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Black History Month: Look Back, but Move Forward

Posted: Feb 27, 2008

“Look back but move forward” was the credo of civil rights activist Johnnie Carr who died Friday at the age of 97.

As Black History Month draws to an end, we remember those who lost their lives in the struggle for Civil Rights as well as those who lived to continue the struggle until the very end of their days. One of the great figures in the Civil Rights Movement was Ms. Johnnie Carr who died in Baptist Memorial hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, on February 22 after being hospitalized for a stroke. Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, calls Ms. Carr one of the three major Civil Rights icons, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Carr was a childhood friend of Rosa Parks and spoke at Parks’ memorial service in 2005. Julian Bond, chairperson of the NAACP, referred to her eulogy as the “most dynamic” moment in the service.

When I studied for a summer in 1997 at Harvard’s Du Bois Institute in a seminar entitled “100 years of the Civil Rights Movement: 1865-1965” directed by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., I was reminded that the true movers and shakers in the civil rights movement came from the rank and file of the people, not just those leaders who achieved national prominence. I learned to look at the grassroots of the movement to find the source of its strength. Johnnie Carr was a huge part of that strength. When the final history books are written, Morris Dees observes, she [Johnnie Carr] will be remembered.

In keeping with Carr’s admonition, let us move forward as well. There is much to celebrate and anticipate. John Sayles'  independent film Honeydripper, starring Danny Glover, has won the NAACP Image Award for the Best Independent/Foreign Film. The 39th Annual Image” Awards Ceremony took place on February 14 in Los Angeles. Honeydripper was filmed exclusively in Alabama and used several hundred locals as extras in the cast. The list of local actors included two young boys. Maggie Renzi, the film’s producer, says “For people who don't know, Nagee and AJ played Scratch and Lonnie, two little boys who lead us through. They open and close the movie. They are great kids and everyone on the crew loved them.” If you haven’t seen Honeydripper, run don’t walk to the nearest theatre where it is playing. The Oscars might have overlooked this exquisite film, but the American public will not.

No tribute to Black History Month would be complete without a mention of the powerful and moving Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin, the architect of Vietnam Veterans Memorial, that stands in front of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery Alabama. The Memorial is just around the corner from the church where Dr. King served as pastor during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-1956, and the capitol steps where the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march ended in 1965.

Inscribed along the sloping sides of the memorial are the names of those who died that others might be free. Water flows over the smooth black granite illuminating the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “let justice roll down like waters; and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Another momentous event tthat took place this month was the publication of the eight volume African American National Biography edited by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and published by Oxford University Press. Dr. Gates, a world renowned scholar in the field of African American studies, is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and Director of the W.E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.

I cannot conclude a post on Black History Month without mentioning a new heaven and a new earth, something for which I am fervently hoping. Oprah Winfrey, who was born 54 years ago last month in the little town of Kosciusko, Mississippi, and who began her broadcasting career at WVOL radio in Nashville while still in high school, is launching a webcast beginning this Monday night, March 3, based on the Eckhart Tolle book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Check it out. The longest journey begins with the first step.

Today's RiverVue photo depicts the Jesse Owens Memorial located at the Jesse Owens Museum and Park in Danville, Alabama, not far from Owens' birthplace of Oakville. Jesse Owens is the Olympic medalist who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. The bronze statue, and that of the Native America woman (Sacred Tears) previously posted on this site, were both created by artist Branko Medenica who lives and works in Birmingham, Alabama. Watch this space for more on Branko Medenica.

--Penne J. Laubenthal

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enj17 says...

it is refreshing to have notice upon the grassrooters of any movements, they are far and widely unrecognized to the masses and in the continuity of any movement, they are fundamental in its consistent improvement upon life.

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