I think I’ll write a little bit about this photo. You see, I’m standing just to the right of the field of vision – politely nudged aside by the news photographer who wanted to get a good close-up of Dr. King speaking in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Black Chicago. Out in front of the Robert Taylor Projects.
Looking around for a photo and a news piece to reflect upon on this holiday, I bumped into this news photo from the summer of 1965 in Chicago. I spent that summer as a community activist working with other like-minded folks from the then fairly-new W.E.B.DuBois Clubs. Radicals, communist and non-communist, religious and atheist, all colors and creeds; but, convinced that it would take more than band-aids to patch up the effect of centuries of racism in America.
I met some wonderful people that summer. Not the least of whom was Dr. King. Though he wasn’t the biggest influence on my feelings, understanding of what the movement needed to do, where to go next. Most influential was Ismael Flory, founder of the African American Heritage Association, editor and stalwart in his dedication to producing an encyclopedia of African American studies. Ish could turn traffic directions into a discussion of history, turn lunch into the science of gastronomy – could make you laugh or cry over silly humanity.
I opened for Dr. King, that day in Chicago’s South Side. Back in the day, there wasn’t anyplace I sang and performed that didn’t have at least a core of the call for change in it. Newspaper articles and historic documents say this was the first time that Dr. King was booed by a Black audience. It was much, much less than that.
There were two truly tiny efforts birthing in Chicago at that time joining the early call for Black Power within the civil rights movement – and ready to exit the larger effort at the drop of a dollar bill. That day the noisiest boos came from members of the Blackstone Rangers already devolving into hustlers taking money from the Feds and using the funds to build one of the largest drug gangs in Chicago. The other silliest group was comprised of one well-known young Black man – an early advocate of separatist activism – who trotted out a line of a half-dozen or so schoolchildren, none over 6 or 7 years old, who carried anti-King signs. Dr. King chided him for his opportunism and guile.
For me, the day is remembered as the first time I met Martin Luther King, Jr.. I remember the summer sun and heat. I remember one Black teenager who liked one particular song I wrote – something I rarely did. I never wanted to be a songwriter. It was one more step away from America’s bigoted history. One more step towards a future still unrealized; but – believe me – better than it ever was.
I wrote this a few years ago. Worth reposting.