Albert Murray, drawing support from the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam, challenged assumptions about art and music in his essays, “Stomping the Blues” and “South to a Very Old Place.”
When we met, he lived at Lenox Terrace; I say to my students, I didn’t say a word until I was passed 40 years old, I just listened. Now gone, Duke Ellington, Romare Bearden, Marian McPartland, Cedar Walton, Ralph Ellison and so it goes the old guard is fading and we are hopeful that the new guard will pick up the torch for freedom.
50 Years Ago
“I have a dream,” I knew when I heard this these words I was in the presence of greatness; but the “ah ha!” moment came serially and periodically—over time.
I was there because the minister of Saint Paul’s church was going, my dad—Wallace Ruckert, director of development of UNCF—was going, I had friends who were going, and it was the right thing to do. Civil Rights were a long time coming.
The Quaker’s knew, they ran the Underground Railroad in Boston. Louisa May Alcott, famed writer, was for equal rights in men and woman. Her friends Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau all stood for the end of slavery. As you look at history thinking people, people who read, and love, jump in the deep end.
I knew the day I was born I was lucky. In less than an hour I arrived and left skid marks across the delivery room. I am reported to have screamed “TADA,” no crying, born into a “functional" family. We hold meetings in a phone booth now!
I got to sing at Rallies because I know the second verse of “Lift Every Voice,” if you study with me you MUST register to vote! My generation belonged to political clubs; it gave us some power to move things along. I will say although my young friends are “somewhat involved,” most have not picked up the torch I dropped.
Because of the work for Civil Rights, I got to be friends with James Baldwin and his whole family; he lived on my street, his brother David was a bartender at Mikell’s jazz club. I got to meet Albert Murray who died last week at 95, Bill Miles whose film “Men of Bronze,” was also on the march, got involved at the Schomberg Center; my life became rich and textured, my thinking became more relevant, and I got to meet many silent soldiers, and people who carried money, risking their own lives to get to folks living on the edge of disaster.
I hope young people will be energized and drawn to the march and history, and will carry the torch to a finish line for:
1) Equal rights for men and woman
2) Make a minimum wage a living wage
3) Voting Rights are in danger (Texas and North Carolina- Wake up!)