2014, The Meaning of July Fourth for the African American l Dr. Wilmer Leon

2014, The Meaning of July Fourth for the African American

 July 3, 2014

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III

LTCWashington-hi-fireworks_1“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.-The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” Frederick Douglas – The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro – 1852

As America celebrates July Fourth, as the grills smoke, the salads are tossed, pools filled, and fireworks displayed take a moment to reflect.  Reflect upon how far we have come as a nation and yet how far we have to go.

I implore African Americans to read the entire text of Frederick Douglas’ famous speech, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.  Are we as a people able to enjoy the blessings, the justice, and the liberty that are celebrated on this day?

We have become all too familiar with the data.  According to Bread for the World, one in four African-Americans lives below the federal poverty line and more than a third (35.7 percent) of all African-American children live in poverty.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for 2013, the underemployment rate for African-American workers was 13.4 percent compared 6.7 percent for white workers. That does not account for those who have lost faith in the process and dropped out of the system.  The Pew Research Center reports that the Median Net Worth of Households for Whites is $113,149 and for African Americans is $5,677.  The NAACP reports that African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million of the incarcerated population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Whites.

These are just a few examples of the frightening realities with which we are faced.

Douglas asked, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”  Yes, slavery ended in 1865 but that two hundred- fifty years of slavery was followed by ninety years of Jim Crow; sixty years of separate but equal and thirty-five years of racist housing policy.

Yes, legislative and judicial progress have been made.   The Civil Rights Act of 1866 provided for the equality of citizens of the United States in the enjoyment of “civil rights and immunities.”  That Act was undermined by the Tilden/Hayes compromise of 1877. We have recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and will soon celebrate the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.   One problem is that too many have confused the legislative successes with the ultimate victory, changing the racist core and premise upon which this country was founded as memorialized in the U.S. Constitution.

I take this moment to focus on the past because as Douglas said, “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.”

Douglas continued, “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

As we enjoy the Fourth, eating ribs and hot dogs, we must ask ourselves, are we as a people able to enjoy the blessings, the justice, and the liberty that are celebrated on this day?  If not, what must we do to bring about substantive and permanent change?

Our plight, our success, and our future have always been in our hands.  Dr. King once said, “…nobody else can do this for us; ?no document can do this for us?; no lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us;?no kennesonian or johnsonian civil rights bill can do this for us; ?if the negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-asserted manhood his own emancipation proclamation.”

Here is one, just one very simple yet challenging thing to consider.

The former President and CEO of the NAACP, Ben Jealous has just released a report entitled, “True South: Unleashing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer.” According to the report, “The first and most important lesson is that massive voter registration can overcome massive voter suppression. Our analysis shows that registering just 30 percent of eligible unregistered black voters or other voters of color could shift the political calculus in a number of Black Belt states, helping blacks elect candidates who share their concerns or alternatively, forcing all candidates to pay attention to the community’s concerns. Registering 60 percent or 90 percent would change the political calculus in an even greater number of states.”

I opened with Douglas and I will close with Douglas, “…Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.”

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio channel 110 program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon He is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice.

 Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email:wjl3us@yahoo.comwww.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com  © 2014 InfoWave Communications, LLC

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When Jim Crow Drank Coke l NYT OpEd l GRACE ELIZABETH HALE

OPINION

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

When Jim Crow Drank Coke

By GRACE ELIZABETH HALE
Published: January 29, 2013

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.

THE opposition by the New York State chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s restrictions on sugary soda caught many Americans by surprise. But it shouldn’t: though the organization argues it is standing up for consumer choice and minority business owners, who it claims would be hurt, this is also a favor for a stalwart ally – Coca-Cola alone has given generously to support N.A.A.C.P. initiatives over the years.

This is more than a story of mutual back-scratching, though. It is the latest episode in the long and often fractious history of soft drinks, prohibition laws and race.

While it is widely known that John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist, invented Coke as a kind of patent medicine, it was in fact his second drink. His first, an 1884 invention called French Wine Coca, was a copy of a popular French wine that contained cocaine. But in November 1885, just as the product began to sell, Atlanta outlawed alcohol sales.

Across the nation, support for prohibition was often tied to the desire by native whites to control European Catholics, American Indians, Asian-Americans and, especially in the South, African-Americans. It gave police officers an excuse to arrest African-Americans on the pretext of intoxication.

Pemberton went to work on a “temperance drink” with the same “medicinal” effects, and he introduced Coca-Cola in 1886. At the time, the soda fountains of Atlanta pharmacies had become fashionable gathering places for middle-class whites as an alternative to bars. Mixed with soda water, the drink quickly caught on as an “intellectual beverage” among well-off whites.

Eliminating alcohol granted only a temporary reprieve. Though Asa G. Candler, who had taken over the business, kept the formula secret, an Atlanta paper revealed in 1891 what many consumers – who called the soda “dope” – already knew: Coca-Cola contained cocaine.

Candler began marketing the drink as “refreshing” rather than medicinal, and managed to survive the controversy. But concerns exploded again after the company pioneered its distinctive glass bottles in 1899, which moved Coke out of the segregated spaces of the soda fountain. Anyone with a nickel, black or white, could now drink the cocaine-infused beverage. Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, Candler had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.

Coke’s recipe wasn’t the only thing influenced by white supremacy: through the 1920s and ’30s, it studiously ignored the African-American market. Promotional material appeared in segregated locations that served both races, but rarely in those that catered to African-Americans alone.

Meanwhile Pepsi, the country’s second largest soft drink company, had tried to fight Coke by selling its sweeter product in a larger bottle for the same price. Still behind in 1940, Pepsi’s liberal chief executive, Walter S. Mack, tried a new approach: he hired a team of 12 African-American men to create a “negro markets” department.

By the late 1940s, black sales representatives worked the Southern Black Belt and Northern black urban areas, black fashion models appeared in Pepsi ads in black publications, and special point-of-purchase displays appeared in stores patronized by African-Americans. The company hired Duke Ellington as a spokesman. Some employees even circulated racist public statements by Robert W. Woodruff, Coke’s president.

The campaign was so successful that many Americans began using a racial epithet to describe Pepsi. By 1950, fearing a backlash by white consumers, Pepsi had killed the program, but the image of Coke and Pepsi as “white” and “black” drinks lingered.

Not long after, perhaps seeing the business error of its ways, Coke quietly began to market to African-Americans. Eventually, part of Coke’s strategy was to support African-American organizations, forming the basis of its relationship with the N.A.A.C.P.

The historical weight of that relationship came to the surface after a 1999 discrimination case brought by black Coke employees, which created bad press for the company around the world. In 2000, Coke agreed to a settlement for $156 million and made a $50 million donation to the Coca-Cola Foundation to support community programs.

It took time, but the new tack worked: today the racial line between the soda companies, even in the South, is a dim memory, and the soft-drink industry is on good terms with one of its largest demographic markets: African-Americans.

Of course, the New York State N.A.A.C.P. may have a legitimate complaint against the soda restriction as a threat to minority business. And it may be fair to see the proposal, as some observers have intimated, as an instance of middle-class whites trying to control the behavior of working-class minorities – just as they did under Prohibition. But to understand the real story behind this unexpected alliance, we first have to understand its tangled history.

Grace Elizabeth Hale, a professor of history and American studies at the University of Virginia, is the author, most recently, of “A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love With Rebellion in Postwar America.”