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|Purchase Tickets Now: www.ebonyrep.org or 323-964-9766|
|Nate Holden Performing Arts Center
4718 West Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90016
In this episode of Culture Connection, Brother Malcolm introduces his “Angeleno Cultural Jewels” segment, and its first honoree: film, television and stage actor, Wren T. Brown. Brown is a fourth generation Angeleno from an entertainment family and shared with us his family’s rich Los Angeles legacy as well as some Black Hollywood history. Brown is also the founder of the Ebony Repetory Theatre, resident company and operator of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
If you have comments or questions about this episode, please call the hotline at (323) 455-4219!
Opening and closing song is “Sweet Georgia Brown” by Lester Young, Brown’s uncle.
One cannot be an African American without being conscious of the fact that we have inherited a long and bitter history of frustrated attempts to gain equal rights and a level of material parity in this country, a battle that after having overcome slavery and segregation we have gone a long way towards accomplishing, though the struggle to gain a satisfactory station in society remains incomplete. Given that this is the case however, it is curious to note how few of us are aware of the fact that there was a brief moment in history, just after the Civil War, when it seemed that negro Americans were making fast progress towards such equality; a short but real period in the latter third of the nineteenth century when blacks fresh from bondage developed a relatively significant hold on political power in the south.
There are today, if I’m not mistaken, 35 African-American members of Congress, with zero members serving in the United States Senate (the last one to serve in the Senate, if you do not count the brief and controversial appointment of former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris to replace him, is current president Barack Obama). That is in 2012, and of course now we have a black President in Barack Obama. But from 1867 to 1877 (the general period to which the phrase “Radical Reconstruction” refers) there were 16 black members members of congress (keep in mind that the House of Representatives had more than a 140 fewer members total in those years) with two of those serving in the United States Senate. The first black man elected to Congress, Senator Hiram Revels, was elected to the vacated Senate seat of Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy, out of Mississippi. P.B.S. Pinchback was the first lieutenant-governor of African-American descent, and then briefly the first non-white (technically, though by blood he was mostly white) governor of any state when the governor of Florida had briefly to resign his office because of impeachment proceedings. 265 black electoral delegates were elected during this period, and blacks held hundreds more offices on the state and local level throughout the south during these years. We wouldn’t see anything like that again (and certainly not in the south) until after the Civil Rights movement.
How were these gains possible so soon after slavery, and why did they disappear so quickly? It’s important to realize that after blacks obtained the right to vote with the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments they virtually owned the Republican party in the south. Given the fact too that for a time former leaders of the confederacy were prohibited from running for federal office, this allowed newly freed blacks (often under the educated leadership of northern free blacks like Hiram Revels who came to organize in the south) an opportunity to band together politically and win elections, with help from the northern Republican party and organizations like the Union League. Naturally there was a great deal of resentment towards the gains made by the newly freed slaves as well as a great antipathy towards the Republican Party. This anger would give rise to the Ku Klux Klan, who would be responsible for the murders of at least 35 black officials during this time period. Blacks also had an enemy in President Andrew Johnson who, despite being Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president and a southern Democrat who opposed secession on the basis of his dislike of elite plantation owners, nevertheless was greatly prejudiced towards black people, and intent on reinstating confederate leaders to their former positions of political power within the federal government while vetoing civil rights legislation proposed by Republicans. Though this was the case, black Americans were fortunate that Andrew Johnson was a deeply unpopular president who was ultimately impeached by congress. He was succeeded by Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln’s head general who led the north to victory in the Civil War. Although Grant, prior to the war, had been ambivalent about the cause of freeing the slaves, he as president was intent upon continuing in Lincoln’s footsteps in an effort to preserve and expand the rights of freed slaves. Grant served as president from 1869 to 1877, the golden age of black progress and political power in our history from then to after the Civil Rights Movement.
