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Black History

COMMENTARY: A More Diverse Congress, a More Perfect Union?

NNPA NEWSWIRE — No freedom in this homeland of the free, but this Congress offers freedom possibilities. It offers the possibility of fixing the Voting Rights Act, even as the Supreme Court has attempted to erode voting rights, even as at least two elections were stolen in 2018, those of Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida

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By Julianne Malveaux

The 116th Congress, sworn in on January 3, is the most diverse our nation has ever seen. There are more women – 102 – than ever before. More members of the Congressional Black Caucus – 55 – than ever before. Indeed, a former Congressional Black Caucus intern, Lauren Underwood (D-IL) is part of the incoming first-year class. At 32, she is the youngest Black woman to serve.

This Congress includes the first Native American woman, two Muslim women, openly gay representatives, and others. Much of this diversity was displayed at the ceremonial swearing-in of the Congressional Black Caucus, an inspirational event that preceded the official swearing-in on Capitol Hill. There, as I listened to speeches by the top Congressional Democrats – incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA), incoming Majority leader Steny Hoyer (MD), and incoming Whip James Clyburn (SC), I was awash in hope and optimism. These leaders, along with outgoing Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (LA) and incoming Chair Karen Bass (CA) spoke of challenge, struggle, and optimism and focused on possibilities.

As I listened to them I could not help but think of the poet Langston Hughes, and his poem Let America Be America Again. Written in 1935, the poem was first published in Esquire Magazine in 1936. Though Hughes did not consider it one of his favorites, it captures the duality of our nation, the marked difference between our nation’s soaring establishing rhetoric and the stark reality that many experience. In the words of Malcolm X, it is the difference between the American dream and the American nightmare. Here is what Langston Hughes writes in his poem:

“Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free. (America never was America to me.) Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.) O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.”

(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

No freedom in this homeland of the free, but this Congress offers freedom possibilities. It offers the possibility of fixing the Voting Rights Act, even as the Supreme Court has attempted to erode voting rights, even as at least two elections were stolen in 2018, those of Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida.

This Congress offers freedom possibilities in resisting the insanity of a “wall” that the Great Negotiator (and purported author of The Art of the Deal) swore that Mexico was paying for. Not. This Congress offers freedom possibilities in its efforts to preserve the Affordable Health Care Act and to move us to Medicare for all. This colorful Congress (the pictures tell it all) offers a sharp contrast to the dismal (as in grey and navy suits) set of Republicans, overwhelmingly white and male, and overwhelmingly staid.

It’s not about MAGA (Make America Great Again), it’s about MAF, or Make America Fair. This is what Congressman James Clyburn shared when he spoke at the ceremonial swearing-in. He opened with the words of French historian Alexis Tocqueville, who observed when visiting this country: “the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

Clyburn went on to list the many ways our nation has attempted to self-correct, from the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation to the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring “separate but equal” to be “inherently unequal.” Clyburn talked about the Great Society legislation, another of our nation’s attempts at self-repair, and he concluded by saying that, “America does not need to be made great again, she is already great. Our challenge is to make that greatness apply fairly and equitably to all of our citizens.”

Can this diverse new Congress make our nation fair for many who have never experienced our nation in the way it is supposed to be? In the words of Langston Hughes, “It never was America to me.” We’ve come a long way since he wrote his 1935 poem, but we still have so much to do. After these last two dystopian years under the leadership of President Genital Grabber (let’s just call him GG), this new Congress offers us many possibilities. May they manifest!

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via www.amazon.com for booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info visit www.juliannemalveaux.com 

Art

Actor Clarence Williams III, 81

Williams was an actor from 1960 to 2018 and was best known for his roles as Linc in “The Mod Squad” (and his signature line, solid) (1968-1973) and Prince’s father in “Purple Rain” in 1984.

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Actor Clarence Williams III

Actor Clarence Williams III was born on Aug. 21, 1939 in New York, New York and died on June 4, 2021 of colon cancer in Los Angeles, California.

Williams was an actor from 1960 to 2018 and was best known for his roles as Linc in “The Mod Squad” (and his signature line, solid) (1968-1973) and Prince’s father in “Purple Rain” in 1984.

He acted in the theatre, on television and in film.

On “The Mod Squad” Williams was one of the first Black actors to have a lead role on a television series. Following in the footsteps of Bill Cosby and Diahann Carroll.

Cosby recommended Williams for his role as Linc.

He was married to actress Gloria Foster from 1967 to 1984 when they divorced.  Foster died in 2001.

Williams is survived by his daughter, Jamey Phillips.

Wikipedia, The New York Times, and CNN were sources for this story.

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Black History

Juneteenth: Our Independence Day

Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in Black history.

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Graphic courtesy istock.

June 19, or Juneteenth, is independence day for many Americans of African descent.

Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in Black history.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, but was read to slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, more than two years later.

There are several different accounts of why the news of freedom took so long to arrive.

One story has it that slaves were intentionally kept ignorant about their freedom in order to allow crops to continue being harvested. Another has a messenger traveling by mule to deliver the news, and it simply took more than two years to arrive from Washington, D.C., to Texas. Yet another story has the messenger being murdered before he could deliver the message.

No matter the origin of Juneteenth, the end of slavery is definitely worth celebrating. But while much has happened in the 158 years since slavery officially ended, its legacies still remain in the form of disparate salaries, educational levels and incarceration rates.

Juneteenth, which is now observed in 48 states (North Dakota and Hawaii do not observe)  and the District of Columbia, is a time to take stock of our progress — and of the work that remains.

Last year, during the pandemic our current vice president and former senator, Kamala Harris, said:  “[m]y message on this Juneteenth:  may we honor those who suffered, died and survived the crushing reality of slavery by looking to the future.”

Twelve years ago President Barack Obama said: “African Americans helped to build our nation brick by brick and have contributed to her growth in every way, even when rights and liberties were denied to them.”

We’re still building it.

In 2021, as our state opens up post-pandemic and we deal with racial reckoning as we never have before  #BlackLivesMatter is becoming a reality. 

This year is truly our Independence Day.

Happy Juneteenth.

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African American News & Issues

Black Panther Mini Museum Free to BIPOC Juneteenth Weekend

Lisbet Tellefsen is the curator, Linnea Du is the editor, Otherwise provided design, and Art Kotoulas production.

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Graphic courtesy West Oakland Mural Project.

The Mini Museum of the Black Panther Party @ The Mural opens on Juneteenth, June 19, 2021, at 831 Center St., Oakland, CA.  It’s open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Tickets for up to five people for a 30-minute tour can be purchased in advance by logging onto westoaklandmuralproject.org.  Children under 12 are free as are BIPOC folks during Juneteenth weekend. Individual tickets can be purchased for $12.50.

Lisbet Tellefsen is the curator, Linnea Du is the editor, Otherwise provided design, and Art Kotoulas production.

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