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Every Forty Years

Posing with Angela Davis, April 2008

Posing with Angela Davis, April 2008

     The gist of this post came to me earlier this year back in April when I attended a conference in Charleston, South Carolina.  The conference coincided with a guest lecture by the amazing Angela Davis at the College of Charleston.  At the start of her lecture, she reminded us that the month of April marked the 40th anniversary (is that the right word?) of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  I am a bit ashamed to say that if she had not mentioned it, I would have completely forgotten.

      So I started reading about events that happened in this country forty years ago.  The year 1968 saw more political dissatisfaction and social change compared to what we are seeing today.  Then I started to go back another forty years.  And another.  And another.  I started to notice that approximately every forty years, this world has seen monumental change (either socially, culturally, or politically) that has dramatically altered everything that came after.

THE YEAR 2008

     What we experienced this year was a wave of change that rushed through the American people with amazing force.  Barack Obama was, undoubtedly, the central figure in this year’s series of national and global events.  However, more important than Barack Obama becoming president was HOW he became president.  Obama will be the next U.S. president primarily because of the huge wave of dramatic change that was a year in the making.

I want to be clear about what I’m saying here.  We know that every year has a series of important news items around the world.  But there was something special about this year 2008 in particular.  The events that happened this year have either necessitated monumental change or represented monumental change or were initiated by monumental change.

For example, economically, we saw several countries affected by an American financial meltdown the likes of which haven’t been seen since the late 1920s.  This economic shift necessitates monumental change.  Politically, we have seen record numbers of voters who were simply fed up.  A record number of voters…all wanting to overthrow the government through the election process.  George W. Bush, arguably the worst president we’ve ever had, has led the country down a horrible path.  He has grabbed the all-time record for lowest presidential approval rating with 19%.  (Ironically, Dubya also holds the record for the highest presidential approval rating ever with 92% after the September 11 attacks in 2001.)

Eight years ago, the people wanted a president they could relate to…a president they could sit and have a beer with.  And that’s what they got.  I don’t want a president I could drink with.  My president must be smarter than me.  My president has to solve problems that I don’t have the brains, courage, or tenacity to solve.  I think the American people saw this and voted for monumental change in the form of Barack Obama.

By the way…the year 2008 is also THE greatest year in the history of sports.  (Click the links below to see two separate sports writers explain why).

From the New York Post, August 2008:

http://www.nypost.com/seven/08172008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/2008__the_greatest_year_in_sports__124842.htm

From Fox Sports.com, July 2008:

http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/8333044?MSNHPHCP&GT1=39002

Anyway…now let’s move backward forty years…

THE YEAR 1968

     This proved to be the most violent year of the decade.  Martin Luther King Jr. (civil rights leader, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and the only civilian to have a national holiday in his honor) was assassinated in April of 1968.  Two months later (almost to the day), the Democratic presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy (who was also the U.S. Attorney General, a U.S. Senator, and civil rights champion) was assassinated.  The country has never experienced a more profound collective grief after losing these two beacons of hope and change.

This year also saw the Democratic National Convention in Chicago become disrupted by the violence and unrest outside (and inside) the convention.  This was the year of the protest.  In March, a group of Howard University students took over the administration building and effectively shut down the campus in protest over the policies of compulsory ROTC participation, as well as the college’s refusal to sanction a campus charter of the SNCC.  One month later (almost to the day), students of Columbia University in New York took over the administration buildings and effectively shut down the campus in protest over the university’s affiliation with a weapons research institution with links to the Vietnam War.

The spring of 1968 also saw the student protests in France that led to a revolutionary shift in societal thought, taking the French from a nation of religious and conservative existence to one of “equality, sexual liberation, [and] human rights” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_1968).

