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Memorial Day 1992
Beyond Patriotism and Picnics
By Robert Starling Pritchard
 
Delivered 23 May 1992 in Checotah, Oklahoma
On the Occasion of the Memorial Day Weekend Observance
of the Douglass Grade School Alumni Association
and
The Eastside Checotah Community Action Group, Inc.
 
In the “Applecrest” Press Series of Essay, Addresses and Articles on
Multi-Cultural Realities and the Transcultural Experience
 
 
It is a summer's day pleasure to join all of you in this Memorial Day Weekend Observance of the Douglass Grade School Alumni Association and the Eastside Checotah Community Action Group. My delight is the more affecting because of the symbol of community unity expressed in the efforts of so many families and groups who have come together on this day of national unity to express gratitude for all those who died in so many wars. For it was your loved ones who gave their last full measure of devotion for the divine purpose of preserving Our nation that all of Us might enjoy the Declaration of Independence's promise of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."  
 
It must therefore quicken your spirits, as surely it does mine, to realize that on this day from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, Americans representing all of the races, religions, and cultures of the world are particularly cognizant of Our obligation to preserve and protect the freedoms We hold so dear. No one expressed that sacred obligation more poignantly than did Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address: "From these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."  
 
Those words were spoken on the Civil War Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They were meant to memorialize the multitudes of White and Black dead on both sides of that bloody war of attrition. Yet, the mid-19th Century Emancipator-President could not possibly have known that those same feelings that overwhelmed him over 129 years ago as he gave expression to his nation's grief in the aftermath of the Civil War, are today shared by countless numbers of decent White and Black citizens throughout Our country. For in the aftermath of those terrifying days-of-street-war in the inner city of Los Angeles, We all came together in a national expression of desperation and fear that what happened in the second largest city in the nation could happen in any community, including Ours.  
 
Nor could President Lincoln have prophesied that those words over a century later would have profound symbolic meaning for the citizens of Checotah. For during this month last year, many of you experienced the germinal manifestations of those very same racial conflicts which were amongst the causes of the Civil War. As if time stood still; as if the Italian adage "Things must change to remain the same" explains what seems to be the permanent stasis of racialism in our society, the ever-present racialism which ignited the riots in Los Angeles, followed by copycat incidents of lesser intensity in the nation's Capital, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Madison, Wisconsin, should give Us pause sufficiently to declare all-out war on bigotry with no less the level of resources with which Our nation has declared all-out war on drugs.  
 
Moreover, Abraham Lincoln could not have prophesied that from the moment of his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation; to that frightening day of May 3rd, 1991 in Checotah; to the recent days of inner-city insurrection on the West Coast, that the task of Emancipation of both Black and White citizens would remain with Us to this day, fully 129 years later. Mr. Lincoln could not have known that from those great masses who legally became African-American citizens in 1863, would emerge even greater advocates of Emancipation. Perhaps he did know what few White Americans know today... that the greater task before Our society is the Emancipation of the White majority from their inheritance of that slavocrat mentality from which they have rationalized the separate and unequal society which they continue to impose upon their fellow Americans-of-colour.  
 
But one would like to believe that the soul of Lincoln might very well have rejoiced at history's passing scene of such distinguished African-American advocates of American Civil and Human Rights as the great Frederick Douglass, the namesake of this school upon whose grounds families from Checotah, Rentiesville, Warrior, Pierce and the surrounding area picnic today. We can only conjecture that the spirits of both Lincoln and Douglass might have passed a transethnic grimace of concern betwixt them as those two great leaders of our economic rights movement (Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X) gave their "last full measure of devotion" as they too pursued in their time the cause of Freedom and Liberty for African-Americans. For them, the Declaration of Independence's promise of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" remains the great poet Langston Hughes' "Dream Deferred."  
 
Of even greater importance in the historic struggle of African slaves manumitted by Lincoln was Frederick Douglass. Mr. Douglass will forever be remembered as one of Our nation's most formidable foes of slavery and racialism. He is also remembered as the Publisher of The North Star, a community abolitionist newspaper in Rochester, New York. As yours truly re-established in 1980 The Impartial Citizen, a Central New York community newspaper originally published in Syracuse, New York by Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward, a close working abolitionist-colleague of Frederick Douglass, I have to this day pursued an active interest in the leadership mission of Frederick Douglass. Like African-American leaders before and since, Douglass asserted his patriotism even as he eloquently and bitterly denounced slavery and racialism.  
 
