Donald “Don” King (1931 – present)
“Only in America” became Don King, the famous boxing promoter’s, catchphrase along with his trademark wild Afro-style hair-do. In 1967, King served more than three at the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio for manslaughter (second-degree murder). He was convicted of stomping to death by one of his gambling house employees. While incarcerated King said he began to self-educate by reading everything in the prison library. King was also charged in 1954 for killing a man who attempted to rob one of his gambling stacks. The case was ruled a justifiable homicide. In 1983, King was pardoned by Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes. King gained fame by promoting some of the highly acclaimed 1970s heavyweight championship fights such as: “The Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman and the “Thrilla in Manila” fight that featured Ali vs. Joe Frazier.
King build a boxing empire under his Don King Productions banner with a stable of prominent Fighters that included Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, Julio Cesar Chavez, Roberto Duran, and Evander Holyfield among many others. King faced many lawsuits from some of these boxers alleging dishonest business practices, most of the cases were settled out of court. King expanded outside of boxing and promoted the Jackson 1984 Victory Tour. He purchased the “Call and Post,” a Cleveland, Ohio-based African-American weekly newspaper, which he continued to publish as of 2011. King became the “Teflon Don,” possibly before former President Donald Trump. In 1992, King was being investigated for possible connection to organized crime, which during a Senate hearing, King invoked the Fifth Amendment when questioned about his connection to mobster John Gotti, according to Wikipedia. He also was not indicted for racketeering in 1999 with IBF President Robert “Bobby” Lee Sr. as a co-conspirator. King also did not testify against Lee. In 2008, King was inducted into the Fame-ing Hall of Fame. He received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Central State University, in Wilberforce, Ohio. King overcame a life of crime, prison, lawsuits and government investigations to become a successful businessman. And his own words “Only in America.”
X-Clan (the 1990s – Present Hip Hop Group)
X-clan is a pro-Afrocentric rap group from Brooklyn, New York. The group picked up where rap legends Public Enemy left off with hard-hitting revolutionary music that rivaled “gangster rap.” The Nationalist Cry of “The Red, the Black and the Green,” the colors of the Black Unity flag created by Marcus Garvey, blasted from the speakers of urban youth cars. The group debuted “To the East, Blackwards (1990) and followed by Xodus (1992).
Both albums rank at #11 on Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart at the time. The group created catch-phrase “Vainglorious” and hit song “Grand Verbalizer” even had street youth wearing red, black and green African medals. The goal of the music was to introduce the Hip-Hop generation to the Black Nationalist Movement without preaching, according to its members.
The songs blended club dance music with its “conscious” lyrics, a variety at the time. The group’s original members consisted of Sugar Shaft, Brother J, Professor X, Isis, and Queen Mother Rage. The crew was the cornerstone was the cornerstone of the Black Watch Movement, a collective of Afrocentrism and Egyptian Sciences. Isis released “Rebel Soul” (1990), Queen Mother Rage debuted “Vainglorious Law” (1991) and Professor X released “Years of the 9, on the Blackhand Side” (1991). Sadly, like most successful groups the crew broke up and some members met with tragedy. In 1994, Brother J formed Sun Riders, a new group, and released “Seeds of Evolution.” Sugar Shaft died from AIDS complications in 1995 and Professor X died from spinal meningitis in 2006. In 2007, X-Clan reunited and release “Return from Mecca,” and “Mainstream OutLawz” (2009). The was founded by Lumumba Carson and Professor X. The crew’s success was they even made “gangsters” dance to “conscious” music. The group message remains intact: “Black Nationalism, it’s basically aimed at improving the Black environment. We’re not meant to be a prejudiced circle; it’s just we want to improve our environment. Because it we’re not crackheads, we’re drug dealers. You know, the whole stereotype of the Black existence was so backward… we wanted to improve that by showing some indigenous knowledge with music… usually when a positive record comes on everything stops and everybody gets tight in the ass and doesn’t know what to do. We were trying to break that,” concluded a group statement, according to Wikipedia.
