By James Clingman
My 20 years as a columnist for NNPA would not be complete without an article about five persons whom I hold in high esteem, five persons from whom I have learned about sacrifice, commitment, dedication, honor, and character; and five persons who hold a special place in most if not all of our hearts and minds. They are Marcus, Medgar, Malcolm, Martin, and Maynard. No last names necessary, right?
Although I have many lesser known brothers and sisters that I deeply admire and respect, I chose these five for two reasons: Virtually all of my readers know about them and their accomplishments; and these particular men, collectively, represent the basic characteristics and ideals I have written about for years. Not to slight the sisters, I could have also chosen Mary McLeod Bethune, Harriet Tubman, or Barbara Jordan.
I will go with The Five M’s, however, and do my best to give them the acclaim and respect they deserve, while at the same time try to give you something upon which to reflect and a model to emulate.
Marcus Garvey, whose accomplishments of rallying more than 6 million people, raising some $10 million, and starting business enterprises along the way, was a Black man who strongly believed in and practiced economic empowerment for Africans in America. While I leave the task of educating our people on Garvey to scholars such as Umar Johnson, Amefika Geuka, and Shaka Barak, I have always shared Garvey’s words of wisdom and used his life and times as teaching tools for our progress.
Garvey personified strength, commitment, fearlessness, and most of all, love for Black people (Listen to his passionate words on Blackonomics.com – Videos). He was highly intelligent and always undeterred by his detractors. Oh, to think what could have been, if Booker T. had not died when Garvey was making his way to meet him in 1915. Working together, I believe those two giants would have “shocked the world.” Garvey died at 53.
Medgar Evers, an unrelenting fighter for civil rights in Mississippi, exuded bravery. Despite the daily threats to his life, he continued to stand up for his people until that fateful night in 1963 when he was shot down in front of his home with his precious children and loving wife, Myrlie, nearby. What strength! What resolve! What love! Knowing his life and that of his family were always in jeopardy, he did what was right in the face of constant danger. Evers displayed grace under fire like no other. Assassinated at the young age of 38, he will always hold a place in our history for his work, his example, and his love for his people.
Malcolm, a pit bull, was bold and tenacious. His name connotes strong will and purpose. Ossie Davis said, “Malcolm kept snatching our lies away. He kept shouting the painful truth we Whites and Blacks did not want to hear from all the housetops. And he wouldn’t stop for love or money.” Those words aptly describe the character and persona of Malcolm. Unafraid, open-minded, highly intelligent, resolute, and much more, Malcolm dedicated precious years of his life, of course to his family, but also to educating and demonstrating to the world, and Black people in particular, that we should move beyond mere rhetoric, that Black folks should “get real” and do what must be done to secure an economic future. He was right, of course. Also assassinated, he lived to be 39.
Martin. The Energizer Bunny. My words pale in comparison to what has been said about his life, his oratorical wizardry, his willingness to call out politicians – even presidents, and the spiritual motivation that drove him to go into the lion’s den, to face hate-filled adversaries, to respond to fellow ministers who felt he was getting out of his place, to defy the odds of racist and prejudiced southern towns.
King, even knowing his life would be taken at some point, kept going, kept doing, kept showing up and showing out. He was a man’s man and, in my opinion, a gift from God for this nation, just as Moses was in his time. But this nation refused to heed his words, and Black people refused to let Pharaoh go. Also at 39 years of age, he too was felled by an assassin’s bullet.
Maynard Jackson, consummate politician. He was a Black mayor who had the courage to stand up to the status quo, and win. I came up with my own saying to describe him: “If we don’t get ours, you don’t get yours!” His stance on the construction of the Hartsfield Airport set the tone for economic inclusion in this country. Maynard was also a friend. He was in law school at North Carolina College when I was a freshman. We became friends as a result of our singing in the college choir. His deep baritone/bass was something to behold. But we had another connection; we loved to eat. While on a singing tour in 1964 in Washington, D.C., we were enjoying a meal at a restaurant and missed our tour bus. Now, I miss him.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.