For an amazing (and rather long) article detailing the personal accounts of six writers as they reflect on the spring of 1968, click the following link:

 http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_2_spring_1968.html

For another interesting link on the comparisons between 1968 and 2008, click the following link:

http://blog.beliefnet.com/progressiverevival/2008/11/yes-we-did.html

THE YEAR 1928

The year 1928 brings us to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance – the exploding cultural revolution in which Black artists, writers, musicians, educators, and social activists began representing themselves in entirely new ways.  The significance of the Harlem Renaissance is dramatic in that it redefined how the world viewed Blacks in the United States.  A completely new Black identity was born.  There was the blossoming of writers like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen.  There were the commanding and infectious performances of musicians such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie.  There was the 1928 transformation of the Apollo Theater, as well as the frenzied popularity of the Cotton Club (with Duke Ellington’s orchestra serving as the house band.)

The late ’20s saw the height of an incredibly large technological and industrial advancement.  By the year 1928, over 16 million Ford automobiles were sold, leading to the blossoming of such tangential by-products as the motel, the gas station, the freeway, and the entire oil industry.  The very first mass marketing medium (the radio) was taking control of the country with such fervor that regulation was created in the form of the Federal Radio Commission in 1927.  The country was becoming connected by a growing infrastructure of highway networks and telephone lines.  An American mass exodus took place from the quiet life of rural towns into the fast paced, technologically advanced urban areas.

This year also marked the beginning of another cultural phenomenon that would dramatically change the world forever.  In 1928, John L. Baird beamed the first color television transmission.  It was beamed from England to the United States, making it the first trans-atlantic transmission of a moving image.  (The year before, he beamed the first long-distance television pictures a distance of 438 miles.)

THE YEAR 1888

     The year 1888 is the dead center of the ten years of cases that eventually relegated Black Americans to the status of second-class citizens.  It began in 1883 with what is now known as “The Civil Rights Cases.”  The decision of the Supreme Court basically stated that the 14th Amendment did not technically say Congress had to intervene in civil rights violations or private acts of discrimination.  This led to the “separate but equal” ruling of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, as well as decades and decades of Black segregation until the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.  These years were monumental because these Supreme Court decisions essentially gave the entire private sector the approval to discriminate based on race (hence, the beginnings of the “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” signs in several establishments.)

THE YEAR 1848

     This year was so tumultuous that it is now known as the Year of the Revolution.  Imagine a national uprising of working and unemployed citizens that took hold so fiercely that it spread like a contagion across all of Europe.  Mass national revolutions took place in several European countries…so many, in fact, that England, Russia, the Netherlands, and Serbia were the only countries without a revolution.

This year also marked the publication of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, laying the groundwork for the working class revolution of the entire class system and the abolition of capitalism.

For a PDF copy of the Communist Manifesto, click here:

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm

For one website’s summary and analysis of the Communist Manifesto, click here:

http://www.indepthinfo.com/communist-manifesto/index.shtml

THE YEAR 1808

     On January 1 of 1808, the United States finally banned the importation of slaves into the country.  (Of course, this was the result of a compromise years earlier in which it was agreed that Congressional representation by southern states would be greatly increased by regarding each slave as the equivalent of 3/5 of a free person.)  The 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade should have a bit more importance in this country.  Why this was not memorialized or even mentioned this year back in January is beyond me.  Click here to see one blogger’s very eloquent (but pretty long) discussion of the slave trade and its repercussions.

   http://kathmanduk2.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/black-history-month-january-1-1808/

FINAL THOUGHTS

     Looking back through these events, when I think about the significance of the number forty in this way, I can’t help but think there may be something beyond our understanding.  We have the biblical stories of 40 years of wandering in the desert, 40 days and nights of flooding before the water subsided, and 40 days of Christ’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness. 

     Perhaps Douglas Adams was not too far off with the number 42 being the ultimate “Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.”  Now if we could only determine the question.

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One comment on “Every Forty Years

  1. James
    November 9, 2008

    I’m glad to see another person mentioning the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. I agree that it should have received much more attention this year.

    There have been a number of conferences and memorial events, including a symposium at the National Archives in Washington in January and a very public commemoration in Providence, R.I. in September. (R.I. was the nation’s leading slave-trading state.) And Congress did pass a law establishing a commission to arrange commemorations for the anniversary, but it was never funded.

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This entry was posted on November 9, 2008 by in Black America, Musings, Revolution and tagged , , , , .

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