By Hakim Abdul-Ali
This past Black History Month has been a hectic month for me personally, but I still managed to squeeze in time to read, actually re-read, Vincent Harding’s masterpiece about the Black struggle for freedom in America called, “There Is A River.” Without taking up your time today in discussing the book overall, I’ll politely suggest to you to get a copy and read this classic that by this imminent scholar, teacher, social activist and author.
After re-reading the book, I find myself that, as a thinker and a writer, I’m tasked to talk about the continuous struggles that (still) confront Black and other folk of color in world while they’re existing, for the most parts, in stifling racial environments and living under suffocating discriminatory clichés.
It’s a painful reality for me to still address this because the struggle for freedom isn’t a dream-like concoction deferred anymore, but rather it’s (still) a continual living nightmare for the oppressed existing in the suffering confines of despair.
As a brother of color, and as I humbly look upon the realities of the struggles of these folk, particularly those that are facing all African descendant souls everywhere, I see the urgent need to recognize that their struggles are not isolated from the other folk of color’s ordeals throughout the globe.
I feel that the suffering of one group is connected to and is felt by the others’ sufferings when the reality of oppression hits their consciousnesses too.
So, I now look at what some of the things that the elders, past and present, in the African-American culture have had to say about the nature of struggle.
I use the struggles of great African-American heroes and sheroes like David Walker, Harriet Tubman, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Rosa Parks, Denmark Vesey and so many, many other untold fighters for “our” freedoms, to remind myself, and you, that we, as a viable segment of “hue-manity,” must never, ever be siphoned off as neglected and meaningless seasonal calendar footnotes in “his-story” because we didn’t tell our true stories.
By telling “our-stories,” those dialogues and descriptions can’t help but subtilely describe what the present and past heroes and sheroes in our noble culture have dealt with currently and previously in fighting for “our” rights to be considered equal in the bald eagle’s terrain from the Pacific to the Atlantic. However you understand the word struggle and its relevant applications to the Black struggles here and abroad, you should know that it’s a continuous fight against any and all political, economic or religious systems that oppress knowledgeable African descendants, or any of the other globally oppressed folk of color, from being free.
Since I started this article referencing Black History Month, I’ll keep my vibes for the rest of today’s article to what some of the great past and present fighters had to say about struggling. Some of their opinions may be different than yours or mine, but if you read them and internalize them carefully, especially if you’re of color, I believe that you’ll have a better understanding of what Mr. Harding’s book was (and is) cogently saying about the past and present Black struggles here in America.
I’ll attempt to do that by giving you a smorgasbord of African-American strugglers’, thinkers’ and fighters’ thoughts, views and opinions about the Black struggle issue for freedom in this country. I’ll start first with the legendary Black nationalist and civil rights leader Queen Mother Moore, who was born in 1898 and died in 1997, and who related that “I am not a part-time struggler. I’m in the movement for the liberation of African people full time, seven days a week, 24 hours per day, for life.”
The novelist John O. Killens uttered, “Every try will not succeed. If you live, your business is trying.” I’d like for you to comprehend the impact of Mr. Killens’ intrinsic words with a stated respect for those from our noble culture whose shoulders you and I stand on today to be wherever we may be positioned in life thus far to be. Think brotha and sista.
And, as I do that also, I’ll trust that you are very much aware of the untold millions upon millions of dark bodies from the yesteryear’s slave ships to today’s hard ships who died and sacrificed so much so that we could be where we are now. The struggle for dignity and self-respect starts within us.
I remember reading where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a person who influenced much of Mr. Harding’s philosophy about civil rights, was purported to have said, “Throughout the struggle for racial justice, I have constantly asked God to remove all bitterness from my heart and to give me the strength and courage to face any disaster that came my way.” Whatever your spiritual beliefs are, please give respectful astuteness to what Dr. King was alluding to without color blinded cynicism. His message should be penetrating to a struggling soul. Again, think.
Moving on, I can think of none other than Nat Turner, who’s a maligned and very controversial person in American “His-story,” but to many in the African-American culture, he’s a definitive hero in Black “Our-Story.” He once boldly said “Ours is not a war for robbery, or to satisfy our own passions; it is a struggle for freedom,” a theme that still resonates with many of his admirers until this very day. Does it to you?
Walter Francis White, civil rights activist and former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) head for almost a quarter of a century, who died in 1955, said “The Negro must, without yielding, continue the grim struggle for integration and against segregation; for his own physical, moral and spiritual well-being; and for that of white America and the world-at-large.” Again, Black folks may have and still do posses different angles to things, but they all seem to come to main point that struggle is necessary to accomplish anything.
Hmm! So be it.
Another controversial figure in Black America to some I have to mention is the truly late, great scholar and activist Paul Robeson, who died in 1976.
This dynamic genius, and I don’t use that description often in any mere usage, once said “I am a radical and I’ll be one until my people get free to walk the earth.” Are you really free?
Eleanor Holmes Norton, born in 1937, is a lawyer and politician, who said, “One ought to struggle for its own sake. One ought to be against racism and sexism because they are wrong, not because one is black or one is a female.” This activist’s words seems to mirror so much of what is plaguing the elite and sophisticated worlds today.
My thoughts now take me to a personal hero of mine in Black “Ou-Story,” and that’s the incomparable orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
He said openly, “To those who have suffered in slavery I can say, I, too have suffered. To those who have battled for liberty, brotherhood and citizenship I can say, I, too, have battled.”
I’d like to say to you that in the cause of struggling for our rights, every effort must be from the cradle to the grave. Never forget that. For today and always, always keep the faith in God (Alone) and no other, and that’s, “As I See It.”