In 1979 when I was a legislative aide to Senator Birch Bayh, a Democrat from Indiana, I had the extreme privilege of playing a role in the passage of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday legislation.
It all started when Senator Ted Kennedy, Democrat from Massachusetts, asked Bayh to attend a meeting in his office. I went with him, and when we arrived at the Senator’s office, Mrs. Coretta Scott King and Congressman John Conyers were there. Mrs. King asked the Senators to conduct a hearing on legislation to create the holiday. Conyers had attempted to hold hearings in the House of Representatives, but because of the strong southern opposition to such a holiday, he was never able to get any movement. Mrs. King and Congressman Conyers felt that holding hearings in the Senate would open up discussion, both pro and con, to a new holiday named after Dr. King.
As chairman of the Judiciary Committee and with Bayh being the ranking member, the two agreed to introduce the Bayh Bill, which was identical to the Conyers measure on the House side, and to hold two days of hearings. One of the most important functions of a staffer is to write floor statements for their bosses. The tone of the statement would also dictate the tone of the hearing. Kennedy and Bayh’s statements needed to reflect exactly why Dr. King deserved a national holiday in his name. That was a critical strategic consideration, and we knew that the statement had to reflect the universal nature of King’s work. It could not be limited to civil rights but had to encompass human rights. The message with the best expression on universal love was that portion of Dr. King’s 1963 delivery at the Lincoln Monument, “I Have a Dream,” where he articulated a world where color is no longer a factor but instead God’s love rules. No one could find fault with the message in those words. I also included in Bayh’s opening statement Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” where he writes about the importance of justice over laws.
As we prepared for the hearings, we knew the first obstacle we would confront was the tremendous amount of opposition from the southern senators, both on the Judiciary Committee and with the full body of the Senate. We were not disappointed. After the Senators who supported the legislation testified, they were followed by Senator Strom Thurmond, a Republican from South Carolina, and Senator Jesse Helms, a Republican from North Carolina. They were the two leaders of the opposition to the holiday. The key resistance outside Congress was the Liberty Lobby and its spokesperson, Stanley Rittenhouse, and Julia Brown (Brown was Black).
After many members from the Congressional Black Caucus testified in favor of the legislation, Mrs. King gave a passionate speech. She told the Senators, “That more than any other man, King was committed to achieving the words set out in the Declaration of Independence, and that all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights to include the pursuit of happiness through liberty.”
Unfortunately, Mrs. King’s words did not convince Thurmond, Helms, and the entire congregation of congressmen who opposed the holiday. Thurmond was the first to testify against the legislation. He argued that the holiday would be too expensive for the government after just having Christmas and New Year’s holidays. He suggested that since Dr. King was a preacher and Black Americans are religious, just have a day of recognition on the Sunday closest to his birthday. We overcame that opposition by having the Congressional Budget Office do a cost-benefit analysis. The study’s results indicated that the money spent on the holiday would bring in significant tax revenue for the government and quickly offset the money spent on holiday salaries for government employees. With the Congressional Budget Office figures, we could effectively dispel Thurmond’s claim of the cost. And we just dismissed his ridiculous suggestion that there be an observance of King on a Sunday. At that point, Thurmond backed off.
. . . prove that King had ever attended a communist meeting, had professed any allegiance to the communist doctrine, . . .
Helms’s opposition was based on his assertion that King was influenced by communists and may have been a communist. That argument was a “no-brainer.” We asked him to prove that King had ever attended a communist meeting, had professed any allegiance to the communist doctrine, and to reconcile how an ordained minister could possibly be a communist. This ideology essentially denies the existence of God. He was unable to support his position.
Despite the excessive attacks on Dr. King and the tremendous opposition to the holiday (there had never been a bill passed honoring a civilian with a national holiday), our supporters for the King holiday never gave up. Because we were able to place it on the congressional agenda and facilitate discussion, we only had to listen to the opposition and, one by one, destroy their arguments against the holiday.
After a four-year up-and-down battle, the legislation finally passed in the United States Senate by a vote of 78 to 22 in 1983. It subsequently passed in the House of Representatives with 338 to 90. When President Ronald Reagan finally signed the bill into law on November 2, 1983, he made the following statement: “Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be color blind and that among Black Americans, their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound with our freedom; we cannot walk alone.”
The most important remarks were by Mrs. King right after Reagan spoke. She summed up the importance of King to this country, stating: “In his own life’s example, he symbolized what was right about America, what was noblest and best, what human beings have pursued since the beginning of history. He loved unconditionally. He was in constant pursuit of truth, and when he discovered it, he embraced it.”
Celebrating African Culture with Kwanzaa
Like in many societies, people celebrate traditions and holidays to recognize their culture and create unity.
Kwanzaa (from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1) was created in 1966 as a way for Black people to acknowledge the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. Kwanzaa gets its name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” and is rooted in first-fruit celebrations, which are found in African cultures both in ancient and modern times. The 2022 theme is “Kwanzaa, Culture and the Practice of Freedom: A Message and Model For Our Times.” Kwanzaa was not created as an alternative to religious beliefs or the observance of religious holidays, but it is celebrated by more than 30 million people of African descent worldwide.
The Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba)
Kwanzaa has seven basic symbols and values that draw on the Swahili language, one of Africa’s most widely spoken languages. The central belief is that these values are universal truths and a universal way of life. These principles, also known as Nguzo Saba, are:
Day 1 Umoja (Unity): Unity of the family, community, nation, and race
Day 2 Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): Being responsible for your conduct and behavior
Day 3 Ujima (Collective work and responsibility): Working to help one another and the community
Day 4 Ujamaa (Cooperative economics): Working to build shops and businesses. Many who celebrate Kwanzaa will actively shop from Black businesses.
Day 5 Nia (Purpose): Remembering and restoring African and African American cultures, customs, and history
Day 6 Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it
Day 7 Imani (Faith): Believing in people, families, leaders, teachers, and the righteousness of the African American struggle.
. . . Kwanzaa gets its name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” and is rooted in first-fruit . . .
Each day, a candle is lit to highlight that day’s principle and bring meaning into the principles with various activities, such as reciting the sayings, reciting original poetry by Black authors, or sharing a meal of African-inspired foods.
The table is decorated with the symbols of Kwanzaa, such as the Kinara (Candle Holder), Mkeka (Mat), Muhindi (corn to represent the children), Mazao (fruit to represent the harvest), and Zawadi (gifts).
One might also see the colors of the Pan-African flag, red (the struggle), black (the people), and green (the future), represented throughout the space and in the clothing worn by participants. These colors were first proclaimed to be the colors for all people of the African diaspora by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born Black nationalist and leader of the Pan-Africanism movement, which sought to unify and connect people of African descent worldwide.
Why Celebrate Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is a chance for families and communities to come together to share a feast, honor their ancestors, and celebrate African and African American culture. The principles are great learning lessons for children based on values instead of consumerism.
On Dec. 26 at 7 pm, Melaneyes Media will host an online event to help people celebrate Kwanzaa. Through Zoom, the community is invited to honor the first day of Kwanzaa as a family and community. Event organizers will light the candle, discuss Unity, tell stories, and play games. The event is hosted by Melaneyes Media’s Aundar Ma’t and Born Logic Allah. To learn more, visit (MelaneyesMedia.com/Kwanzaa).
The results of the 2022 General Election in Texas confirmed that it is still a solidly entrenched Republican state. The Republican victories in all the state offices was staggering. The results for the six positions were as follows: 1) Governor: Gregg Abbott (R) 55% and Beto O’Rourke (D) 44%; 2) Lieutenant Governor-Dan Patrick (R) 54% and Mike Collier (D) 43%; 3) Attorney General – Ken Paxton (R) 53%, Rochelle Mercedes-Garza (D) 44%, and Mark Ash (L) 3%; 4) Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts-Glenn Hegar (R) 56%, Janet T. Dudding (D) 41%; and V. Alonzo Echevarria-Garza 3%; 5) Texas Land Commissioner-Dawn Buckingham (R) 56%, Jay Kleberg (D) 42%, and Alfred Molison (G) 2%; Texas Agriculture Commissioner-Sid Miller (R) 56% and Susan Hays (D) 44%; Texas Railroad Commissioner-Wayne Christian (R) 55%, Luke Warford (D) 41%, Jaime Andres Diez (L) 3%, and Hunter Wayne Crow (G) 1%.
In the Bexar County elections, the Democrats did much better. For the coveted position of Bexar County Judge-Peter Sakai (D) 57% and Trish DeBerry (R) 39%; Bexar County District Attorney-Joe Gonzales (D) 56% and Marc LaHood (R) 44%: Bexar County Commissioner Precinct 3-Grant Moody (R) 54% and Susan Korbel 46%; Commissioner Precinct 4-Tommy Calvert (D) 61% and Larry Rickets (R) 39%.
The Republican Party candidates also won the three open seats on the Texas Supreme Court and the three open seats on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. On both courts all nine justices are Republican.
. . . most important consideration in analyzing our system of government, the final arbiter are the people.
In the Texas State Legislature, the Republicans also dominated. In the 31 member-Senate, there are 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats. In the 150-member House of Representatives, there are 83 Republicans and 65 Democrats. With these figures, all is well in the Republican Party of Texas. They are in charge of the government’s executive, legislative and judicial branches.
They will undoubtedly make the eight legislative priorities adopted at this year’s State Republican Party Convention, the first order of business for the 150 days they will be in session. Those priorities are:
1. Protect the Elections;
2. Secure the Border and Protect Texans;
3. Bar Gender Modification of Children;
4. Stop Sexualizing Texas Kids;
5. Ban Democratic Chairs of Committees;
6. Abolish Abortion in Texas;
7. Defend Gun Rights, and
8. Parental Rights and Education Freedom.
With the kind of control, the Republicans will have as they go back into session, the Democrats are in for a very rough ride. In our democratic system of government, the majority sets the public policy issues to be debated and voted on in all legislative bodies. But in our constitutional democracy, the minority also must be given consideration in determining what is best for the people. That is true here in Texas.