What happened? A number of things, chief among them the fall and then the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan picked up momentum and confidence during the Johnson administration, responding to the advancement of Negroes into positions of power with, as noted, violence and even murder. But when Grant took office, he with the political backing of the “Radical Republicans” in congress used the law and at times force to break the Ku Klux Klan, stopping in it’s tracks their growing intimidation of new black voters and leaders…at least for a time. But while Grant arrived at the White House a popular war hero, his political fortunes diminished by his second term in the wake of corruption scandals in his administration and a quickly souring economy. So too the economy turned the focus of the American people away from the plight of black Americans and allowed for the resurgence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Grant, with his much diminished political influence and a terrible economy could not muster the political muscle to again put down the Klan when they re-arose. So began the long dark of disenfranchisement and unchecked persecution that would be with us for another ninety years.
The “Radical Reconstruction” era is in a sense sad to look back on because it shows us what could have been for our people much sooner, if only certain things had been different. History is full of many sadnesses and missed opportunities as we well know. But when we stop to catalog the inspiring lists of black achievements in American history, we would be remiss to overlook this brief, but bright, period in American and African-American history. We have not just now begun to take our rightful place in the leadership and civic structure of this great country…we have just begun again.
Listen in as KC and the family discuss the impact of Black imagery in media through the lens of the Mary J. Blige Burger King commercial. Podcast guests include Chris Lehman, Toria Williams, Darius Gray and Rahsaan Campbell.
Personally, I feel Burger King would be remiss if they didn’t call Durand Bernarr and get his Crispy Chicken hit. This track might have moved some product.
Lastly, check out the Second City BK parodies. Hilarious!
Got an opinion on this week’s topic? Call our hotline and leave a message about today’s show! You can reach us at (323) 455-4219!
Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist, and newspaper owner that was an early leader in the civil rights movement. She documented the problem of lynching in the United States. She was very active in the women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements, establishing many women’s organizations and touring nationally to speak about them.
Quote: “I had an instinctive feeling that the people who have little or no school training should have something coming into their homes weekly which dealt with their problems in a simple, helpful way… so I wrote in a plain, common-sense way on the things that concerned our people.”
Important civil rights issues were addressed thanks to Ida, and as a result, many of these issues have been banned. She was a stepping stone for women’s suffrage and women’s equality.
Side note: She raised hell for W.E.B. DuBois in the NAACP because she felt there were too many white women and not enough black women involved. Black Women salute!
It seems that very few people remember how African American History Month even began. It has gotten so bad that many of us think we were “bamboozled” by being given the shortest month. Despite the fact it was we who chose the month and by “we” I mean Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who started it as Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson chose that week because at the time it encompassed the birthdays of two men whom he felt greatly impacted the African American population, Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
At the school I attended as a child, of which had a 100% African Diaspora student body with 99% African American faculty and headed (and owned) by an African American principal, we celebrated Black History Month every day. My kindergarten teacher was a 6’3, 225-pound African American male member of Omega Psi Phi. I’ll let you wrap your mind around the rarity of that for a moment. From the moment you walked into the school there were pictures up around the room of great African Diaspora citizens and their stories, as we awaited our teacher to come receive us for the day. Your curiosity as a child would beckon you to see who these great people were on the wall. The books in the room were for all I can remember always with us as African American students in mind. To see that which looked like us. Amazingly, this was just the recreation room before the day’s lessons even started. Once in class every subject we learned had a culturally relevant historical component attached to it. If we were learning about math, we would also learn about Benjamin Banneker. If we were learning about science, we learned about Ron McNair. I’ll never forget that on January 28, 1986 we stopped our day to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger because Astronaut McNair was going to be on that flight. They wanted to us to see someone that looked like us reach into the heavens. Despite the tragedy of that day the richness of that moment and its history was built into the curriculum with every subject we learned. It made all the difference in the world to us as children.
These are the benefits and things we gave up when we decided to desegregate without demanding that more than just our ability to go to school with European Americans but that our teachers, principals, administrators, and the right to dictate the curriculum be included as well. Instead we have seen the watering down of our history decade after decade with those who of us intensely guarded about it viewed as “militant” now instead of just proud and knowledgeable of whom we are.
