Over the next several days, many will come together to participate in banquets and luncheons to observe the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I will not be one of them. Rather I shall pause and recognize his greatness and his contributions to the advancement of people of color. I might simply sit still or search on my computer for programming related to his “I have a dream speech.” Going to a luncheon in his honor is not an option for me.
There was a time when I went to luncheons where we honored people other than Dr. King for reasons that I do not know, listened to long speeches, ate dry chicken and spent a ton of money in an establishment that we did not own; and, in most cases, those serving or even checking coats did not look like me. For the past several years, I have taken a similar position.
It is nice to have a day off from work, have schools closed and have positive feelings about nearly the entire country being progress in an “economic perspective.”
What I shall write this year I shall write as often as I can until enough of us internalize his message. Had Dr. King lived, I believe that the marches would have long ended, the speeches would have dissipated and specific strategies for economic progress would have been instituted.
Today, I remain where I was in previous years: in a place that I am reminded of constantly, not just on Dr. King’s birthday. Whenever we come together as Blacks at large social gatherings, I am reminded of what could have been with some planning and due diligence, back in the day.
I have been asking for some time, “What in the world is wrong with us?” Celebrations focused on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are not needed for me to raise this question. I know that some are saying this appeared in last year’s column and other MLK columns. Looking beyond the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and Black History Month, there are other times that we come together to celebrate events. We participate in a wide range of activities sponsored by our churches, fraternities, sororities, social organizations and colleges. This is also true of weddings, anniversaries and funerals.
I do not have to remind you of what we do. We spend thousands of dollars, in facilities that we do not own and facilities that do not even employ our people. I cannot identify any other racial group that fails to have an economic agenda associated with their business, religious, civic and social activities.
With pride, my father would share with me how Black people, due to segregation and Jim Crow Laws, had places of their own. You might recall places right here in Philadelphia that we patronized when fancy halls or hotel ballrooms were unavailable to us for our wedding receptions, birthday parties, dances, reunions, meetings and other gatherings in the past. Such places as Trott Inn, Ebony Lounge, Postal Card, Pyramid Club, Barber’s Hall, Reynold’s Hall, O.V. Catto Hall and New Jersey’s, Tippin Inn and Loretta’s High Hat are among those Black-owned and operated establishments. These places could hardly accommodate large gatherings. But, they were ours and they were the beneficiaries of our hard-earned monies. These establishments, given time, could have possibly blossomed into credible places to host large groups.
What happened? Integration came along and destroyed our Black gathering places, just like it destroyed many other establishments from which we benefited. Education can be included in the mix. Several years ago, in a MLK column, I mentioned giving thought to the role that churches could play in hosting our events. A number of churches have facilities associated with their sanctuaries that could accommodate banquets. My own church, the Salem Baptist Church now located in Roslyn, with its large banquet hall, will soon be in the forefront of the movement to use churches for our gatherings. I am confident that our celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will take place in Salem’s banquet hall in 2021. We should hold our social events, including wedding receptions in establishments that we own, hire our own people and recycle our money. We did this during segregation and the Jim Crow era, back in the day.
I have gone down this road on numerous occasions, but I have not become weary of this trip. Whether it involves personal services or dances, luncheons, elaborate galas or other affairs, we must understand the relationship between money and power. Let us use next year’s MLK birthday celebration to take a step toward using our facilities in a manner as those who paved the way for our advances.
In keeping with my attitude about MLK celebrations, I repeat words from the past. In part, these words are: Every year I ask myself if I will live to see the day when we, as a race, will have a first-class banquet hall or hotel; a place where we can celebrate our Martin Luther King Jr. luncheons, Black History Month luncheons, wedding receptions, family reunions, cabarets, fraternal and social club activities and those many other affairs that require accommodations for a large gathering.
Being in the fourth quarter of my life, the answer is most painfully, no. It is indeed regrettable that in spite of our improved levels of education, improved housing and improved earnings that we have been unable to continue in the footsteps of our parents and grandparents. There is no reason we should not be patronizing places that we own, especially for MLK celebrations, just as our ancestors celebrated their events, back in the day.