How I reacted to the death of Martin Luther King

13 February 2013 It was the night Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Loraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, Young Robert Kennedy had announced Martin’s murder, and asked that we as a country mourn his loss but refrain from reprisals. There was an in-credulousness that rocked my household as well as Black America, “Oh No”, was my mother’s first reaction to the news, there was also a unified plaintive cry by Black People, “Dear Lord, why did you let them kill Martin?” But what about good white folk that loved Martin as much as did Black people?, it was a question that would have to wait while we showed  concerned  for the welfare of Martin’s family, and tried to salvage Martin’s dreams for America and perpetuate his program of peaceful on-violence. In Martin’s last speech hours before his demise he had the persona of a wounded warrior, awaiting the onslaught of an evil nemesis that he’d previously defeated, but now feared this attackers would overtake him. These sentiments were reflected in Martin’s weary voice, the understandable anger at those who would take his life, and the tearful resignation that Martin “… might not get to the Promised Land” with us. My friend Jeri called me from her apartment complex in the white Capitol Hill neighborhood, as shocked as she was by the death of Martin; she was even more terrified of her drunken neighbors and white community, who were ecstatically and jubilantly celebrating King’s assassination. Jeri had initially ventured out to find solace at a local nearby pub comprised of intelligent and successful professionals, en route she was assailed by passersby honking their deafening horns and shouting, “He Dead!” and “We got him!”, as she entered the establishment she was astonished by the palpable feelings of hatred and bigotry present, and the distorted snarls on faces of people whom had always seemed kind and enlightened. Jeri spun around and fled the gentrified establishment and its malevolent mob of harpies, ran back to the safety of her apartment and called me for support, even though I was calm and reassuring on the telephone inwardly I was fearful for her and livid at those heartless creatures around her. I assured Jeri that I would get to her as soon as possible, and it being night time I would probably have to walk the distance from 27th Avenue to 15th Avenue, but walking would be much faster than waiting for the hourly running buses. I hung up the phone and looked at the face of my grieving mother, who had a look of motherly concern about her noble young black son, foolishly presenting himself as a possible target to some copycat maniac inspired by Martin’s assassins. She was an astute and refined black woman that was law bidding, God fearing, and pragmatically raised in matters of race to expect the best but prepare for the worst in others. Mom and Dad had rehearsed us through countless fire drills after whites burned down the community movie houses; we had to climb out a dinning room window on a ladder, should our main front entrance be obstructed. Our parents never discussed tragic events that had befallen them and our neighbors when they resided behind the “Cotton Curtain”, we would hear snippets of often whispered conversations about; white hate groups, common injustices and systemic mistreatment before they settled in the Pacific Northwest. After the age 5 on I began collecting my own share of race relations horror stories, Martin’s death being one of the most egregious. Mom diplomatically asked me if I thought it was a good idea to go out at this time, which was Mother Speak for “Boy, have you lost your mind?” I responded with halfhearted bravado that I would be alright, while my present fuming rage secretly welcomed any confrontation that might occur. Told my mother that I would honor her request and call her when I arrived at Jeri’s, then I headed into the dark night oblivious of any pending danger  ahead of me, only feeling anxious about arriving at my friend’s apartment as soon as possible. Approaching 20th and Madison adjacent to the Mount Zion Baptist Church, I encountered two carloads of riotous youth speeding, honking horns and generally jubilant about Martin’s slaughter. These celebrants frightened and angered me slightly, as I ventured closer to  Jeri’s residence, but it occurred with alarming frequency thereby deadening my pain and sharpening my resolve to race to my destination. Finally reaching 15th Avenue E. by Group Health Hospital,unceremoniously greeted by a bazaar sight of automobiles promenading down the thoroughfare, white boys and girls honking horns, blowing on noise makers, making loud drunken hooting noises. The rabble hugged and saluting each other, as though they had just won a national sports championship, and unfortunately in a ghastly demonic way they had. I stopped at the upscale neighborhood tavern perpendicular from Jeri’s, it was full to the gills with a couple of locals and lots of Yuppies from the white and gated communities, I knew that because I had drunk in their neighborhoods. I just wanted to purchase a bottle of wine to fortify us and lessen our inconsolable grief, the dim was so loud that it was difficult to get the barman’s attention; he was busy in this noisy mayhem of blasting music and people who seemed on the verge of madness…or slightly past it. I was totally invisible to the madden crowd who paid me no attention at all, I finally got my bottle of wine and headed out the door, stomaching one last hearing jubilant, “Thank God he’s dead, it’s finally over!”. I cursed them and their offspring from under my breath, I was beyond contempt for these “party animals”, which were of my generation and part of the privileged affluent caste, but were obviously soul sickened in an unredeemed manner that defied belief. This incident seemed portent of things to come, of Seattle race relations being poured down the toilet, of black school children being marginalized as without stable homes or community leaders, the black neighborhoods cultivated and left unattended as an open invitation for gang initiation and drug trade. Jeri let me into her flat as reverie abounded outside her door, drunken men and women ironically playing Beach Boys and Motown on their blasting stereos, we craved peace while enduring the muffled drunken dance steps and heavy footed morons that reminded us of the world insensitivity. We just hugged each other and cried, and cried some more at the reality of our loss in an uncaring world, an exemplary life well lived had been savagely snatched from us, we individually and collectively had never experienced psychic and spiritual pain of this magnitude.  My black friends that were soldiers in Vietnam reported some white soldiers rejoiced and were relieved at Martin’s death (portrayed in China Beach Episode ; “Promised Land”)there were anecdotes of quiet celebrators also “Good Ole Boys” shooting guns in the air, as they drove around with Confederate flags draped on speeding jeeps. Jeri and I didn’t have a lot to say to each other being overwhelmed by this devastating, sadness and bitter tears spoke for us, we were sorely disappointed by this racist attack but we were not surprised. Our parents had done their best to prepare us for such predictable yet unfortunate events, our folks were usually sanguine when we extolled the virtues of true integration and miscegenation; because even though our elders were well educated in the American Academia, they were equally schooled in being on guard against attacks of American Institutional Racism and bigotry.  I was grateful to have my friend Jeri there to console me during my 21st year of Black American Life, where we were initiated into the possibilities of suffering, because of the hatred and bigotry of our white neighbors. Black teens Trayvon Martin (26 February 2012) in Florida and British black teen Stephen Lawrence (London/ Eltham 22 April 1993), suffered similar travesties of justice as experienced by Martin Luther King. Stephen was murdered on a school night by young thugs, and Scotland Yard and the British judicial system conducted an inept investigation and prosecution of the criminals. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has related that he had The Talk with his son after Trayvon’s murder; to prepare his son for a time when his youthful actions could save or take his life, all black parents have a similar Black of Facts Life talk with their male sons;

