My wife recently discovered an Ebony magazine from July, 1972 in her “memory box.” My children were fascinated by all of the cigarette, skin bleaching, hair care, and fashion ads of the times.
Personally, I was drawn to an article about an African-American male congressman named William Dawson, a Democrat from Illinois, whose role in the 1944 Democratic National Convention saved the United States from the election of a perceived racist Vice Presidential candidate, James Byrnes. While the phraseology usually goes that the Vice President is only one step away from becoming the President, this was unusually true for this Democratic ticket because of President Roosevelt’s frail health. All eyes were on the Vice Presidential selection, due to the concern that President Roosevelt probably would not live to see the end of his fourth term.
Dawson was the only black man in the United States Congress at the time; there had not been an African-American since George White in 1901. The Democrats were in turmoil. First, there were the disgruntled southern whites, who thought the Party had been taken over by Blacks and communists. Second, Blacks were unhappy with being discriminated against at home and in the military during World War II. Finally, there was the initial desire of Roosevelt to put Byrnes in the VP spot on the ticket simply to appease southern white voters.
After Dawson’s skilled political maneuvers leading up to the actual convention, Byrnes was forced to withdraw as a potential candidate for the VP nomination. It has been written that Dawson’ maneuvering behind the scenes leading up to the 1944 DNC “altered recent American history,” due to his success at removing Byrnes from contention for the position of Vice President.
Our young people need to hear this type of history, steeped in courage and intellect (the only Black man in Congress in 1944), that serve as the underpinning for much of the life that they enjoy today. They need to see and understand what actual constitutes the definition of cool…..like changing the course of history.
The central question that I have is, will they squander it away or can we get them to emulate it? The latter will be much more difficult to achieve, if the stories of men like Congressman William Dawson are never told to them.
Emulate it or squander it…..that would be the question!
Read, learn, and share…..Have a Family Meeting