Speech written and delivered by Andrew P. Brown, Jr. to the Congregation of Holy Spirit/Our Lady Help of Christians Church, (East Orange, NJ) in celebration of Black History Month. Presented: Sunday, February 23, 2014.
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful and terrible thing, needful to man as air; useable as the earth: when it belongs at last to our children, when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole, reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more than the gaudy mumbo-jumbo of politicians: this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world where none is lonely, none hunted, alien, this man, superb in love and logic; this man shall be remembered – oh, not with statues’ rhetoric, not with legends and poems and wreathes of bronze alone, but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives fleshing his dream of the - NEEDFUL - BEAUTIFUL THING. (-By Robert Hayden)
Title: What Our Beautiful Black Faces Represent In America:
The mere glimpse of our charming, elegant, multicolored black faces serves as a constant, vivid reminder of all the centuries during which all forms of inexhaustible, endlessly agonizing pain was inflicted on us. The suffering by humans of unspeakable horrific cruelties and crimes constantly haunts the heirs of those past injustices. The merciless beatings inflicted without warning or cause. We stand, as mystic figures possessing an enigmatic gene, which carries in it a relentless “will to survive against all odds whatever the cost.”
We are the children, the grandchildren, the great and great-great suffering grandchildren of those whose bruised, battered and shackled bodies disembarked from those horrible, foreign, prison vessels, an unknown omen of future things to come some 250 years later. (Although the use of African slaves on European ships began in the 1400’s, the first recorded arrival of slaves in North America was in 1502 and in America in 1619, 117 years later and in total for more than 400 years).
As bad as that may seem, we also represent the strength and power of determination, conviction, hope and the courage to succeed and survive no matter what forces threaten or attempt to destroy us.
We stand as complicated, mesmerizing figures possessing a relentless will power and determination to exist. Nowhere in history can you find people who look like us enduring so much misery and endless suppression for so long by so many. We survived while steadfastly maintaining a continual focus on our goals of complete freedom, dignity and equality despite the suffering and human cost from the horrendous torture of our ancestors, to the most recent deaths (murders) that we know of, involving two young, 17 year old, black men in Florida – Treyvon Martin and Jordan Davis – ALL because they were “UNAFRAID OF HAVING” and “REFUSING TO GIVE UP” (SURRENDER) their inalienable rights to freedom “of movement and choice,” when demanded to do so at the point of a gun.
Please don’t think that the Civil Rights Struggle has been won, is over or does not now exist in this so-called “Post Racial America” just because, for a few Black Americans, things have gotten better. The reality around us shows us the “truth” that should not be denied or glossed over.
Within our time, the Civil Right Struggle stands as an etching, a horrific, endless, painful collage that depicts the worst brutality, depravity and misery in people. In our forgiving but not forgetting compassionate hearts, we remember it all. These cruelties inflicted by humans against their fellow humans were attempts to deny basic rights – to get a drink of water from a public water fountain, to vote for a public official, to get justice against wrongful acts through the court system, etc. Many here, in this church, took part in that struggle whether it was an active role or passive role – where conditions of discrimination were unknowingly forced on you. No one (in America) escaped the lasting scars and shame created by the Black Civil Rights Struggle.
In today’s America, you may remember it. Those who were too young or not yet born have heard or will hear about it, read or will read about it, watched or will watch the various accounts through media magic. In some small or large part, each of us stand as beneficiaries to that resounding but fragile victory, that mental “tsunami” whose reverberations resounded in both the North and South Poles. That day –that magnificent, glorious day - when the universe held its breath - stood still and wept - while laughing hysterically- as it listened to the “Impossible” and the “Improbable” concede defeat to: Frederick Douglass, Robert Smalls, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Marion Anderson, Paul Roberson, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Fanny Lou Hamer, Dr. Martin Luther King, Barbara Jordan, Malcolm X, Shirley Chisom, Justice Thurgood Marshall and, in the spirit of his personal suffering, Nelson Mandela, and so many – many more who got off THOSE SHIPS OF “NO RETURN.” For those who are here and those yet to come, it is because of YOUR ANCESTORS having the courage, the will, the nobility to sacrifice their lives, that we exist today in a world that can still see our STRONG, ELEGANT FACES.
For on that bitterly cold, sun-kissed day in 2009, the twin cataclysmic forces of “ Improbability” (unreal, unheard of, inconceivable, not likely to happen or be true) and “Impossibility” (unthinkable, hopeless, unimaginable, that which cannot be or happen) collided with such deafening force that the earth rocked on its axes and slightly tilted more toward the Heavens because what had been wiped off the chart of human history, demolished from the mental Wish List of Time, by centuries of repeated physical and psychological subjugation, was happening. In the crystal clear resounding words – not of the cries from the stinging whips, or the sorrowful moans coming from slamming prison doors, or the ropes hanging across the boughs of large trembling oak trees while they were being quietly serenaded by the barely audible fading whispers of: “Segregation today—Segregation tomorrow—Segregation forever--,” as its branches struggled to support the weight of our innocent forgotten ancestors. Instead, the heavens and earth were absorbed as they listened intensely to these ringing transformative words:
“I, Barrack Husain Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
- Speech written and delivered by Andrew P. Brown, Jr. to the Congregation of Holy Spirit/Our Lady Help of Christians Church, (East Orange, NJ) in celebration of Black History Month. Presented: Sunday, February 23, 2014.
© Copyright 2014 by Andrew P. Brown, Jr.