  • Number One is Never Run in white areas if at all possible, it is often misinterpreted as an aggressive act, and can be considered sufficient cause to detain and/ or arrest you
  • Stick up for yourself no matter how big your foe, if you are put in a position in which you must fight arm yourself with a rock or stick if necessary
  • Just because someone wants you to join in with them, consider if they are doing right or wrong, if you can honestly see they are the wrong sort and could lead you into trouble stay away from them,  you could end up being a patsy falsely accused of a crime and even convicted (like an “Accessory after the fact”)
  • Never carry any sharp implement on you, whether it be a pen knife, nail file, box cutter or cosmetology/ barber razor for work
  • Always have two pieces of picture identification on your person, preferably with your current address
  • Avoid situations where you are alone with white females
  • If walking and accosted by the police, stand very still with your hands out of your pockets and to your sides, make none aggressive eye contact, and only speak at the request of the officer
  • Avoid confrontations with store employees, or in commercial exchanges, and people who challenge you legitimate right to be at some location, assume that private security or police will target you as the “Bad Guy” in the situation
  •  Respect your elders but never go away with any adult person just because they say they know your Mom or Dad, and protect your younger siblings should someone try to spirit them away
  • If the family is out visiting and someone offers you treats or water politely refuse, if the parent agree, then  kids  can accept the gift and say thank you

From President Obama down to the average African American man we have all had The Talk, it’s been updated from the Fifties because of Drugs and Gangs, The Talk is still considered a life saver in a society that devalues young black men. As a young black child I was also taught to be Courteous, Kind, Respectful, Polite and Civil, even though society doesn’t reinforce these values anymore,  I strongly believe Manners ( while keeping one’s dignity) and Politeness ( without being subservient) to be essential qualities for Black Folk