He said, "Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow... You know that liberty given is never so precious as liberty sought for and fought for. The man outraged is the man to make the outcry. Depend upon it, men will not care much for a people who do not care for themselves. "  
 
On another occasion, Frederick Douglass uttered these fateful words. "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of the waters..."  
 
Frederick Douglass was no less a critic of ineffective and racially disloyal African-American leaders than he was of White racialists. In fact, he was more unsparing in his denunciation of "Benedict Arnold" Black leaders who sought to profit from racialism against the interest of their own people than he was of White racialists. Since Our African-American community's current struggle for economic freedom is often beset by the opportunism and treachery of such Black leaders, it is as important that We study the words of Douglass regarding such leaders as We study his inspiring affirmations of patriotism and of the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humankind.
 
Addressing the 1883 National Political Convention of Colored Men in Louisville, Kentucky, Frederick Douglass presaged a century before, a question recently printed on the front page of White newspapers in 1992, the day after riots erupted in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Madison, Wisconsin. I quote from Douglass' remarks before that 1883 Convention.
 
"...With apparent surprise, astonishment and impatience we have been asked: 'What more can the colored people of this country want than they now have, and what more is possible to them? It is said they were slaves, they are now free; ... they were once outside of all American institutions, they are now inside of all and are a recognized part of the whole American people... Why, then, do they hold Colored National Conventions and thus insist upon keeping up the color line between themselves and their white fellow countrymen?... For we do not forget that they [such questions] are not only put to us by those who have no sympathy with us, but by many who wish us well, and that in any case, they deserve an answer."
 
"Before, however, we proceed to answer them [the questioners], we digress here to say that there is only one element associated with them which excites... bitterness of feeling in us and that calls for special rebuke, and that is when they fall from the lips of colored men who suffer with us and ought to know better. A few such [colored] men, well known to us and the country, happening to be more fortunate in the possession of wealth, education and position than their humbler brethren, have found it convenient to chime in with the popular cry [of whites] against our assembling, on the ground that we have no valid reason for this measure or for any other separate from the whites; that we ought to be satisfied with things as they are. With white men who thus object the case is different and less painful. For them there is a chance for charity. Educated as they are and have been for centuries, taught to look upon [colored] people as a lower order of humanity than themselves - some allowance can and perhaps ought to be made when they... assume a virtue they do not possess. But no such excuse or apology can be properly framed for men who are in any way identified with us. What may be erroneous in others implies either baseness or imbecility in them. Such men, it seems to us, are either deficient in self-respect or too mean, servile and cowardly to assert the true dignity of their manhood and that of their race. To admit that there are such men among us is a disagreeable and humiliating confession. But in this respect, as in others, we are not without the consolation of company; we are neither alone nor singular in the production of just such characters. All oppressed people have thus been afflicted."  
 
"It is one of the most conspicuous evils of caste and oppression, that they inevitably tend to make cowards and serviles of their victims, men ever ready to bend the knee to pride and power that thrift may follow fawning, willing to betray the cause of the many to serve the ends of the few; men who never hesitate to sell a friend when they think they can thereby purchase an enemy..."  
 
"Considering our long subjection to servitude and caste, and the many temptations to which we are exposed to betray our race into the hands of their enemies, the wonder is not that we have so many traitors among us as that we have so few."  
 
"The most of our people, to their honor be it said, are remarkably sound and true to each other..."3  
 
Neither Douglass or Lincoln could possibly have imagined that the political and social changes that they influenced in their time would not by Our time, 129 years after Emancipation, have yielded the progress that many White Americans and even a few African-American "tokens" would have Us believe has occurred. However, the overwhelming masses of African-Americans and Native Americans in particular know by their degradation, squalor and hopelessness, that it has not.  
 
