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Marking the Time and Reflecting the Past

In Search of the Voice of Black America

African American news - opinion - in search of the voice of Black AmericaAt the close of April, two events in a strange way are curiously related. Both events remind me of a time when Black American exhibited a uniquely and largely singular voice in this country. This reigning Black voice marked the struggles of a rich and tenacious people which heralded against civil and human injustices faced in America. On April 7, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the King Center, named after famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was vandalized. On the morning of April 7th security was notified by the news media that graffiti marking aligned one of the center's buildings in Atlanta. The King Center has become a functional venue which teaches the history of Black struggles for human rights.  Many community programs are held at the center, which also attracts millions of spectating visitors from around the world. The King Center is a symbol of Black struggle and achievement. However, the story is not over.

On April 27th a similar yet unrelated story appeared. The USA Today newspaper reported that the last convicted assassin of noted civil rights activist leader Malcolm X was released on parole from a New York prison. Thomas Hagen, formerly Talmadge X Hayer who was 22 at the time, said in the USA Today article that he was a young man full of rage over the Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam's split at the time. Now, remorseful and more understanding about movements and the internal disagreements that occur within them, he regrets his participation in this event. The mark of Hagen's release, who now holds a Master's degree in Sociology, and the vandalizing of the King Center reflects a time when Black America had definitive voices within Black America. Although this was not the only voice, it was a largely prominent voice which garnered national and international attention. These past two events seem to subtly mark a definite shift with regard to where Black's in America have come. Sure, many within Black American have made tremendous strides, even witnessing the election of America's first Black President, the Black voice predominantly speaks variant languages which lack singularity, clarity and weight. As Black America continues to move forward in the twenty-first century how will the voice be shaped and who will be part of the shaping?

As I imagine this voice now scratching to clear its throat, perhaps my (our) reflections somewhat reflect or project the proverb which challenges us not to forget our past – our greatest teacher:

'My child, keep my words and store up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live, keep my teachings as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart.' (Proverb 7:1-3, NRSV)

[Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Scholar-in-Residence at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Atlanta, GA and is a Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center also in Atlanta. He is the author of "Ecclesiastes" in the African Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]


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