We’ve Been There Before, by Jimmie L. Hollis

hollis_smI was just a young black lad during the civil rights marches and rallies of the early 1960s, but I will never forget what I saw during those dark days.

I remember the hate, the violence, the water hoses, the vicious dogs and batons that bloodied old women and children.

War was declared on us as a race. We were called “sons of bitches” and other vile names. The agenda of the most vicious of the racists was to “take us out” in any way possible — violence undoubtedly being a preferred method.

Vitriol and violence was similarly directed against the civil rights movement because it sought to affirm, secure and exercise the constitutional rights of black Americans, and we did it through non-violent meetings, marches and rallies.

Fast-forward to today. Another group of citizens — of which I am now also a part — has come together through non-violent meetings, forums and rallies. We do so not so much to affirm and secure our constitutional rights as much as to exercise our existing rights and petition our government.

We have started a similarly peaceful movement across the United States under the banner of the “Tea Party” movement. Our goal is to see the government to abide by its constitutional limitations and requirements and affirm to the people that our constitutional rights are secure.

But, as during the civil rights era, a virtual war has been declared against us. The moms, pops, children, grandparents and others that make up the Tea Party movement are under attack.

On Labor Day, for instance, James Hoffa, Jr., the president of the Teamsters union, one of the most powerful unions in America, issued what can only be considered a declaration of war, telling his followers at a rally to “take these [Tea Party] son of a bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.”

One of the speakers who followed Hoffa at that same rally was President Barack Obama. Despite his eloquent call last January for more civility in political debate, Obama made no effort — on that day or any day thereafter — to reprimand the Big Labor boss advocating a “war” with the Tea Parties.

This is troubling. And this mistreatment and maliciousness should, unfortunately, sound all-too-familiar to other Americans of African ancestry.

I pray that black members of labor unions — and anyone else, for that matter — would heed this obvious call to viciousness, anger, hate and violence. All those who might be too young to remember those dark civil rights days might want to ask a parent and grandparent about them.

History has a way of repeating itself, and, to our collective detriment, it seems the intolerance from a dark chapter of our history could be on the verge of reemerging.

It is not in the best interest of blacks to involve themselves in any call for violence against peaceful citizens. We were once the target of that same type of hateful rhetoric and violence.

It is also important that every black man and woman in organized labor to extend their hands out in front and look at them — to make sure that you are not being used, that we are not now being asked to hold rhetorical water hoses, the leashes of vicious dogs or to wield a rhetorical bloody baton against peaceful American citizens.

As black people, we should know better. As a nation, we must not go down that road again.

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Jimmie Hollis is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network and tea party organizer in southern New Jersey. In 1968, he participated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s “March on Washington.” Comments may be sent to [email protected].

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