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A Response to the Last Emancipation Review

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While Cheryl Brown is a patriotic soldier and loyal gatekeeper in the preservation of Black History she seems to be much too jumpy and trigger happy to be given a rifle in the future. In the July 29, 2010 edition of the Black Voice News, she put me, the writer of “The Last Emancipation,” in the scope of her literary rifle and fired – Bang! Someday history will reveal whether she succeeded in shooting an enemy, a comrade, or shooting herself in the foot. A writer named Barbara Jenkins submitted a review of the first production of “The Last Emancipation,” which was published in the Black Voice News on August 7, 2008. The headline read: “Five Thumbs up for The Last Emancipation.” The second production, two years later, was better than the first according to many people in the audience who saw the first production. However, Mrs. Cheryl Brown didn’t see the first show two years ago, and from her commentary last week, it appears she missed the second one as well even though she was present in the theater. The headline of Mrs. Brown’s commentary dated 7/29/10 read: “How Dare You Last Emancipation – We Must Not Support Buffoonery.” Read both articles online at: www.blackvoicenews.com Type Barbara Jenkins’ name in search box to access her article.

“Welcome to The Emancipation Train. You’re about to take a journey back in history. I’m taking you back beyond your childhood, beyond the childhood of your parents and grandparents. We’re going back to only a few decades following slavery. Look and listen as this train journeys along the track of injustice and the struggles of a few unsung heroes in their fight for equality.”

The above passage was the monologue that opened the play, “The Last Emancipation”, at The Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga on June 21 & 22, 2010. I, as the conductor, clearly and loudly announced my intentions to take the theatergoers on an imaginary journey back in history only a few decades following slavery. I asked everyone to look and listen. Unfortunately, Cheryl Brown co-publisher of the Black Voice News was so infuriated by some of the sensitive scenes that she didn’t clearly hear the dialogue and abandoned the objectivity required for any journalist. Evidence of Cheryl Brown’s failure to listen to some of the dialogue became apparent as she expressed her great disgust with me over the telephone about the way the character Mary McLeod Bethune was dressed during the court scene – in a pant outfit instead of a dress as Mrs. McLeod would surely have worn. I interrupted and asked, “Besides the clothes do you agree with what the Bethune character had to say?” The reply was something to the effect that she didn’t hear what was said because she was too upset by that time after having seen Mary McLeod Bethune inappropriately dressed. For the record, I agree with Mrs. Brown on that issue – and I apologize for that wardrobe oversight. However, Mrs. Bethune’s words were powerful, intelligently presented, and revealed useful and little known information about history such as the reason whites referred to older Blacks as “aunts” and “uncles” instead of Mrs. or Mister. It was also uncovered during Bethune’s testimony many of her notable accomplishments.

Regarding the courtroom scene, Mrs. Brown, in her commentary indicated that the entire courtroom scene was inappropriate because African Americans were not allowed to testify in court during those days. Mrs. Brown further asserted that “The Last Emancipation” made Booker T. Washington look like a sellout. A poem called “Booker T. & W.E.B.” by Dudley Randall written in 1929 opened up the courtroom scene and enlightened the audience of the social views of Washington and Dubois. Everyone should read this historical poem, which is an accurate glimpse of the adversarial relationship between Washington and Dubois. The Washington character was a defense attorney with an unpopular client who was white.

Washington’s role as a defense attorney was to attack the claim of a popular character, Aunt Jemmy aka Aunt Jemima who was suing the pancake company to have her image removed from the pancake box. Of course a nearly all Black audience favored Aunt Jemmy and was against Washington and his client; however, it was Washington who pointed out some very meaningful historical facts during the trial. Washington pointed out that it was characters such as Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that exposed slavery as the horror it really was and lead to the war that ended slavery.

And there were several other interesting nuggets of history presented by Washington, which the DVD will reveal.

Personally, I prefer to form a union rather than a tit-for-tat challenge. It would be great if all socially conscious citizens, civic groups, and educators united to emancipate the slave images from the products.

Mrs. Brown greatest complaint was with the fictional symbol of “Uncle Tom”.