In our own community African American history month has allowed almost a laziness thought to our history. Kids now assuming they know about being African American simply because they are African American. They are a glass with no water. I even asked one of my daughter’s friends one time why Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed and his reply “because he tried to run for president”. At the time they were in middle school and the young man’s reply broke my heart. His parents had failed him, his community had failed him, and his school had failed him. The sad thing for me once I left my initial elementary school was that I would then be attending majority (and by majority I mean 95% and up European American student bodies) European American schools where the most exposure to African American history I was going to get was Martin Luther King, Jr. and only during Black History Month and never would it be the militant Martin that talked about African American self-sufficiency. Over the years Martin was watered down and filtered to present the image they wanted me to have of who Martin Luther King, Jr. was. I have a dream speech became the beginning and end of who Martin was in a sad way. Last year my daughter and niece, both in high school, said their schools did absolutely nothing for African American history month. Thankfully, I had a mother growing up who worked at an HBCU campus, where my initial elementary was located, and came from a very active family who tirelessly exposed us our history and made us attend events on the HBCU campus because all of the events had us in them. Any event at a museum that was about our history they made sure we attended if they could. My father made me watch, much to my dismay, Mississippi Burning while I was still in elementary. However, most children today do not have parents who care this much about teaching their child their history. Most in fact would rather not even acknowledge that history. In some subconscious hope of that child knowing a color blind world to that child’s detriment. Either that or they are so benighted themselves to their own history that they can’t teach what they do not know nor know its value.
Our naivety at times also to believe that one day European Americans will be willing to share the spoils of America prosperity is both unfounded and dangerous. I have always said and continue to say that no group in power in the history of mankind has ever willingly conceded some of its power so that another group could rise – not even thirty centuries of African dynasties or Asian dynasties willingly ceded their power. This flies in the face against self-interest and group interest, the foundation of all animal behavior. Nor do I expect as brother Huey Newton once said “I do not expect white media to create positive black (male) images.” We have seen the history of European Americans and Europeans in Africa, the Caribbean, and Africa and their changing of that history as its presented to the people they conquer. There is some illogic and irrational thought in our mind that seeks to believe they would present our history in a “fair and balanced” manner instead of us being the one to do it.
Almost all African American, Africana, and African Diaspora studies are housed at Historically White Colleges & Universities (HWCUs) which means they are the vessels through which our stories are told, written, and passed along to generation after generation. No, just having African American professors at an HWCU does not change institutional ownership. That is simply labor to ownership in the way an African American athlete is to their European American owner who profits most from their skill and is only around so long as that labor is staying within the ownership protocol. Let me also be clear that this is not an African Diaspora vs. European Diaspora issue. The rise of the Asian Diaspora if they were in charge of our history would fair no different. It is the lion who must tell the lion’s story. Not the hunter, not the tiger, but the lion. Others can tell your story from their point of view but only the lion knows what the lion feels and went through as the hunter and hunted. Without a move to ownership of our history institutionally we will continue to see a watered down and irrelevance given to who we are as a people.Glasses empty of their water.
Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & President of AK Companies, Inc. A former banker & financial analyst who earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance from Virginia State University as well his master’s degree in Community Development & Urban Planning from Prairie View A&M University. Publishing research on the agriculture economics of food waste, full-time contributor at HBCU Money, and guest contributor for a number of African American media outlets.
The thing that most drives African-Americans away from the Republican Party today, if one excepts the perceived Republican opposition to civil rights, are deep and fundamental differences in economic and domestic policy. Given the long disadvantaged socioeconomic station which blacks have historically occupied it is easy to see why the public spending policies of the Democratic Party would have an enduring appeal to the many of us who are poor, struggling, and who need help where we can find it. But just because a certain set of policies may have an appeal to the poor and the working class does not mean these policies are as beneficial as we would think. For an emerging black community coming into it’s own as business owners, college graduates, innovators and professionals, a different philosophy must begin to take root, one that allows us the means and the opportunities to control our own destiny as independent individuals, as secure families and as an increasingly prosperous community.
