Ben Chavis

By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
NNPA Columnist

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Glory hallelujah! 

Those are the opening lyrics to “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” a spiritual with roots as a slave song. It was originally called, “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Had.” The enormously gifted Marian Anderson popularized “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” in 1925. Different versions were subsequently rendered by Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, and Sam Cooke.

In the wake of the latest miscarriage of justice in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo., the song once again has a relevance to the continuing reality of racial injustice for Black Americans.

Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down

Oh, yes, Lord

Sometimes I’m almost to the ground

Oh, yes, Lord

Although you see me going ‘long so

Oh, yes, Lord

I have my trials here below

Oh, yes, Lord

Nobody knows the pain of Michael Brown’s parents. Nobody knows the utter disgust of the Black American community across the nation after the grand jury in Ferguson failed to indict Darren Wilson.

The writing and singing of spirituals are an important aspect of the tradition and long struggle for freedom and justice in America. We are a spirit-filled people. Our poetry, songs and cultural responses to the conditions and contradictions that we face have always helped us to not accept injustice, and to persevere even in the face of violence.

Marching for equal justice is also therapeutic. The NAACP, our oldest civil rights organization, is about to conclude a 7-day march from Ferguson to Jefferson City, the state capital, to protest the Michael Brown injustice and to proposed corrective remedies. NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks stated, “We stand committed to continue our fight against racial profiling, police brutality and the militarization of local authorities. Our ‘Journey for Justice: Ferguson to Jefferson City’ march is the first of many demonstrations to show both the country and the world that the NAACP and our allies will not stand down until systemic change, accountability and justice in cases of police misconduct are served for Michael Brown and the countless other men and women who lost their lives to such police misconduct.”

We hope that the march and the other protest activities that are being planned will involve the growing number of young activists and leaders who are emerging in St Louis County and on the national scene. We need to propose solutions to local, state and federal bodies to take corrective action.  Beyond singing and marching, we need to get more civil rights laws enacted to stop police brutality and racial profiling.

Fifty years ago, in response to the racially-motivated police violence to suppress the voting rights of Black Americans in Selma, Ala. and throughout the Deep South, the Civil Rights Movement was successful in getting the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

There are numerous issues that arise out of the killing of Michael Brown. Unjustified propensity by police officers to use deadly force against Black Americans and other persons of color, the improper and inadequate training of police officers, racism in the flawed criminal justice system, prosecutorial misconduct, and the systemic racial oppression are all issues that need be addressed more effectively.

We support the efforts of President Barack Obama and some of his key domestic policy advisers, such as Roy L. Austin, Jr., who are proposing the development and enactment of the “Michael Brown Law.” If enacted, the new law would require all state, county, and local police to wear a body video camera.  Of course this is just one solution, but it is a much needed and achievable step in the right direction to hold police officers accountable for their actions, especially when deadly force is used.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a fully-functioning video camera attached to police officers could be worth millions of words – and save thousands of lives in the process.  As we campaign for passage of the law, we must continue to be vigilante and never cease singing our spirituals.

If you get there before I do

Oh, yes, Lord

Tell all-a my friends I’m coming to Heaven!

Oh, yes, Lord

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at:; and for lectures and other professional consultations at:


Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is presently the CEO & President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the President of Education Online Services Corporation (EOServe Corp), the world’s...

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