Stormy Weather/Un Cloudy Days (Part 1)
Of course everyone knows that Lena Horne passed away last week. It was a major news story, as well it should have been. Coming just a few weeks after the passing of Dorothy Height, it seems to me that an era has truly ended.
I never had the honor of meeting either one of these two women, yet their "aura" has certainly been a part of my consciousness for as long as I can remember. Their stories are well documented and if you haven't read about them, you should stop reading this now and go and seek out their stories.
As a child I was a voracious reader, I soaked up anything that I could get my hands on. Of course there wasn't much reading material inside of my house, except for the daily newspaper and an old set of mid 1950's era encyclopedias that had a question mark next to the death date of Adolf Hitler. I read and absorbed everything from A-Z inside of those encyclopedias and it wasn't enough for me.
Being the type of reader that I was I was overjoyed when I was old enough to get my first library card when I was around 7 years old (1964.) The Brooklyn Public Library was within walking distance and when I discovered it, I thought that I had died and went to heaven. I would go and spend entire Saturdays there and then when closing time came, I would always check out the maximum number of books, so that I would have something to read during the week to come.
For me one of the most fascinating areas of the library was the section called "Negro History." In truth this section of the library was rather small, it was only a single shelf full of books. However I read every single one of them.
One of the books in that section had a title something like; "50 Great Negroes of the 20th Century." The book was composed of a black & white photo of one of the "50 Great Negroes," followed by a short biography of that person. It had people like Booker T. Washington, Ralphe Bunche, Jackie Robinson, Benjamin O. Davis, Duke Ellington, Adam Clayton Powell, Marcus Garvey and others. I probably read that book 50 times, because I was inspired by these people and certainly saw them all as potential role models for myself. Perhaps some of you here have read it as well?
It was in that book that I had my first encounter with Lena Horne & Dorothy Height. When I heard of their passing over the past few weeks, the very first thing that flashed into my mind were the black & white photographs of Lena Horne & Dorothy Height that were contained in the book; "50 Great Negroes of the 20th Century." Those two images are forever burned into my mind. Those images represent for me, examples of the very best that "mah people" have to offer.
However because I had read this book so many times, these images also came to mean much more than that to me on a personal level. I would stare at the pictures for hours and I would take the next step and imagine in my mind, that they were also looking back at me. What I saw looking back at me in the black & white pictures from "50 Great Negroes of the 20th Century," were the expectations of people like Lena Horne & Dorothy Height for a "little colored boy from Brooklyn," named Robert Davis.
Today I can look back on those images and imagine a larger perspective. One that includes not just expectations for a "little colored boy from Brooklyn," named Robert Davis, but expectations for the entire "Negro race." No doubt Lena Horne & Dorothy Height had earned the right to demand that the entire "Negro race" should meet their expectations. Their accomplishments opened the door for many of us to not only have significant expectations, but to also create the opportunity to have those expectations become a reality. Most importantly for those of us who have a chance to achive those expectations, it becomes our obligation to create oppurtunites for others as well.
These two women had long lives, living into their nineties. They had the chance to personally witness nearly a century of achievement by Black Americans, some of which they also personally facilitated. For these two women, who were quite literally born in the shadow of slavery, to have personally witnessed the election of the first Black American as US President, must have been a moment that would cause even them to reflect on all of those black & white photographs contained in the book "50 Great Negroes of the 20th Century" as well.
And that is why the "little colored boy from Brooklyn," named Robert Davis, smiled when he heard about the passing of Lena Horne & Dorothy Height, because he has looked at their faces long enough to know, that they died with smiles on their faces. As well they deserved to...