Four Days in November

“We need men who can dream of things that never were.” – John F. Kennedy

On the occasion of the anniversary of one of our nation’s darkest moments, I have an impulse to reflect. For a moment, let’s forget the conspiracies, the adultery, and legend of a curse. Let’s instead remember, that for a brief shining moment, there was a time referred to as Camelot (Thank you, Mrs. Kennedy).

I don’t want to talk about the fact that he was murdered–not yet. President Kennedy’s assassination is what history chooses to remember.  Lost as a footnote is that President Kennedy, Eternal Dreamer, tried his best to create an America that fit his vision, be it flawed or righteous. My view of history is not long as I’ve spent only three decades as its student. It is colored by the grainy black and white images of a motorcade, blood-stained pink suit, a wife cradling the head of her husband having herself tried to scurry over the trunk of the convertible. This was his last day.

But what of  his 1000 days in office?

We’re so soiled by the unforgiving mark of violence and the truths that tumbled out afterward, that we forget how this president and administration once sat comfortably in our fawning. It is often said that this is the president who inspired a generation. But what gave him such distinction? What was it about this wealthy son turned politician that moved a generation to become unmoored from apathy? And did we ever reach the high standards he boldly espoused?

It’s not as if John F. Kennedy appeared from a misty fog. This is a man whose future was assured from birth. History reminds repeatedly of the storied background of the legendary Kennedy family. Whispers of a fortune made nefariously surround that history. Yet, what family in these Americas who find themselves fortunate enough to be members of the 1 percent have not been made so on the backs and fears of others. It’s a symptom of white privilege. Perhaps the Kennedy family was visibly ruthless in his pursuits while others do so with backbiting smiles and false encouragements. He was given all the privileges of wealth, avenues to an education that shaped his enlightened vision of the world. Indeed, it is an easier life to pursue when money is of no consequence. John F. Kennedy pursued it with vigor.

I often wonder how much truth lived in President Kennedy’s loftier words. He challenged a nation to be its best self, while  faltering to his worst at times. He moved the nation to embrace the arts without cynicism and arrogance. He cautiously entered the Civil Rights arena in a deeply fractured, racially segregated country. He encouraged others to seek public service.

Cicely Tyson and then some, lest we forget.

I did a quick Google search of Cicely Tyson’s name beside Miles Davis’ to find an essay about their allegedly violent relationship last night. I had made a comment on Twitter about the marriage between these two creative people and someone mentioned that the kind of marriage it was was a violent one. Intrigued by this thought, I wanted to gather the elements of the story to read over.

You know what I came across? I did find some references to Miles Davis’ genius musical career, and though she was at once a good friend, then encouraging lover and wife, he did physically abuse not only Cicely Tyson but also other women with whom he was linked. That part didn’t actually surprise me. I’ve been in the world long enough to unfortunately understand that there exists a dangerous dynamic between men and women with regards to violence within the relationship. I’ve witnessed it as a child on through adulthood. That did not surprise me. In fact, I wish it had.

The reason I had been interested in marriage in the first place was due to watching Oprah’s reunion special broadcast with the cast of Roots. It was the first time since the airing of Alex Haley’s epic mini-series that this group of black actors had been together. Among them were Levar Burton, James Amos, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Louis Gossett, Jr, and Cicely Tyson. This illustrious group of black actors who had done so much to advance the cause of black people through their craft. Oprah was in awe of them. I was equally affected by their respectable statures and profound views on their historical performances in Roots. The most impressive being Cicely Tyson. There is a regal air surrounding Ms. Tyson that I’ve always seen whenever she’s before my eyes. She has the most beautifully exotic dark skin, graceful cheekbones, omniscient eyes and mouth. Just beautiful. And she speaks with such force and knowledge that I always stop and listen. I have respect for her as my elder but also as an artist who has given much of her life to preserve a respectable black image on film.

When I searched Cicely Tyson’s name, I came across a blog site that among other vile things stated that this “ugly old bitch” needs to come across a young person who didn’t respect their elders so that she could be taught a lesson in the same way that Miles Davis had years ago in their relationship. This was one of several comments made about Ms. Tyson because she had allegedly been surly at Nelson Mandela’s birthday party in New York City a couple years ago. I was floored by the level of vitriol for a woman who had given so much to our race and the cause of black people. Totally amazed that her beauty could be measured as anything other than what it is–beautiful. The taunting the comments made in light of her alleged physical abuse by Miles Davis turned my stomach.

It was an ugly reminder on Martin Luther King’s day of how much progress that we, WE as black people, have not made. I watched repeated programs about the movement that would eventually cause Dr. King’s assassination; the fight to be treated as equals in a society that would still like to see us as slaves. I shed tears over the treatment of my elders, the Freedom Riders, the voting registers who bravely went down south and lost their lives in the cause, Emmet Till, four little girls–Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, Medgar Evers…so many people unnamed but equally as important. All of their struggles for what? For what did those brave people give their lives?

Walter Gadsden in Birmingham, Alabama on 3 May 1963, attacked by police dogs during a civil rights protest. Photo by Bill Hudson

We do so little to honor their memories and achievements. We’ve gotten too casual about respect and honor. It’s a cancer that has stricken the generations following Dr. King’s assassination. The legacy of our people is downtrodden under the boots of the willfully ignorant. Those who treasure clothing over education, singlehood over fatherhood/motherhood, questionable economic gains over legitimate business, and so many other issues I don’t have words or space to name. These are the people commenting on a Cicely Tyson post with “ugly bitch” responses.

What would Martin Luther King say about us today? Where is our accountability to do our parts in order to honor his legacy as well as preserve his dream. HIS DREAM. To see that all of us, not only black but gay, young, women, men, ALL of us live with equality. Where are those among us who truly appreciate the shoulders that we have all stood on to become a better people. He didn’t die so that we would not honor and respect the generation who took the beatings, who marched, who beat down the doors, who challenged a system, who gave their very lives.

It’s disturbing.

If we can respect Jay Z and Beyonce, then we can muster up a bit more than a nod to the people who made it possible for those two to be in the positions they are in. Yes, they too needed a shoulder to stand on.

We have to remember the bridges we crossed over, not continue to burn them.

(To be continued)