Therefore, the party out of power plays a significant role in our system. They serve as a watchdog over the party in power and must be willing to challenge the decisions made in a substantive and responsive manner. Therefore, in no way are the Democrats not important, but to the contrary serve a critical role even out of power. That would be true for the Republicans if they were the minority party. The most important consideration in analyzing our system of government, the final arbiter are the people. As the Republican Party begins to consider the eight priorities mentioned above, they too must be cognizant of the Texas citizenry. If not their exercise of power could be short-lived.
Thanksgiving A Day of Mourning
In 1620, the Pilgrims did not bring any thanks when they boarded the Mayflower. Instead, they committed racial genocide. With 102 passengers, the Mayflower set sail in September 1620 to escape religious persecution in their hometown of Plymouth, England. They arrived near Cape Cod after a journey of 66 days and built a village near Massachusetts. About half of the original Mayflower crew perished in their first winter, but in the springtime, a settler brought a Native American named Squanto back to help the remaining colonists. The Pilgrims learned from Squanto how to grow corn, fish in rivers, and avoid poisonous plants. Instead of showing gratitude, it was the beginning of hatred that would endure for centuries.
William Bradford hosted a feast celebrating the first corn harvest and invited Squanto and several Native American allies to join them as a token of appreciation. Because there were no English-styled ovens, the feast was cooked using traditional Native American methods. Most historians use Pilgrim Edward Winslow’s written account of the event as a template for the intricate details of the feast.
Although the feast day was undoubtedly significant, it does not accurately reflect the extent of the colonists’ treatment of Native Americans. They slaughtered a large portion of the Native American population following their lavish feast, destroying their settlements and exposing them to diseases common in England but uncommon in their native land. The beginning of Native American genocide was marked by Christopher Columbus’s 1492 arrival on American soil when he brought diseases and brutality to the Americas. His adventures are documented in his journal, and he referred to Native People in ugly terms. The colonizers made use of their kindness and generosity by killing them. The majority of the Native population was eradicated by settlers or relocated to reservations so their land could be mined for resources.
. . . military officers were fully aware that using small-pox-laced blankets could reduce the Native American population.
Others believe that Thanksgiving began in 1637, when the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, established a day to commemorate colonial soldiers who had just killed hundreds of Pequot men, women, and children in the area that is now Mystic, Connecticut. The true history of Thanksgiving is frequently not taught in schools, resulting in a generation of children unaware of their history. Unsurprisingly, history is often told from the perspective of the winners. It is uniquely American to observe a holiday centered on gratitude while ignoring the horrifying ways Native Americans were exploited, murdered, and relocated. Remember the Washington “Red Skins” football team – a name that will go down in infamy!
In 1970, Wampanoag leader Frank B. James wrote these words in response to an invitation from the Massachusetts Department of Commerce for his “tribe” to participate in a Thanksgiving event: “This is a time of celebration for you, celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America … It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my people. Even before the Pilgrims landed [here], it was a common practice for explorers to capture ‘Indians,’ take them to Europe, and sell them as slaves … The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. … Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts. Yet he and his people welcomed and befriended the settlers … This action by Massaoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed … the white man with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end, ….”
Metacomet, the Wampanoag chief’s son, learned from his father’s mistake and rebelled against the English settlers. These English responded by dismembering and beheading Metacomet. They speared his head on a spike in Plymouth and viciously showed it there for a considerable time. This is what they did to enslaved Black people in Louisiana and other areas in America.
In the book “Invisible Armies” by Dr. Howard N. Simpson, he writes that “The Europeans were able to conquer America, not because of their military genius, religious motivation, ambition, or (even) greed. They used biological warfare to defeat it.” Author J. Leitch Wright Jr. also writes in his book “The Only Land They Knew” that British military officers were fully aware that using small-pox-laced blankets could reduce the Native American population.
The First Nations Development Institute’s spokesperson explained, “Narratives of a harmonious Thanksgiving celebration were created to justify westward expansion and Manifest Destiny.” The “Indian” Removal Act, Senate Bill 102, which President Andrew Jackson signed in 1830, is one of many examples of genocidal terrorism. Due to shootings, beatings, starvation, dysentery, whooping cough, cholera in the summer, pneumonia in the winter, and exposure to extreme weather, approximately 100,000 Native men, women, and children went through the grueling “Trail of Tears.” Many of them died on the way. Some of the women that were pregnant were stabbed to death, and some of Andrew Jackson’s men decorated their horses with dead fetuses.
Many African Americans celebrate the 4th of July as a family day and to remember the fight against the slave-owning founding fathers. Many Black folks celebrate Thanksgiving also as a day to unite with family and not for the reasons of hatred as it was originally intended. Does this mean Black folk should not come together on Thanksgiving? We need to unite at all times to celebrate love and family—but never to celebrate genocide or holidays that have been stripped of their true origins. During Thanksgiving, we need to let our children know about the fight against racism and educate them about what happened and how important it is to struggle against racist policies.
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