February is the official American celebration of the story of the lives and stories of millions of people captured and held in bondage during the invasions of the American hemisphere by Europeans until today. Sleep is not the most dependable ally of the aging, unlike the infant, who awakens wet and hungry. US octogenarians are leaving, “dropping like flies.” Daily, more octogenarian do not awaken and those who do wonder, was it in vain?
New generations have come and continue: Gen X, Y, and Z. Will a new alphabet appear when we run out of the Phoenician twenty-six? The world has become one of equivalents to “Cliff’s Notes,” a shorthand of two digits-x/o or 1/2. What will be the next to mark the momentum of progress?
Congressman John Lewis of Georgia is the totem of the physical remnant to Black History Month. He is the youngest living participant from the activists who led a resistant US into and through a vaguely understood, and rapidly receding, “Civil Rights Movement,” that, seemingly, began in the mid-1950s CE. Contemporary history lessons are gained from movies like Lincoln andDjango Unchained. Memories and sounds for older, mature citizens are not only grainy images of black boys penned against buildings by fire hose water or German Shepherd dogs straining, drool flailing, on leashes held by white law enforcers. The most vivid in the record is the charge of uniformed enforcers on the road to Selma Alabama. These are public events, repeated enough to have become innocuous, probably not real to generational infants.
Octogenarians carry private memories of those days. They feel the sweat and the saliva in their bodies; remember the fear in sounds that are no less audible for having happened fifty years ago.
Young people do not respond to danger the same as old people. Scientists say the young brain is not yet able to sense danger. Once, a South Carolina cop was defied because what he asked was not fair. Ten years later, four years before Parks historic stance, a Greyhound bus driver was defied for another unfairness, demanding that a Negro college student move to the rear seat of the bus—called “the long seat.” After the police he had called left, the student’s legs were weak, as she fell into the small space adults on the “long seat” scrunched-up to offer her.
All the octogenarians will very soon be dead. Black History Month, that was Negro History Week, has visceral memories for them. Does Black History Month emotionally affect anyone younger than sixty-five; does it “resonate,” as said in the 1960s.
With memories and thoughts of a fading Black History Month a poignant dirge sung by the elders in a small Presbyterian church re-appeared, “Soon I will be done-a with the troubles of the world, the troubles of the world, the troubles of the world…” Each chorus was separated by a verse, “Going home to meet my mother,” then “my father, sister” and “brother.” Why did the song come back, now? Was it a dream that the thoughts and feelings of Gen X-Y-Z-ers do not perceive the need for action in a struggle that, for hundreds of years gave impetus and meaning to the Elders of the Tribe? Some have not forgotten “Strivers Row,” a play by Abrams Hill in the 1940s, rooted in the downs and ups, of Negro-Colored migrants to northern, mid-western, and eventually, western cities between WWI and post WWII. Overcrowded apartments housed—no, warehoused—hundreds of thousands of post-Civil War escapees who did unimaginable drudgery—except in modern sweatshops around the world. Those migrant men and women were the strivers who, with their children, fueled The Civil Rights Movement that began, not just with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. They, and we, are the inheritors of generations of unnamed and unremembered strivers. Many octogenarians who are leaving—dying-- every day, try not to think of the faded glory of strivers, and their own fear filled actions? Today’s abbreviated digital reality needs a strong dose of real seasoning, un-scripted, and un-edited “Reality TV.” If no longer German Shepherd dogs and uniformed officials aiming fire hoses, what is next?