2009/03/22

Civil rights days

We've spent this past week in New York City, too busy to blog, and will be going home to Andalucía (Andalusia) in a few hours. Besides seeing friends and picking up our Spanish permanent residency visa from the consulate here (which obliged us to return), we managed to see the production of Tracey Scott Wilson's The Good Negro. (See review at backstage.com. More reviews at Critic-O-Meter.)

Most of the audience were, like us, old enough to remember the early, dangerous days of the civil rights movement, how precarious every little victory seemed to be, the spying and false information spread by FBI men to disrupt the movement, the murders, the exaggerated and impossible expectations everybody had of those bold, scared men and women who dared to lead. The play simplifies the history, but wonderfully complicates the accepted myth -- that somehow Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy and the others in the Southern Christian Leadership Council were always virtuous, always sure of themselves, always focused only on the movement. It couldn't have been like that -- these were human beings, just like us, with all our common frailties. That's important to remember, because otherwise we will forget what June Jordan reminded us, that we are the ones we have been waiting for.

On a personal note, the play reminded me of an episode from my own past, which I've recounted here.

We were no heroes or demigods, but we dared, and in our bumbling and sometimes frightened ways, we did what had to be done. And even when victory looked most remote, we kept telling ourslves "Yes we can." And, finally, we could and did.

2 comments:

Michelle said...

this is off-topic, but you seem like the right person to ask. interested in sociology myself (i took a course, individual and society last semester) do you think literature engage's society in issues of justice? for example, can stories, poems etc, influence society? should they?

gef said...

Hi, Michelle, and thanks for the questions. Quick answer: Yes to both -- it's hard to think of any memorable literature that doesn't engage major social issues, though some (Updike) may do it more subtly and indirectly than others (Zola, for example). As for influence, it's sometimes retarded, but other times literature affects events very quickly. Abraham Lincoln supposedly remarked that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" started the Civil War -- it was a joke, but not entirely. (Africaonline) Let's both you and I try to come up with other examples of literary works that have made a difference (changed people's behavior in some way) -- not always for the better.