let the world know that it was a black solider (not a white solider) that was the first to shed his blood for freedom of America during the Revolutionary War, on March 5, 1770.
Every black lawyer and judge should proudly display a photo of Thurgood Marshall in their offices to honor the first black Supreme Court judge as well as photos of other local black attorneys and judges that were pioneers in their cities.
Every black pastor, regardless of their denomination should proudly display in their churches, the photos of the Rev Richard Allen and the Rev. Absalom Jones, our nation’s first black pastors along with the photos of the founding fathers of their own denominations.
Every successful African Americans must always remember; no matter how high we may get, we will always be standing on the shoulders of lesser-known blacks who sacrificed and gave their lives to establish a foundation for us. Therefore, we must never forget our history. History is not our enemy - it is our ally for a prosperous future.
We must fully understand that the African American culture did not evolve by accident. It was meticulously developed and designed through the wisdom and leadership of the Black clergy. Using the Bible as their guide, they selected from the western culture those cultural components that they thought were best for their people and built a culture within a culture. The impact these dedicated men and women had on the African American community cannot be denied or ignored, nor can we ignore the powerful influence that they maintain today.
The Black clergy was not a magician or a man born with extraordinary power. He was merely an ordinary man who was empowered by his faith in God. Without God, he was hopeless and helpless. The wisdom that he expressed came from God. The courage that he possessed came from God, and the foundation on which he rested came from God. It was God, through His divine word (the Bible), that inspired the Black clergy to build churches, open up schools and colleges and encourage members to start new businesses. Then God told them to boldly stand up for righteousness and challenge social injustice.
The Black Clergy was the spiritual gardener who planted seeds of righteousness in the fertile hearts of Black men and women. And from those seeds grew a strong culture and a strong people, rooted in righteousness and grounded in God, a people who looked to God for everything and based all of their commitments on “if its the Lord’s will” (James 4:15). Through the planting and pruning of God’s Gardener, African Americans blossomed into a beautiful culture, one with strong morals, strong family values and a strong faith in God.
Today, our cultural garden, as we once knew it, is all but destroyed. Many of our spiritual gardeners have lost the art of planting and pruning, while others are trading in their pruning shears and plows for politics, and studying preaching no more. Our cultural garden today is filled with weeds, weeds that produce gang violence, alcoholism, drugs, teenage pregnancy, and broken homes. The flowers that once blossomed with pride in the African American paradise are now starting to wither while others are being rooted up by non-religious government programs and by ministers who are compromising Godly standards for a status in society. Isaiah referred to these individuals as “greedy dumb dogs,” who have lost their boldness to bark (Isaiah 56:10-11).
Our cultural garden doesn’t look the same anymore. It seems as if everyone is taking advantage of our cultural experience and planting everything in our garden except those things that made us a strong people. The old time Black minister is rarely seen around the garden anymore. He has been replaced with representatives from the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and every other group that has claimed they can identify with us, all planting their own ideas and agendas. There are so many people in our garden, there’s hardly room for us, and none are interested in planting our cultural seeds- seeds that produced God-fearing people, strong families and a race of people with high moral standards. The beautiful species we once knew seems to no longer exist.
We must do something and we must do it now. We must learn of our culture before we can appreciate our culture, and we must appreciate our culture before we can preserve our culture. We must not allow others to destroy our cultural beauty, nor can we remain passive and allow others to give us an identity that separates us from the God who has done so much for us (Hosea 6:1).
We must embrace our own beauty and cherish our own identity. We must never allow others to devalue those things that made us so wonderfully unique. And we must never allow others to determine our destiny, when they have never been a part of our dignity.
I pray that as a race we will become a family again. I pray that we will be more committed to each other than to political affiliations. Like Booker T. Washington, I pray that those who have been blessed with success will one day, feel the joy of not merely giving money and speeches, but the joy of coming back home to their communities each year and (physically) giving of themselves so that those who are left behind, will know that we really care.
Our Predecessor’s Prayer For The Black Community
When we gave you our best
And tried to meet all your needs,
And persevered through the thick and the thin.
Though they were difficult times
Still they were precious times
We wish you were a family again.
Oh how we laughed
And oh how we cried
We were much more than just mere friends
Oh how we missed those times
Those were precious times
We wish you were a family again.
We worked with each other
And we died for each other
But somehow it all came to an end
Oh how we missed those times
Those were precious times
We wish you were a family again.
Its never been the same
Since we discarded our values
Happiness – How can we pretend?
Because we all miss those times
Those were precious times
We wish you were a family again
There is a new generation
That knows nothing of our past
Or the battles that we fought to win
If only they knew of our difficult times
Perhaps they would become a family again.
(1) Documentary History of the Negro History in the US, Vol. 2 by Herbert Aptheker p. 661
(2) Ibid, p. 770
Rev. Wayne Perryman is a community activist in the Seattle, Washington area, an author and former talk show host. He has received commendations and recognition for his work with children, professional athletes, gang members and major corporations. He is an Associate Minister of Mt. Calvary Christian Center Church of God in Christ. For more information visit: http://www.wayneperryman.com.
Copyright© ©2006-7 Rev. Wayne Perryman. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission BlackandChristian.com.