With open ears, listen to a black woman
West of the East, yet East of the West, lies the State of Missouri in the Heartland of America. It is there — 115 miles south of Saint Louis and 175 miles north of Memphis — that the beautiful City of Cape Girardeau was erected.
The history of Missouri has long been documented; and yes, she has witnessed plenty. Congruous to her geographic positioning, she has perpetually found herself stuck in the middle; how fitting. Her Compromise has not been forgotten — and certainly has yet to be reckoned with — to those whom she half-heartedly welcomed to be her slaves!
To wonder what it meant to be classified as a slave, property, or even 3/5ths of be-ing … The “idea” of the status of my people has consistently been decided for us — because our true Dignity and Prestige has always been known and certainly still feared.
Has Missouri already forgotten Dred Scott’s name? Better yet, can you recall the words of his status and those like him? In 1857, Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court upheld Missouri’s reckoning; finding that black people "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States."
This scene serves the backdrop of the 20th Century wherein great Civil Rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Angela Davis inherited and began their work.
“Racial Matters” — The FBI’s Secret File on Black America by Kenneth O’Reilly — details widely the commitment of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI surveillance to repressing and undermining the Civil Rights Movement … The foreign/external Red Scare of America has always been inextricably linked to the internal Black Scare that still prevails today in the Heartland of America.
Hoover reasoned that “second-class citizens would have second-class loyalty,” and later, with his FBI’s institutionalization of COINTELPRO — a covert domestic surveillance program aimed to undermine and discredit domestic political organizations and civil rights movements — many prominent leaders of the Civil Rights movement found themselves as subjects of such targeting.
Let us not forget then, that King was among those deemed radical, communist, socialist, though, in fact, his propagation of Truth and Dignity in American society was all that was feared!
Cape Girardeau, what is it that you hold so near to you, that you cannot allow another to come and tell about her own? Is a message of freedom and glory one that is still all too threatening to face in the mirror at once? Does the guiding light of Southeast Missouri still cast a racial shadow that is unbeknownst to you? Does the Southeast Missouri State University rebrand from Indians to Redhawks bring back wounds that still haven’t healed?
The trials and tribulations of Dred Scott were not held far from the City of Roses in St. Louis. The assassination of King in Memphis finds you therefore in even closer proximity. And now, positioned on the debate regarding the marvelous Angela Davis, you find yourself again positioned in the center.
W. E .B. Du Bois held that “the function of the University is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be an organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of Civilization.”
As a Southeast Missouri State alumnus and former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship award recipient, I am saddened to see how many still remain with eyes wide shut to the moral, social, cultural, economic, civil and political strife that faces African Americans today and tomorrow. As we are still labeled by the terms and conditions of our counterparts of the past.
I hope those who have taken the time to read this will be more willing to embrace the presence of Davis at Southeast with open arms. Even more so, to those who find Davis unworthy of honoring the legacy of King because of her past, I ask that with open ears you listen to a black woman, revered by a population that still today is all too familiar with mobilizations set-out to silence their voices.