Lincoln and Douglass could not have possibly been aware that the Republican Party of their day would have in Our day so utterly forsaken the cause of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness of the descendants of slaves who toiled over a period of 244 years. They toiled in involuntary servitude from the date of the first cargo of the slave trade in 1619, to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. As We approach the 21st Century, neither the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, nor indeed Our American Educational, Legal, and Economic System has as yet delivered the promise of full equality to today's descendants of those early millions of Black martyrs. They were Our kith and kin. Our forefathers and foremothers who never tasted freedom in their lifetimes. So are We consigned to lifetimes of little, not plenty; of ignorance, not knowledge; of high infant mortality and lower life expectancy, as an issue of the implacable American institution of racial inequality in all things.  
 
Given such a history of White American shame, how can anyone, politician or private citizen, sanctimoniously state the case for equality of opportunity in Our land, in this state, in this community, when the apocalypse of miseducation, joblessness, economic insecurity, the spiritual "Killing Fields" of drugs, AIDS, and stultifying hopelessness grips Our population and other populations-of-colour in a measure overwhelmingly disproportionate to Our and their numbers?  
 
How can they argue with credibility that equality of opportunity exists at a time when the last two Administrations' rollback on that body of Affirmative Action laws which gave access to equality of opportunity, has since been supplanted only by Our people's negative freedom to lash out in desperation and anger? In senseless and incestuous destruction of a greater West Coast metropolis' inner city. African-American citizens may well be compared to Christian martyrs in ancient Rome, who found themselves in a similar position that they had nothing to lose or gain, in having in their enslavement already paid the ultimate price for their degradation. For as modern-day Black would-be martyrs of the Imperial White L.A.P.D., they were no less ready to pay what was for them the lesser price of exorcising their hopeless imprisonment in poverty's downward spiral of urban decay. It was the Rodney King verdict that was "the straw that broke the camel's back."  
 
Many scholars have pondered both the reasons for the dichotomy which exists between the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness promises of the Declaration of Independence, the various Constitutional guarantees that are particularly relevant to the concerns of African-Americans, and the position of economic stasis in which We find Ourselves in these closing years of the 20th century. Amongst them is a world-famous Duke University Professor and Scholar who was born in nearby Rentiesville, Oklahoma. Of course I refer to the eminent African-American academician, historian and author. Dr. John Hope Franklin. His distinguished body of work has illuminated the great and enduring contributions that African-Americans have made to the history of this nation in all fields and endeavours. It remains for the nation in every one of its communities like Checotah to both acknowledge and pragmatically respond to those contributions by equally pragmatically according Our African-American citizens and their communities an acknowledgment and respect due to a people who have given the "full measure of their devotion" in both War and Peace.  
 
I must here correct the flawed belief that a great scholar like your own "homie," Prof. John Hope Franklin, or yours truly, as one of history's first professionally-viable African-American Virtuoso Concert Pianists, have been spared the insults, outrages, assaults upon Our dignity and those general denials of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness experienced by any other Black man or woman. I must both sadly and affectionately remind you that on the issue of White racialism, when the chips are down, We will all ultimately sink in the same leaking boat until such times as We commit Ourselves to hanging together in unity in order that We may not be co-opted to hang alone.  
 
Prof. Franklin was no more a stranger to discrimination in housing in New York City than was once I. When Dr. Franklin was appointed to a distinguished History Chair at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, he encountered gross incidents of discrimination in his search for a home in a neighborhood of his choice. Surely I need not explain the "chapter and verse" of Dr. Franklin's confrontation with discrimination-in-housing even in the liberal state of New York. For who amongst you has not experienced the same or has personal knowledge of many, many similar examples?  
 
I too confronted discrimination-in-housing when I attempted, eventually successfully, to rent a Park Avenue Penthouse in New York City in the late 50's. I had just returned to the United States from my first Concert Tour abroad, sponsored by the Cultural Service of the State Department. During that tour, I served the interest of my country in winning many friends for the United States at that time in the Cold War when our nation's credibility as "the land of the free and the home of the brave" was being denounced by the Soviet Union.  
 
It may come as no surprise to you that my over 20 year residency in a Central New York English Tudor mansion known as "Applecrest," which is the headquarters of the National/International African-American History Month Founder's Commission, has been beset with consistent attempts by the area's White racialist political and real estate leadership to dislodge me, despite the fact that the estate was bequeathed to one of my Foundations by my former White American Patron and Patroness, who incidentally were also active supporters of major African-American Creative and Performing Artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance.
 
