MEMPHIS, TN. Black Lives Matter (BLM) have publicly announced a protest for August 15th on the eve of the 39th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death to be staged outside the walls of Graceland. The protest is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m.
BLM is a movement which has exposed a racial divide in America that still exists. Though men like Dr. Martin Luther King (et al) succeeded in obtaining racial equality, and some gave their life for it, the Civil Rights Movement only buried racism deep in the annals of the law. Racism has always been the undercurrent below the calm and the persistent thorn in the flesh of Lady Liberty ever since the first shackled African stepped foot on the shipping docks of the New World. It was that very moment in America’s infancy she committed her unforgivable sin. Many cultures at that time and throughout history, practiced slavery. Some cultures still do. What makes America’s slave history more abhorrent than others is because of the following, documented words (emphasis mine):
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Declaration of Independence, July 04, 1776)
This profound, historical prose written by men oppressed by their government, damned America to the hell of racism. And hell is eternal. Within that truthful statement is the hypocritical lie that all men are created equal when white men owned Blacks as property. America’s hypocrisy was laid out on the flesh of Blacks and practiced by congregations of lynch mobs, then passed down to their descendants as a warning to watch their own backs. Racism is no longer demonstrated grotesquely by lynch mobs or Jim Crow laws, but maybe it’s committed discreetly in well meaning social programs which society has ignorantly accepted.
Whatever the speculation, America is being reminded again of its atrocious sin with the alleged rise of white police officers killing Black men and women. Then again, maybe the heart just harbors an arrogance suppressed, most times, by common sense and the logic we are all human, but now and again, common sense takes a leave of absence. Old hatreds arise, divisions widen, and America finds herself dealing with the race issue again. Maybe it’s necessary for America to go through this again so she doesn’t forget the wrongs of the past and moves towards the future of renewed unity.
BLM is leading the movement, but what is BLM? There are differing opinions about the organization. Some state it’s the new Civil Rights Movement while others claim it’s a racist hate group like the KKK or the resurgence of the Black Panther Party. So, I started with Google and my search led me to a number of online resources where the biases were sometimes extreme and the credibility of the information is questionable. One of those searches led to blacklivesmatter.com where the organizers defined “Black Lives Matter” on their page.
When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state. We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.
Rather than giving a clear definition it only provoked more questions. Are Black people intentionally left powerless at the hands of the State? Are Black lives deprived of their basic human rights and dignity? Wouldn’t there be more civil or criminal lawsuits in the courts if Black people were deprived of their power, human rights, and dignity? Their definition creates more questions rather than defining their real purpose.
Daniel Greenfield, a journalist for FrontPageMag.com, states BLM is about financial shakedown and writes: “…it’s about the money. Black Lives Matter shares the same tired old agenda as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. In the end it’s always about a financial shakedown. And BLM has a big shakedown in mind.” Greenfield seems to define BLM as a hate group.
After reading numerous articles about BLM I wrote my own lengthy definition based largely off the article 11 Major Misconceptions About the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Black Lives Matter is a leaderful organization which does not appoint a single person to represent the whole of BLM; therefore, we are better equipped to address the concerns of all people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or age collectively and concurrently and unbiased. Our agenda demands swift and transparent legal investigation of all police shootings of Black people; official governmental tracking of the number of citizens killed by police, disaggregated by race, the demilitarization of local police forces; community accountability mechanisms for rogue police officers, police brutality, addressing the school-to-prison education system of our Black youth, abolish prisons by completely dismantling the prison industrial complex, and end mass incarceration of Black people. BLM is not a protest organization, but will use the power of public protest to draw nationwide attention to the aforementioned issues directly affecting Black people.
The statement “black lives matter” is not an anti-white, anti-police mantra and contains within the statement an unspoken, implied “too” and should be understood to mean “black lives matter, too.” Therefore, it is an inclusive statement for all people unjustly victimized by inequality and gentrification in a free-market system. We want to make police officers less of a threat to our communities of color and make their presence a symbol of trust, safety, equality, and respect; however, we also demand swift and transparent legal investigation of all suspect police abuses against and/or oppression of Black people. Our primary goal, for which of our other goals and demands are to be met, will be engaged through the power of voting and peaceful, public protest.
Our organization is intergenerational which values our elders and their struggles, victories, wisdom, and contributions to change systems, procedures, and issues which disenfranchise Black people of all ages. Faith, inherited from our elders, is historically and intrinsically important to BLM, but it is not central to our organization though we have adapted the revolutionary teachings of Jesus to challenge the government power structures rather than complying with the status quo and force change; therefore, we will not accept the endorsement of any one political party because it does not fit our leaderful organizational structure since political parties are inherently and predominantly biased.
BLM is more than a singular movement since movements, once their cause is fulfilled, are retired to the annals of history. Instead, we are an organization which will generationally address the concerns of social/economic inequality, racism, State oppression, poor education, police brutality, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and other issues disenfranchising Black people as a united people until these issues are eradicated.
