By Kenneth Braswell
It has been an eye opening experience to hear from so many scholars about the atmosphere during the time that the Moynihan Report was published. I, like many others get caught up in the nostalgia of the civil rights movement. If you were born like me in the early sixties; you remember the residue from the sixties; but have more of a reference point from the seventies. In context for me the sixties is more revered than experienced.
I liken it to finding out about a deep family secret. I remember some years ago sitting amongst cousins talking about my grandfather. Although I did not know much about him; I had a feeling based on kitchen table conversation that he was an admired and respected man. My cousins more close to my age that knew some of the porch conversation began to share a new context. It didn’t change how I felt about the greatness of what my grandfather was to me; but it did help me understand that he was just as human as the next man.
No one wants to talk about Dr. King’s infidelity or Malcolm being a hustler; but it is what it is; life. None of it takes away from the tremendous contributions to American life. Having said that; in today’s conversation it’s more about their legacy and not who they were back then. It is important for us to distinguish the two. For instance; right after 9/11 one could not say anything that sounded non-patriotic. Today there is an inch of space to dialog about how the US might have done things to stimulate the hatred that resulted in the 9/11 attacks.
So one could imagine that in 1965, talking negative about Black people would have been akin to talking bad about Ms. Jenkins. Truly her imperfections could never be seen through the lens of perfection one might create for her. For many of us Ms. Jenkins was just nosey; a tattletale; even a gossip. But in the eyes of many others she is part of the community fabric that is Black culture.
How were we to respond to a report that spoke of the social ills of black families at a time to which we were beginning to find our way? How after 400 years of slavery and more of Jim Crow were we supposed to digest the negative forecast of Negro families in America? What would be the response to yet one more suggestion from a white man of our negative pending doom. Well; we attacked it and ignored it.
New York Amsterdam News editorial writer James L. Hicks summed it up this way, “it’s painful to say so but many of our leaders have become so professional and so distant in their approach to the average Negro’s problem…they are forced to spend so much time THINKING WITH white people that they don’t have time to find out how Black people are thinking.” (The Missing Viewpoint – November 1965)
Let’s face it; because of all the aforementioned realities we missed the boat on a critical piece of information. One to which, we should have placed our emotions to the rear and our intellect to the front. Fortunately today many of our scholars agree that this report was a defining revelation for Black families. A report that needs more research, dialog and solutions.
We have an opportunity with fresh eyes and a new heart to revisit what this report means to our community today. In 2015 the Moynihan Report will be 50 years old; the trend of what has occurred can’t be the trend that continues into the next fifty years.