Musings on the March on Washington’s 50th Anniversary

Wednesday, 28 August 2013, marked the 50th anniversary of the iconic and history-making March on Washington, D.C. on 28 August 1963. It was the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his legendary ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Today, a statue dedicated to him stands near the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. If one cannot see the historical significance of that, as well as the irony, then that individual is severely myopic and suffers from a closed mind. I would say that about the people who downplay the significance of Barack Obama being POTUS, as well. If you consider the fact that it was virtually impossible for a Black person in this country to attain that position a mere 50 years ago, much less consider applying and/or running for it, then that is quite an accomplishment. But it doesn’t mean that racism isn’t a problem; it doesn’t mean that racism has miraculously been erased and eradicated, or that it isn’t still one of the most glaring social ills facing humanity.

I watch the footage from those bygone days, seeing how people from all backgrounds pulled together to face hate-based adversity and injustice, and wonder: “What the hell happened? When did people stop caring about what happens to their fellow man?” I see the racist prejudice and vitriol dripping from opinion pieces in papers and on blogs, and hear it in the incendiary words spewed by separatists on TV, the radio, and on YouTube or via internet ‘podcasts.’

I don’t believe that there is a ‘Black community’ – too many people of all shades and stripes keep echoing that falsehood, which is a separatist contrivance akin to Ebonics and the ‘one-drop rule.’ At one time, when the Underground Railroad was widely used (and necessary), there may have been a ‘Black community’ of sorts: but it dissolved when we scattered to the four winds after the Emancipation Proclamation was declared – but it was never really enacted. The insults of segregationist, Jim Crow laws, political gerrymandering, and legal lynchings seemed to drive us further apart. Other factors to include would be the destruction of entire towns with a Black populace, the hunting down of ‘freemen’ and ‘freewomen’ and returning them to slavery in the south, and the rape and murder of Black women and girls. The state we are in, here in the 21st Century, is better than it was 50 years ago – but only slightly. We seem to have made great inroads in the quest to be seen as people; to be judged ‘not by the colour of our skin, but by the content of our character’ – but when you step back and look at the bigger picture, we can see that mere baby steps have been accomplished and there is still a long way to go and much tougher ‘rows to hoe.’

For instance, it’s supposedly illegal to discriminate against others when choosing amongst job applicants: their skin colour, personal beliefs, country of origin, etc. One should only be judged on their ability to learn a specific job and to do the job well, not some fucked-up stereotype festering in the mind of the interviewer/employer. My personal experience has taught me otherwise! I have overheard people justify their so-called reasoning for only hiring whites for any given position at various corporate offices, and the reason was this: Non-whites, apparently, are “HR nightmares that nobody wants to deal with” so that is a perfect justification for not hiring us in the first place. I suspect that same ‘reasoning’ is behind the fact that we are “last hired, first fired” at those same offices. Imagine how well that ‘reasoning’ would be received if it were used to deny employment to a white, blonde woman, even if it were ‘justified’ – I can think of many reasons not to hire that sort, personally!

50 years ago: we had to drink from separate water fountains. The only jobs we could get were menial service positions, barely better than what was forced upon us as unpaid slaves – and that practice continues today. Certain areas of trains, restaurants, hotels, and movie houses were designated ‘for coloured only’ – and that was only if those places deigned to render service to us at all. In some parts of the country, toilets for ‘coloured’ people were poison-ivy infested paths which ended in a precarious drop if you missed the flimsy plank with rusted nails around the ‘sitting hole.’ Speaking of the term ‘coloured’ – isn’t it funny that the very people who forced that term on us, now say that we have no right to use it? I saw something like that on a blog not long ago – some white person was saying that the term ‘POC’ was “stupid and unnecessary.” I wonder what they thought of its usage during segregation? They never mentioned how the term came into being in the first place, but I guess it was just a convenient oversight on their part. Same goes with the term ‘Black community’ – imagine how silly people would sound if they started saying things like ‘the female community’ or ‘the Asian community’ or ‘the European community’ – for that matter, I challenge other bloggers to start doing that! Start talking about “the ills of (such-and-such) community” and see how dialogue changes! Do it IRL as well as online, since gauging people’s reactions up close and personal is what really counts.

50 years ago…I wasn’t alive during that turbulent time. My mother was weeks away from her ninth birthday, so I’m certain that she would have seen news reports on television. Sadly, strokes have robbed her of her memories. She might remember bits and pieces of events if I ask her, but it would take some time for her to recall anything – and it would take hours (or even days) for her to grasp at those fleeting recollections. The man who fathered me would probably remember a great deal more, if he wanted to take the time to talk to me and answer my questions…he was an adult and owned his own business at the time, so he certainly would have a vested interest in those long-ago events. I wonder if he attended…I should ask him – his answer would definitely be included in my book. Part of the issue with finishing my book is trying to find a good stopping point!

