So, here I was back today, taking notes on Roy Wilkins, thinking ho-hum, NAACP wonk, yawn, Spingarn, Presidential Medal of Freedom, oh, hey, asked to resign and accused of mismanagement of funds, well kind of interesting but not really worth notice considering the NAACP leadership has been in that kind of kerfluffle ever since. And the bios happen to be on a local NAACP website, which is obviously not the best place to go into messy details of any kind.
In the 1930s and 40s, this son of an escaped slave was the most famous and widely respected Afro-American man in the world, having thrilled thousands with his commanding presence and magnificent deep baritone voice on the Broadway stage and Hollywood screen. He popularised black spirituals, and became a global working class hero when he learned over twenty languages in order to sing international folk songs in their original tongue. For two decades, he was the world’s most popular concert performer. But, by the time of his death at the age of 77 from complications following a stroke, he was a forgotten and broken man. For the last twenty years of his life, Robeson suffered a series of mental breakdowns and even twice tried to kill himself. How could such a brilliant and gifted world figure have been so comprehensively destroyed?Paul Robeson is one of the reasons I started writing about African American history.
Roy Wilkins is one of the reasons it's such an emotional challenge sometimes.
After posting Wilkins and taking a break I started on Eldridge Cleaver for tomorrow. No ho-hum there. From Panther to... Republican? Mormon Republican? Supported Reagan in 1984, after the Alzheimer's had clearly set in? I vaguely remembered Cleaver had changed course, but all that's just a little hard to take.
Thought about Wilkins and Robeson. About Cleaver. About some of the other folks who have had birthdays lately. Carl Rowan, a corporate spokesman and board-sitter whose civil rights legacy was mostly downhill after his fifteen minutes of fame escorting Charlayne Hunter on her first day at the University of Georgia. Althea Gibson, who retired from competitive tennis because of financial reasons and had a brief career in show business, including playing John Wayne's sweetie's maid in a Civil War era western. She eventually died alone and broke.
Are those the options? Despair or denial? Either way, as Gil Scott-Heron wrote (and Marvin Gaye sang), sometimes it just makes you wanna holla and throw up both your hands.
Did I mention that I hadn't written over the weekend because I was in the middle of my sixth annual totally incapacitating "Katrina made it just too damn clear that this country doesn't care about Black people, or poor people, or maintaining a decent infrastructure for any of the people" end of the hot Texas summer meltdown? Throw in this year's extravaganza anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which in popular history had nothing to do with jobs or freedom, and has been reduced to a couple of convenient soundbites and lots of warm fuzzy feel-goods.
Deep breath here.
Okay. I'm not going to commit suicide. I'm not going to vote for Rick Perry. I'm not even going to spend too much time dwelling on how identical those two actions are. I'm gonna sing along with Brother Gil, and then with Brother Sam, and then get back to the Minister of Information.
Lord knows we need to know about Ministers of Information these days.