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Middle Passage Exemplifies That Sacrifice And Struggle Continues
10/7/2015 3:41:07 PM

By Barney Blakeney

I almost was overwhelmed reading the story of a man called Middle Passage who died last month while making the trek from Selma Ala., to Washington D.C. during the NAACP’s Journey for Justice March.

Middle Passage - at first it seemed a strange name - took a bus from his home in Colorado to participate in the trek. Dang near 70 years old and the survivor of some five open heart surgeries, the Vietnam War Navy veteran apparently was civic minded and culturally conscious. His name, the only one given in the article published in the September 23 edition of The Chronicle, makes that seem obvious.

It says a lot for someone to identify himself as “Middle Passage”. The middle passage was a horrible time in the history of Black people. It refers to the ocean voyage of Africans taken from their homes on the continent who were packed into slave ships like sardines in a can and sailed to the Americas, the dead and dying tossed overboard as so much waste.

I think it took an extraordinary consciousness to adopt that identity, one very different from choosing a name that identifies oneself in a more grand fashion. And who volunteers to walk from Selma Ala. to Washington, D.C. after five open heart surgeries? Commitment? Some might say crazy.

According to the article, Middle Passage took a committed position in the march from the beginning. He became the standard bearer and acted out the part! The article said Middle Passage was that guy we all know who encourages everybody else, the guy who embodies the purpose of whatever it is they’re doing. Sadly, Middle Passage didn’t make it. He suffered a fatal heart attack four days before the end of the march.

Reading that article, I thought about Middle Passage the way I think about so many other nameless, faceless brothers and sisters who gave their lives marching on a journey for justice. We all know about Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers and their ultimate sacrifices. But there were thousands of others whose names are far less known, just every day people in our neighborhoods who also made the ultimate sacrifice.

It occurred to me that in 2015 there still are people who make such sacrifices. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t stop with the 1960s and neither have the sacrifices. There are those who give their all to ‘The Cause’ every day.

I was just coming back home from college when I met people like the late Rev. Robert Woods and Herbert U. Fielding. Rev. Robert R. ‘Bob’ Woods was 66 when in 2002 he lost his battle with lung cancer. a Presbyterian minister raised in Winston-Salem, N.C., Woods devoted his life in service to others. In 1972 Woods’ commitment led him to serve in the S.C. House of Representatives. He served there until 1986.

Woods was outspoken and got into trouble with the Speaker of the House almost daily. Still, he was able to get things accomplished. He participated in practically every civil rights activity that went on in the community. Woods activities ultimately landed him in jail on trumped up charges. Much the same as Fielding.

Fielding died recently. He was 92. Fielding was elected to the S.C. General Assembly two years before Woods to become the first Black Charlestonian elected to the South Carolina State Legislature since Reconstruction. His advocacy for Black folks distinguished him among such peers as John Arthur Brown, Russell Brown, Esau Jenkins Judge Ernest Fields and ‘Big’ John Chisolm. All men who offered their lives in service to Black people.

Thinking of those people I’m reminded how important it is for those of us who enjoy the legacy such people leave to honor their sacrifice.

My childhood friend Neil called the other day. Neil is on lock down for murder. He’s really a good guy, stupid, but good. In the heat of passion, Neil killed a man over a woman. I was surprised to hear from him. He called me from one of those contraband cell phones guys in prison acquire. No, I didn’t ask.

I did ask why the heck he was calling me. Turns out he wanted me to investigate some gripe about inmates’ rights to grow beards. At first I couldn’t understand what Neil was saying. He was saying ‘goatee’ when I thought he was saying ‘vote’. I couldn’t believe my ears. Here’s this guy locked down for the rest of his life and his first call to me ever was about some beard!

My conversation with Neil, I think, validates Middle Passage’s sacrifice. Black folks think we’re free, but most of us don’t realize how locked up we are mentally never mind the physical restraints of inadequate education, housing and healthcare. To brothers like Middle Passage I say rest easy, my brother, for the struggle continues.

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Submitted By: Submitted: 4/11/2016

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