Black History celebration looks to future

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OAKLAND. Calif. — Beneath a bright cluster of black, red, gold and green balloons, history was coming to life.

His mostly youthful audience sat spellbound as civil rights movement veteran and retired attorney Jim McWilliams told of his drive through the 1960s south with a young white fellow student, at a time when it could be deadly for Blacks and whites to travel together there.

McWilliams recalled their encounters with movement activists and leaders including the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, a top aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, and white activists Carl and Ann Braden. One of the most dangerous moments of the journey, McWilliams said, was the time the white student infiltrated a regional Ku Klux Klan meeting, bringing back valuable information about the violent segregationist organization’s plans.

“Dr. King and those early civil rights workers didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, but they were prepared to put their energies and their very lives on the line to make lives better,” McWilliams said.

This African American History Month program, with the theme, “African Americans: Champions of Democracy,” also looked to the future. Community activist Cassandra Lopez addressed the urgent need to solve current problems including the violence increasingly taking the lives of African American and other youth.

Ending the Iraq war and bringing the troops home is vital to restoring communities, Lopez said, adding that faced with “a violent nation and a violent government, people want to take things in a different direction,” joining together to solve problems such as housing, infrastructure, jobs with a future and environmental challenges.

Recalling his own experiences in the civil rights movement, Northern California Communist Party chair Juan Lopez called for “a broad united front of labor, people of color, women, youth and other democratic sectors of the people” to end the far right domination of the administration and further strengthen the composition of the Congress.

“More than any other group in our country, African Americans understand this challenge,” Juan Lopez said. “That is why they voted against Bush by over 90 percent in 2000, again in 2004, and in comparable numbers in the 2006 congressional elections.”

All three speakers emphasized the broad movement building around the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the importance of that movement continuing to guide the work of the new administration.

The celebration, sponsored by the Communist Party’s African-American Equality Commission, also featured cultural presentations and a delicious home-cooked soul food dinner.

mbechtel@pww.org