How’s that for a definition? Bored, yet? If you read through it, then you have a good idea of what BLM is about—I hope. If that was too much, here are the bullet points:
- BLM is a leaderful organization.
- BLM demands swift changes to government policies, procedures, and institutions unfairly disenfranchising Black people.
- BLM is an inclusive organization fighting for the justice of all people.
- BLM is intergenerational and encourages all ages to become involved.
Keep reading and I will connect it to Elvis. But before we make the connection let’s get some background about the incident leading to the death of Darius Stewart, the BLM organizers named in their announcement.
Darius Stewart was a 19-year-old Black man who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by MPD officer Connor Schilling on July 17th, 2015. According the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) it was a routine traffic stop for a malfunctioning headlight for which the driver was pulled over. Mr. Stewart was a passenger.
Officer Schilling asked to see the ID for all three occupants of the car. Two of the occupants produced IDs and Mr. Stewart stated he had an ID, but it turned out he did not have it on his person. The officer asked Mr. Stewart to exit the vehicle and led him to sit in the back of the patrol car. Officer Schilling checked Mr. Stewart’s social security number and his name came up for several warrants in Iowa and Illinois. Mr. Stewart was to be placed under arrest and brought in for extradition. This is the moment the struggle ensued.
According to Officer Schilling’s account Mr. Stewart refused to cooperate, then charged the officer. They struggled and Officer Schilling stated Mr. Stewart made efforts to grab his utility belt and succeeded in grabbing the handcuffs and using them to strike the officer. Officer Schilling further states he felt “pressure on his duty weapon” believing Mr. Stewart was trying to take his weapon and Officer Schilling stated he feared for his life.
Officer Schilling was able to fight off Mr. Stewart, draw his service weapon and shoot Mr. Stewart twice in the chest. Mr. Stewart was able to run after being shot for about 60 yards before collapsing. Officer Schilling called for medical assistance, but Mr. Stewart died on scene. There were several eyewitnesses (including a video) who witnessed portions of the struggle, but there were no eyewitnesses who saw the entire struggle from beginning to end. The entire report can be read via the Commercial Appeal’s Memphis website.
Now we have another case of a white officer killing an unarmed Black man presupposing the killing, and the entire event, was motivated by racism. It’s now being used as the motivation for another protest in front the most famous, private home in America.
Alright, now you have an understanding of BLM and a synopsis surrounding Darrius Stewart’s death. But, pray tell, how does it all connect into Elvis?
Why not Graceland? Elvis was the subject of racial controversy early in his career because the music, and style in which he sang it, is rooted in southern Black genres of gospel, country, rhythm, and blues. He was a white male singing Black music which the majority of white America were ignorant about Black music. Once they learned about the roots of this new rock and roll genre the racism in people’s hearts publicly revealed itself.
Elvis adopted the style of music he was exposed to growing up in a predominantly Black community impoverished by racism; however, Elvis was not racist. Early in his career he was labeled a racist because of a phantom phrase attributed to him during an interview that never happened (emphasis mine).
Just how committed he was to a view that insisted not just on musical accomplishment but fundamental humanity can be deduced from his reaction to the earliest appearance of an ugly rumor that has persisted in one form or another to this day. Elvis Presley, it was said increasingly within the African-American community, had declared, either at a personal appearance in Boston or on Edward R. Murrow’s “Person to Person” television program, “The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.”
That he had never appeared in Boston or on Murrow’s program did nothing to abate the rumor, and so in June 1957, long after he had stopped talking to the mainstream press, he addressed the issue — and an audience that scarcely figured in his sales demographic — in an interview for the black weekly Jet.
Anyone who knew him, he told reporter Louie Robinson, would immediately recognize that he could never have uttered those words. Amid testimonials from Black people who did know him. (How Did Elvis Get Turned into a Racist? Peter Guralnick. New York Times. Aug 11 2011. http://www.nytimes.com)
Moreover, there is neither documented evidence Elvis was racist nor any verbal testimonies to contradict his inclusive character for Black people. There is more evidence he was not racist.
This is all pointed out in detail because Elvis’ alleged racism may come up during the protest and is completely without merit. Regardless, Graceland and Elvis could represent the growing racial tension in America making Graceland the perfect place for the protest to be staged.
Graceland could be attributed the symbol of financial inequality in a city with a 29.8% poverty rate with a Black population of 63% and widening gap of financial inequaltiy. Elvis could represent an accused white man whose fame and success was allegedly earned by stealing from Blacks leading to a defamation of his character. It’s only fitting the protest should be staged in front of Graceland.
Poverty rates for Blacks are 34.4%, and 45.5% of Latinos are poor, while the poverty rate among non-Hispanic Whites is 13.5%. (2015 Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet. Page 1. University of Memphis. www.memphis.edu
I only hope and pray the protest will be a peaceful demonstration where both Blacks and Whites are reminded to walk a mile in one another’s shoes.