Monthly Archives: August 2007

Considering BTW’s Atlanta Address

By Ronald Court

Some time ago, I sent an e-mail to Gale-Thompson Inc., bibliography publishers, to object to their reference of BTW’s 1895 speech at the Atlanta Exposition as the Atlanta “compromise.” The company recently acknowledged that it will no longer use that pejorative term, which was, after all, coined years later by WEB DuBois in disparaging Booker T’s advocacy of a non-confrontational approach to solving “the race problem.”

Booker T. spoke of much more in that famous speech. Read it for yourself, along with an excellent interpretation of it by Gloria Y. Jackson, Booker T. Washington’s own great grand-daughter here.

Remembering Max Roach

By Ronald Court

One of the greatest drummer-musicians of all time died last week in Manhattan. He was remembered for his contribution, not only to the world of music, but also for a militant expression during the Civil Rights Movement.

At a Miles Davis/Gil Evans concert at Carnegie Hall in 1961, Max, who felt Miles was “too centered” on civil-rights, staged a one-man protest by marching to the edge of the stage holding a “Freedom Now” placard.

Max & Miles. Their instruments and music reflected very different natures. Miles’ trumpet is a one-note-at-a-time, front of the crowd instrument. Yet Miles’ classic, “Kind of Blue” exposed a sure, slow patient side to Miles’ nature. Drums, on the other hand, are to an untrained ear, background, loud and fast. Yet Max’s break-through playing exhibits a mastery of complex riffs and timing, sometimes impatient yet always in control of the pulse.

Consider two people striving to reach the same destination. One is by nature, more patient, forgiving and aware that hard work…and time… is required to secure the help of others in order to assure a safer, more secure route to the destination. The other is rather impatient and unwilling to let go of lingering anger or resentment “issues.” For him, to criticise, complain and control is quicker and more satisfying than attempting to change hearts and minds.

Which approach is quicker, longer lasting, with fewer ill side-effects?
BTW at Carnegie Hall
Ask any shrink.
Just as we admire Max Roach for his God-given talent and skill, let us also honor Booker T. for his patient, forgiving nature. After all, 55 years earler, Booker T. paved the way for Miles and Max’s appearance at Carnegie Hall by himself being featured on that very stage in 1906.
(Note: that’s Sam Clemens [Mark Twain] seated behind BTW.)

A Woman with CharacterPower

By Ronald Court

I recently read of the death of Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, age 90 in Gloucester, VA. In 1944, eleven years before Rosa Parks, she refused to move to the back of the bus. Read her NYTimes obit here.

She paid a fine for kicking a sheriff but refused to pay a much smaller fine for refusing to move. This woman of integrity and character planted the seed for a winning NAACP strategy that had to wait until the time was right. Irene Morgan’s case, argued in part by a young NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall, went all the way to the US Supreme Court. She won.

But another decade elapsed before the strategy could be executed. Conditions needed to be right. In 1955, the same act, this time by Rosa Parks, a part-time NAACP volunteer worker, sparked sufficient wide-spread concern to make a lasting difference.

The marches, riots and oratory of ML King Jr. following Rosa Parks’ action might well have gone unnoticed as well, had not the new technology of television exposed the ugly face of segregation to the Nation, and indeed, to the world.

Booker T. could not have been aware of the advent or impact of TV, but he clearly foresaw that social progress would take time — and a lot of it. He knew the first priority for Blacks had to be to focus on and achieve economic progress while affording Whites time to absorb a ‘new social order.’ Arguably, time has proven Booker T’s assessment to be correct.


By Ronald Court

While in North Carolina last week, my son and I saw Ratatouille, a delightful Pixar animated film that really is for all ages. It’s about a rat who becomes a chef. The villian (every film has one, you know) is a food critic aptly named, “Anton Ego.”

Ego’s monologue about being a critic is as ageless as it is priceless:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

It’s too bad DuBois couldn’t recognize the bitter truth instead of simply being, well, bitter. His literary prowess, such as it was, is nothing when measured against Booker T’s. accomplishments. It had to grate. Consider: Here’s DuBois, the first Negro with a genuine Harvard PhD, barely recognized for his work while this Southern (read “poor and poorly educated”) Negro gets high praise North & South, including an honorary degree from Harvard. So to get attention (why else?) what does he do? He praises Booker T., then seeks to work for him, then takes an opposite tack by criticizing him. Honest historians today would label DuBois a “flip-flopper.”

Continuing Anton Ego’s monologue from the film:

“…only now do I truly understand … Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest…”

Too bad DuBois failed to achieve the epiphany that Anton Ego did.

Small world…

By Ronald Court

So there I was last week, having breakfast in the Morrisville Cafe in North Carolina. I was in town to visit my son, who had gone off to work for the day. I was wearing my brand new BTWS baseball cap.

The owner was behind the counter, apparently studying me while I stared at my plate, trying to decide whether or not I liked grits. After a bit, he reached into his pocket for something and placed a genuine Booker T. Washington half-dollar in front of me!

BTWcoin back

BTW coin reverse

To know more about BTW Commemorative coins, click here. Thank you Booker T. for creating yet another bond of rapport between the North and South. I’m going to wear my BTWS cap more often.
And I will learn to like grits.

(click to enlarge)

Black-on-Black & Lynching

By Ronald Court

OK. so this is a really touchy subject, but the 3 execution-style murders (4 attempted) of high school students in Newark NJ this week got to me. We don’t know whether the murderer(s) were white or black. To me, it doesn’t matter. They were horrific crimes.

It got me thinking about lynching. We know and feel how horrific even the thought of lynching is today. But how many were lynched? Where? Over what period of time?

Booker T. Washington was there and kept records. I’ll post his chart when I have time later. The results may surprise you, but I’ll summarize here.

Over a 40 plus year period, the murder-by-mob (which is what lynching is including burning, etc) total averaged out to about 50 per year. One person a week. Most (but not all) were black.

My guess is you think it was way more than fifty murder-by-mob annually across ten Southern states. But there you have it. Five lynchings per state per year. A wonton disregard of (mostly) blacks by white mobs per year.

What about today? How wanton is the disregard of the lives of blacks by black mobs today? I happened on a website reporting on black-on-black crime (click here) in just one Arkansas county.

Look at those numbers. Where’s the outrage? they seem to suggest that it’s really not about color (eg: white vs black) but about mobs and a breakdown in law and order. So why the continued stirring up of blacks vs whites (hear me, Al Sharpton) when the focus should be on, dare I say it… law and order?

Booker T. Washington spoke up for law and order. Even when applied unfairly (eg: segregation), he believed that the way… the only way.. was through lawful redress, no matter how long it may take.

Booker T. spoke and wrote against lynchings. Read his remarks here. He knew, in a way his detractors never understood, that violence against even unjust laws would in time, breed disregard for any law. If only more had followed his lead then and since, perhaps the execution of four innocent teenagers in Newark this week would not have happened.

Common Sense

By Ronald Court

It never ceases to amaze me how Booker T’s down-to-earth approach to practical living continues to be so relevant, even 90 years after he has passed on.
I went in for my semi-annual teeth cleaning this afternoon. (Well, OK. My last visit really was two years ago.) During one of those, “Rinse. Now” breaks, I suggested to the dental hygenist that she tell me about herself while she picked away. As I lay there, mouth wide open and finger-full, she volunteered that she had a college degree in English… “But after I graduated, I realized I needed to make a living, so I went back to school and became a dental hygenist.”

Booker T. spent his whole life trying to get us to use common sense in the choices we make. And his work is still not done.