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July 1, 2008

Daniels promotes Selma-Montgomery-Birmingham tour; Charlotte's loss from skirting era's challenges debated

Charlotte facilitator Ahmad Daniels addressed the Forum on Tuesday, July 1, about his upcoming bus tour of three cities central to the 1960s civil rights movement.

Daniels' presentation focused on the personalities of the era, and on the energy expended by both the well-known and the anonymous to regain political and legal rights erased during Reconstruction.

For more information about the Aug. 16-17 tour, see Daniels' website, www.creative-interchange.com, or call him at 704-537-1533.

The discussion prompted a number of voices to be raised. Speakers observed that Charlotte leaders, white and black, agreed in the '50s and '60s  to avoid confrontation. They considered that a virtue at the time, and cultivated a national reputation as a place of racial amity.

But one result was that Charlotte did not confront its racial divisions then -- and it hasn't confronted them yet, speakers said.

The material below is a partial transcription of that conversation.

For those not familiar with this website, the traditions of this site are that the comments of a guest speaker, in this case Ahmad Daniels, will be identified by name. Persons who are already public figures, or who hold public office or a public trust, may be identified. But private citizens who speak from the floor are generally not identified by name. This policy is aimed at sharing Forum discussions with a broader audience on the Internet while respecting those who attend the Forum as private citizens. The Forum itself is of course open to the public.

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"We didn't go through the civil rights movement [in Charlotte]," said one participant. "It's like hiding family secrets. You just don't let it out.
"And when the Civic Index came in, they talked about that 'politeness,' like of segregated churches. People really don't have relationships with one another.

"When I look back on it that's unfortunate. Being married, sometimes you come to even greater understanding once you go through some heavy discussion. And this city, even now with community building and all, I don't think we've gotten where we need to be. I think it will come to bite us in bad economic times, like by the end of this year."

Daniels replied: "All we need to do is look at what took place in the 1940s with the internment of thousands and thousands of Japanese-Americans. America was involved in the fight with Italy and Germany but they were not interned. Why were people who could be so easily distinguished interned? I think it's happening again with Mexicans, to some extent. And if we don't speak up for the rights of them, who's going to speak up for our rights when they come knocking at our doors?

"When the economy gets tight, people have a tendency to circle the wagons with those that they know, with those that look like them, dress like them, speak like them, and go to the same faith institution...."

"If we knew our history," said one participant, "a lot of the questions would be made crystal clear. It's almost as though we look at the issue of slavery as something that happened waaaaaay back when, and in actuality the second slavery didn't stop occurring until 1963:

"There were men of color who were enslaved in this nation up until 1963, that were being sold from the judicial system to corporate America to work as slaves, all over this country. And our children don't know this. A lot of us didn't know that.

"We need this trip. We need opportunities to talk, not about the Japanese, but to talk about what is happening and what has happened to us during my lifetime, your lifetime. IF we do that we can educate our children. We're not only not educating our children in the 1-2-3s of life; we're not educating our children about who they are and where they've been.

"If we stop looking at other people and start using ourselves as examples, it will cause us to, and I'm sorry, I'm coming across as an angry African-American male and I don't want to turn anybody off -- I really don't care, but (laughter) -- we need to start looking at ourselves as opposed to using other people, not only as excuses, but as examples.... There's so much history sitting in this room. If we just put our arms around that, the children on the other side of the door would walk out so much richer."

Another participant said, "When I came to Charlotte [in the late 1960s] there was still a thriving, alive and vibrant black presence uptown. [A friend said some years ago that] if anybody came to Charlotte and had never been here before, they would look around and say, Oh, Charlotte's not but about 25 years old. If you go uptown you'll see virtually no evidence of there having been the black prominence that once existed.

"When we talked about the fact that Charlotte escaped some of the Selmas and the Chicagos, that was by design. [There were] meetings of City Council where mayors have sat and talked about the fact that Charlotte has not had the history of other cities. And my take on it has been all along that that's part of the problem, that Charlotte has not had that.

"They don't feel threatened, they don't feel they have to do anything more than they WANT to do. There are, in my opinion, too many of us in positions that could affect change that choose not to because then it comes to jeopardize or threaten their station...."

"I was not here at the time," said another participant. "The way it's been portrayed to me, they were advanced. They were thinking. They didn't have this drama [over civil rights] because they looked at Greensboro and the Selmas and said, hey, we'd better straighten up. So we're progressive, we're learning from the others. So now, that's how it was put to me. And I accepted it: Charlotte's all right.

"Now, I have been able to see that because they didn't have those struggles, they haven't paid their dues in that sense. As an outsider, my impression is that blacks in Charlotte are pretty soft on dealing with issues they haven't HAD to deal with."

"We accept too many things here in Charlotte," said another participant. "And I guess the thing that disturbs me most is that I'm around all kinds of folks, and when I hear our people, they don't even want to relate to the Martin Luther King struggle. It is really pitiful.

"We are stuck on where we live, what kind of car we drive, what school we went to. And to me those things are not important anymore. As African-Americans we're just going to have to reach back and embrace our children, who are out here killing each other, and do something. We've been talking a long time. It's time to make a move."

Daniels replied: "I've just finished reading a book by Eckhart Tolle, "A New Earth," and of the many, many, many good points he makes, he says, where there is no association, there is no attachment. If we don't associate ourselves with our people, with our history, we can't get upset with people who don't have a sense of attachment to community, to family, to legacy. It's up to us to create that image for them to follow. We must paint the picture.

"Tours like this, tours that other people are doing, are wonderful ways of creating that foundation. History is more than just dates and places. History helps us learn a lesson. It helps us to seize the spirit of the times. And it helps us to emulate the success of those who did what they did. So it's not about dates and places; it's who we are. It's who we are. We're living history right now. Being a historian, I can't think of anything that is more meaningful as a foundation for everything that will help us move forward."







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