Monday, February 13, 2012

Attention for Celebrity Overshadows Death of Civil Right Heroine

Once in our community, it was not the singers or entertainers who upon an untimely death received the most attention, but rather the heroes and community leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. I guess I may be dating myself, for I remember when martin Luther King died and suspect that most living African Americans do not.

Over this past week we lost a great and wonderful woman, who contributed and gave her life for our community, and it was not Whitney Houston, it was Patricia Stephens Due.

I’m am certain that many may have never heard of Patricia Stephens Due, and as such, may reflect the behavior of attending to things that are not as important as we realize in a tangible sense. Or even worse, reflects what Marcus Garvey meant when he stated “The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”

Patricia Stephens Due died last Tuesday as a consequence of thyroid cancer in Smyrna, Georgia at the age of 72. Born on Dec. 9, 1939, in Quincy, Fla. as Patricia Gloria Stephens, as high school students, she and her older sister started a petition to have the principal removed. She was one of the rare occurrences during the early days of the fight for justice and equality during the initial period of the struggle for civil rights – young Black women out in front organizing protest.
She started early in her life. At 13, Patricia Stephens challenged Jim Crow laws and the culture of segregation in the south by trying to use the "whites only" window at a Dairy Queen. As a college student, she led demonstrations to integrate lunch counters, theaters, and swimming pools and was repeatedly arrested. She became world renown after she and 10 other students were arrested for sitting at the “whites only” lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store in Tallahassee, Fla., on Feb. 20, 1960. It was 19 days after four black students in Greensboro, N.C., had made civil rights history by doing the same thing. She along with seven others refused to pay $300 fines for violating laws and served the full 49-day sentence.

She marched with and met John D. Due Jr., a civil rights lawyer, whom she eventually married in 1963. For their honeymoon, they rode the Freedom Train to Washington to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Now I am not suggesting that we should not celebrate the life of Whitney Houston. What I am saying is that her life was great and may have not manifested if it were not for women like Mrs. Stephens Due. Without her, Whitney may have not won a Grammy or been allowed to kiss a white man on the big screen. How quickly we forget about what allow us to be in the position were in.

Mrs. Due paid a price for this devotion. She wore large, dark glasses day and night because her eyes were damaged when a hissing tear gas canister hit her in the face. She took a decade to graduate from Florida A&M University because of suspensions for her activism.

She ammased an F.B.I. file of more than 400 pages and was kicked and threatened with dogs, including a German shepherd whose police handlers gave it a racial slur for a name.

In 1959, she formed a local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality. In 2003, Mrs. Due and her daughter wrote about the ambivalence and hesitancy of black people’s regarding the civil rights struggle in the movement’s early days in “Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights.”

It is sad to loose a talent like a Whitney Houston, but what is even sadder and pathetic, is the incessant adoration and infatuation we have with idols and celebrity when compared to people who actually did something to benefit toe world of African Americans than singing like Patricia Stephens Due: unfortunately a person the average individual of African descent in America has never heard of or taken the time to find out about. I guess this is what the Great Indian philosopher teacher Chanakya meant when he wrote: "There is no disease (so destructive) as lust; no enemy like infatuation."

9 comments:

Devona said...

Thank you for this. I, too, never heard of Patricia Stephens Due. I suspect there a numerous of people especially women who go unrecognize for their work/contribution to the civil rights movement. This is a very timely post seeing how it is black history month.

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