The fact that John Hope Franklin has "paid his dues" in a life of distinction and service to scholarship; the fact that I continue to pursue payment of my dues as a Concert Artist, Composer and Cultural Interchange Specialist, has in no way any more shielded Prof. Franklin nor yours truly from those same daily confrontations with White racialism that beset Our Brothers and Sisters in every sphere of life.  
They too have given "their full measure of devotion" not only in wars, but in the fields, the workplace, in the body politic, and wherever their limited access has permitted them to give it. They have so given, despite the scourge of White racialism against which they have so indefatigably fought. They have given it in society as honest and loyal citizens, in places of worship as devoted Christians and Muslims, and indeed in all fields of endeavour. Yet, the full measure of that devotion remains withheld by a racialist White majority whose disposition towards African-Americans and other Americans-of-colour accurately defines the divisions of Our population, as well as the dynamics of control and power betwixt those divisions in terms of class distinctions defined by colour alone.  
 
Despite the deprivations of the daily lives of the majority of Us; despite the unfulfilled promises of the Declaration of Independence; despite Constitutional guarantees for others that remain unguaranteed for Us; despite Our lack of access to equal opportunity; despite the pain and hopelessness of the poverty the majority of Us suffer, in confirmation of the reality of "A Dream Deferred"... the nation has always been able to count on Our patriotism in War as well as in Peace. Our loyalty to Our country has remained steadfast, despite the exclusionary policies of generation after generation of the White majority population against African-Americans and other citizens-of-colour. Thus, however cynical it may appear, Memorial Day for many African-Americans is a bittersweet calendar Holiday and Holyday of an American history written in the red blood of White racialism.  
 
The historical record lists the great Revolutionary War African-American patriot Crispus Attucks. He was the first to give his "full measure of devotion" to the cause of American Independence from foreign domination. Interestingly enough, the record also lists contingents of Black Haitian soldiers joining the American colonial insurrection against political and economic domination, and White-on-White forms of discrimination and segregation by colonial representatives of British rulers.  
 
African slaves in the South and Freedmen in the North joined the Union forces in great numbers. During the Civil War, they fought and died with valour on the nation's "Killing Fields" of regional economic competition and political disputes.
 
African-American military exploits-of-valour in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, which bequeathed us the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, were dramatically illustrated in the segregated African-American 10th Calvary which fought in the Charge on San Juan Hill.  This unit was also known as the "Buffalo Soldiers" which sadly pitted two peoples-of-colour, Native Americans and African-Americans, in battle in the Western Territories. It is certainly reassuring to know that today, African-Americans and Native Americans in this area and throughout the land support each other's struggles as people-of-colour in that tenacious commitment-to-survival which continues to be obstructed by divide and conquer ploys of White racialists. That such ignoble efforts have over the years become less and less successful is manifested by the intertwined bloodlines of those two noble people of some of the families of this area. It is currently manifested in San Francisco by the appointment of a Black woman community activist with whom I met only a few days ago. She proudly serves as the spokesperson for the Native American community in their struggle for equity in land rights in the Bay Area.  
 
But it took the participation of African-American soldiers, sailors and airmen in two World Wars to convince the Administrations of those Eras that African-American men were not only equal to the task of defending Our country, but that their patriotism was inviolable.  
 
Amongst the first units to see combat in World War I was the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, originally known as the 15th New York Regiment. Dr. John Hope Franklin reports in From Slavery to Freedom that the unit was sent to France as a result of an incident in Spartanburg, South Carolina where they were training.  
 
The famed composer Noble Sissle, then Drum Major of the Infantry, entered a hotel to purchase a newspaper. The owner of the hotel asked him why he did not remove his hat. He knocked it from Sissle's head and when Sissle stooped to pick it up, he was struck several times and thrown out of the hotel lobby. When Sissle's fellow soldiers heard of the incident, they were prepared to attack the hotel.  Only their Bandmaster, Lt. 'Big Jim' Europe, dissuaded them from doing so. The following night, the Regiment was prepared to "shoot up" the town.  
 
The only alternative to a violent eruption was to send the unit overseas where, under French command, they distinguished themselves as the most gallant American fighting unit. They held territory in sectors controlled by the American Expeditionary Force. They never lost a man to capture. They never gave up a trench or a foot of ground. They were continuously in action against the Germans for 191 days, the longest period of combat service of any American regiment. At the end of the war, the French showered them and other Black Regiments with the coveted Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor Medals for gallantry in action.  
 
