Paying The Price of Economic Oppression

Columbia, S.C. -- The boycott of South Carolina led by the NAACP, fellow civil rights groups and people of goodwill throughout the nation that encourages people to stay away from our state until the Confederate flag is removed from its position of sovereignty atop our capitol dome carries the same kind of economic price experienced for centuries by black folks struggling against injustice in the United States.

Black service workers in the tourism industry in South Carolina will pay a price for the boycott against the Confederate flag, a symbol of their economic oppression. According to the New York Times and other media accounts, they've been paying for years - as many wake up at 4 AM, feed their children, and then ride a Rural Transportation Authority bus, sometimes for 2 hours or more to Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach, make beds, clean rooms and perform other low wage jobs for the multi-billion dollar tourist industry all day, then return home at 8 PM to feed and put their children to bed.

Sacrifice is an honorable and heroic heritage for African-Americans. When Rosa Lee Parks, a black seamstress, refused to sit behind the symbolic line of white supremacy on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus in 1955, the thousands of maids, yard boys, waiters, and other black service workers who joined the Montgomery bus boycott suffered for 382 days until they finally raised the consciousness of our nation whose judicial system erased the symbolic line of oppression and blacks won the right to sit anywhere on the bus.

White politicians lacking the courage to face up to their own acceptance of such symbols of racial oppression insultingly argue in South Carolina in 1999, as they did in Alabama in 1955, that blacks are only hurting themselves because they are suffering the most from the boycotts. They lack the will to apply the Golden Rule and empathize with the 400 years of racial and economic injustice suffered by African-Americans. White privilege and political expediency have veiled their eyes and hardened their hearts to the suffering of blacks.

African-Americans have given "their last, best measure" for the cause of freedom and racial justice throughout our history. From the martyrdom of Denmark Vesey and his 34 comrades of color who were publicly hanged for their attempt to lead slaves to freedom in Charleston in 1822, to the killings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and several of his fellow civil rights freedom fighters in the 1960's, African-Americans have been willing to pay the ultimate price.

Vesey, a free black carpenter, was something of an evangelist who was focused on the biblical story of the deliverance of the children of Israel from enslavement in Egypt and was so appalled at the barbarity of slavery that he led an armed slave revolt against the enslavement of his people, knowing he might die as a consequence. His life in Charleston, a seaport city in South Carolina through which more slaves entered the United States than any other, exposed him to the horrors of slavery. Later, the Confederacy was birthed in South Carolina, with the "first shots" to start the Civil War fired at Fort Sumter by Citadel cadets in Charleston, and South Carolina being the first state to secede from the Union.

Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. was willing to pay the supreme price for the cause in the tradition of Jesus and Gandhi, his role models for his peaceful, non-violent resistance to injustice and activism for social change. The night before his assassination in Memphis he told his followers that "longevity has its rewards" but he had "been to the mountaintop" and "seen the other side" and he was "not afraid anymore." Dr. King had been threatened so much that he had a premonition of his destiny to die for the cause of freedom and social justice.

It's inspiring to see Dr. King's son, Martin L King, III, leading his martyred father's civil rights organization, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and joining in the struggle to remove the Confederate flag from the dome of our capitol in South Carolina. Like his Dad, who led the Montgomery boycott in 1955 to rid the city's busses of their symbol of oppression, Martin King is a leader in a broad-based boycott to rid our State House of such a symbol. Sadly, white politicians, now as then, can't muster the empathy to understand the continuing economic sacrifices of oppressed people.

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