We Can’t Just Talk About It, We Gotta Be About It

By Barney Blakeney

Here we go again. I got a call Sunday morning asking if I’m writing a story about Elliott Summey’s appointment as executive director of Charleston County Airport Authority. The issue actually wasn’t a priority for me. We’ve been here before. Powerbrokers do their do then Black folks get mad and want to make press statements. Enough already!

I saw the news item about the appointment sometime last week. Last week was a proverbial blur for me – so I didn’t focus on that issue. In fact, I halfheartedly remember laughing to myself about it. There are some families that emerge in communities as economic and political movers and shakers. The Summey’s of North Charleston are rising to the top of that heap in our community. On their way, the family’s patriarch has earned the dubious distinction as a manipulator, some think an unscrupulous manipulator.

As I get older, I’m getting less tolerant of people who consistently gripe about the same stuff that repeatedly occurs, but do very little to prevent the occurrence. This ain’t a Black/white thing. White folks are getting’ shafted in the deal as well. But my focus here is Black folks. It’s an all too common trait among today’s Black leadership to hold press conferences White folks set about changing the dynamic. White folks aren’t just making statements about their displeasure with Charleston County School District decisions. They’re upsetting the apple cart!

I think we’re in the third generation of politically elected Black leadership since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and about a century of civilly active Black leadership. I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again now, we should be past the stage of making impotent protest statements. We know the problems. They’ve existed for multiple generations. Our leadership should be about developing and implementing solutions to those problems.

This whole deal about Elliot Summey’s appointment as airport authority executive director is just another in a number of successive moves by the Summeys to garner political and economic power in this community. Keith Summey is an adept strategist, not particularly innovative, but extremely effective. I get perturbed at ‘so-called’ Black leaders who watch that guy strut through our community in loafers and open-collar shirts talkin’ bout he’s some dumb country bumpkin. The man is one of the most powerful politicians in our state! You can’t rise to that level of power being no dummy!

The Sunday caller picked up on my ambivalence and turned the tables on me – I became the bad guy. So wha?! I’m used to being portrayed as the bad guy. But this ain’t about me. This is about an effective response to a perceived violation of filmmaker Spike Lee’s mandate to ‘do the right thing’. Unfortunately, our civil rights leaders think press conferences and statements are effective responses to such violations. Martin L. King Jr.’s generation of civil rights leaders responded to such violations with direct action, not scripted press statements. Can you say Charleston Hospital Strike?

Sadly, the current generation of Black leaders in power probably has held on to the baton too long. They have made leadership positions their careers. They’re dying in those positions. King also died in his position of leadership. But he died on the battlefield, not in the midst of $100 per plate banquet ceremonies.

Over the years I’ve learned that everything has its place. There’s a place for old geezers like me who 40 years ago came behind effective leaders like Esau Jenkins, Joe Arthur Brown, Herbert Fielding, Bob Woods, Isaiah Bennett, Vertelle Middleton, Jim French and Bill Saunders. We’ve learned a lot of stuff over the past six decades. Stuff we should be teaching the young guns coming up behind us. My concern is that we may not be giving them the benefit of our experiences.

I see a lot of young leaders beginning their journey on the civil rights trail. I guess I understand their impetuous impatience. Kids always want what they want when they want it. I think we need to teach them the value of patience and strategy in protest.

I watched a little of the “The Vernon Johns Story” on TV Sunday. Johns was the immediate past pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama before King came in and months later and started the Montgomery Bus Boycott which sparked the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Johns laid the foundation King stood upon – and was fired for doing so! Reminds me of Bob Woods and Herbert Fielding. Both paid severe consequences for being uppity nigras.

I want to mention my maternal grandmother, Mary Pendergrass Miller of Kingstree, a beautiful old lady who loved her children. My grandmamma was bout it, bout it. No press statements or press conferences. She and my grandfather worked hard to insure their children got solid educations and became productive contributors to their communities. My six aunts all were school teachers and my uncle took over the family farm, eventually becoming Williamsburg County’s first Black roads commissioner. My cousins tell me that was a big deal since road commissioners decided which roads got paved allowing farmers to get in and out of their fields.

Without the fanfare of a press conference or public statement, that old lady laid a foundation for her children. She and my parents laid a foundation for me and my generation. They also were strategists who realized that implementing their strategies and teaching them to successive generations could lead to empowerment. What is it we’ve forgotten? Why is our leadership stuck on making statements?

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