TACOMA, Wash. – From the written program to the spoken word, to music and singing, “A Celebration of Black History and Labor,” held here Feb. 20, presented a program encouraging people to “commit ourselves from this day forward to vote in greater numbers, speak in louder voices, write with sharper pens and act with firmer convictions.”
This urging to action was given to a standing room only crowd of about 700 with another 200 people in the lobby unable to get into the only ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel.
Speakers urged people to take the lessons of the past to make history today.
And what a list of speakers it was: Ossie Davis; Dr. Naomi Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu; Joe Wentzl, coast committeeman of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU); Paddy Crumlin, national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia; Prince Cedza Dlamini, grandson of Nelson Mandela; and Cicely Tyson.
Welcoming everyone to the celebration was ILWU Local 23 President Roger Boespflug. It was the fifth event produced by Local 23 members Willie Adams and Mike Chambers.
In beginning his remarks, Davis said it was very important combining Black and labor history.
“The two are one – remember our history, remind ourselves how we got here in the first place. We came here as labor, specifically slave labor. We worked to make this country what it is now.”
Davis continued with the history, but brought it up to the present economy which, he said, has no place for Black workers today, “We can’t compete, no matter what we do, with the poor women of Bangladesh.”
The recourse, he said, is to “remember our history – the unity of Black and white workers determined our history … we need to join hands … we need each other now as never before. We need to speak with the workers of the world. The time has come for us to challenge the Enron’s of the world … it is what Langston (Hughes) would have you do, it’s what Paul (Robeson) would have you do, and it’s what your mama would have you do!”
The global economy was spoken of by other speakers, as well.
Tutu said African American history is, in fact, world history and encompassed a worldwide struggle for compassion and for truth – “a world that accepts racism will accept sexism, economic exploitation and militarism.”
Tutu said participants in the world conference on racism were saddened and angry when the U.S. walked out on the world discussion on racism.
However, she said, “we knew that governments do not speak for all their people.”
When Reagan vetoed the bill for sanctions against apartheid South Africa, the veto was overridden because “the U.S. people marched, protested and wrote letters.”
Again, bringing history up-to-date, as all the speakers did, Tutu said “every time someone stands up they are making Black history, they are making history … we make and celebrate history every day.”
Stating that companies continue to rape the continent of Africa, Tutu said, “We must build a world dedicated to the satisfaction to the needs of the workers who made it what it is.”
Encouraging action, Dlamini congratulated the U.S. people for their contribution in ending apartheid. “It was very simple,” Dlamini said, “you shut down the ports … this action had vast political implications.”
While lauding his grandfather, Nelson Mandela, for his strength of character and ability for forgiveness and reconciliation, Dlamini said these are qualities “we all have. You don’t have to be president or be Nelson Mandela to do extraordinary things.”
In an interview with the World, Adams said in putting the program together he looked at these people as peacemakers.
“Everyone came out of struggle,” he said. “We’re all linked.”