And who amongst you or amongst African-Americans anywhere and everywhere has not related with exceeding pride to the love of country epitomized in the skill, courage and against-all-odds determination of the Tuskegee Airmen? They defended Our nation during World War II at a time before President Truman officially integrated our American Armed Forces.
 
Similarly, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the recent war against Iraq's illegal incursions upon Kuwait, provide dramatic updates on the magnificence-of-character, performance and determination of African-Americans in all sectors of the military. It also provides a continuing reaffirmation of the patriotism and belief amongst  Our vital American minority population that the majority population and its representative village, town, municipal, state and federal governments will eventually "Overcome" their seemingly dyed-in- the-wool commitments to practices of individual and institutional racialism. Unfortunately, these practices have remained intact in the wake of for-the-most-part dismantled official supports for discrimination.
 
Thus, for African-Americans, this day, this annual day of mourning for those of Our families of today and yesterday who gave their "last full measure of devotion" that those of Us left behind may freely exercise the goals of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness ... this day is one filled with a mystical mélange of sympathy for families in- complete in the absence of fathers, husbands, brothers, even mothers, sisters and daughters lost in war. This day is both a Holy day-of-remembrance and a Holiday-reaffirmation of those very values for which they fought and died.
 
It is therefore not sacrilegious that families in Checotah, Rentiesville, and throughout Oklahoma and the nation celebrate the intrinsic meaning of Memorial Day's reaffirmation of those highest values of American life embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, for which so many died. It is not sacrilegious that We, in the words of the old Negro Spiritual. "Break Bread Together" over picnics throughout the nation. It is not sacrilegious that We remember with pride those of Our families who sacrificed their lives that We might serve Our country in Peace through service to Our families in pursuit of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is not sacrilegious that the nation declared Memorial Day a Holiday of rest in which family reunions, class reunions such as the Douglass Grade School Class Reunion, and all sorts and manners of other community reunions take place with reveling and merriment as an appropriate expression of the joy-of- life, the meaning of which is inherent in the words Liberty and Freedom.
 
But it is indeed sacrilegious, grievously so, that a great nation like Ours, founded in 1776 on the principle of Liberty and Freedom for all, should still in 1992 withhold from its masses of African-American citizens the "full measure of its devotion" through its unrelenting peace and wartime blockade to African-American access to equal opportunity to achieve the enjoyment of Civil and Human Rights and economic parity with the majority population.
 
Today's Memorial Weekend Observance provides all Americans an opportunity to seriously reflect upon the lingering racial, ethnic, political, economic, cultural, and educational divisions in Our country. They are as alive and well today in Our society as they were at the time that President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass sought their remedy. The nation's current preoccupation with official and private sector "Denial" of the country's enduring affliction and pain of "Racialism" must sooner than later be regarded by thoughtful Americans as an affliction in and of itself. This endemic political disease requires the treatment of removal from office of those carriers-of-the-affliction-of-racialism who dishonour the memory of those many whom We mourn on this Holy-day and exalt on this Holiday.
 
Of course all of Us will have an opportunity to cast Our vote in November as if Our ballot was a divine surgeon's knife dedicated to excising official racialism from Our government at the highest and most immediate levels. But perhaps more important is the opportunity that African-Americans in particular have in Our potential to "cast a vote for Our own well-being" in resorting to a teaching of Booker T. Washington. He bade Us "put down our hoes where We are." You of course know he meant to take full advantage of every opportunity before you to create a better life for self and family.
 
The Tuskegee President's admonition was specifically directed to Us in the communities where We live. You must take especial pride to know that the community commitments of Prof. Jimmie White and his Eastside Checotah Community Action Group exemplify the very essence of the philosophy of that great President of one of Our oldest and finest Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Advisor to U.S. Presidents. The Community Action Group does so in its leadership effort to convert the Douglass Grade School into a Community Center here in Checotah.
 
