Tuesday, February 7, 2012

February Soul Food: Words and music to change a world

February 7 is a seemingly unremarkable day – except that it is the day that gave us a birthday and a revolution to change the culture of this nation.
Frederick Douglass (wikicommons)

It is the birthday of Frederick Douglass, a former slave and leader in the abolitionist movement, and it is the date the Beatles arrived in the US for the first time. While Douglass gave us words to help fight slavery, The Beatles gave us a new kind of music.

The Beatles (Richard Avedon)

Both helped feed our souls. Here are the highlights:

Born in 1817 in Maryland to a slave and an unknown white man, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey would help change the course of history for his country and his people.

Better known as Frederick Douglass, he only saw his mother a handful of times before she died when he was 7. At the age of 8, he was sent to a shipbuilder in Baltimore. It was in this city, a buffer zone between the slaveholding South and the free North, that Douglass learned two things that would shape his life: It was in Baltimore that he learned how to read and that he learned of an idea, a movement, a belief that no man should be a slave. It was called abolition. When Douglass died (February 20, 1895), his obituary was published in the New York Times. Here is the full text.

A writer, editor and public speaker against slavery, Douglass once gave a speech about freedom on the 4th of July. The contents of the speech, oft cited as one of his best, was not what was expected. He gave strong words to that crowd, words that try to catch the sharp edge of the lash and of a nation only half free.

Frederick Douglass by Elisha Hammond (Yale.edu)

What he spoke about that summer's day was "The Meaning of July 4 ..."

Excerpts from Douglass' speech:

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory....

I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary!

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony....

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?

I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages....

Here is a short video of actor Danny Glover reciting Douglass' July 4 speech. This event was sponsored by Voices of a People's History of the United States, a series of readings based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

A musical revolution about 100 years later:
"And he-e-re they are – The Beatles!"
In 1964, the Beatles come to the United States for the very first time and the rest, as they say, is history. Their very first appearance was in Washington, DC. They sang two songs you might know: "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "From Me to You".

Here is a link to that 1st performance in DC at the Washington Colliseum.
The Beatles in DC, 1964 (pophistorydig.com)
On Febrary 9, 1964, The Beatles made the appearance that introduced them to the nation at large. Many of us saw them here for the first time. It is, of course, the 1960s version of American Idol, better know an The Ed Sullivan Show.

They sang four songs on the show and the crowd went wild. (Anybody remember? I do!) They sang: "All My Lovin'", "Till There Was You", "I Saw Her Standing There", "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

Here is the video of that first performance of a "really big shew" [sic] The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9, 1964. Enjoy!

Let it fly!

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