Michael Jackson, RIP

Like many of you, I was shocked and hurt to hear of the death of Michael Jackson.

He was an entertainment superstar, and a defining figure of my generation.

He was perhaps the ultimate black “crossover” figure. His Thriller album is the best selling album of all time, with over 100 million copies sold worldwide.

It is amazing to think that a black kid in a soul music kiddie band from Gary, Indiana could grow up and achieve such commercial music heights. Only in America.

Sadly, Jackson will be remembered as much for his eccentricity as his talent. A little while ago, I wrote a post about a play that featured the story of a tragic mulatto.

And that popped into my head when I thought of Jackson. Jackson had facial surgery numerous times, resulting in a face that lacked blackness, and common sense. The brown skinned, afro coiffed, and chubby-cherub face of his early career was replaced by a very light skinned, almost ghostly caricature.

And so, a man who was rich enough to have anything used his wealth to destroy that which made him famous: his own image.

Still, none of that diminished his talent or impact. Michael Jackson’s music was pop and R’n’B at its best. His stuff sounds good, even today; it stands the test of time, and it will continue to do so.

Whatever demons drove him in his later life, I hope he is free of them now.

From Youtube, here is an ode to Michael Jackson and all the black performers who paved the way for him.


Georgia Governor Candidate Blasts Republican Secessionists; Blacks and the Pledge of Allegiance

There’s been a rash of politicians-mainly Southern, always Republican-who have made comments to the effect that their states should secede from the United States. Given that these statements are being made a time when we have an African American President, the symbolism of this rhetoric is extremely disturbing.

General David Poythress is a Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia. He has this to say about politicians who would “cut and run from America”:

This is some text from the clip:

For years, Georgia’s 8th Grade students read in their history books about our state’s decision to secede from the United States back in 1861. Today, our students need only look at a daily newspaper to see that talk of secession isn’t just a thing of the past. In fact, four of the six Republican candidates said they would support Georgia seceding from the United States of America. This is outrageous.

This is absolutely disgraceful—it’s a slap in the face to every patriotic American, to anybody who has served under the American flag and to those brave Georgians who have fought and died for our country in Iraq…

What really offends me the most, is that none of these Republican secession candidates ever wore, for a single day, the uniform of our country, carried a weapon, or heard a shot fired in anger. Not ONE ever put their life on the line to protect our freedoms and liberty.

But they recklessly call for secession from America. They would in effect, ban the American flag and end the pledge of allegiance. They would say to the world that when they don’t get their way, they quit.

That’s just childish. That’s cowardice, not leadership… Real leadership means we work toward common sense solutions to protect American values, not just quit our country because we don’t agree with other Americans… United We Stand. Divided We Fall… Know this: when I’m the Governor of Georgia, I won’t cut and run from America… When I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I mean it.

I don’t know much else about the General, and let me make it clear, I am not promoting his candidacy. But this is an important and timely message, and I felt strongly that I should help to spread it.

In a related note: earlier this week, I attended a Juneteenth celebration that was held at the main library here in Washington, DC. During the event, one of the speakers asked everyone to rise and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Most of the people in the almost all-African American audience stood and said the pledge. But there was a bunch of people who did not.

I was troubled by this. Yes, this country has committed its share of offenses. Certainly, slavery and Jim Crow are evils that will forever stain the American legacy.

But darn it, this is our country too. During the Civil War, some 200,000 African Americans served in the Union forces. Many of them died in the cause of our freedom, a freedom that all black Americans enjoy today… and that many black Americans, sadly and unfortunately, squander.

My uncle served in World War II. He was a part of General Patton’s black tank unit. He took pride in showing me a Nazi swastika that he captured from German soldiers. And I took pride in hearing of his accomplishments.

Bottom line, we fought for this country, we built this country, we ARE this country. America is us.

I am proud to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Not necessarily for the America that is, but for the America that I want and am willing to work hard to create. I pledge that I will make America a better place, not just for me, or my family, but for the world community.

And that’s something we should all stand for.

PS: I don’t mean to imply that folks who don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance are unpatriotic or other wise “bad.” What I am saying is, I hope that people won’t see our nation’s horrible race history as a block to saying the Pledge. I’m not saying that we should turn our back on the past, but rather, turn our faces forward to the future, and pledge to the country we want to create, not the one we had before or even the one we have now.

I want to give a hat tip to the folks at Indigo Journal for turning me on to this story.

Juneteenth is Tomorrow! Hold the Date, Seize the Day

Juneteenth (June 19) 2009 is tomorrow. Don’t forget to use this time to reflect on our history and its meaning for the future.
American Flag and Juneteenth Flag

Effective January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared that all black slaves who lived in the Confederate states during the Civil War were “forever free.” This did not free the slaves immediately; the Confederacy simply ignored the order, and went about with their conduct of the Civil War.