Indeed, it is certainly no less significant that your own past resident, Mr. Clarence Scroggins, known to all of you as "Sonny," has offered the Checotah community a parcel of land bequeathed to him by his late Godmother, Mrs. Marion "Matt" Mattison, for the construction of a community park for which he has suggested a name: The Bruce- Woodson-Pritchard Park for Children. Sonny has chosen to memorialize here in Checotah the three figures who will have, in February 1993, contributed to the evolution of African-American History Month. The Centenary of African-American History Month will mark the growth of that annual Observance from the 1893 Negro History Day Resolution promulgated by Mississippi's Mrs. Josephine Bruce, to the 1926 establishment of Negro History Week by the distinguished Howard University scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson, to Yours Truly's establishment of Black History Month in 1965, with its name changed to African-American History Month in 1989 at Lincoln University (the nation's oldest Historically Black College and University).
 
Obviously, those efforts and many others of which I am surely not aware, represent a continuing effort in Checotah to positively address the problems of inequality as issuing from the historical blight of racialism in your area. But as all of you know, those problems are not at all exclusive to Checotah. Indeed, they exist wherever African- Americans live in urban or rural America. Indeed, just as the great Jewish people have historically regarded the problems of their people anywhere in the world as the focal point for unity everywhere in the world, the African-American community in Greater Checotah should, through their leadership, reach out for succour amongst the leadership and rank and file African-Americans throughout the nation in their time of need.
 
It was certainly from that perspective of ethnic kith and kin oriented responsibility that it was yours truly who was the first to make contact with the Washington, D.C. and Dallas Offices of the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Justice Department at this community's time of need during the seedling racial disturbance of May 3, 1991. And it should go without saying that I have come to you this weekend with feelings of especial pride in having been advised that the conciliatory efforts of that great office of the U.S. Government in fact became so effective a catalyst for healing, that effective and positive changes have since occurred in your area.
 
Also needless to say, despite the Greater Los Angeles community's responses of shame to the morbidity of the racialist-oriented orgy of destruction and despair of its inner city citizens, there is ample evidence that the healing process has begun there as well. But only official federal, state, municipal and private acknowledgment of racialism and classism; a commitment to re-design the currently limited access for African-Americans and other populations-of-colour to full and equitable participation in the economic bounty of Our country, can offer Our American social system permanent guarantees of peace and security in White urban settings and suburbia. Only thus can their security at present be more than an illusion, falsely based on the more dangerous illusion, i.e., that the African- American masses trapped in poverty will forever be benign. But quite frankly, even more dangerous than that is the fantasy beyond illusion that prevents White Americans in the suburbs from understanding that their security is integrally tied to the economic and social well- being of the people of inner cities.
 
As hard fought was the struggle of African-Americans for Civil Rights; as magnificent was the display of unity between African-Americans and White-Americans during the days of the venerable Martin Luther King... history more than indicates that Our nation, however reluctantly, was still more easily prepared to extend Civil and Human Rights symbols of equity to African-Americans than it was then or today ready to share the economic bounty of Our land with you and me as the progeny of Our African slave forefathers and foremothers.
 
I trust that on this Memorial Day Weekend, you will also remember those many souls buried beneath the high seas of the Middle Passage, with only the crests of its waves as their tombstones, and the African victims of the slave-trade, who lay restless beneath the soil of this state, this community, and throughout states all over Our country, throughout the Americas and in Europe, in graves marked only by the sweat of their toil, and their blood and bones.
 
Admittedly, there have been a few moments of surcease from the oppression of racialism that Our people have experienced through the indefatigable efforts and hard-won legal victories of the NAACP, the Urban League, the Congress of Racial Equality, and many other national and local Civil Rights Organizations. But the time of unrelenting racialism has obviously not permitted their gains to be consolidated either for Our benefit or for the benefit of the society-at- large. Even those organizations' peaceful and lawful successful struggles on Our behalf, as well as on behalf of the nation of Us all, were in no small degree made possible by virtue of Our loyalty and patriotism. Rather, were Our small gains the issue of government expedients in response to rioting, bloodletting, looting, property destruction, and wholesale defiance against Police State tactics of the law enforcement establishment specifically directed towards Our communities and other communities of peoples-of-colour.
 
It is therefore considerably more than ironic that change has taken place in Our communities all too often in official and private responses to the wanton and reckless mayhem of the hopeless masses whose cup of the bitter wine of oppression did runneth over. Certainly Rodney King's cup runneth over, as he intoned more than  "Not a Mumberlin' Word," to quote the title of yet another old Negro Spiritual, when he, with agonizing fervor and pain, implored, "Can't we come together?" We can and We must.
 
