Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Wisdom from our ancestors

30th April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By A. Peter Bailey Columnist

As election year 2012 moves rapidly along, it is very useful for us to pay heed to some observations made by three of our ancestors — in this case Frederick Douglass, Williams Sanders Scarborough, a former president of Wilberforce University, Ohio and Zora Neale Hurston.

Douglass, in an “Address to the People of the United States,” delivered on September 25, 1883 at a Convention of Colored Men in Louisville, Kentucky, said, “Though the colored man is no longer subject to barter and sale, he is surrounded by an adverse settlement which fetters all his movements. In his downward course he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress. If he comes in ignorance, rags and wretchedness he conforms to the popular belief of his character, and in that character he is welcome; but if he shall come as a gentleman, a scholar and a statesman, he is hailed as a contradiction to the national faith concerning his race, and his coming is resented as impudence. In one case he may provoke contempt and derision, but in the other he is an affront to pride and provokes malice.”

Scarborough, in an address on Feb. 11, 1899 at a Lincoln Day Banquet in Dayton, Ohio, warned, “I would be false to the race and my own convictions did I not pause to give the warning that, after all, neither parties nor politics alone can save the Negro. He needs to make a new start in his civil and political career. He must pay less attention to politics and more to business, to industry, to education, to the building up of a strong and sturdy manhood everywhere — to the assimilation generally of all that goes to demand the world’s respect and consideration. He must lop off, as so many incubi, the professional Negro office-holder, and the Negro politician who aspires to lead the race, for the revenue that is in it. The best men, the wisest, the most unselfish, and above all, the men of the most profound integrity and uprightness, must take the helm or retrogression will be the inevitable result. Politics followed as an end has been the curse of our race. Under it problems have multiplied, and under it the masses have remained longer than they should in the lower stage of development. Only in the hands of men of noble mold, and used only as a means to an end, can politics accomplish the highest good for all the race.”

Zora Neale Hurston, in a 1928 essay, “How It Feels To Be Colored,” declared “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it…. No, I do not weep at the world – I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

All one can say in immediate response to these three perceptive observations is thanks and amen.

This article was originally published in the April 30, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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