If there was such an event called White History Month, I wonder if white people would make a big deal out of it. Would it be something that they look forward to or would it be a celebratory four weeks that they could really do without? Who would be their most honored and revered icons? We (black folk) know ours without even thinking. Martin, Thurgood, and Harriet. The same ‘safe’, but critical for the movement, figures are prefaced in church, some schools, and over our media airwaves each and every February. Ironically, Angela Davis and/or Assata Shakur are not discussed!
I guess white people could list presidents. Abraham Lincoln would be one that I am certain would continuously surface. President Obama has listed this slavery proponent as one of his “heroes and respected men”. A man who was FORCED to do the RIGHT thing? “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it." Let’s keep that quote and the other atrocious detail (inability to free slaves because it was the humane thing to do) about Lincoln in mind as we witness good ole Abe praised and placed on a pedestal during this Bicentennial year.
This February 2009 I have decided to do what some black and white folk do when they want to honor a historical figure: They take every measure to infuse the character of the iconic individual into their thoughts and actions. These people actually attempt to embody the personality traits of their heroes/heroines – but not only for a month. The people I am referring to have made the figure a part of them in word and deed. Perhaps, this is why the overseer (Abraham Lincoln) of numerous hangings is cherished like today’s gold. Nonetheless, he at least did commit to one righteous act that we all are familiar with: Emancipating America’s Negroes. Just ask anyone, ‘What is President Lincoln’s legacy?’ You will get in response, ‘Uh. He freed the slaves.’ You best believe that my nine year old is not walking around with that incomplete response!
A legacy I have been interested in and willing to embody is Jack Johnson’s. Not the Hawaii born singer and surfer. The great Galveston born boxer of the early 1900’s was not only the first African American World Champion he was one of the few black men in 19th century Western History who defied and rebelled against the white establishment. Jack Johnson was so daring that he fornicated with and later married a white woman during those blatantly bold racist times. He was one of the few black men in history who was not ridiculed and/or castrated for mingling with America’s Lilly. But, this is not my justification for embracing the Galveston Giant.
Jack Johnson was unbelievably persistent. Just to have his opportunity to become the world champion he took pay cuts, was forced to fight unqualified fighters, and he ended up traveling all over the world following the then Canadian champion, Tommy Burns, demanding a chance for the belt. Unfortunately, Burns was initially unwilling to get in the ring with a “spook”. Eventually, Johnson was granted a fight for the title. The story ended, of course, with him obliterating Mr. Burns.
Persistence is the heartbeat of motivation. Without it all one has is the average run of the mill drive to achieve. Thus the reason champions are not average. Edwin Moses, Allen Johnson, and Renaldo Nehemiah were cut from the same cloth. That cloth that started with our first world champion, Jack Johnson. All four are worthy of my unapologetic adoration. Not Abraham Lincoln, or the likes of him e.g. George Washington, Ulysses Grant, James Polk, and other protectors of the Constitution and not humanity.
Written by Brian E. Payne. Inspired by the heroes some would like us NOT to honor:
H. Rap Brown - Louis Farrakhan – Stokely Carmichael - Nat Turner – Bobby Seale - Denmark Vesey
Unforgivable Blackness, The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson: