“Remberance, anger and pain”
By Pastor Rasheed Z Baaith
“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be over-past.” (Isaiah 26:20)
It will be a week of momentous recall. In it was the 50th Anniversary of the murders of Chaney, Schwarner and Goodman, Civil Rights hero Marion Berry died and the Grand Jury in Fergurson decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.
Fifty years ago in what was called “Freedom Summer,” which was the summer of 1964, three young men, 20 year old James Chaney, 20-year-old Andrew Goodman and 24-year-old Michael Schwerner were murdered for Civil Rights activities in Philadelphia, Mississippi in Nashoba County.
The state of Mississippi has been for as long as there has been an America, a place of senseless, violent, explosive, instantaneous death for Black people. Especially for Black men and for Black boys. Mississippi is where 14-year-old Emmett Till was killed by white men for allegedly flirting with a white woman in 1955 and Medgar Evers was assassinated for his Civil Rights efforts to end segregation at the University of Mississippi in 1963.
Those are just victims we know about. There was a six week search for the bodies of the three Civil Rights workers and as they searched, the bodies of nine Black men were found in local swamps. The state was not called “Bloody Mississippi” just for effect.
It was into that same place of death and horror that Marion Berry came to in 1966. Much of the narrative about Marion Berry had deliberately focused on his using drugs while Mayor of Washington, DC. While that is certainly a part of his history there is so much more that has to be said about him. Marion Berry began his fight for equality for Black people at the age of 17 and never stopped.
In 1960 Berry became the first Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee after leaving doctoral studies in Organic Chemistry at the University of Kansas. His under graduate degree in that field was from Lemoyne College and his Masters from Fisk University.
From 1960 -64 Marion Berry was in Macomb, Mississippi directing a voting registration direct action program where the greatest obstacle to success was overcoming the fear Black Mississippians had about being killed for registering to vote.
Berry’s life was in constant danger but he did let the program fail. Berry left SNCC in 1966 when H. Rap Brown now known as Jamil Abdullah AlAmin became the new Chairmen of the group. Berry moved to Washington, DC at the request of James Foreman and the rest as they say is history.
And while all of the work he did for poor people, Black and white while Mayor is allowed to be over shadowed by the smoke from that crack pipe, Marion Berry is an authentic Civil Rights advocate and hero. To do what he did at the time that he did it demanded courage beyond what most of us have and a love for his people that most of us deny. Marion Berry had some lapses in character but so do we all. Berry showed his true character early, he was an Eagle Scout, one of the few black boys who had the achievement born in his hometown of Itta, Mississippi.
Ferguson, Missouri, reminds me a lot of Mississippi. It is a place where Black men and Black boys find their lives continually in danger from those who are supposed to protect them: the police. So when Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown and then was exonerated by a Grand Jury, it became the proverbial final straw. And the violence that followed was as predictable the coming sunrise. So were the reactions that came from both sides of the conversations.
There will always be those who say Darren Wilson did not need to shoot Michael Brown and there will always be those who say Wilson had no choice. The truth as always, lies somewhere else.
One truth is Michael Brown and Darren Wilson had been fed lies about Black people all their lives. The lies include we’re not a moral people, we are unintelligent people, we are the most violent of people, and we’re a lawless people. This racist propaganda is fed to the entire world and the entire world believes these lies as does most of America. Including us.
Michael Brown believed he could do whatever he wanted because of who and what he was and Darren Wilson, in spite of being 6’5 and over 200 lbs. became afraid and moved when he should have waited for assistance. As a result, one more Black teen aged male is dead because of poor choices by both parties. The inequity is Darren Wilson gets a chance to recover from his poor choice. Michael Brown never will.
Yet there is good coming out of this. A new generation of social activism is growing; apathy from young people seems to be a thing of the past. They seem to have awakened at last. My prayer is that their long sleep it truly over.