man001042. 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/d1gx4881d
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END OF AN ERA BY ROOSEVELT FITZGERALD
Things were going from bad to worseW From time to time I have a tendency to flash on certain films. Afterall, they do say that a picture is worth a thousand words. In a recent piece I utilized the services of this analogy. Remember the Hunchback of Notre Dame"? There's a scene where the hunchback and the beautiful girl are in the bell towers of the cathederal. The camera gives him a good going over. First it shows his face; ugly, distorted, one eye higher than the other, scars and a hairline worse than mine. Then it gives us a panoramic view of his back; it looked like the Blue Ridge mountains- rounded but irregular. He knew that the girl was giving him the once over and he voluntarily informed her that he was deaf from being around the bells for such a long period of time. He made a gesture that was not really a gesture but you knew he was talking about his face and his back and he said: "You would have thought that would've been enough."
Our history in this country is like that. We had been slaves and brutalized. We had been set free and brutalized. We had been made citizens and brutalized. We had been given the right to vote and brutalized. Then there was Jim Crow and the brutality continued. We had been called docile, passive, accommodating and still brutalized. When there was nothing better to do we were brutalized. When there was no war going on a lot of people practiced their killing skills on us. Then they slapped us in the face with Plessy in 1896 and because a few people had the audacity to say something about it, by the time the century turned they were looking us up, chasing us down and wherever they could find us they made real the line which would make Khrushchev famous: "We will bury you."
You would've thought that would've been enough, but, no!!I The worse was yet to come. W.E.B. DuBois, who straddled two centuries, tells us something about those times and the times to come in the "Forethought" of his
popular 1906 publication The Souls of Black Folk. Listen. "Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you. Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line."
Was he ever right. Riots around the country accompanied the publication of his book. Beatings, burnings, lynchings and other acts of terrorism sprang up around the country. That in Atlanta is probably best known but everywhere even a single life was taken is important if to no one other than the person who had held the lease on that life. By 1908 a number of conscious Americans had taken it upon themselves to do something about the growing instances of racial violence in this country. That consciousness grew into the Niagara movement and DuBois was one of its leaders. The year after the 1909 Harper's Ferry, Virginia meeting, the NAACP was born. Among the organizers were many notables; Jane Addams, William Dean Howells, Ida B. Wells, John Dewey, John Milholland, DuBois and Oscar Garrison Villard. The organization pledged itself to work for the abolition of all forced segregation, equal education for black and white children, the complete enfranchisement of black people and the enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In its first year, the NAACP "launched a program to widen the industrial opportunities for Negroes, to seek greater police protection for them in the South, and to carry on a crusade against lynching and lawlessness." Clearly, it had an ambitious agenda.
I know it is not written anywhere but we do have the right to remember. That's what I'm doing. I'm remembering some things that I have read, some things which I've been told and, finally, some things which I've experienced. Events of the past few days have contributed to my reminiscent!al frame of mind.
If my arithmetic is correct, and I have no reason for doubt, at about the time that the idea for the NAACP was being conceived, Thurgood Marshall was being born. I'm talking about 1908. As the NAACP set sail to do battle with the recently sanctioned federal policy of "Separate but Equal" little did the baby named Thurgood realize that he too had set sail to do battle with that concept and that all of the paths that he would take since leaving his mother's womb would converge on the Supreme Court in the battle of Brown versus Board of Education forty six years later in 1954. How was he to know that his rendezvous with destiny would change the mind of America?
He was everyone's herofl He was in the courtroom what Jack Johnson and Joe louis had been in the ring; what Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays were on the baseball diamond. He was Dorie Miller, Bannecker, Douglass and all the rest rolled into one. When I was an:undergraduate I heard him speak at an assembly and his words were filled with fire and his eyes seemed to be burning coals. He was not afraid to be who he was and who he was was worth being. He had a healthy degree of arrogance and audacity but was ever mindful of his limitations. Apparently he was so percieved by many others.
Somebody wrote a book titled Nine White Men in Black Robes--he changed that composition. While he was not so powerful as to dictate the course of the Supreme Court, he was substantial enough to influence it and to neutralize any possibility that the Court might have of doing something repressive and disavowing itself of its actions by claiming ignorance. His presence socked that sort of judicial irresponsibility right in its constitutional jaw. We were able to know that our constitutional sentry was on guard and was watching over our collective rights. We were able to go on our merry way knowing that that department was in good hands. We never thought of the wear and tear that permanent sentry duty would have. We never thought that after eighty three
years he would be eighty three years old. Heroes don't grow old. They don't
get sick. They are always strong. They are always there to watch over us and to watch out for us.
Justice Marshall called the president the other day to let him know that he was resigning from the bench and would do so as soon as a replacement could be appointed. When I heard that my own invincibility turned a corner and stared me right in the face. When I heard that, I thought how lucky I am to be the age that I am and that I won't have to live too many years without having him there in my corner. When I heard that I thought; "Oh woe is us."