Saturday, January 20, 2018

A visit to the Smithsonian Museum of American History after the Women's March Rally

I attended the Women's March Rally at the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon.  The weather in DC was beautiful. So rather than go straight to the Metro, I decided to take a stroll down the Mall. 

Much to my pleasure, I discovered that the Smithsonian museums will not be shut down until Monday, given their particular budget stream. I spent a few hours in the Museum of American History, enjoying some really good exhibits.  The Smithsonian is still true to its mission.  Here are a few pictures, that give a flavor of the exhibits: 

1.  "American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith."

2.  "Many Voices, One Nation," the development of multi-cultural America (an honest discussion, going all the way back to our beginnings).

3.  The Greensboro Lunch Counter 

4.  The 1968 Poor People's Campaign.  I was there as a 20 year old college student.  I've added a few first-hand memories, which may help some people get a little better sense of the time.

At nearby George Washington University, the United Campus Christian Ministries (UCCM), which was the center of social justice activities on campus, had a storefront office on G Street.  As president of the campus social service organization sponsored by the UCCM, I was on the UCCM Board (it was VERY ecumenical).  We had a copy of this poster in our storefront window.  I still have that copy. 

This is the architect's rendering of Resurrection City.   My most vivid memory,
aside from the nearly constant rain, was a session with an African American
Coast Guard veteran talking with a group of young people and some
nuns and college students about his research in finding his ancestry.  It was mesmerizing.
A few years later, the speaker, Alex Haley, published Roots

On June 19, the PPC held a big rally at the Lincoln Memorial,
which was planned as a continuation of the August 28, 1963
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom success.  Sadly,
it did not have the same impact.

I helped put together this "Poor People's University," an
effort to organize college student allies.

Nine years later, Bobbi and I were married on that date, and
I pinned my Solidarity Day button to the inside of my tux.
I guess it worked.  We celebrated our 40th Anniversary last June.

Before I entered this last room of the exhibit, I felt something was missing -- the feel of the nearly constant rain.  When I went into the room, I could hear the rain piped in with a sound system.  And there were  pictures of the mud and swamp-like conditions.  I remember engaging in some gallows humor, commenting that white racists were saying the rain was God's will, and we were saying that the white people were seeding the clouds. 

5.  Picture, taken from the Cafeteria, of the Washington Monument and the new African American Museum.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2009 MLK Service at Temple Emanuel (Kensington MD): "The Joshua Generation in the Promised Land" (Speaker, Bridget Bailey Lipscomb

It has been a nearly a half-century since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death.  While we are now in a particularly challenging period, to say the least, I think it might be useful to share a perspective from a member of the Joshua Generation, presented on the eve of President Obama's first inauguration in 2009, at Temple Emanuel's annual MLK Shabbat Service.   Our speaker that evening was Bridget Bailey Lipscomb, a colleague of mine at the Department of Justice, who, four years later upon my retirement, succeeded me as Assistant Director in the Department's Environmental Torts section.  With her permission, I share it here. 

While the optimism we all shared in January 2009 has been severely dampened by the events of 2016 and 2017, we know, as County Executive Ike Leggett reminded us a few days ago, , that we must stay in the struggle for progress, and not be silent. 

First, is the text of my introduction of Bridget that evening, followed by her presentation:

