man001028. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d19c6wf47
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EXPANDING THE POSSIBILITIES BY ROOSEVELT FITZGERALD
As a university professor, I suspect that you expect that I would know something about class. Well, as Tom Joad said to a truckdriver in the opening scenes of the 1940 movie "Grapes of Wrath": "I'm not the kind of guy to let you down."
Class might be singular or plural and, even at that, within each there might be the other. I've taught a number of classes in my lifetime to all classes of people some of which of each may or may not have themselves had any class at all. There is something about being around a person with class whatever their class. They respect the rights of others and, with them, decency and idealism and patriotism is more than an embroidered slogan framed in a shadow box. Don't let anyone fool you, those of the upper class who are upper classmen but who are missing those characteristics have the least amount of class of all.
Many times when we reflect on matters it is a result of the presence or the absence of something. Every now and again it is the result of something much more complex—the presence of absence or the absence of presence. Consider the following summation of our recent past.
They say that the campaign for the Presidency started about sixteen months ago. That would put it right about January of 1987. That doesn't seem to be such a long time ago but I suppose it depends on one's frame of reference. In any case, there were hugh numbers of aspirants who tossed their hats into the ring and the race was on. I don't remember who all of the early runners were but, to name a few, there were: Dole, Robinson, Kemp, Nunn, Gore, Gephardt, Glenn, Simon, Hart, Babbit, Bush, Dukakis and Jesse.
You noticed it too, didn't you? All of the candidates were always referred to by their full name or their last name but one, Jesse Jackson, invariably was referred to most often by his first name.
Many years ago, due to the many centuries we, as black people, were referred
to on a first name basis, some black parents took to giving their male children certain names to offset such familiarities. I have known black people with first names such as: Lieutenant, Major, Sir and Mister. During the opening years of the civil rights movement, blacks in the south who had checking accounts with local banks insisted on having Mr./Mrs./Miss, imprinted on their checks. Banks which refused to do so lost their business. There were some places where telephone operators would not complete a long distance call if the number/address was known to be that of a black person. In some towns, postmen took it upon themselves to scratch through such titles, on envelopes which they delivered to black homes. By the early 1960s, black people had taken to making a point of referring to each other with proper titles.
All of this was in response or retaliation to the years and years of being referred to simply as: "boy," ""girl," "uncle," "auntie," "’fessor," "Beaulah," "Joe," "Ethel," or "Jesse."
Several years ago, while watching a local television program where all of the guests were politicians, I was dismayed to the point of penning a letter to the reporter concerning the different manner in which the lone black politician was referred to. State Senator Joe Neal was one of four guests which also included State Senator Lamb. In the course of the program each of the white politicians were referred to as Senator or Assemblyman. Senator Neal was referred to as Joe-time after time after time. It would not have been bothersome had the others been referred to as Floyd or Mel or Bob. At least that way it would not have seemed that more respect was being accorded them and their office than that afforded Senator Neal.
Senator Neal was gracious. I remember it well. Each time, however, his expression attempted to convey to Mr. Mai Harris, the host, that he would indeed appreciate being given the same respect as the others. The host never did. He missed out on a golden opportunity to acquire a bit of class.
Over the past sixteen months and before--even back to the 1984 campaign, the media and many others have seen fit to refer to Jesse Jackson simply as "Jesse. Where have these people been? In recent months--since Jackson's victory in the Michigan primary-there has hardly been a day when somewhere in either print or electronic media, some classless reporter has asked the question: "What Does Jesse Want?" Stupid. If he is campaigning for the Democratic Nomination for the presidency of the United States, it would seem obvious that he wants the Democratic nomination. To project, just a little, if he had won that nomination then he would have wanted the presidency. What is so mysterious about that?
The media created the illusion in the minds of many weak-minded Americans that what Jackson was after was something other than the presidency. Can you believe that? Sure you can. The media made it appear that Jackson was not an American but a black "guy" who just might be looking for revenge or something. After all, hadn't he been discriminated against all of his life? If you had been discriminated against all of your life, they implied, wouldn't you seek revenge given the chance?
Jesse Jackson refused to allow the media and those boderline misfits to pull him to a level which would have nourished their expectations. In his own words, he kept everything on "a higher plane." It would've been so easy to be classless but as easy as classlessness is, a person like Jackson who has it cannot get it.
There are a lot of people who do not like Jesse Jackson and among those are some black people. Some dislike him for legitimate reasons-they disagree with his politics. There are others who dislike him because they imagine it to be politic to do so. They figure to impress some white Jackson bashers by agreeing with them. Pseudo blacks they are and weak at that. Perhaps they might even think that by bashing Jackson it will make them seem whiter. I don't know.
Jesse Jackson has given and continue to give us much. I won't attempt to offer a list. Rather, I'll tell you a story about Hank. You remember Hank don't
you—Hank Aaron? Listen.
Hank Aaron blasted a lot of home runs. No, I don't know for sure how many but I do know that he hit more in a career than any other player in the history of the majors. It was sometime back in the early 1970s when it happened. No, I don't know for sure just when but you can look that up if its important to you. I'll tell you this much though, baseball had been around for about a hundred years before he did it and, further, blacks had only been allowed to play it in the majors for just over a quarter of a century or so—remember Jackie? Jackie Robinson? He did not break the color barrier until 1943 or was it 1947. Look it up.
Shortly after Hank's accomplishment, seems that everybody who could write or who could hold a microphone wanted to talk to him and find out what made him tick. Shortly thereafter, on a television interview, he was asked; "Hank, how did you happen to get into baseball?" He told a remarkable story. As a child in Birmingham, Alabama during the depression years of the 1930s, he had occasion, as all children did and do, to ponder on what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Once, while sitting on the back stoop of the house they lived in, he commented to his father, upon seeing airplanes flying overhead, that that was what he wanted to do when he grew up—fly airplanes. His father's response was; "They't let Negroes fly airplanes." That scenario was repeated many, many times and included such other choices as being a fireman, a policeman, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief and so on. Finally, when he said that he wanted to play baseball, after seeing a touring group of negro baseball players at a Fourth of July picnic, his father said; "Ok." That's how Hank got into baseball. It was a realizable goal and his father agreed to it.
Today, .thanks to Jesse Jackson, some little black kid in Birmingham, Alabama is saying that he want to be President of the United States when he grows up and his dad or his mom is saying; "Ok." They are saying that because Jesse Jackson has expanded the possibilities.