Mrs. Brown is proud to be acquainted with the real life family of Josiah Henson, the ex-slave that inspired the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Therefore, when the name or memory of the fictional Uncle Tom was used satirically in my play, Mrs. Brown’s compassion lied with the real life person - Josiah Henson – and she tossed a Molotov cocktail at the conductor… However, my play had nothing to do with Josiah Henson. It’s highly unlikely that anyone in the theater, except Mrs. Brown, and her passengers on Brown’s annual Underground Railroad Trip who can’t separate satire from reality, thought of Josiah Henson during the brief Uncle Tom appearance.

The Uncle Tom in the play was a symbol of unwarranted loyalty and obedience from a Black man to an undeserving white man/woman or job. In the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Uncle Tom died before slavery ended. In real life the exslave Josiah Henson died in 1883 before Aunt Jemima Pancake mix was created in 1893. Therefore, it was impossible for Josiah Henson to be the imaginary figure in the courtroom scene, Uncle Tom was merely a symbol of oppression. All of the other characters in the courtroom scene would have been alive in 1897. In the play, the mythical Uncle Tom was a sharecropper because slavery was over. However, he still stayed on the plantation without pay through trickery by the landowner. Uncle Tom testified in court, three decades after slavery ended, that he thought he was still a slave. And yes, the symbol of Uncle Tom was an intentional buffoon in this play; however, another buffoon was the character, R. T. Davis, the white owner of the pancake mix. For the record, there’s a buffoon (clown) or two in most comedic plays.

The slideshow showing characters in blackface and Black characters on commercial products also offended Mrs. Brown. I suppose this is the root of her reducing the entire play as buffoonery. However the slideshow of offensive characters on products during the post slavery era was part of the journey the conductor told the audience that they would be taking. That so-called offensive slideshow was countered at the end of the play by an updated and very positive slideshow. The updated version displayed a sample of many accomplished African Americans and reminded the audience that we really have come a long way.

The updated version aptly ended with an image of President Obama and his family.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Brown was too indignant to appreciate the real message of the play. Prior to the play, few people in the audience had ever given serious thought as to why the images of Aunt Jemima, The Cream of Wheat Man, and Uncle Ben are still on the boxes of products after all these years. The larger message is that people, especially African Americans in the limelight today, are being swindled in their contracts just like our early luminaries. Few people knew The Cream of Wheat Man’s real name was Frank L. White. Nor did they know that Mr. White died in 1938 and was without a name on his tombstone for 69 years - this is also Black history. Few people knew that Uncle Ben now has a website and is called Chairman Ben. The message to the audience via Uncle Ben was not to get too impressed with job titles but to become a person of true significance. In my opinion, Mrs. Brown missed the essence of “The Last Emancipation” as she also likely missed or overlooked the standing ovation and many people saying throughout the lobby that “The Last Emancipation” was the best play they ever saw".

Such accolades to both performances and also the debut performance two years ago leads me to conclude that Mrs. Brown believes that the 1,600 + theatergoers who loved the play were lacking in racial pride and were amiss in their obligation to become enraged. Mrs. Brown was a one-woman firing squad on “The Last Emancipation,” in her newspaper commentary, without interviewing one person in the theater or acknowledging the rave reviews on the lips of hundreds of others.

I feel compelled to propose an open forum with an unbiased audience with the common interest of ridding the play of any harmful misrepresentation of African American History or their icons. In closing, I challenge Cheryl Brown to a panel discussion following a public DVD viewing of “The Last Emancipation,” at a church, community center, or library. If she accepts, the details will be publicly announced. Everyone is welcome to attend and participate. Finally, Mrs. Brown stated that she hopes I scrap the play or get some help from the professionals at Cal State San Bernardino or University of California Riverside to do it right. Well, the fact is, I received valuable advice from theatrical professionals at both universities and neither one had any objections to the portrayal of the historical characters. Each of the professionals, and Cheryl Brown knows who they are, advised me to add more conflict, and to show and not tell the action.

The two professionals also suggested that I had too many typos and the script was not professionally written and in such form would not be read by a professional theatrical director; however, the plot had potential.