For more than two decades, Temple Emanuel has been having Martin Luther King Shabbats on the occasion of the celebration of his birthday. Tonight's service may be the most special, coming just days before the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama. Dr. King was the leader of the Moses Generation in our nation's effort to be true to our best ideals. This night, I am pleased to introduce our speaker, Bridget Bailey Lipscomb, a member of the Joshua Generation.
Bridget is a colleague of mine at the Department of Justice. Last spring I learned about her after-hours volunteer work with the Obama Campaign in Virginia, and soon I learned about her own history, as part of the Joshua Generation.
Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, her parents divorced when she was 14. Her factory worker mother worked hard to send all four of her children to good schools, even when that meant barely making the mortgage payments on their home. Her mother implanted in Bridget, and her siblings, the values of honor, hard work, and excellence. Bridget went south for college, graduating summa cum laude from Grambling University. In 1994, she graduated from the University of Tennessee Law School, and then went to work for the largest law firm in Knoxville, where she rose to become the first African American partner in a law firm in that city. Bridget was an active participant in the wider community, including working on human rights initiatives for the state, co-chairing the Tennessee Supreme Court's Technology Committee, organizing local and state high school mock trial competitions, chairing a committee to increase the number of minority lawyers in East Tennessee,, and serving as a member of a police oversight committee. In 1997, the Knoxville Bar Association presented her its Woman of the Year award.
A few years ago, Bridget and her husband moved to the Washington area, where Bridget worked as a Senate staffer, and then came to the Department of Justice, where she is one of our most skilled attorneys, handling major cases on behalf of the United States.
Bridget, thank you for joining us this evening.
I. Introduction – The Promise of This Land
Good evening. Cantor Boxt, my brothers and my sisters in faith – Shabbat Shalom. I would like to personally thank David Fishback, my colleague at the United States Department of Justice, for inviting me to spend this special evening with you.
My topic tonight is "The Joshua Generation In the Promised Land." David informed you that I am a member of what President-elect Obama calls "The Joshua Generation" – the descendants of those who wandered in the desert of injustice for centuries, and who now enter the promised land. And, as I hope to explain this evening, you, too, are a part of the Joshua Generation.
But what is that Promised Land? It is not a special location. Rather, the place is right where we've been – here in America, what some have called the New Jerusalem. But what's important is not the place, but the promise. We do not enter a new land, but the land we have long dwelt in is now transformed by the fulfillment of a very old promise.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." When those words were first made the foundation of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, they clearly were not universally applied. Millions of Americans at that time were held in perpetual bondage. And the author of the phrase, Thomas Jefferson, was himself a slaveowner. The statement was an aspiration, a promise, made by a few brave citizens of a British colony. It was a promise to be fulfilled, hopefully, in the future of that nation.
For African Americans, that promise remained hidden for almost 100 years, until Abraham Lincoln made it the foundation of his Gettysburg Address in 1863. Lincoln ennobled both our nation and its Civil War by explicitly stating that fulfilling this promise was the goal for which all citizens – Black and White – had suffered so much in his time. "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Progress toward that goal was halting over the next century, until Dr. Martin Luther King made that same idea the foundation of his life's work and his "I Have a Dream" speech. In 1963, at the foot of the great civic temple to Lincoln in Washington, DC, Dr. King restated the founding promise of America for all the world to hear when he said, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
In 1963, it was still a dream that our nation would "live out the true meaning of its creed." But the promise of equality in the Declaration, the Gettysburg Address and the I Have A Dream speech was that some day Americans would really know that truth. And act on it, and live our lives by it. And even VOTE on it. On November 4, 2008, we all lived it. Racial equality is no longer a REMOTE dream. Praise God! And Lincoln and King! And the Electoral College! The dream of racial equality NOW has a stronger promise of being realized in short order.
Of course, racial bigotry still rests in the hearts of many Americans, but they are a small minority and dying out fast. And the effects of centuries of racial bigotry remain with us today and will for some time. Fulfilling the founding promise does not change that. But it does mean that we, the Joshua Generation, get to start actually living what used to be only a dream.
II. The Journey of the Joshua Generation
To me, there are two core obligations on those of us in the Joshua Generation – Remembrance and Perseverance. Those of us who descend from historically-oppressed people, particularly those of us who attain some measure of success, must always remember and honor the sacrifice of those who came before. Their efforts live on in us and remembering them brings them forth to our present, where they share in our bounty. And they spur us on in the great work of expanding the divine gifts of freedom, justice and love.
