October 11 – Volume 12, #10
Presidential candidate Herman Cain has said much during his 15 minutes of fame that has warranted him receiving a well-placed punch to the face. Or at the very least, a firm muffing. In a recent campaign stop, Cain was reluctant to give even token credit for the range of opportunities available to him that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement. Even more humiliating and emasculating than a muffing, such ingratitude merits a Randy Macho Man Savage-like elbow from the top rope. As his campaign has gained momentum after winning the meaningless Florida straw poll on September 24, it seems that Cain has been bolstered such that he will continue to entertain us for several more months on end by putting his foot in his mouth and contradicting himself quicker than my beloved Dallas Cowboys can blow a seemingly insurmountable lead. Sigh.
The only African-American Republican candidate, Cain did not find it politically advantageous to throw any props to the freedom fighters of the Civil Rights Movement in cultivating an atmosphere that allowed for his considerable wealth, lest his alienate his GOP base. Cain, who was born in Tennessee, but spent most of his formative years in Georgia; has amassed a fortune estimated at ranging between $3 and $6 million in his role as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. Cain said that the environment for his entrepreneurial talents was primarily a product of America’s devotion to free enterprise. In celebrating American opportunity, Cain said, “my great-great-grandparents were slaves, and now I’m running for president of the United States. Is this a great country or what?”
Cain’s reading of history is a Cliffs Notes version that leaves out a great deal many details between the part where his great-great grandparents were slaves and the time that he made his first million. The types of opportunities that Mr. Cain takes for granted had to be fought over. Like most rich dickheads, Cain imagines himself as a self-made man that worked harder than everybody else and possessed unique quantities of ingenuity and business savvy that is found lacking in most.
And while his business talents are notable, the wider reality that Uncle Toms such as Cain miss is that people had to shed blood, sweat and tears so that his ingenuity and savvy could pay off.
One such person; who quite literally shed blood, sweat and tears, was Fred Shuttlesworth, who succumbed to cancer on October 5th of this year.
The loss of this historical giant went under the radar because he had the bad luck of dying on the day that another cultural icon, Apple’s Steve Jobs, also lost his battle to cancer.
Shuttlesworth’s death being buried in the news cycle was ironic, because the actions of his life were often overshadowed by another cultural icon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But there was probably not a more dedicated soldier to Civil Rights than 89-year-old Fred Shuttlesworth. And that includes Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, both Stokely Carmichael and Kwame Ture, and just about anyone else you can think of.
Shuttlesworth first garnered national attention in 1963 when he worked alongside King to orchestrate the marches in Birmingham that exposed the intensity of southern bigotry to an international audience. Or to be accurate, King worked behind Shuttlesworth. After suffering injuries from Bull Connor’s fire hose in the first round of marches, it was Shuttlesworth who is reported to have launched a vicious profanity-laden diatribe from his hospital bed towards a timid King after hearing that the Nobel Prize Winner was thinking about postponing the subsequent rounds of marches. But Shuttlesworth had been fighting on the front lines for civil rights long before the cameras arrived in Birmingham. The good reverend had directed his parishioners to break the law by sitting in the front of Birmingham busses as early as 1956. This was the same year that the Ku Klux Klan became so fed up with his local rebel-rousing that they made the first of many attempts on his life by placing a bomb under his bed. Shuttllesworth somehow survived the explosion. The following year Shuttlesworth was beaten unconscious, and his wife was stabbed, when they attempted to drop their children off at a previously all-white school. He also fought the establishment in the courts in trying to change segregation laws, as well as compel the city to hire more black police officers.
Shuttlesworth was a freedom fighter throughout the balance of his life, including his work through the organization he founded in 1988 that assisted impoverished people who were looking to become first-time homeowners. As recently as 1998 Shuttlesworth was working away from the cameras in support of the Birmingham Pledge, which challenged local citizens to try and do something in their everyday lives to try and combat racism and prejudice. The Pledge, of which Shuttlesworth was -as usual- one of the first supporters, has since spread to all 50 states.
In this day-and-age where wanton coonerism and being a sambo is the order of the day, losing strong-willed soldiers such as Shuttlesworth is quite a blow to the black community.
But at least he was able to see much of his labor bear fruit before he left us, perhaps most symbolically with the election of President Barack Obama. It was people like Shuttlesworth, after all, that forced Americato look at race differently so that Herman Cain’s children wouldn’t have to grow up in the same kind of America that he did as a child, though he seems to have gotten amnesia. Shuttlesworth’s deeds had already been recognized by a sitting president when Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal just before he left office in 2001. And perhaps most poignantly, when carpetbaggers fly into Birmingham they will sojourn to an airport that bears Shuttlesworth’s name. A fitting tribute since neither my parents’ native home of Birmingham, or America at-large, would be what it is today without Fred Shuttlesworth.
But at the time of his death, the work that he devoted his entire life to is left far from complete. Unlike Shuttlesworth, we don’t have to be made black, blue and purple at the hands of a redneck to create an America that finally lives up to its promise in full. At least not yet anyway.
But hopefully we’ll honor him by doing our small part to help create a more just and fair America for people of all backgrounds. Even for Uncle Tom, house-niggas like Herman Cain.
Peace and God bless,