Tag Archive: JFK


Stokely Carmichael. Assata Shakur. Angela Davis. Bobby Seale. Huey P. Newton.  For my generation, if you grew up around a certain dynamic those are all names you knew and heard about often, without living through the Experience.  “The Black Power Mixtape” is a well-edited documentary that casts an eye on what those times were like in the Movement and the connections that have resonated with the next generation.

Narrated in sections by artists Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and Questlove, “The Black Power Mixtape” is visually made up of archival news footage from Sweden(?!?), as a group of young journalists came to this country during that time to try to grasp what the Civil Rights Movement was all about.  At the time where this film begins, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers had already been killed, and the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy finished the job of wiping out the optimism of the country.  With Vietnam’s unpopularity on the rise, the climate was rise for a more radical approach.

(On a side note, I believe it was Questlove who conspiracy theoried that the reason King was killed when he was killed was because he was the first outspoken leader against Vietnam AND, as he was doing in Memphis, he was now marching less against race and moreso against class with the Poor People’s Campaign.  I’m paraphrasing but the quote was ‘You want to ride in the front of the bus, OK. You want to cause a fuss for the military and financial institutions?  Nah… Interesting to think about in light of the “Occupy…” movement that’s going now.  Maybe today’s movement is better off without a ‘leader’?  Back to topic…)

The Black Panthers are probably the best known group to emerge out of the 70s discontent.  When J. Edgar Hoover declared their Free Breakfast Program the greatest internal threat to national security (God I hope this is portrayed in the movie about to come out), the lines were clearly drawn.  The incarceration of Angela Davis covers the second act of the film.  The first ‘must see’ clip of the film is when a reporter goes to visit Professor Davis in prison to ask her about the situation. The poor guy was probably sincere in his naivete (being from another country), but Angela Davis’ incredulous response to someone not knowing the history of violence against Blacks in this country is highly entertaining/motivating.  I know without researching it that’s there no way in hell that interview played on American television at the time (if ever before now).

The second must see clip the film provides is of a babyfaced Louis Farrakhan.  Seriously I barely recognized him before he started talking.  Only a few years after Malcolm’s assassination, the young minister shows the ‘polish’ that would soon after reunite the factions in the Nation and begin his own ascent on a larger scale.  It’s another of those interviews that I guess I should have known existed somewhere; it’s interesting to see in the context of this film.

In a sad ‘full circle’, the film begins with the communal depression from the murders of every national leader, and the film ends with the seeds being planted for the drug epidemic that would cripple the black community in the 80s.  I’m a little surprised the film didn’t mention how Huey Newton himself was a casualty, but they probably didn’t have any footage of it.

“The Black Power Mixtape” is available On Demand on many cable outlets.

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King

 

Like most black kids of my generation, I had the idea that Dr. King was ‘somebody’ before I had any real concept of who that ‘somebody’ was.  It was his picture and Jesus on the back of our church fans.  At my grandfather’s house, there were two pictures in the house that weren’t family: John F. Kennedy and MLK.  There wasn’t a ‘King Holiday’ in the early years of my childhood, for awhile he was just the ‘black hero.’

When my sister and I were still in our ‘kiddie’ stage, we made the family road trip to Walt Disney World.  My father decided one of our pit stops would be Atlanta, which struck me as a little odd since I knew at the time we didn’t have any family on either side in the ATL.  As it turns out, he timed our pit stop on the weekend of some type of “King Fest.”  My mother still has a picture of herself with Yolanda King that she treasures; we stopped by Ebenezer, we went to the Center, we visited Dr. King’s tomb.  It was the first time I went to the gravesite of someone outside my family.  It wasn’t a morbid thing since it’s right there with the museum, but it made me think.  In retrospect, it was probably the beginning of my interest in Black History.

Once I got to an age where I could understand race and America, I started with Dr. King’s life and works.  All of them.  His own words (“I have a Dream,”, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”) some of the well written biographies about him and his crusades (Selma, Chicago, Birmingham, D.C., and Memphis), his allies and his adversaries (the Kennedys, Malcolm, Sammy and Brando, Hoover). I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I’d say I’d know “more than average.”  It played a large part in shaping my identity and what I value.

In practical and satirical ways, people often ask a) has Dr. King’s Dream been fulfilled and b) what would Dr. King be fighting against today?  The answer to both questions of course is that we’ll never really know.  Even in his eerily prophetic final speech, he said “I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promised land!”  For better or worse, part of the practical nature of giving your life over to a larger purpose means you will not see the ‘end result’ of what you’re fighting for.  In the cynical times we live in, it’s something of a minor miracle that anyone does something knowing their good deeds can and sometimes will be taken in vain.