Sister Souljah (Lisa Williamson) (1964 – present)
Sister Souljah is an American author, activist, musician and film producer. Souljah was an outspoken black activist in the late 80s and early 90s. She was the only female rapper for the hip-hop group Public Enemy. She released her only solo album 360 Degrees of Power in 1992. In 1994, Souljah published no disrespect, her memoir. In 1999, she pioneered the New Black Novel renaissance with her first book The Coldest Winter Ever. The book opens up the doors to what has become known as “street literature” (urban novels) which Souljah said “I’m a college graduate, and if I read something like Romeo and Juliet, I’m reading about a gang fight, I’m reading about young love, young sex, longing. I’m reading the same themes that I’m writing in my books. So if somebody comes along and says ‘yours is street literature’ – what was Shakespeare,” Souljah concluded, reported Wikipedia. She made the New York Times Bestseller list three times. The novel’s main character Midnight was an incarcerated man struggling to reclaim his innocence and find his identity while in prison. The book became popular with prisoners and spawn a book series by Soulja with Over Midnight: a Gangster Love Story, Midnight and the Meaning of Love and A Deeper Love Inside. The Porsche Santiaga Story is a spinoff, her latest sequel is Life After Death (2021). Souljah developed the African Youth Survival Camp, a six-week summer camp for homeless families children. She organized youth events with hip-hop artists such as Lauryn Hill, Sean “Diddy” Combs and others. She was the executive director for Combs Daddy’s House Social Program Inc., which educates and prepares youth ages 10-16. Souljah protested racial discrimination, police brutality and lack of proper education for urban youth. Souljah pioneered the urban novel craze and organized the hip-hop community to get involved with social issues.
The Hidden History of Slavery in California: From Enslaved to
Born enslaved in Georgia, Bridget “Biddy” Mason walked more than 2,000 miles through rugged terrain to California, where she eventually won her freedom in a landmark court case and became a celebrated philanthropist.
Mason was forced to travel West with Robert and Rebecca Smith, slaveholders who had joined the Mormon migration to Utah. The Smiths eventually took Mason and her three children to San Bernardino in California. While California was supposedly a “free state,” Smith continued to hold them captive. Mason and her children befriended free blacks who alerted the local sheriff when the Smiths made plans to take Biddy and her daughters to Texas with them. The sheriff took Mason and her family into protective custody under a writ of habeas corpus.
Judge Benjamin Hayes circumvented racist testimony laws that prevented blacks from testifying against whites by interviewing Mason in his chambers. There, she said that she did not want to go back to the South with the Smiths. As a result, in 1856, Hayes ruled that Mason and her children were “free forever.” Mason became a doctor’s assistant and ran a midwifing business. She accumulated a fortune worth about $7.5 million in today’s dollars, making her one of the richest women in Los Angeles. She established a homestead in what became downtown, Los Angeles. Mason used her wealth to establish a daycare center for working parents and created an account at a store where families who lost their homes in flooding could get supplies. She also co-founded and financed the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church, which is still going strong. Known as Grandma Mason, she died in 1891 and is honored through the Biddy Mason monument in downtown Los Angeles
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
For over 400 years, Black slavery and oppression have been an egregious hypocrisy in America, “the land of freedom.”
In his book, The Souls of Black Folk, civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that the injustice of unattainable American ideals — liberty and equality — for African Americans “has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten-thousand-thousand people.”
Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP and the first Black person to receive a doctorate from Harvard University, called for direct action to end political, economic, and social oppression of Black Americans, which was progressive among the leading early-20th century activists’ voices.
In his book, Du Bois outlined his plan for voices without violence, criticism without contempt.
In his strategy for racial justice that remains as effective and necessary today as when he wrote it in 1903, Du Bois called for Black and White solidarity against oppression of African Americans by a racist White society.
Through heartfelt accounts of personal and historical struggle, he provided overwhelming evidence of centuries of abuse of Black people by a White-nationalist society.
Du Bois, noting the plight of those who experienced the villainies of slavery, wrote, “few men ever worshiped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries.”
But emancipation did not end rampant racist oppression. “Yet the swarthy specter sits… our vastest social problem…” continued the author. “The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land.”
Nor did gaining the vote prevent White-supremist political abuse. “And the Nation echoed… ‘Away with the Black man’s ballot, by force or by fraud — and behold the suicide of a race!’” wrote Du Bois.
Du Bois detailed the destructive social effects of continuing racial discrimination: “The very soul of the toiling, sweating Black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice.”
The fight against widespread oppression through the turn of the 20th century was weary, burdensome work.
In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois argued that Black Americans should battle against their oppression by rising above the racial hatred and by remaining true models of American and Black ideals. He called for more political action toward racial justice than other Black civil rights leaders of his time but agreed that self-improvement was crucial.
“We need…above all, the broader, deeper, higher culture of gifted minds and pure hearts,” Du Bois wrote.
Education is the path to the pinnacle of African American self-consciousness and self-respect, ideals he said must be achieved to obtain equality.
Although some social activists promote anger, hatred, and violent protest against White tyranny, Du Bois argued that such contemptuous acts perpetuate the divisive cycle of prejudice and repression.
Instead, he recommended, “striving toward that vaster ideal that swims before the Negro people, the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of Race; the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic.”
In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois wrote that “the spiritual striving of the freedmen’s sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost beyond the measure of their strength.”
Du Bois argued that Black Americans, through their uniquely innate strength, can achieve “double consciousness” — remaining simultaneously true to both the Black ideal and the American ideal. Despite all their accomplishments, however, Black people in America remain—even today, more than a century later — a minority in a deeply racially divided nation.
Du Bois argued that defeating White oppression of Black Americans benefits Black and White Americans by strengthening the nation and he invited all Americans to play a role. He recognized that the nation is only as strong as its achievement of and adherence to its founding principles. Emphasizing America’s foremost ideals of liberty and equality, in Souls Du Bois wrote, “Merely a concrete test of the underlying principles of the great republic is the Negro Problem.”
America’s constitutional democracy’s highest goals are written in its founding documents. To that, Du Bois declared, “there are today no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes.”
His point is clear: racist oppression weakens America because it is antithetical to the ideals we hold most dear.
The author then asks, “Will America be poorer if she replaces…her coarse and cruel wit with loving jovial good-humor?”
The answer, empathetically, is “No.”
Light-hearted compassion is certainly better aligned with American ideals than hateful racial strife.
Du Bois called for Black and White solidarity in the fight for racial justice, writing, “in order that some day on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack.”
He ended the first chapter of his book with an invitation to all Americans to take an important step in that fight “in the name of human opportunity…listen to the striving in the souls of Black folk.”
The reader of Souls learns that listening to the yearning voices of the oppressed struggling for equality leads to deeper understanding, empathy, and healing.
Rising above the racial hatred unifies a larger coalition to fight for civil rights in America. Individuals can stay true to their personal values while advancing liberty and justice for a stronger America.
Du Bois’ strategy of Black and White solidarity in political action built momentum toward equality for Black Americans in the last century, but the struggle continues today.
Du Bois’ invitation to all Americans is still the solution.
We must listen. Simply listen. We must listen to the Black voices whose family members are dying disproportionately from the coronavirus.
Americans must listen to the Black students and workers who are losing their schools and jobs at a higher rate.
We the people must listen to the stories of Black families suffering from disproportionate policing, persecution, and imprisonment.
When we hear their voices, we will naturally join to end the injustice.
Americans will support civil rights protections when we vote, through our representatives, with our pocketbooks, pens, voices, political campaigns, and social movements.
We must rise now in solidarity to achieve the 21st-century racial justice that a truer, freer America demands.