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Black men in the news: a brief history of ‘trouble men’

April 30, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Ten years ago, Bill Cosby’s son Ennis and Michael Jordan’s father both died. Entertainer M.C. Hammer filed bankruptcy, and Malcolm X’s grandson ignited a fatal fire. Les Brown divorced Gladys Knight, and the NBA’s Juwon Howard went into a treatment center. Actor Howard Rollins (age 46) died, and Yaphet Kotto chose to marry for the third time.

Ten years ago in Current Biography, actor Samuel L. Jackson claimed that his wife “always says to me that I have now grown into the man that she always knew I could be.” Jackson, born 1949 in Washington, D.C., married actor La Tanya Richardson in 1980.

“The makeover on environmentally induced self-hatred must be done from inside.” filmmaker Spike Lee said. “Nobody made Richard Pryor do what he did to himself, but him.” Richard Pryor told Charles Whitaker in a 1986 interview for Ebony, “It’s nobody’s fault.”

In his book Vernon Can Read, attorney Vernon Jordan (born 1935 in Atlanta) says organization and structure is his credo, while late attorney Johnnie Cochran’s advice was, “Handle the good days and the bad days with equal aplomb.” (Source: Emerge)

As a Washington Post columnist, former Minneapolis Tribune columnist (and former Minneapolis Spokesman/St. Paul Recorder staffer), Carl T. Rowan criticized Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967 for voicing his opposition to the Vietnam conflict. King dreamed of a day when “the lion shall lie down with the lamb and none shall be afraid.” Woody Allen countered that “The lion shall lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”

Bayard Rustin wrote about King’s death and the death of Malcolm X as well. Rustin not only met Malcolm X, but also debated him.

Rustin was a pacifist. His maternal grandmother raised him as both Quaker — pacifism is one of their tenets — and a civil rights activist. Rustin bought a ticket to ride the interstate to test the Supreme Court’s Morgan Decision banning Jim Crow seating. He was not only jailed for this, but also served hard labor on a chain gang.

Asa Phillip Randolph appointed Rustin deputy of the August 28, 1963, March on Washington; he was in charge of organizing the march, but was kept out of the spotlight: As a gay man, Rustin was perceived as a threat to the solidarity of the Civil Rights Movement.

“In the late 1990s,” Ishmael Reed wrote, “some psychotic New Jersey police held a famous African American dancer to the ground until they saw that he was on the cover of that week’s Time magazine.” While being eyeballed for what seemed an inordinate amount of time by a White policeman on the street, Reed admits, “I was trying to reconstruct my whereabouts for the previous week. Just in case.”

In Jasper County, northeast of Houston, Texas, on June 7, 1998, James Bryd Jr., was dragged behind a truck. His body was found decapitated.

“The phenomenon of women is love,” Al Green said. “Men are more into their careers, making money and achieving goals in their lives. But a woman will turn down a career to say, ‘I love you,’ and really mean it.” Green (born 1946) has three daughters, Alva, Rubi, and Kara, from his six-year marriage (1977-83) to Shirley Ann Kyles, a gospel singer. (Source: Current Biography.)

In 2008, NBA’s Allan Iverson told USA Today, “I think the hardest thing in the world for a Black man to do is think when he’s mad.” Athlete Jesse Owens was born in 1913 in Alabama, and of his time participating in the 1936 Olympics Games he said, “I came back to my native country and I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. Now, what’s the difference” between that treatment and Hitler’s snub, he asked.

Owens worked as a playground janitor; raced against cars, trucks, motorcycles, horses and dogs; and toured with the Harlem Globetrotters. He acted as mediator to the 1968 Olympic dispute over the Black Power salute in Mexico City involving Tommie Smith and John Wesley Carlos; for this he was accused of being an Uncle Tom. He died of lung cancer in 1980.

“I don’t want to hurt nobody. I just want to play baseball,” Henry (“Hank”) Aaron, born 1934, said in 1954 of integrating the southern “Sally” leagues. He quotes “Dear N***er” letters to him in chapter 10 of I Had a Hammer. When he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1972, the “Dear N****r” letters “told me that no n****r had any right to go where I was going. There’s no way to measure the effect that those letters had on me, but I like to think that every one of them added another home run to my total.”

Of playing major league baseball, Jackie Robinson said, “I remain Black in a White world. I had to fight hard against loneliness, abuse and the knowledge that any mistake I made would be magnified because I was the only black man [in 1947] out there. Many people resented my impatience and honesty, but I never cared about acceptance as much as I cared about respect.”

Robinson, born 1919 in Cairo, GA, died of a heart attack in 1972. Joe Louis, Dick Gregory, Hank Aaron, Roy Wilkins, Asa Philip Randolph, Willie Mays, Bill Russell, and Ernie Banks attended his funeral; the Reverend Jesse Jackson delivered the eulogy. Roberta Flack sang.

Satchel Paige (1906-82) of Alabama played Negro League baseball 22 years; then, he played in the major leagues at 42 years of age.

“Oh, I knew that if I kept on fighting,” boxer Joe Louis said, “some guy would come along and take the title away from me, but not this guy, never tonight.”

A sports writer said of boxer Sonny Liston that he was “for Liston and spoke only for Liston.”

“Hey, do you know Marvin Gaye’s song ‘Trouble Man’?” I once asked my former husband.

“Why, it’s the Black Man’s National Anthem!” he replied.

Written By Elizabeth Ellis

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