We can if We have the spiritual will to do so. We must if We heed those lessons of history which indicate if We don't, Our society will have entered a decline just as surely as did Ancient Rome for 1000 years. It is therefore prudent for all Americans to note that the slow and almost imperceptible decline of Rome was not noted by any one of the historians of that time. Not one of them perceived that the design of political, economic and social enslavement of the peoples within its vast empire was but a quintessential recipe for a decline that was thus inevitable.
 
But rather here than to engage you in doomsday speculations regarding the evidence that Our American civilization and indeed that of the West may be in decline, I would urge you all to follow the "Get Out The Vote" leadership of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He exhorts all of Us to exercise the franchise in November. Thus not only could We invest a new Congress with a mandate to join and lead Us in a national effort certainly not to restore an old economy almost exclusively exalting the now-hurting White middle class with sprinklings of African-American entrepreneurs, but to join the majority voters in divesting Ourselves of a lackluster Congress seemingly more committed to the maintenance of certain institutional and individual privilege than in service with integrity to the voters in general. With no less resolve should you decline to cast your vote in November for any Presidential candidate whose mentality permits him to play the African-American race card as a trump card for the return of votes from White bigots.
 
At this point, my cup, too, runneth over. I have shared with you my deepest thoughts and concerns, not only for Our people in America, but for those of Our kith and kin in the Central American States; the Island States of the Caribbean; throughout the countries of South America; in Our large communities in such European countries as France, England, Germany, Belgium; and of course in Our Motherland and Fatherland Africa, with particular emphasis on Ethiopia and South Africa.
 
In Ethiopia, we pray for a smooth transition to democratic reforms and the establishment of a free market economy promised by the transitional government. I feel especially honoured to serve as one of the American Cultural Affairs Advisors to the Ethiopian Royal Family whose two-year exile in the U.S. is approaching an end with the return of His Imperial Majesty Amha Selassie I to Ethiopia as his country's first Constitutional Monarch.
 
In South Africa, despite the fact that Blacks are in the majority, today, on this Memorial Day in Checotah, they still do not have the vote. Our prayers therefore should be for them and for all of Our peoples throughout the lands of the African Diaspora. Our thoughts should linger for a moment on the common plight of all peoples of African descent in every part of the world. And We should not permit Our moments of merriment and frivolity during this Memorial Day Weekend to distract Us from Our obligation to reinforce Our racial instinct for survival through acts and deeds towards a unity, however still elusive, which is also the only historically proven recipe for racial and political survival.
 
With these thoughts, dear friends, I commend to you my good will, my prayers, and my commitment as the Chairman of the African-American History Month Founder's Commission, to make whatever good mark I may be privileged to make on the present history of Checotah. I trust that you will feel free to call upon me for whatever assistance my Foundation, the Panamerican-Panafrican Association, Inc. may be able to give your efforts to convert the Douglass Grade School into a community center. I would also welcome whatever efforts you may be able to give to Our readiness to assist in the development of Mr. Scroggins' property gift for the Bruce-Woodson-Pritchard Park for Children.
 
It is, then, with Peace and Love that I thank you for the time, consideration, and hospitality you have shown me during this, my all- too-belated first of what I hope will be many future visits to Checotah.
 
RSP
"Applecrest"
Baldwinsville, New York
18 May 1992
Edited by Dr. Antoine Jean Polgar
Foundation Executive Director
 
1. Quoted from Douglass' "Speech at 1883 National Convention of Colored Men" at Louisville, Kentucky, Sept. 24, 1883 in A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, Vol. 2, Herbert Aptheker, Ed., Citadel Press, New York, 1966, Page 661.
2 Quoted in "Crisis in Black and White," an Essay by Charles E. Silberman, printed in Black Protest: History, Documents and Analyses by Joanne Grant, Fawcett Publications, Greenwich, CT, 1968, P. 441.
3 Quoted from "Douglass' Speech at 1883 National Convention" in A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, Vol. 2, Herbert Aptheker, Ed., The Citadel Press, New York, 1966, Pages 659-660.  
 
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