Thursday, October 13, 2011
Mini-pieces: Reflections on Cleveland black leadership, etc.
This is a day for Real Deal mini-pieces.
1. Blogging daily Sunday through Friday is more than a notion. Phone calls, reading, research, getting out & about, piecing things together — in short, doing the work of reporting before the actual writing, can skew your senses. Which is why in Wednesday’s column, when I meant to say that I would be talking about state house redistricting the day after tomorrow, i.e. Friday, I wrote "Thursday". I realized my error a couple of hours after I published Part II. With blog technology, I could have just changed Thursday to Friday but I knew that some of you would come back today expecting what isn’t here, go back and double-check Wednesday’s promise and say, "hmmm." So you have this long-winded apologia in the name of, all together now: transparency.
2. Our discussion of black political leadership has obviously touched a sore spot with many of our readers. We know this from the volume of off-line emails and the phone calls we are receiving. This public conversation would certainly be more invigorating if more of the comments were placed on site instead of emailed to me. Just so you know, I will never quote an email writer by name, but I am growing more inclined to post some of your comments. My takeaway from many of the comments is that many people resent the notion that any three unelected persons could be posited as speaking for such a widely diverse community. People are glad that The Real Deal is willing to call out the PD and Brent Larkin for a horrible piece — somebody has to do it, you say — but unwilling or unable themselves to get down and dirty about it.
3. One thing I can say about Messrs. Stokes, Forbes, and Pinkney is that they understand power and are not afraid to use it when it suits their purposes. The mostly private debates center on how often, how well, how wisely they have exercised power on the community’s behalf.
4. With respect to former Cleveland City Council president [1974-1989], current satrap of the Call & Post and current NAACP president Forbes [1992-way too long], much of the discussion centers on the abuse of that power. I went off to college in 1963, the year Forbes was first elected to public office, so he has been a constant presence on the Cleveland scene my entire adult life. He has become a fixture on the local landscape much like one of the obsolete manufacturing plants that dot many Cleveland neighborhoods. You remember when they belched smoke and soot during your childhood. Today they remain as monuments to a different era, their windows boarded, the doors rotting, the premises littered with broken bottles and mountains of trash, amid the weeds. They will not go away by themselves and many cannot be retrofitted.
5. In my Cleveland, George and Arnold and Lou are as much one-name icons as the player who took his talents to South Beach. They are actually quite personable and charming when they want to be. But charming is not what is needed these days. As one of my correspondents wrote me at 0430 today, “Keep in mind what is really important. Not this notion of who is the leader but what can we do [to] address the sorry socioeconomic state of affairs and hopelessness of many everyday black folks.”
Another reader asked rhetorically why the triumvirate would want to proclaim their leadership over the black community, given its current socioeconomic and cultural state. Either they weren’t leaders or they failed, he said.
6. During my travels around the community over the years I have had several informal encounters with George Forbes. He has said things that are real windows into his worldview. For example, simple arithmetic led to his accumulation of power at City Hall. He knew as long as held eastside black councilmen together he needed only one white vote to hold the reins of power. A primitive and cold calculus to be sure, but realpolitik in late-twentieth century Cleveland.
7. Many black people are very fond of quoting the Frederick Douglass, perhaps the first and certainly one of the most exemplary national African American leaders. In an 1857 speech, Douglass said:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
The Douglass quote was obviously pre-Civil War and applicable to the struggles for emancipation. During the civil rights era it was a rallying cry for collective action against the tyranny of Jim Crow, de facto segregation, and all sorts of invidious discrimination, much of which continues to this day.
Forbes understands the first sentence of the Douglass quote. But insofar as Greater Cleveland’s black community, however defined, resents the implications of Larkin’s statement about their leadership, they should consider themselves the subject of Douglass’s third and fourth sentences, and respond appropriately.
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The entire Douglass speech is worth a read. Find it here.