I know that I was only permitted to achieve my goals because of the those in the Moses Generation of Dr. King. Their memory pushes me to smooth the road for those who come after me, and I am tasked with the duty and have the responsibility to do all things well. When I speak to young children, I emphasize "EXCELLENCE." Excellence is always my goal. I may not attain the goal every time, but I must try. In other words, as a member of the Joshua Generation, I have an obligation to be fully-prepared and then some for every court hearing. I have an obligation to make sure that every legal brief I file, is exceptional. You see, I realize that even in 2009, many African American lawyers who appear before the judges whom I have practiced before may be unconsciously judged by my performance. I realize that even in 2009, when I appear in a courtroom, some of my colleagues and/or some judges perceive me as an average or maybe even less than average lawyer because of the color of my skin. So, I must show "excellence" to dispel the image, so that someday there will not be even unconscious negative preconceptions.
As a member of the Joshua Generation, I have an obligation to be responsible, ethical and compassionate.
As a member of the Joshua Generation, I have an obligation to give back to the community. For me, that means meeting, mentoring, helping, and never forgetting those less fortunate. Showing them what the results of hard work and dedication look like.
You here at Temple Emanuel know this – you are heavily involved in charitable projects on, among other things, environmental, economic and medical interests. You take seriously the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam (Te' Kun O' lum) – repairing the world. The work of the members of this Congregation demonstrates that you are living up to the responsibilities of the Joshua Generation. We all have those responsibilities, whatever our race or religion.
As a member of the Joshua Generation, I believe, as this Temple exemplifies, that I should work toward something bigger than myself or my own self interests. One of the ways I did this recently was to work in the presidential campaign.
       III.  Trinity United Church of Christ
I began working on the campaign in January 2008. President-elect Obama got on my radar screen several years earlier, when my mom would call me and talk about this intelligent, confident and compassionate young man who was running for the United States Senate from Illinois. Obama captured the interest of most Chicagoans. My family and friends were no different. My connection to Senator Obama was more than political; it was also spiritual because he and his wife were members of my Chicago church, Trinity United Church of Christ.
So, after I learned that Obama was a member of Trinity, I felt a bond with him. While I never met Obama at Trinity, I met him one day with my mother in his U.S. Senate office without an appointment. Notwithstanding his busy schedule, he met with us and treated us as if we were his only appointment for the day. This was an early indication of the type of person he is. When the rumors swirled that Obama was contemplating a run for the presidency, I made up my mind that if he decided to run, I was going to do everything I could for his campaign. And I did.
       IV.  Working On The 2008 Presidential Campaign
My experiences with the Obama campaign changed my life – and not just because we won. I saw things that I never expected to see in my lifetime. I saw Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. I lived his dream. I saw Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans -- Protestants, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhist, agnostics, atheists, and religious people who do not prescribe to a denomination -- young and old, gay and straight, rich and poor, and the disabled working together toward a common goal – CHANGE. Everyone was on equal footing in the campaign office. I saw LOVE in action. I saw respect in action. I saw rich people working with and assisting poor people. I saw people from red states and blue states traveling to different parts of the country to assist with the primary election. I saw Republicans, Democrats and Independents working together for the campaign and for the common good. And it was something to behold.
Then came the actual election – and that CHANGED MY LIFE EVEN MORE! This election taught me that America has become what it always said it was. It was apparent to me that the country had changed right before my eyes and I was oblivious to it. Pres-elect Obama often said during the election that only in America could his story be possible. Prior to this election, I thought America had not changed much from what it was 40 years ago. I have never been so happy to be so wrong.
I know I have been very fortunate in my life, but I often wondered whether I was an exception. I felt that the overwhelming majority of American people still held deep-seeded discriminatory views. I was of the belief that America would "let a few of us through" - Thurgood Marshall, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Senator Obama and, on a much smaller scale, Bridget Bailey Lipscomb - but I thought that was as far as we could go.
I knew there were many Americans who had moved past our history of racial bias, but I didn't think there were enough. I did not believe that a majority of American voters would judge a Black man running for the highest office in the land on the content of his character rather than by the color of his skin. During the presidential campaign, many African Americans awakened to the fact that they live in a different America. It was a transformation for me, and for many African Americans – a transformation I look forward to watching play out as we move forward together.
V. Commemorating the Dream
It is fitting to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday this year by celebrating the leap forward that we, as Americans, took on November 4th – when we elected the first African American President of the United States of America. I love to say this, "The 44th President of the United States of America - Barack Obama."
