By Carlton Lee Martin, 2018 President of the Marion County Bar Association, Indiana State Public Defender’s Office
There is a lot going on right now. T’Challa is on the verge of saving the world. Major budget cuts threaten to gut vital support for the least amongst us. And, it is Black History Month. Just a couple short weeks ago, I urged you to fire up the neurons of black history, and ensured that once you did, you would recognize its presence, respect it and advance the causes it stood for; however, I must admit, I skipped a step. I assumed most had a remembrance of black history. I assumed no mind had “unblazed” paths. Now, I will spend the next few moments with a match illuminating black history’s presence, illustrating why it’s worthy of respect and identifying the causes it stands for.
First, it’s presence. If you have spent one moment watching “Black Panther” (or “Fifty Shades Freed,” if you’re into that sort of thing) in one of Indianapolis’ movie theaters, you can thank Henry Johnson Richardson now. If you applied hair growth and conditioning products to get ready for the movie, you can thank Madam C.J. Walker now. If your house was warm while you were doing it, you can thank Alice Parker now. Prior to leaving, if you protected the valuables of your castle with a home security system, you can thank Marion Van Brittan Brown now. If you did not have to manually shift gears while speeding through a yellow traffic light because you were late to the movie, you can thank Richard Spikes and Garrett Morgan now. If you enjoyed that tasty bag of potato chips tucked away in your purse when you entered the movie theater, you can thank George Crum now. Lastly, if you experienced the movie in 3D, you can thank Marc Hannah; you guessed it, right now.
Next comes respect. Respect is defined as a deep admiration for someone or something, elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. As you can see above, black history has highlighted our abilities and virtuous qualities, yet the achievements of black history merit the deepest admiration. The greatest achievement of African-American people is this: despite surviving the middle passage and 246 years of chattel slavery intentionally designed to strip blacks of their humanity, the hope and unfulfilled promises of re-construction, the early 1900s’ scientific assault on the intellectual capacity of the negroid, the lynching epidemics of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, the omnipresent terror of living under Jim Crow, the assassination of prominent black leaders, and the war on drugs and mass incarceration; African-Americans are still here striving to forge our identify and reclaim our humanity against inequitable odds.
Unfortunately, W.E.B. Du Bois’ statement still rings true today: “the problem of the twentieth (twenty-first) century is the problem of the color-line.” A recent study by the Institute for Policy Studies for Economic Development notes that it would take 228 years for the average black family to amass the same level of wealth the average white family holds today. In fact, the black unemployment rate is almost double the national average. Pay gaps and wealth disparities are not the only area where old problems are still problems. Educational achievement gaps, gentrification and discriminatory housing policies, gerrymandering and early voting laws that disproportionately impact black suffrage, a criminal justice system that incarcerates blacks at more than 5 times the rate of whites, and the Tiki Torches of Charlottesville are all reminders that systematic and overt interpersonal racism are still alive and well. The color-line is still defined.
These issues are the causes of black history that need advanced today. But, what can bar associations do to address these issues? The Marion County Bar Association seeks to address these issues through meaningful political involvement, positive economic development opportunities of our members, and active participation in social justice initiatives impacting people of color within Indianapolis. This year, we plan to focus our energies on stimulating civic participation. We want to register people to vote, get them to the polls and, most importantly, keep people engaged so they will hold representatives accountable.
A special thank you goes to James Bell for sharing the Presidential Column, and thank you to the IndyBar for collaborating with the MCBA. I hope these words have fired a new path. And, remember, if you see something unjust, say something. Call it out. Then, if you have the resources to change it, change it. T’Challa can’t save us from these issues, but you can.•