In recent days, former Republican Speaker of the House and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has made headlines, and met with fierce allegations of racism from some, for saying at a campaign stop in South Carolina, “The African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” His words made the blood boil of many progressives generally and many blacks particularly, but it is worth curtailing the emotion to at least acknowledge the legitimacy of the point. As President Obama himself has acknowledged, there are a segment of people, and surely we observe them in our own community, who are content to live off of the public dollar as long as they can without making a serious effort at sustaining themselves. Naturally this doesn’t characterize our community as a whole, but what is more broadly true is that even for the large majority of black Americans who work hard for a living or who are trying their best in this difficult time to be able to provide for themselves and their families, there is a sense that true social mobility for us in this society is mostly a bitter mirage. Therefore we think education won’t help us. We believe that corporate America will not accept us. We expect the legal system to hinder us. In our history there have been many reasons to feel this way. But in the 21rst century too many of us cling to these limiting attitudes even as the walls of institutional oppression have crumbled around us before the advance of the black condition and the opening up of American society. For all of our problems and even given the current economic climate, black Americans are more wealthy, more educated, and more influential in recent years than we have ever been before. Yet instead of tending towards policies that would open wider the gates of our opportunities, we support initiatives designed to make sure we will fall only so far.
There is a reason that perhaps the steepest historical decline in the black unemployment rate occurred as a result of the tax cuts of Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s. There is a reason that even with cuts in investment taxes and welfare spending black unemployment reached a historic low at the end of the Clinton presidency, to only be neared again under George W. Bush’s presidency as a result of, in my opinion, the Bush tax cuts for the upper and middle class. (We’re it not for the real-estate crash and the financial collapse the national unemployment rate would probably have remained under 5% for sometime.) These periods of high employment and increase of black wealth and American wealth and employment generally came not as the result of aggressive government spending and public assistance. They came as the result of people being able to save, spend and invest more of what they had earned. There is a psychological difference of course in being able to keep more of what you yourself own or produce as opposed to simply receiving for free of what has been taken from the pockets of others. People have more appreciation for what they earn than for that which is given them without effort. Like the song says, “God bless the child who has his own.”
That is not to say that food stamps and welfare are innately bad. For the many people who are trying hard in tough times to get by and who have nothing else to rely on (believe me I know what it’s like) it’s important to have this safety net. But growing the social safety net does not grow long lasting prosperity, which is what needs to happen if things are to genuinely get better. It has been the approach of the current administration to funnel money directly into state governments, pet projects and rebates in order to stimulate economic growth. And while it should be noted that a good deal of this massive spending came in the form of tax credits, these were temporary and insufficient to generate real economic growth. Meanwhile as we spend money with little restraint, the very funds needed to fund our social welfare programs are missing because the economy is languishing. Raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting defense spending can barely begin to cover these bills. It is only economic growth that can accomplish this.
One area where President Obama deserves more credit than he has gotten is in the area of education. For as willing as many of us are to roll in the mud over the issue of Affirmative Action, the affirmative action we should all be calling for is stronger performance on behalf of our children from an education establishment that rewards seniority over ability. Consequently our children suffer while the teacher’s unions protect themselves. We keep pouring money on the education problem, but study after study have shown that government funding does not impact student achievement and neither, in fact, does class size. What matters most is not funding, or surroundings, but teacher quality. We have only been subsidizing the mediocrity of a failing union culture. President Obama has at least shown the political will to say to the left wing teacher’s unions that performance should be the deciding factor when it comes to retaining and rewarding educators. This is a conservative sentiment that Republicans have fought for for some time, and it’s unfortunate that more Democrats have not voiced support for at least this element of the President’s educational agenda.
I do not believe that black Americans will long be content to accept government programs as more than a nominal factor in ensuring the welfare of our people. I do not believe that black Americans will long tolerate an educational system that has no expectations for our children. We as a people do have a higher sense of who we are and what we can accomplish. But the interests of the Democratic Party are largely served by our dependency on federal dollars and our belief in the illusion that the poverty of our surroundings prevents us from being able to learn. These are a couple reasons why some of us are Republicans. But it doesn’t matter whether one is a Republican or Democrat. What matters is that we look at the example of an exceptional black Democrat like Barack Obama to realize the wisdom of a great black Republican like Booker T. Washington, who said that “character, not circumstances, make the man,” and furthermore, that “we should not permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.” We have the ability. It is only the embrace of freedom and opportunity that we need to able to succeed.