Imagine that! Here’s a good play with a strong social message and these scholarly robots were more concerned with the packaging rather than the content. Nevertheless, upon improvement of the manuscript, I was blessed and highly favored to have had the play read and accepted by director Rev. Bronica Martindale and producer Tammy Martin- Ryles of Brota Productions who saw beyond my lack of stage writing protocol and saw the talent. Thank God, I’m truly grateful. It’s a good thing multimillionaire, darn near billionaire, high school dropout, later earned a GED, playwright Tyler Perry didn’t wait on approval from the scholarly university robots or he would still be sleeping in his car.

Enough Already…Pay Black Farmers

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(NNPA) “When will we be paid for the work we’ve done” - The Staples Singers The history of the Black farmer in the United States of America has been a “tough row to hoe.” During the period of slavery Black farmers were considered property by law and thus had no legal rights.

Following the end of the Civil War the question of what to do with confiscated Confederate lands owned by slaveholders was a critical issue for President Abraham Lincoln. While Senators Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens had argued for years to redistribute lands to newly-freed African Americans president Lincoln dispatched Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to discuss the issue with General William Tecumseh Sherman who had just successfully marched federal troops through the south defeating Confederates.

On January 12, 1866 Secretary Stanton, General Sherman, and twenty African American leaders met in Savannah, Georgia and agreed Special Field Order Number 15 or the “40 acres and a mule” order. The Field Order called for the redistribution of over 400,000 acres of land— from Charleston, SC through the Sea Islands of Georgia to Florida—to Black farmers. However, after the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877 the government began to renege on its promise of land to Black farmers.

Black farmers have been fighting for justice since the Civil War. In owning their own land Black farmers were empowered while southern Whites were embittered. Many members of the Tea Party are descendents of southern whites whose Confederate land was redistributed by the federal government to African Americans.

By 1920, there were over 1 million Black farmers.

However, many were forced into “sharecropping” arrangements where they worked the land and “settled up” with White landowners at the end of the year.

Predictably, no matter how much they produced Black farmers usually “owed” the landowner money. The discriminatory system of sharecropping lasted well into the 1970’s in some parts of the south. Today are less than 25,000 Black farmers.

Failed government promises and racial discrimination have decimated their numbers.

In 1995, the National Black Farmers Association was founded in Virginia to assist African American farmers retain their land. The Black Farmers Association worked with academic projects such as the Land Lost Prevention Project at North Carolina Central University School of Law to legally advocate on behalf of Black farmers. In 1996, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the United States Department of Agriculture in Pigford v. Glickman or “Pigford 1”.

The lawsuit alleged racial discrimination in the Farm Service Agency’s credit and non-credit programs between 1981 and 1996. Pigford 1 was settled with the agreement that Black farmers would receive payment.

Not until 2008 did the United States Congress appropriate 100 million in the 2008 Farm Bill. As of July 2010 no money had been paid.

This week, however, the United States Senate finally is considering passing with unanimous consent a bill that will finally pay 1.25 Billion dollars to Black farmers. Under the payout “Track A” will provide quick relief of up to $50,000 for credit claims or $30,000 for non-credit claims, plus debt relief and payment of taxes.

The Obama Administration is on the case. Farmers with questions concerning application process should contact the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture on 202.720.3808. On behalf of all Black farmers who have waited or have died waiting for payment, enough already…pay Black farmers!

Gary Flowers is executive director & CEO of Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

If It Sounds Like Racism And Acts Like Racism, Then It Probably Is Racism

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(NNPA) This is America, but you wouldn't think so in light of recent events wherein two high-profile, long serving African American congressman have come under attack. They are being dragged through the mud in a rush to judgment regarding alleged ethics violations.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) are the accused.

Rep. Rangel has been found guilty by a House ethics subcommittee of violating ethics rules and will face trial within the next couple of months. He has been under investigation since 2008 due to allegedly using his House position for financial benefit. Rep. Waters is also under the microscope of the House ethics subcommittee for allegedly using her congressional authority in a meeting wi th Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on behalf of OneUnited bank, in which her husband owns $250,000 in stock.

It is important that our elected officials, those to whom we give our public trust, be ethically sound, but in this current spate of accusations, there is something fishy in the proverbial Denmark!

