Of course in January there is the first of the year and Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration about which to stand tall. February not only has Valentine’s Day, it has two popular Presidents’ Days and the birthday of Frederick Douglass, not to mention Black History Month. The roll call of important calendar days in each month would find not one four-week period lacking in distinction.
The big dog in political months, however, hands down is May. That month starts off on the first day with May Day, the seminal celebration of Spring-time rites and socialist activism. It ends on May 31, Memorial Day (originally, Decoration Day), the preeminent celebration of loyalty and courage in America’s Civil War. In between, there is Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day (whoever doesn’t think Mother’s Day is political has been under a rock for a while), African Liberation Day and All Africa Day, just to name a few. In fact, May hosts more than 25 distinctive political observances, including the annual Malcolm X birthday gala and festival (there’s also one annually in April), held in most major urban areas in America.
The Kentucky Derby’s ‘run for the roses’ occurs during the first weekend in May, with its largely unknown history of Black jockeys like Jimmy Winkfield and Isaac Murphy–who dominated the Derby for its first 30 years, only to be replaced by Irish and Anglo riders as the Derby became more commercial and popular.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is in May, along with National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, Public Service Recognition Week, National Teacher’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Month, National Historic Preservation Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and American Armed Forces Day.
May is the birthday month of such luminaries as Socrates and Karl Marx, Willie Mays and Biggie Smalls, Ho Chi Minh, John F. Kennedy, the Ayatollah Khomeini, James Brown, John Wayne, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Patti La Belle, plus Bob Dylan and Jim Jones, to name just a few.
In 1963, the newly formed Organization of African Unity established May 25 as African Freedom Day, to celebrate the recent independence of 32 former colonies. The name has since been changed to African Liberation Day, and is celebrated globally. All Africa Day, also on May 25, is the African Union’s new holiday (the organization that replaced the OAU) for its continuing efforts to convince the African continent to become the United States of Africa.
May Day, originally celebrated by the Romans, Greeks and Celts (under various other names) is a huge party and love potion to the new springtime blossoms, warm weather, and freedom. However, socialists everywhere, and other labor activists speaking many different languages, annually thrust their fists in the air, sing militant songs of struggle and triumph, and march through streets, villages, shopping centers and universities in honor of working people everywhere. May Day is their Labor Day holiday. It is not the only Janus-faced celebration in May.
The Malcolm X birthday holiday, at once a reason to ‘speak truth to the people’ in fiery speeches, barbecues and people-friendly celebrations by Black student unions around the country, and urban volunteers, used to be the start of the Garveyite Black nationalist celebrations that continued right through college university graduations, complete with kente cloth collars and red, black, and green arm bands. The Malcolm X May festival in Los Angeles, handled for a very long and successful time by Torre Brannon and Shaka Satori, has now been turned over to the next generation of youth leadership, headed by Mr. Jimmy Lumumba Lewis.
Citizens caught up in the full flavor of May and its activist fruits are cordially invited to come by the AFIBA Center on Slauson and Crenshaw, May 15 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see how the hip-hop set does Malcolm X. They’ve been planning hard to make the grade, since L.A. is known for its large body of former Panthers, US organization folk, and still-active UNIA-ACL members with little patience for pretenders. We know Mr. Lewis and his group will be great and make Malcolm X loyalists proud.
The next time May rolls around, remember the political legacy of this turgid month as you watch a little roundball and taste a few mint juleps. You can bet the political campaigners getting ready for the tough 2010 election season know what month it is. This is cutoff and decision-making time to be a viable candidate or not.
David Horne, Ph.D., is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
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