"If I were lucky I would go to jail for a long time. If I were not quite so lucky I would come back to campus in a pine box." Franklin McCain
Two days ago Mr. Franklin McCain passed away. Did you know his name? Could you point out his picture? Do you know his story, his bravery? He was one of the four men known as the Greensboro four who sat at a whites only Woolworth's counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960. They waited and waited. They were not served that day and came back again. The events became known nationally as sit-ins. I will remind you here, that they were teenagers. That this was North Carolina. That these were the sixties. Somebody say southern trees.
We downplay the struggle of those who came before us. As if their service was as bare as sitting. For hours. For no service. As if they were sitting for the ambrosial melt of a white woman's cobbler. As if their sitting had nothing to do with us, five decades later. And here we are now, with our educated selves and sky pointed noses criticizing the weighty offers of our primogenitures. As if we know something about a dog our back. Water spewed like fire from hoses combusting our skin. What do we know about wiping spit from our faces? We know what we benefit. We know the easy of valet. We know press on nails at any boutique. We know schools and bookstores and malls and water fountains we had no privilege of before. We know bus rides and voting rights and theaters. You think they had nothing to do with this?
Justly we hold up black raised fists at Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant rallies screaming revision of an American dream that has never included us without bloodshed. Without gnashing teeth and bodies swinging from trees or shot down in streets. Our foremothers and fathers put their lives on the lines. They did not fight this revolution in pajamas battling between Twitter posts and Facebook statuses. They were ordinary women and men who used what they had and literally put their lives on the line to make a difference that would make a difference for us. You think "The ballot or the bullet" was a clever bumper sticker Brother Malcolm came up with? Have you read Brother Martin's "Letter from a Birmingham jail?"
Mr. McCain was the last of the four who sat on that counter February 1. Our elders are leaving the planet so fast. It is up to us now. To fight a fight bigger than our own survival. How are we making a difference for our children? How are we remembering and honoring those who came before? How will future generations look back and remember us? There is fighting to do. Not lunch counters. Not water fountains. Shout out to the ancestors. What you know about privatized prisons? What you know about white judges sitting on benches with only their agendas in mind? What's up with all these babies missing and murdered? Unfair sentences to black and brown defendants. All this work there is to do around social justice and civil rights. It is our turn now. Our turn for more than hipster tees and colored sneaks. It is high time we remember that if it wasn't for the sacrifice of those before us we wouldn't be walking into Jimmy Choo for fancy kicks. For what are we giving our lives? Our art and hearts? What keeps us up at night? How will we messy our fists to the bone for a better tomorrow? And what are we teaching our children about work there is to do?