Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The sons of August 28

THEY STAND TOGETHER and decades apart, events on this 240th day of the year, events with deep resonance for African Americans, for better and for worse. It’s one of those repetitive coincidences of numbers, but a bit spooky just the same: the highs and lows, the joy and pain of the modern African American experience have been consistently distilled, over the long arc of history, into the events of one day, the same one day again and again. And here we are, where we’ve been before ... and where we’ve never been before.

It was on Aug. 28, 1955, when Emmett Till -- a black Chicago teenager visiting relatives in Money, Miss., was abducted from his uncle's home by two white men after supposedly whistling at a white woman (a woman who has more recently admitted she fabricated the whistling story). Till's body was discovered three days later, so badly disfigured that his face was unrecognizable. His death was among the first such widely documented, highly publicized atrocities in the era of the civil rights movement, a movement catalyzed — globalized — by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

MAYBE Emmett Till was on the organizers’ subconscious minds, or maybe it was just the luck of the schedule and the available date. Whatever it was, eight years later, on Aug. 28, 1963, King and other orators called America to account for the bogus check for opportunities undelivered, and wedded the American dream to those of its African American citizens.

In an address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, before at least 200,000 people, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, an accidental keynote address, set the rhetorical tone — and the stakes — for a movement still in its ascendancy.

FAST FORWARD 45 years: The torch of possibility had passed to a new generation, one of whom had the ... audacity to make hope something less evanescent than it had been, something more than an indistinct green light in the far distance.

On Aug. 28, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama, a Democratic junior senator from Illinois — a man with the courage and the nerve to attempt to occupy the White House as the president of the United States and not as the help in the kitchen — won the Democratic presidential nomination. The rest is history (the kind we wish we could relive right now) and current events.

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AND ONE audaciously capable man hands off to another. On Aug. 28 of this year, Andrew Gillum – son of a bus driver, previous resident of Gainesville, mayor of Tallahassee —confounded the expectations of polls, pundits and state history, winning the Democratic primary for the governorship of Florida, positioning him to be the first African American chief executive in the history of the Sunshine State.

A believer in classic retail, press-the-flesh politics and a full embrace of the progressive tradition of demographic outreach, Gillum stunned a game challenger with deep political roots in Florida. His campaign mantra might as well be one for everybody in the country: Believe it is possible and act accordingly.

August 28 clearly has a hold on both the imagination and the Gregorian calendar. It marks bitter with the sweet ... or sometimes, more bitter than sweet by orders of magnitude.

Return with us now to this date in yesteryear — way yesteryear — to see how the past is always intruding on the present. Thank The Independent (UK) for reminding us that it was on Aug. 28, 1518 -- 500 years ago — that the King of Spain, Charles I, authorized a charter permitting the transportation of slaves directly from Africa to the Americas, without stopping at a European port. Thus effectively ushered in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the financial rationale that supported it, and the myriad horrors that followed in its wake.

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From The Independent: “Charles’s decision to create a direct, more economically viable Africa to America slave trade fundamentally changed the nature and scale of this terrible human trafficking industry. Over the subsequent 350 years, at least 10.7 million black Africans were transported between the two continents. A further 1.8 million died en route.

“This month’s quincentenary is of a tragic event that caused untold suffering and still today leaves a legacy of poverty, racism, inequality and elite wealth across four continents. But it also quite literally changed the world and still geopolitically, socially, economically and culturally continues to shape it even today ...”

Some August 28th anniversaries we can do without.

Image credits: Obama at Invesco Field: Jeff Riedel, GQ Magazine. Gillum: Screengrab from Gillum TV ad. CharlesI; portrait by Bernard Van Orley, 1519.

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