As of 2010, there are presently 42 African American members in the 111th U.S. Congress - 41 in the House of Representatives (39 representatives and 2 non-voting delegates) and one in the Senate. The fact is that African Americans represent only 10% of the Congress, and 19% (8) are under investigation! This raises the question as to whether or not Black lawmakers face more scrutiny over allegations of wrongdoing than their White counterparts. We conclude that if it sounds like racism and acts like racism, then it probably is racism! In America, we need to presume innocence until proven guilty, and we need not be led to judgment.

Congressman Rangel and Congressman Waters are valuable members of the African American community who have fought valiantly for our community. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), therefore, urges you to stand behind them. We want them to know that we are there for them; that all 200+ NNPA publishers throughout America stand solidly behind them, and urge them to continue on the course and stay strong. Black publishers are on the way with pen in hand!

History has shown that Black people make no progress in America without a struggle for what is right and good for the Black community. Many people want to call this situation something other than what it is, but it is racism at the core. It is daunting, but not surprising that this is the case, but Rep. Rangel and Rep. Waters are far too valuable to our community to give up without a fight!

How Dare You Last Emancipation? We Must Not Support Buffoonery

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I just returned from a trip on the Underground Railroad where we learned about the great individuals who made America great. The story of our people is the story of tenacity, overcoming adversity, and recognizing that this history is the foundation of all American History.

Last week, I went from anger to hurt back to anger again as I reflected on the latest entertainment event to hit the Inland Empire, "The Last Emancipation". The play written by Richard O. Jones was full of inaccuracies, lies and just downright self loathing.

The main premise of the play was that Aunt Jemima, Uncle Remus and Uncle Ben's likeness were used for 100 years, they are now updated characters and they still are using their likeness without paying into the estates of these real life people.

That premise could have worked to show the historical inequities in every part of American life but it sorely missed the mark. It instead turned on the victim once again. This time victimizing ourselves which truly offended me.

First they had a trial. Traditionally Blacks were not allowed to testify in court on their own behalf or for/against anyone else. But The Last Emancipation had a trial. Then the cast of characters who testified included Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune, Josiah Henson (aka Uncle Tom) and to top it off W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington were added, playing stereotypical lawyers.

Booker T. Washington was made to look like he was against his own people. The difference in the philosophies of Washington and W. E. B. Dubois were not articulated.

Washington was the original founder of the Negro Business League, he not only founded Tuskegee University but every summer he went south to teach reading. Over 100 years later Tuskegee stands as a testament to his genius. Washington focused on uplifting the masses of Blacks who were just one generation out of slavery or who, like him, had been former slaves. W.E.B. Dubois, instead, believed in focusing on the top ten percent of African- Americans. That “talented tenth” would then become the leaders who would uplift African Americans right after emancipation.

As Washington's late granddaughter, Margaret Washington said in a speech given at the annual Booker T. Washington luncheon at the Mission Inn, a few years ago: “they were both right!” This was lost to showing Booker T. Washington as a buffoon. No it is not alright.

Mary McLeod Bethune was a brilliant lady not a caricature.

Frederick Douglass looked unkempt and not at all like the giant that he was. Want to know more about him ask his great great grandson, Kenny Morris, who also is Booker Washington's great great grandson.

He lives in our community, and is founder of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, an organization committed to not only preserving the history of Douglass but to eradicating modern day slavery around the globe. He would have been more disappointed than me.

I left Uncle Tom for last. Josiah Henson was the character that Harriet Beecher Stowe used to help to shine a light on the horrors of enslavement of Black Americans in his famous novel,, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

There is no way with the portrayal of her book that the playwright ever read it.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written to help abolitionists in their efforts to end slavery, was sparked by Stowe’s visit to Old Washington, Kentucky after she witnessed a slave auction on the town’s courthouse steps.

She was horrified at seeing families sold off, mothers torn from their children, the degradation of their bodies being inspected and then to hear, SOLD for $50, $100, even $1000 or more. She was told that slavery wasn't that bad so she wrote a fictional story based on the lives of real characters.

She started her research and she came across the narrative of Josiah Henson. In her book she named him Uncle Tom. His autobiography (dictated by himself) tells the story of how dedicated he was to his master. He was trusted with the management of the farm, he doubled crops and was trusted as a man who kept his word.

