Last week the NAACP Philadelphia Branch celebrated its annual Freedom Fund Gala at the A.M.E. District Plaza at 3801 Market Street, just as
we’ve done for the past 13 years. This year’s theme was dedicated to the 1940’s in honor of our featured vocalist Kathy Sledge, whose tribute
to the great Billie Holiday, “The Brighter Side of Day,” was our featured attraction. I have included my Freedom Fund Gala message in this
week’s FreedomQuest because I thought some of the ideas might be relevant to an even wider audience, I thank you in advance for your kind
ABOVE PHOTO: Kathy Sledge entertains crowds with her tribute to Billie Holiday.
Photos by Robert Mendelsohn
The 1940′s forged the Baby Boomer generation. Most of us in this room tonight were born in that decade. Many of the borders of countries we fight
to protect or defeat today were drawn in latter half of that decade which ended World War II.
And the most significant scientific achievement so far known to humanity-atomic power-remains the single greatest threat to our continuation as a
species. Those born at the dawn of that decade lived through the victory over Fascism, the eruption of the sexual revolution and the introduction
of the pill, the opening rounds in the quest for gender equality and, of course, the nearly peaceful extermination of Jim Crow segregation.
Now, as we approach the start of a new decade in the new millennium, the NAACP Philadelphia Branch thought how appropriate it would be to relive
some of the glory and tragedy of the decade which produced the richest, best educated and most politically unfettered generation of Africans in the
history of civilization.
Yes, the 1940′s was that period just before large numbers of African Americans publicly struck back against the brutality of a political and
economic repression that had crushed the dreams of their parents and grandparents. Southern fruit hung from many trees between The Treaty of
Versailles and Pearl Harbor. But large numbers of blacks in the South and the North quietly prepared themselves then for the struggle to come in
the 1950′s and 1960′s. So, when freedom’s cry for jubilee was sounded in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 and Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958 many men,
women and children answered with pride, hope, courage and…blood.
RIGHT PHOTO: Retired Sheriff John Green accepts his NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award.
Though the 1940′s remained a period of unmet dreams and crushed hopes for those who wanted to play professional sports, attend college or do more
in a factory than push a mop or a broom, when one looks at the immaculately posed black-and-white still photographs of that period we can see a
race of black, brown and ecru-toned people who had vision, style, rhythm and savior faire.
Tonight, it’s that flair and panache’ we celebrate when we are favored with the musical magic of Kathy Sledge as she performs her tribute to the
immortal Billie Holiday-’The Brighter Side of Day.”
Tonight, when you walk in this hall, soak yourself in the images of the great poets, musicians, dancers, clergymen, educators and writers of that
period for they set the stage for our generation to excel and one day elect one of our own to the presidency.
The NAACP also is happy you took this time to spend with us tonight because as we continue into our second century leading the unfinished struggle
for full political and economic equality, we have noticed a very disturbing trend. Too many of the younger generation; these children who have
never seen a “colored” sign above a water fountain; or been forced to climb stairs to the balcony in a movie theatre; or been called the “N” word
by a co-worker or a supervisor-too many of these young men and women have lost touch with their inheritance-our shared legacy of sacrifice and
LEFT PHOTO: Kernie Anderson receives his award from President Mondesire.
How upsetting it must be to our seniors to see a crowd of young boys in a playground who can’t even tell who Jackie Robinson was or in what year he
courageously integrated Major League Baseball; making it possible for these junior wannabes to dream of careers on the grandest playing fields in
the world earning more in a day than Robinson took home in a year.
Equally sad but true, we aging “Boomers” are witnessing the wholesale slaughter in our urban centers against us by us in numbers that would make
the Ku Klux Klan of the 1940′s stand up and cheer. Each year more young black boys and men are killed by gunfire in their own neighborhoods than
died in the entire Vietnam War!
The sartorial splendor of a Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington or Lena Home has been replaced by que after que of baggy pants dripping sometimes just
north of knee-level. It’s more than just an evolution of styles…it’s representative of a deterioration of pride.
Yes, the past may indeed be prologue. We at the NAACP have struggled too long and too hard to blissfully stand by and watch this malaise in
silence. We know where we came from and how we made it this far to let anyone (within or outside the family) turn us around. We pray this evening’s
events stir within you some of the same passion borne by our ancestors who trekked through the wartime shadows and the bright stage lights of
1940′s to reach the brighter side of tomorrow.