Emancipation became “official” in 1865 when Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The news of the war’s end and emancipation spread through the South, but it was slow in getting to Texas.

Texas, which was far and isolated from much of the fighting, had become a place of refuge for slaveholders who wanted to keep their slaves from becoming free. But on June 19, 1865, Federal troops came to Galveston, Texas, and announced that all the slaves were emancipated. These blacks in Texas are considered to be the last group of slaves to know that they were freed.

June 19th – Juneteenth – has gone from being a local day of celebration and reflection in Texas, to a national one. Here in Washington, DC, several events have been planned, including a service at the African American Civil War memorial.

This picture is from a Juneteenth celebration in 1900 at the University of Texas in Austin.

I hope you can all take some time to commemorate this vital part of history.

The GOP Can’t Help It.

I guess the Republican Party just can’t help it. Making crude comments about African Americans, even one who has reached the position of POTUS, seems to be in their DNA. Consider these clumsy remarks by the Republican Party about Barack Obama and his wife Michelle:

• From Newscoma: Tennessee GOP state Senator Diane Black (R-Gallatin) sent an email with this image of our country’s presidents.


• From the Indigo Journal: Mike Green, a Republican operative who is helping to run the campaign for GOP gubernatorial candidate Gresham Barrett, posted the following joke about President Obama on his Twitter account:


Fitsnews.com reports: Republican Rusty DePass, a former SC State Senate candidate, supporter of former President George W. Bush, and Longtime GOP activist, made this comment after hearing about the escape of a gorilla from a zoo in Columbia South Carolina:

“I’m sure it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors — probably harmless.

And yet they wonder why they can’t get more black votes…

See also:
WTF?!? Racist Insanity
The Hate That Hate Produced: The Demonization of Barack Obama by the Republican Party

Big Mama Thornton Sings the Blues: Rock Me

Don’t forget the blues.

Big Mama Thornton was a blues woman. And she could rock. This is from a live show in Oregon in 1971.

Willie Mae Thornton, aka Big Mama Thornton, was born on December 11, 1926 in Montgomery, Alabama. Like many black musicians, she started out singing gospel at her church. At the age of 14, she left home to join a chitlin circuit music troupe in Georgia named the Hot Harlem Revue. She went on to tour and do musical dates with a number of blues and R’n’B figures.

Her biggest hit was “Hound Dog”, which was released in 1952, along with the B side tune “They Call Me Big Mama.” The song was #1 on the Billboard R’n’B charts for seven weeks, and sold almost two million copies.

Three years later, Elvis Presley recorded his own version of the song, and it became an even bigger hit; few people today remember that Big Mama was the first to do the song.

Big Mama was not a beauty queen. And she was big, getting to as much as 350 lbs, although illness later in life made her lose her size. On the above video, she looks almost lean.

But no matter, she could still carry a tune and then some. Blessed with gravelly sounding, booming voice, Big Mama belted people with the blues. She taught herself the harmonica, and that added some depth to her performances, especially live.

She died young at the age of 57, due to heart and liver problems that many attribute to her hard drinking lifestyle.

She left us too early, but her music lives on.

US Government: We Need to End Health Disparities for Minorities and the Poor

The Department of Health and Human Services has created a website called Health Reform.gov that makes the case for change in our health care system. And I have to say: for a government-produced website, it is very well done. The layout and graphics are polished and professional, and it has a lot of interesting content.

The site includes a very good discussion of racial disparities in health care, on a page titled Health Disparities: A Case for Closing the Gap. It includes these comments on rates of disease among various American ethnic groups:

Racial and ethnic minorities have high rates of debilitating disease such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, and AIDS. One of the most glaring disparities is apparent in the African American community, where 48% of adults suffer from a chronic disease compared to 39% of the general population.


Obesity is debilitating and is often a catalyst to chronic disease. Seven out of 10 African Americans ages 18 to 64 are obese or overweight, and African Americans are 15% more likely to suffer from obesity than Whites.


African Americans are more likely to develop and die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group.

African American men are 50% more likely than Whites to have prostate cancer and are more likely than any other racial group to suffer from colorectal cancer. Hispanic and Vietnamese women have disproportionate rates of cervical cancer, which they contract at twice the rate of White women.


Fifteen percent of African Americans, 14% of Hispanics, and 18% of American Indians suffer from adult onset diabetes. American Indians suffer from diabetes at more than twice the rate of the White population, which develops the disease at a rate of only 8%.


HIV bears witness to the most extreme disparity in chronic disease. African Americans experience new HIV infections at seven times the rate of Whites, and Hispanics experience new HIV infections at two and a half times the rate of Whites.

There’s more at the site, and it makes for vital reading. Highly recommended.