Mike Henry, Granite City, Illinois
History has a way of leveling the playing field. For 41 years it was unheard of for one black coach, let alone two, to be coaching in a Super Bowl game. However, back then there was no Black History Month. Coincidentally, Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy pulled off their feat at such a time. During the '30s, all-black Sumner High School coined a motto: "A race without a history is soon forgotten." Years later two of the school's most notable personalities, Dick Gregory and Grace Bumbry, left their marks on the sands of time. Gregory, an athlete-turned-comedian, has used his skills to fight for black equality for years. Bumbry has one of the greatest operatic voices ever, akin to that of Leontyne Price.
Black History Month has consistently accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative regarding the genius of blacks under adverse circumstances. But I am no longer the fan of Black History Month I once was. I feel that the novelty has worn thin and that the genius that elevated them to such levels should be revealed in its entirety. In other words, the whole story should be placed in school curricula. If there is opposition, challenge it. Think of the words of black abolitionist and journalist Frederick Douglass: "Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has, it never will."
Smith and Dungy bring to mind the firing of former NFL commentator Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, who made a mistake by suggesting that white quarterbacks would one day become a thing of the past because blacks during slavery were bred with quality mates (which is hogwash). I dug Jimmy, and he shouldn't have been fired. He added much flair to the game. His comment regarding blacks was no more than a fairy tale that he had grown up with and was taught, myths that blacks have undergone for centuries.
Truth is, history judges people. It has judged blacks and found that the myths spread about them are lies. Take Gregory, for instance. Had he chosen to remain as a funny man, he would have been viewed as amiable. Because of his involvement for black equality, he was said to be militant or radical terms suggesting the opposite of "nice." Bumbry and Price, despite all of their talent, better not have walked freely into the Metropolitan Opera House with their black faces, unless it had been sanctioned by some white person. This has been the life of blacks in an America controlled by others. In spite of it all, they have taken the lemons given to them and made lemonade.
As for Smith and Dungy, I see them as a part of the last-hired/first-fired syndrome that has been the trend for blacks seeking employment. Had their feats been accomplished before the 1930s, they would have been classified as a credit to their race because it was thought that blacks were more astute physically than mentally. For example, Jesse Owens and Joe Lewis were chosen politically to defuse the notion Adolf Hitler had about an Aryan nation. These victories alone were a credit to America. If there is any doubt about how great blacks are, consider that only geniuses could make it through bondage. The month of February is only a snapshot of blacks' history.
Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.
Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.
Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.
After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.
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