I digress…events leading up to, and following, the March are in history books – but not as many as are warranted. I wasn’t taught about the March in any school history classes; I had to learn about it by going to the local library, and only after the age of 12 did I start reading anything of pertinence, because the library didn’t allow children under the age of 12 into the upstairs, ‘adult’ section. Some books in the school library were more helpful and informative than my so-called ‘history teachers’ ever dreamed of being, so I looked to those books to find the answers. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is always talked about, as is that of John F. Kennedy – but the reasons for the Civil War are obfuscated, slavery is glossed over, and the Civil Rights Movement is rendered nonexistent in most public (and private) schools. Educating oneself about all events in this country’s history should begin as early as possible, and it is an education that should last for the rest of one’s life. Events of 50 years ago are important and significant. The fight that began before those events is still being fought today, but the rules have changed. Claiming the small victories and saying that the war is won was premature. Fighting to use certain words isn’t what the March on Washington was about – people reducing it to that is sad and shameful, indeed.

Weekend Musings: 24th February 2013

There’s a full moon tomorrow and my creativity has been peaking! It ebbs and flows with the tides, it seems…so, here are some random ramblings and myriad musings, as befit the title of my blog! Join me on my wanderings, won’t you?

First off, a fantastic songstress has passed away at the age of 78: Cleotha Staples of The Staple Singers. The chart-topping group had eight U.S. Top 40 singles in the 80s, including I’ll Take You There and Let’s Do It Again. I absolutely LOVE “I’ll Take You There” and will link to it at the end of this post in my requisite song list! Cleotha and her sisters Mavis, Yvonne, and Cynthia, have dynamite voices which you will hear in the song. From the BBC:

“Cleotha Staples, a member of the chart-topping gospel group The Staple Singers, has died at the age of 78.

The family group had eight US top 40 singles in the 1970s, including the number ones I’ll Take You There and Let’s Do It Again.

They enjoyed success on the Stax label and Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label.

Friend and publicist Bill Carpenter said Cleotha suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Her sister Mavis paid tribute to Cleotha’s “soothing” voice.

“A lot of singers would try to sing like her,” Mavis said in a statement. “Her voice would just ring in your ear. It wasn’t harsh or hitting you hard, it was soothing. She gave us that country sound.”

The group, which also featured father Pops, sister Yvonne and brother Pervis, began singing in church in Chicago in 1948.

They were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and received a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2005.”

She was the eldest sibling of (number) and the founding member of The Staple Singers. From the Huffington Post:

In a family of vocalists, it was Cleotha Staples’ smooth and velvety voice that helped set apart the sound of the influential and best-selling gospel group The Staple Singers.

Staples, the eldest sister and member of the group her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples started in the 1940s, died Thursday at age 78. She was at her Chicago home and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past decade, said family friend and music publicist Bill Carpenter.

The group included sisters Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia, but Cleotha was the backbone, defining herself by being the “strong, silent type,” said Carpenter, author of “Uncloudy Day: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia.”

Rest in peace, sweet lady – you join the talented masses who will serenade us until the end of time.

Next, a belated tribute to one of the greatest songstresses and piano players of all time: Nina Simone.

This beautiful, talented sister was born on 21 February 1933, and left this world on 21 April 2003 – a sensitive, soulful Piscean! From Wikipedia:

Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known by her stage name Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. Simone aspired to become a classical pianist while working in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.

Born the sixth child of a preacher’s family in North Carolina, Simone aspired to be a concert pianist.[1] Her musical path changed direction after she was denied a scholarship to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, despite a well-received audition. Simone was later told by someone working at Curtis that she was rejected because she was black.[2] When she began playing in a small club in Philadelphia to fund her continuing musical education and become a classical pianist she was required to sing as well. She was approached for a recording by Bethlehem Records, and her rendering of “I Loves You Porgy” was a hit in the United States in 1958.[1] Over the length of her career Simone recorded more than 40 albums, mostly between 1958—when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue—and 1974.

Her musical style arose from a fusion of gospel and pop songs with classical music, in particular with influences from her first inspiration, Johann Sebastian Bach,[3] and accompanied with her expressive jazz-like singing in her characteristic contralto. She injected as much of her classical background into her music as possible to give it more depth and quality, as she felt that pop music was inferior to classical.[4] Her intuitive grasp on the audience–performer relationship was gained from a unique background of playing piano accompaniment for church revivals and sermons regularly from the early age of six years old.[5]

In the early 60s, she became involved in the civil rights movement and the direction of her life shifted once again.[6] Simone’s music was highly influential in the fight for equal rights in the US.[7] In later years, she lived abroad, finally settling in France in 1992.”

