Great moments in Black history occur in August
nA month of improbable milestones
Merdies Hayes Editor | 8/8/2019, midnight
Four days later, Till, a Chicago native, was found brutally beaten and dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Till’s mother, Mamie Till, famously requested an open-casket funeral to “let the world see what has happened.” More than six decades later in 2017, Bryant would admit that she had lied about the incident and that Till had not made any inappropriate advances toward her.
The March on Washington
The month of August within African-American history took on worldwide significance in 1963 at the March on Washington. The event is most famous for the “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
More than 250,000 people gathered from across the nation—and millions more on television—to hear Black people address the inconsistency of legalized segregation in the face of the promises and guarantees of the United States Constitution specific to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The March on Washington had great impetus and created momentum for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The crowd was there to present a list of demands, among them a $2-an-hour federal minimum wage, desegregation of all school districts, and an enforcement of the 14th Amendment that reduces “congressional representation of states where citizens are disenfranchised.” The principal demand of the marchers was “comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation” which came about within a year.
The Watts Riots
Two years later in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles, any sense of Black social improvement and a concurrent push toward racial harmony was severely tested in August. The Watts Riots would become one of the most deadly and destructive urban uprisings in the nation’s history. After six days, 34 persons were dead, more than 1,000 persons injured, and property damage was in excess of $40 million.
There had always been racial tension between the city’s Black population and law enforcement. This came to a head on Aug. 11 at the intersection of Avalon Boulevard and 116th Street when a crowd of spectators watched the arrest of a Black man named Marquette Frye by a White California Highway Patrol officer. A riot began about six hours later and eventually engulfed more than a 50-square-mile portion of South Los Angeles. White-owned businesses were looted and torched all under the slogan “Burn Baby Burn” that was loosely based on the catchphrase of a popular radio disc jockey the Magnificent Montague.
The Watts Riots would foreshadow many more urban uprisings in the coming years in cities like Detroit, Mich. and in Newark, NJ.
In the first decade of the 21st Century, Hurricane Katrina stuck the United States Gulf Coast in August 2005. The hurricane and its aftermath claimed more than 1,800 lives, primarily in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, La.
While an estimated 1.2 million people were able to flee the city before the storm hit in full strength on Aug. 23, tens of thousands of mostly Black residents could not get out in time and either remained in their homes or sought shelter at various locations throughout the city. As the already strained levee system continued to give way, the remaining residents of New Orleans were faced with a city that by Aug. 30 was 80 percent underwater. Many local and state agencies found themselves unable to respond, while the federal response was soundly criticized for being inadequate and unorganized.
With no relief in sight and in the absence of any organized effort to restore order, some neighborhoods experienced substantial amounts of looting and helicopters were deployed to rescue Black citizens from their rooftops in the flooded Ninth Ward.
The survey of improbable August events within Black history culminates in 2008 with the presidential nomination acceptance speech of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention.
The junior senator accepted the presidential nomination with “profound gratitude and great humility.” Obama said the United States was at a defining moment “when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.”
Obama, the son of a White Kansan mother and a Black Kenyan father, would deliver his speech on the 45th anniversary of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.