(TOP: Me and my Godbrother, Dwight Geddes, at the Tenth Annual Women’s History Conference on 3/8/08; MIDDLE: Me and my sister, Denia, at the Tenth Annual Women’s History Conference on 3/8/08; BELOW: Me and Chana Kai Lee on 3/7/08)
I know its been a long time since I’ve posted anything particularly personal, but I thought I would let my Ellison piece just marinate a bit on this blog. Even though I’ve gotten few replies. This time I just thought I would share my gratefulness at having a staged reading of my first play Living Sacrifice at the Tenth Annual Women’s History Conference at Sarah Lawrence College (SLC) in Bronxville, New York. This staged reading took place last month on March 7th and 8th. I am most grateful to the SLC theater majors who acted in this staged reading: Tonya Edmonds who read the indomitable part of Ms. Hamer, Gary Ploski who read the parts of Bill Moyers, Ed King, and Hubert Humphrey, and Laura Brown who read the parts of Verna Canson, Annie Devine, Victoria Gray-Adams (whom I was grateful to meet in September of 2005 before she made her transition) and Ella Baker. I am most grateful to have met one biographer whose work my play is based on (the other biographer, Kay Mills was extraordinarily helpful also in my writing this play by providing an interview she did with Ms. Hamer’s husband Pap). This biographer was the Friday night keynote speaker, University of Georgia Professor of History, Dr. Chana Kai Lee (in photo with myself above). It was so edifying to talk to her and discuss her upcoming work, which I hope to feature on WBAI’s Tuesday Arts Magazine. Lee captured aspects of Ms. Hamer’s life that were not captured before: the incredibly strong relationship with her mother (which is symbolized by the doll her mother gives her, of which I make a very strong presence in my play), and the labor organizing Ms. Hamer did with the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union and the successful Tribbett strike of 1965. Instead of letting the infamous 1964 two-seat compromise from Johnson disappoint her about the political process, she resolves to work at the local level and encourages laborers to strike unless they are paid better. Such an inspiration. What makes Ms. Hamer so relevant to my life is her faith. The liberation struggle in which she was engaged was embedded within her faith. You could not separate these two parts. I really personally, honestly and truly wish that the liberation struggle would be more embedded in the faith of so many more people around me. I am so disappointed with the high number of fellow believers who just gladly accept the status quo. This was not something that Jesus Christ did. He overturned the table of the money changers. Change in society is something that ALL believers should try and work at. Earlier this month, Michael Eric Dyson on Book TV’s In-Depth put it best when he said: “The Black Church was founded in politics. The White Church refused to subordinate its politics to its theology and in fact it flipped it; it subordinated its theology to its politics. It said, not only about love and God and let’s all fellowship together—forget that: we don’t want to worship and celebrate with black people. So they kicked us out. You can’t kick us out and then tell us what to say.” This is why white supremacy is so dangerous; because although it seems harmless and is certainly not identified as such, it is what the White Church’s politics are. It is what its theology is subordinated to, and then it has the nerve to kick black people out and then try and police what they can say. This I believe is the root of the American media’s problem with Jeremiah Wright’s words. The White American Church has subordinated its theology to its racist white supremacist politics. This is the root of why the doctrines of Pat Robertson and Eckhart Tolle are so problematic. The video at the following link shows Oprah maligning Jesus in a comparable way to the way that white racists malign Jesus when she says that she believes in Jesus but believes there is more than one way to get to heaven (or that one should not worry about an afterlife: http://www.transworldnews.com/NewsStory.aspx?id=42886&cat=14). This is a contradiction. Muslims fight vigorously against what they see as defamation of Muhammad. Oprah defames Christ by saying she believes in him yet adding there are other ways to get to the father. In my humble opinion, she is saying this to please her white audience. Especially her white, wealthy, Jewish, King World owning audience who take many opportunities to defame Christ in different ways. This has definitely emerged as Oprah’s popularity has increased. Her faith seems to have taken a back seat to white supremacy; like bread and natural cane sugar, and the Gospel, when you bleach it white, you lose all the nutrients from the original. The role of the Church should not be subordinated to white supremacy. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. fought against and this is what Fannie Lou Hamer fought against. Their faith was inseparable from their liberation struggle. You must read For Freedom’s Sake by Chana Kai Lee who I believe right now is working on another woman whose faith was inseparable from her politics: Rosa Parks. I look forward to reading that. Another important woman in African American History whose liberation struggle for herself and others is Harriet Tubman. I think that Kate Clifford Larson does an absolutely remarkable job in describing and respecting the faith of Ms. Tubman in her liberation struggle. I appreciate reading the experiences of male workers of the Underground Railroad as well. Stamp Paid is perhaps my most favorite character (along with Guitar and Reverend Misner) in all of Toni Morrison’s novels. This excerpt resonates with me the most:
“But sneaking was his job–his life; though always for a clear and holy purpose. Before the War all he did was sneak: runaways into hidden places, secret information to public places. Underneath his legal vegetables were the contraband humans that he ferried across the river. Even the pigs he worked in the spring served his purposes. Whole families on the bones and guts he distributed to them. He wrote their letters and read to them the ones they received. He knew who had dropsy and who needed stovewood; which children had a gift and which needed correction. He knew the secrets of the Ohio River and its banks; empty houses and full; the best dancers, the worst speakers, those with beautiful voices and those who could not carry a tune. There was nothing interesting between his legs…Even if Sethe could deal with the return of the spirit, Stamp didn’t believe her daughter could…To this day he believed his berries (which sparked the feast and the wood chopping that followed) were the reason Denver was still alive. Had he not been there, chopping firewood, Sethe would have spread her baby brains on the planking” (169-170). Stamp Paid is awesome. -RF.