Monday, July 26, 2010

Don't Throw the NAACP's Historical Legacy Out with Its Dirty Bath Water

I am as pissed as most regarding the blatant missteps of the NAACP leadership regarding Mrs. Shirley Sherrod. However, I am not willing to totally malign an organization that no matter whether we agree or disagree with its actions, it has been on the front line fighting for the rights of coloreds, negroes, afro-americans, african-americans and all of the other configurations in between.

I don't know if the NAACP is still relevant and viable to address the myriad of challenges facing our communities today. However, I think we will be hard pressed to find any organization that has not undergone a radical paradigm shift that is truly relevant for our times. Even with that, no single organization will or should try to address all the needs of the black community.

Yes, the NAACP leadership as it stands today, deserves a vote of no confidence. Yet, we can not deny the integral role and human sacrifice that those who came before have made. Yes, I know that the NAACP was started largely by white people.  It was started in response to racial riots and lynching in Springfield Illinois in 1908. It was an organization whose time had come based on the Jim Crowism that was rampant in the America South, but also permeated North, East and West.

We can not deny the role the NAACP played in opening doors to social, political, educational and economic justice for not only black people but other minorities. We cannot deny the historic role of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund with Thurdgood Marshall at the helm litigating and winning Brown vs Board of Education. We can deny or forget that NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers gave his life fighting for the rights of black people.

As a child of the segregated South, my history and early activist training are rooted in organizations like the NAACP. I grew up as a small child attending meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Christian Movement for Human Rights and the NAACP. I remember sitting in churches in the dead of summer sweltering with heat due to no air conditioning. Yet, my mother and others in attendance paid no mind to the heat inside, because the sweltering heat of oppression waiting for them outside was far greater.

I remember my grandfather's brand new brick home being bombed on what infamously became known as "Dynamite Hill" in Birmingham's Smithfield community. A community made up of working class black folk seeking a better life and having the Kland decide that they'd bomb and burn these homes. I guess these individuals felt that only the shotgun houses across the tracks were fitting for black folk.

As I grew older I became more radical in my political thinking and embraced the Black Power philosophies of Angela Davis and other icons of the Black Power Movement. Yet, I never lost my sense of history and memory of my earlier experiences with the more moderate civil rights organizations like the NAACP.  I can still remember my mother's words, "never burn the bridges that brought you across". There was a time in the not so distant past when the NAACP was one of those  bridges.

I write this to remind myself first,  and hopefully to remind others that we must cherish our historical black institutions that were there when we were denied access to most mainstream institutions; be they public accommodations or institutions of higher learning. Because we now have full access to most public and many private spaces, far too many of us no longer patronize black businesses, we no longer live in historically black communities, even our HBCU's are little more than an after thought in our selection of schools. As a result, many historically black communities are blighted because of black flight. In addition, there is debate as to whether we even need HBCUs in a post-racial era.

Yes, we must demand more of the NAACP and other organizations that purport to represent the interests of people of color. In addition to demanding more, we must become actively involved ourselves. If not with the NAACP, with some organized social or political cause that meets our needs and where we can lend our talent and expertise.

Even though the NAACP threw Mrs. Sherrod under the bus, let's take the high road and not throw its historical legacy out with its dirty bath water.