Since ancient times the Jewish people have been known as "the people of the book" – the Torah. In the Catholic school I attended, it was called "the Pentateuch." It is said that these five books -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – were inspired by God and written by Moses. These books lay the foundation not only of the Jewish faith, but of the Christian and Muslim creeds as well. To me, two things stand out in these ancient writings – one, the emphasis on ritual to bind us to the past, to God, and to our community.
The other thing that stands out to me in these great books is the wide prevalence of different forms of slavery throughout the ancient world. Yes, slavery was widespread throughout the ancient Roman and Greek eras, and the great Egyptian civilizations before that. It likely existed for thousands of years before that. But one thing we do know for sure – from the time humans started writing about themselves, there was slavery and it continued unchecked into THIS country's old South. The prevalence of slavery in the ancient Holy books was often used to JUSTIFY the institution and perpetuate it in America long past the time that its moral repugnance was well known among the nations of the world. But the glory of our common scripture and religious heritage is that we have learned to capture its essence, WITHOUT being bound to practices which were of a time and place NOT OURS.
The "peculiar institution" of chattel slavery continued more than 200 long years in this troubled land, until ended by President Lincoln, and those citizens who elected him.
It is not surprising that an abomination like slavery, that persisted in human societies for thousands of years, and in America for more than 200 years, would leave us with a prolonged time in which its evil effects remained present. These eras are often subdivided and labeled – Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era – but to me it is all part of one era, the post-slavery era. And I believe we will see the BEGINNING of the end of this post-slavery era on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama -- a man whose skin tone would have made him a SLAVE when Lincoln was elected, places his hand on a Bible – a Bible last used by Abraham Lincoln at his inaugural – and swears his oath to accept the position of leader of this land as freely chosen by its people. And when he does, a roar of jubilation will shoot through America like it has never known. That feeling, that sound, will be representative of the lifting of the burden of hundreds of years of oppression and suffering that will HOPEFULLY, HOPEFULLY soon be cast off by all.
I believe that Barack Obama's inauguration is a milestone in the realization of Dr. King's "Dream." In my heart, I believe that in his dream, Dr. King envisioned such a day: A day when a person elected based on the "content of his character" rather than the color of his skin would begin to lead our whole nation on a journey in which we all would try to fulfill the promise that could be America. Dr. King told a crowd, shortly before his death, "I may not get there with you. But . . . we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land." Like Moses, Dr. King, from the mountain top, saw into the Promised Land. As Dr. King's friend Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "To guide the pupil to the promised land, he must have been there himself." Dr. King was there. And we are all Dr. King's pupils.
Because Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, Rosa Parks, Rep. John Lewis, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, Justice Thurgood Marshall and Phineas Indritz (a Temple member - now deceased - who wrote an amicus brief in Brown v. Board) worked and marched, because they sacrificed and prayed and endured – and sometimes died. Because they had to sit at the back of the bus, because they were beaten and had to endure the force of water hoses and dogs let loose, because they had to go through the era of Jim Crow -- President-elect Obama was able to attend Harvard Law School, and become a law professor, and a state senator, and a U.S. Senator. And he was able to be elected president of the United States of America. Because Pres-elect Obama is standing on these and other shoulders, he and his family are about to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Pres-elect Obama has said that he is part of the "Joshua Generation.." In March, 2007, at Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama (the cradle of the civil rights movement), Obama said, "I'm here because somebody marched. I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank the Moses generation . . . . As great as Moses was, despite all he did, leading a people out of bondage, he didn't cross over the river to see the Promised Land.. God told him your job is done. You'll see it. You'll see what I've promised. . . ..You will see that I've fulfilled that promise but you won't get there. We're going to leave it to the Joshua generation to make sure it happens."
We are now reaching the metaphorical Promised Land. And we, the Joshua Generation – not just African Americans, but all Americans – who have so benefitted from the struggle of our forebears, have the RESPONSIBILITY to truly make it, in the words of scripture, a "land flowing with milk and honey." A land where all of us can live in peace and freedom and abundance.
Finally, America has shown the world that it is fulfilling its unique promise – the binding up of the wounds from slavery, accomplished by the descendants of slaves working side by side with the descendants of slave-owners. This inauguration moves us toward a more perfect union where "all men (and women) are created equal." As Dr. King would say, let justice "roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Thank you for having me. SHALOM.