I’m ashamed to have forgetten her, because she was the direct inspiration for my desire to play the piano. My captors parental figures, especially ‘Medea’, crushed my love of playing any instrument by forcing unreasonably long practice sessions. For example, when I got home from school and completed my homework, I immediately had to practice the piano for an hour, followed by an hour of practice on the clarinet. I switched from band to choir after that, because I enjoyed singing and could do that anytime, anywhere! Being in school plays and sports allowed time away from home as well…

I digress – Nina Simone influenced me in many ways, and I list her as a ‘Notable Black Woman’ who deserves many acknowledgements for her lifetime accomplishments. Again, she is one who is pushed aside in favor of no-talent hacks like Beyonce, Britney and Nicki. Her name should be synonymous with musical appreciation and talent that transcends all barriers! More from Wikipedia:

“Civil rights era (1964–1974)

In 1964, she changed record distributors, from the American Colpix to the Dutch Philips, which also meant a change in the contents of her recordings. Simone had always included songs in her repertoire that drew upon her African-American origins (such as “Brown Baby” and “Zungo” on Nina at the Village Gate in 1962). On her debut album for Philips, Nina Simone In Concert (live recording, 1964), however, Simone for the first time openly addressed the racial inequality that was prevalent in the United States with the song “Mississippi Goddam“, her response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four black children. The song was released as a single, and it was boycotted in certain southern states.[18][19] “Old Jim Crow”, on the same album, addressed the Jim Crow Laws.

From then on, a civil rights message was standard in Simone’s recording repertoire, becoming a part of her live performances. Simone performed and spoke at many civil rights meetings, such as at the Selma to Montgomery marches.[20] Simone advocated violent revolution during the civil rights period, rather than Martin Luther King‘s non-violent approach,[21] and she hoped that African Americans could, by armed combat, form a separate state. Nevertheless, she wrote in her autobiography that she and her family regarded all races as equal.[22]

She covered Billie Holiday‘s “Strange Fruit“, a song about the lynching of black men in the South, on Pastel Blues (1965). She also sang the W. Cuney poem “Images” on Let It All Out (1966), about the absence of pride she saw among African-American women. Simone wrote “Four Women“, a song about four different stereotypes of African-American women,[18] and included the recording on her 1966 album Wild Is the Wind.

Simone moved from Philips to RCA Victor during 1967. She sang “Backlash Blues”, written by her friend Langston Hughes on her first RCA album, Nina Simone Sings The Blues (1967). On Silk & Soul (1967), she recorded Billy Taylor‘s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and “Turning Point”. The album Nuff Said (1968) contains live recordings from the Westbury Music Fair, April 7, 1968, three days after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. She dedicated the whole performance to him and sang “Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead)”, a song written by her bass player, Gene Taylor, directly after the news of King’s death had reached them.[23] In the summer of 1969 she performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park.

Together with Weldon Irvine, Simone turned the late Lorraine Hansberry‘s unfinished play To Be Young, Gifted, and Black into a civil rights song. Hansberry had been a personal friend whom Simone credited with cultivating her social and political consciousness. She performed the song live on the album Black Gold (1970). A studio recording was released as a single, and renditions of the song have been recorded by Aretha Franklin (on her 1972 album Young, Gifted and Black) and by Donny Hathaway.”

How insulting, and unsurprising, that a white actress by the name of Zoe Saldana was tapped to play this iconic woman in a movie. I can’t understand why actress Jill Scott defended this choice, but since she is lighter-skinned and straight-haired herself (and gets plenty of work because of it), it comes as no shock. ABC World News reported on 26 October 2012:

“From the image of Saldana, 34, wearing an Afro wig and what appears to be a prosthetic nose and skin-darkening makeup, it’s apparent that the film’s director, Cynthia Mort, is aiming for Saldana to look as much as possible like Simone…Everyone from singer-actress Jill Scott, who some suggested could play Simone, to her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, has chimed in.

Reps for Saldana and Mort did not respond to ABCNews.com’s request for comment.

Kelly, an actress and singer, told The New York Times last month, “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark.”

“Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice,” she added, referring to the casting of Saldana.

This beautiful woman deserves to be recognized for who she was – a beautiful, DARK-SKINNED SISTER with NATURAL HAIR, FEATURES, and BEAUTY! “White-washing” her is insulting and should be denounced.

I’ve been doing posts about notable Black women, but I will also do posts about notable Black men – and I will continue doing this even when ‘Black History Month’ ends! I want to spread positive, uplifting knowledge and information about all Black people, and not just during the shortest month of the year…it should be done year-round. It may seem small to some people, but having positive, historical Black people being elevated as the role models, heroes and heroines, inventors, pioneers, and icons for all Black children to see and emulate is a good beginning, IMHO.

With that – on with the music!

First, one of the best songs by the Staple Singers, in a tribute to Cleotha Staples.

The Staple Singers: “I’ll Take You There

Next, my four favourite songs by the legendary Nina Simone. I’d say that I’m 80% ‘Peaches’ and 20% ‘Aunt Sara’…you can figure that out for yourselves, if you’re so inclined…

Nina Simone: “Mississippi Goddam

Nina Simone: “Brown Baby

Nina Simone: “Feeling Good

Nina Simone: “Four Women

Protected: Notable Black Women: Molly Williams

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