Civil Rights – Past and Present

Welcome fellow Civil Rights advocates: If you are a veteran of sit-ins and demonstrations against open and/or subtle racism or you stood up against social injustice in any way – big or small – you are a civil rights advocate and welcome here.

In this, the second episode of our Trilogy, “Blacks in America: 400 Years Plus,” the emphasis is Civil Rights. We will momentarily regroup, pause to take a deep breath, and take a long strategic view of where we are and how long it will take us to get to where we must go. In looking back, we have covered much ground. This reflection is one way to reassess the journey. But for progress, the forward march is forever uphill; the coveted view is always from the top, and the goal is to surge to the horizon. Progress is not evaluated by overcoming the lumps, bumps, stumbles and obstacles along the way. It is how smooth you make the way, how straight you make the path, how well you mark the course, and how indelibly you blaze the trail for those generations who are to follow. What were the hopes of yesterday that we had as a people, and what are our realities of today? Where are we now in accomplishments? Is there a need to retake ground that we have already fought over and won? Is there a need for retrenchment just to hold on to caveats of freedom? Is there sacred red soaked ground that we have won and will never give up? For the “NOW GENERATION,” what are the assurances that what has been won will never be surrendered, nor relented, no – not one centimeter? And, what are those actions undertaken, those activities so costly undergone that we solemnly declare that the smallest of victories are not for barter, sale or compromise at any price? In the most historic combat undertaken by mankind in the history of this country, what is the sacred ground relentlessly secured, now held in the shadow of generations of blood stains? This was the great bold battle to enlist all Americans, fighting for the release of the fiercely held American dogma, “slave mentality.” The Civil Rights Movement was launched to release the nation of its racial illness, to allow it to ascend to its highest capacity, and to produce and restore its human sanity. We now are all embarking from being 4/5ths of a human being, to becoming fully 5/5ths human beings: Americans all. Those enlisted in the fight for civil rights range from the rank and file to generals and field commanders; to little Black girls in Alabama, united in seeking the best strategy of how to stand against the torrents and thrust from water cannons all in service to march, and stoutly declare, in the face of social injustice, “We will not be moved.”

We are far from victory today and miles from where we are determined to arrive. Our destination is stated by our most highly proclaimed sovereign national documents – that all people in America have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We demand that our names be boldly written in as free and equal in every jot and title, citing equal protection. It must be written not only in prose, but in every verse as fact and truth. It must have actual meaning for all Americans with no exceptions.

Some are here because we are victims, and some are here because you know that you are complicit in what has and never should have happened. You may not have been visible contributors to this great tragedy that has gone on far too long in America – but you know that you have lived the nightmares of this injustice, and have, yourself, become victims of the tragedy.

So let it be resolved that there are no retirees in the Civil Right Movement. We have all been recruited into the human rights struggle. The battle has been enlarged. We Blacks know what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew, that in our endeavor to save ourselves and America from institutionalized racism we must save our oppressors, or we all are lost.

We will never be discharged from duty. We have only changed our uniforms and added to those in our collective army. We still identify the same enemy – social injustice. We do not pause to refer to those bad days as though we have progressed beyond their existence. Not being able to have equal and fair education, not being afforded equal access to the voting franchise, and being blocked by all other institutionalized racist endeavors is sending us backwards. As the wealth gap widens between Black and White America, and the degrading ramifications that ensue as a consequence of exclusion, our battle is continuous, and ever upward. We all lose as the gross domestic product plummets. And, without the full input of the ability, capability, energy and imagination of a disengaged, marginalized Black America, the economic engine called free enterprise slows down for all Americans, and crawls and inches along, until the great many of us will have to all get off and walk. If not this generation then the next.

–Jack A. Kirkland