But as the man himself wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  (That’s also my single favorite quote of his.)  As a child looking at his final resting place, I had no idea what ‘injustice’ meant.  As a man, I understand it too well.  I don’t have the hero complex I had as a teenager, but I will always care enough about the world around me to do what I can.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I can remember with clarity the effect Roots had on me the first time I watched it.  Awe, shock, pride, anger.  I cried pretty good the first time I saw the scene where they whipped Kunta Kinte until he said his name was Toby.  I was one of the first in my family to be born outside Louisiana.  I knew the towns my parents grew up in.  I had been to the homes of my grandparents, my great-grandparents.  But like many others, Roots made me feel as though I knew nothing of my own heritage.  I was always an avid reader as a kid, so it didn’t faze me to search out and read the novel the miniseries was based on.

Diving into the history of the civil rights movement and the history of black people in this country altered the way I looked at life to say the least.  I took to it like a fish to water.  I hardly digested one book when I was already seeking out something else: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Eyes on the Prize, Go Tell It On the Mountain.  The more I read, the more aware I become of an ‘angrier’ side to the Movement.  But I personally wasn’t there.  Yet.

The next logical step, once I became a true student of black history, was to become a conspiracy theorist.  My grandfather had the prototypical three way portrait of JFK, Jesus, and MLK sitting above all the family photos.  It struck me for the first time that all three of these men were murdered; now I wanted to know why?  And how was it possible Jesus looked the way he looked on all the church fans if he spent his entire life in the Middle East?  My questions no longer just had teeth; they were growing fangs.  The Tuskegee experiments, the ‘war’ on drugs, Rodney King…I was swiftly morphing into a nice little cocktail of paranoia, social consciousness, and teenage rebellion. 

The mid 90s also doubled as the second perfect storm of my life:  Spike brought a lot of social consciousness into his films.  He broadened the audience for guys like Wesley, Sam Jax and Denzel to eventually become what they became.  Hip hop was going through its political phase, where acts like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, and Arrested Development could get major airplay.  One man’s name kept appearing over and over again in a lot of the things I was reading, watching, and listening to.  I eventually found a picture of him: another brother who wore glasses like me.

Of course I really loved Roots the novel, more than the miniseries even.  I went to the library one day looking for other books written by Alex Haley.  And I found one…

heatofthenight

In the Heat of the Night is considered one of, if not the defining film of Sidney Poitier’s career.  It spawned an equally popular TV show, and is often earmarked as a ‘defining’ film of the 60s.  On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  Well, the story of the film revolves around a black detective from the North coming into the heart of the racist South to solve a murder.  And it stars the one of the original black movie stars, Sidney Poitier.  Any questions?

Legacy:  I’ve already made reference to the TV show.  Sidney’s co-star was Rod Steiger, a well respected Hollywood vet in his own right (On the Waterfront is the first film that pops into my head).  Oh, and you may be familiar with this line: “They call me Mister Tibbs!”

Craft:  A solid, ‘important’ film by the standards of the time it was made in.  From a technical point of view, it’s still very watchable.  But in terms of addressing the racial issues, very dated.  It’s one of those movies that’s very interesting to watch when you realize there’s an African-American in the White House now.  There’s a very famous scene where a white man slaps Sidney, and Sidney slaps him right back.  At the time it was shocking, now…not so much.  The look on the poor butler’s face still cracks me up; there was a damn porch monkey in the front yard!  No I’m not joking, go back and watch it.  All that said, I’m sure there’s more than enough white people who still think like the characters in the movie; I’m not naive or cynical.  I grew up driving past rows of Confederate flags to get to my grandfather’s house.  OK, I’m getting way off topic, back to the ‘movie’…

Crossover: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Norman Jewison), Best Actor (Rod Steiger), Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay.  You add in the ‘Sidney Poitier’ factor, the score by Quincy Jones;  they don’t get much more crossover than this.

Apollo:  Now it seems pretty tame, but put it back in its historical context: 1967.  JFK and Malcolm had been dead for a few years, but RFK and Dr. King were right around the corner.  And you have this major Hollywood film where an ‘uppity Negro’ is talking back and fighting back any white person who challenges him.  In that context, I don’t even know what would be the equivalent today of doing a film like this.  With all due respect to all the other minority groups in America, the story of black people in this country carries the deepest (ongoing) connection.

Back later this month for #19…