Unfortunately, his enslaver did not keep his word, and because he could not read he was tricked by a slave owner and kept in enslavement. But when he had enough, he lost trust in his enslaver, he decided to emancipate himself and took his family with him to Canada.

Henson, a minister, with years of experience in management became a leader among the freedom seekers. He soon founded the British American Institute in the Dawn Settlement near Dresden, Ontario Canada, where his third home is preserved by the Canadian government. He additionally saved hundreds on the Underground Railroad, went to England three times and met with Queen Victoria on his last visit. His great great granddaughter Barbara Carter has dedicated her life to tell the true Uncle Tom story. She asked me to tell the real story of Uncle Tom and tell the people that for 85 years white minstrels in blackface traveled the world making fun of and distorting our history. Barbara said that she hopes in her lifetime to set the record straight. It’s so sad a full audience of people saw how we destroyed our own history.

The Last Emancipation made a mockery of the memory of the great heroes. We stand on their shoulders, if they had not fought the fight then we would not enjoy the lives we enjoy today We are the dream of the enslaved Africans. Our ancestors would be devastated that their memories have been bastardized by some of their own.

The other sad thing about this play is that a full audience laughed and as Richard Jones commented “they liked the minstrel part the most.” We have work to do in our community and I thank him for this sorely needed teachable moment. I hope he either scraps the play and never does it again or gets help from some of our accomplished professionals at California State University San Bernardino or University of California Riverside to do it right.

Full Employment is Needed Fast

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(NNPA) - While most of the media nation was transfixed by a diversionary-racist smear campaign against United States Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod on the issue of perceived racial animus—an issue deserving full attention on another day—President signed legislation to extend unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed. By the president’s signature, the jobless were given a little relief to their lack of financial resources in a critically depressing economic period many refer to as the Great Recession.

The legislation extended unemployment benefits for 99 weeks. Prior to the extension unemployed Americans who receive federal benefits had been waiting for 7 weeks without money while Republican members of Congress held up legislation because “extending benefits would hurt the national debt unless cuts could be made in other areas of the federal budget (mostly programs helping the poor and the elderly). Congressional filibusters (deliberate blockage of legislation) were used by national Republicans for the flimsiest of reasons in opposing benefit extension. Among them, unemployment benefits:

Do not help economic recovery; only the private sector can solve economic issues affecting the poor; benefits reduce people’s desire to look for work; and the fixing the national debt is more important than feeding the poor. However, the issue of how to address unemployment benefits belies the thirty-year war on the poor. In 1980, President Ronald Reagan, the actor-turned politician, played the role of a reverse Robin Hood by stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. Reagan’s rationale was the economic recovery “trickles down” to the less fortunate.

Most recently, President George W. Bush in his 8-year term of office cut taxes for the top 2 percent of Americans (who did not need or ask for tax break) while cutting programs for the poor such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), not to mention allowing American companies tax breaks while exporting jobs to cheaper labor markets.

The result of the war on the poor is that most Americans are unemployed or underemployed. Officially, according to a recent Duke University study, national poverty has increased 5% in the past four years. Therefore, putting America back to work is the nation’s highest need. Yes, president Obama and Congress have passed modest legislation around health care reform, financial reform, and an extension of unemployment insurance, but job creation is paramount.Of the most viable short-term possible legislative solutions has been offered by Congressman John Conyers (MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act” (House Resolution 5204) seeks to create a full employment society by 2020. The legislation is modeled after full employment legislation offered by Senator Hubert Humphrey (MN) and Representative Augustus Hawkins (CA) that was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Under the proposed legislation a trust fund would be established with two separate funds: one for job creation, and the other for job training. Job creation money would be modeled on the Community Development Block Grant formula and be administered by local elected officials. The second account would be based on the Workforce Investment Act and resemble the Jobs Corps. After all, local elected officials who are members of the National Black Caucus of State Elected Officials, National Association of Black County Officials, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, and the National Conference of Black Mayors are best suited to know where job funds should be allocated. Full employment is needed fast.

Gary L. Flowers is executive director & CEO Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

 

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