The March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his keynote address was August 28, 1963. This historic march is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his signature speech, “I Have a Dream.” He spoke directly to 250,000 people that day, with President John F. Kennedy listening attentively in the White House Oval Office and millions watching on television. The carefully crafted speech King was supposed to deliver is not the speech the public heard. He was moved by the moment and urged by members on the platform to speak as a Baptist Minister and when he spoke from his heart, off of his script, the world heard a voice of transformation. We heard his greatness, his brilliance and a historical response to America’s racism and the role of the “Negro” in American society as a second class citizen. He spoke to change. He rose beyond the occasion.
Today, as we reflect back over the past 50 years, a lot of lessons have been learned. The obvious, is that as people gathered once again in Washington on August 28, 2013 to commemorate the March on Washington, the person in the White House is President Barack Obama, a Black man. Absent from the day as many gather, will be the King voice, the voice who had moral authority, enough to capture the nation’s heart and consciousness to move it forward. If the President were smart enough, brave enough, and thoughtful enough and could be so moved from his heart, he would join the march on the mall and address the crowd with his very own speech, written in his hand.
Black America needs addressing, as we consider this day of our American plight. We are in review of our past and our future from a historical perspective to a movie perspective. The Black President has worked with his hands tied. The conservative Republicans have stopped, blocked and prevented minority progress with negative political maneuvers to set the clock backwards, as the Supreme Court just ruled to reverse all of the gains made from the Voting Rights Act. The clock ticks in reverse.
It is interesting that the movie, “The Butler” that is, “Lee Daniels The Butler” was released last Friday. There are many who would prefer The Black Butler in the White House rather than the Black President. This is the real progress of the past 50 years and so is Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. The tale of Black men from the perspective of the Butler in the White House to the President in the White House still unwinds.
The Butler movie vividness is in the story it reveals. Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey both should be considered for an Oscar but without doubt it’s Whitaker’s movie. He is the perfect butler who served the powerful. He is what King spoke about, when he said, be the best you can be, no matter your job. “Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.” It was the work ethic and philosophy of the real butler Eugene Allen who was fictionalized as Cecil Gaines in the movie. This was the common work ethnic for Tom Brokaw's “The Greatest Generation.”
As we consider this time in history, still it is the domestic servant role of the butler and the chauffer as in “Driving Miss Daisy” and the maids from “The Help” that gives America its race comfort worthy of Academy Award recognition. The contrast to today and the learning is the servants served with a quiet respectable dignity, with pay discrimination, and in silence with the unspoken rule of been seen but not heard or present but not really there. This is a sentiment that has always amazed me as I have read about the black domestics. Blacks were abused with absolutely no consideration of feeling and it was “safe” for whites to talk with absolute freedom in front of Black servants. But it is also this “trust” that made the “Uncle Tom” and “Mammy” forces to be reckoned with in the black and the white social order. Remember the movie DJANGO, the role of another butler played by Samuel Jackson. All of these movies represent yesterday and are fiction based on traces of reality with Hollywood license. But what they are demonstrating is the other side, the emotion of Black life, as fictional as it may be, it is part of the public discussion on race in America.
As I have read the white movie reviews and the 50th anniversary stories on the March on Washington and listened in the last few months to the television commentary on the Trayvon Martin case, it is clear that there are still two Americas - one black and one white. White America does not understand Black America’s anger and frustration. And Black America does not understand White America’s privilege, entitlement and arrogance. Together we are a confused people. This is the greatness of King’s speech in Washington and Obama’s speech of 2004 at the Democratic Convention that launched him onto the national political stage. They both spoke on the common thrust of One America, a united America, and the principals of America, no matter the color of skin.
The March on Washington shows us how we have progressed forward in politics. And the Butler movie provides a snapshot of historical highlights from the White House to now and the progress in the work place.
The contrast of the two is interesting, because it reveals how far we have come but then if we look at it from the perspective of Martin to Martin, that is, Dr. Martin Luther King, to Trayvon Martin, America is still getting away with murder.
How do you qualify the CHANGE? It has to be more than moving from serving the President as the Butler to being the President with the Power.