Filipino Contributions To Seattle Black History: Mr. B’s Yard

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

In 1955 my family lived in Seattle’s diverse Central Area neighborhood, Europeans, Asians, Latinos, African – Americans, and Native Americans, we all got along well but sometimes there were disagreements, we kids did have to watch ourselves around one Filipino (Pinoy) gentleman. Mr. B’s yard was the pride of the neighborhood, daily manicured with loving care by this older man, I was of six years old so anyone over the advanced age of twelve was ancient, but Mr. B. also carried the  image of an elder and a family patriarch . Little neighborhood children were constantly vexing Mr. B by carelessly running onto his lawn, or making irritating  loud noises at the B’s  quite times* or dinner time, which our parents agreed was disrespectful to elders and other neighbors. Our neighborhood catholic church was Immaculate Conception, Irish Catholic church where the Filipinos worshiped at 6 AM, the Irish Catholic worshiped at 9 AM, and the Blacks worshiped at 11 AM on Sunday mornings. Mr. B was a devoted member of Immaculate, and after Mass  he would look in on his plants and vegetables, in an expert and loving manner as did his neighbors with similar maintained lawns and gardens.

The only threat to our peace and tranquility were the racist Seattle neighborhood vandals and young white thugs, who burned down all three of our movie theaters and sanctioned young “Wilding Gangs”; comprised of vindictive white youth that recklessly sped through our community, beating up and molesting Black women and children, without fear of police reprisals.  The minute people heard the roaring engines and wild hooting and laughter, accented by squealing tires as they tore around looking for victims, our neighbors would shout out their doors and windows, “They’re coming!”  and open their doors to their threatened neighbors on the street. My family’s babysitter was only two blocks from our home; we heard the alarms from women calling children and adults to seek safety, my siblings and I looked around in stark terror being too tiny to make it home safely, fearing our imminent doom we looked up plaintively at  Mr. B standing on his porch.  Mr. B. signaled us to climb the 15 steps to waiting sanctuary, which seemed a million miles long and took our tiny little legs  forever to ascend, all the time transfixed on Mr. B’s urgent plea and extended welcoming hand. He patted us on the shoulder and gently positioned us at the entrance of his front door, our guardian then readied himself to protect these little Black kids if necessary, and we breathlessly looked up to our hero with admiration and gratitude.

Our nemeses’ never appeared to attack us that day, though their hideous screeching of tires could be heard in the dim background, we believed it was safe to scurry the block and a half to our home. We profusely thanked Mr. B as we headed down to the sidewalk; Mr. B patted us on the shoulder and assured us that everything was “okay”, as we dashed toward home we looked back at the reassuring smiling savior one last time. From that day on neighborhood children took special care to avoid tramping Mr. B’s lawn, we made certain we didn’t play around his home at “Quiet times” and dinner time, and we always smiled and said hello to Mr. B and his family whenever we saw them. My siblings, all the neighbor children and myself, received the same care and support from our courageous adults when the Wilding Gangs appeared. It didn’t matter what their race, creed, or color of our Community Adults were, we had faith that our elders would always love us and protect us. I specifically wrote this story about Mr. B because I have always cherished my Filipino neighbor youth (born in the Philippines) and Filipino school mates, church parishioners,  and their families, for their love, loyalty, and strength of character.  I also  had the honor of working with the  “Asian Pacific Islanders” (Pinoy) student group at Shoreline Community College in the 1990’s, whose president went from being a street tough on a destructive path, to conversing and sharing a podium with President Bill Clinton. I would hope that we could go back to being good neighbors and protecting one another, celebrating and embracing our diverse cultures, maybe my 1950’s Boomer generation can start this process of loving thy neighbor in earnest.

*PS. Quiet times relates to being a toddler taking needed naps, which allowed the adults to have a break, and it was also down time for working people after a long day. J

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Martial Artists Dan Inosanto and Jesse Glover important students of Bruce Lee (In Memoriam  to Jesse Glover by Dan Inosanto)