The spoken word is something that Africans have always excelled at. The sounds that tumble and bounce through our mouths and can soothe or singe those with ears to hear is a wonderful craft. Through speech we make meaning and do things together.
Today we can celebrate those African-Americans who have maintained this wonderful African verbosity and added their own genius to our civilization.
We might begin by wishing Eddie Murphy, that great comic actor and motor-mouth born in 1961, happy birthday today.
We may also want to remember James Madison Bell, born this day in 1826; Bell worked most of his life as a plasterer. His real calling though was poetry and especially the public recitation of his poems in the cause of abolishing slavery. For over 40 years he wrote, published and gave public readings of his orations in verse.
However today is not just a celebration of African-American birthdays. The father of African-American history died this day in 1950. Carter Godwin Woodson was an African-American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. A founder of Journal of Negro History, Woodson has been cited as the father of black history.
That schools have set aside a time each year to focus on African-American history is Woodson’s most visible legacy. We owe our yearly celebration of Black History Month to Woodson.
Perhaps though, the most poignant event in African-American oratory to recall today is a speech which Martin Luther King Junior gave today in 1968. It’s known as the “Mountain Top speech” because he gave this reply to a question from the audience:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”
The next day Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. We was just 39 years old.
So go and talk out loud about your life and your feelings and your vision. Don’t just write about it or bottle it up. Speak it out. Declaim it, and thereby reclaim your life this very day. It may be your last.
– Doug Racionzer (see also http://serendipiday.blogspot.com/)