Donald J. Trump has already done a great deal of damage as President. If he remains in office, no doubt, he will continue to do damage. Yet, in the midst of the Trump presidency, I find solace in the adage, “Trouble doesn’t last always.” We may lose some, but keep in mind that this madness is temporal. When I reflect on the ancestors I am reminded of the things they had to endure in order to make sure I would be heard to write this article. In quiet solitude, they admonish me to endure for generations yet to come. I once heard a preacher say, “When you get lost in the woods, you don’t get mad or impetuous and throw your compass away.” The minister said, “No! You hold on to your compass.” Simply because politics is currently insane, that does not mean that I have to follow the same line. Therefore, one must go back to get guidance from the ancestors in order not to lose ground or lose oneself. This can be achieved individually or it can be done collectively.
African-Americans have a rich history of ancestral achievements upon which to draw inspiration. For example, John Coltrane was a jazz saxophonist whose voice is as prominent in 2017 as it was during the time in which he lived. Coltrane was born in 1926 and died forty years later. Coltrane’s death came on the heels of the Second Reconstruction. Jim Crow had just started to wane based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dr. King would only have one year to live and was pushing for an end to the war in Vietnam along with economic equality in the United States. Nixon was ascendant the Fair Housing Act had not yet become the law of the land. Yet in the midst of this volatile political environment, Coltrane composed “A Love Supreme.” This 1965 work came about in the same year as the Voting Rights Act. Although A Love Supreme addresses Coltrane’s overcoming drug addiction, it is also a testament to an indefatigable spirit. Coltrane’s death came within a decade that saw the lost of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Jimmy Lee Jackson. Nevertheless, when we reflect on Coltrane and his music, the only thing that comes through is Coltrane’s excellence. This leads us to know that our own excellence should not and cannot be subdued by surrounding political circumstances.
Billie Holiday was born even earlier than John Coltrane. At the turn of the twentieth century, America was just entering the throes of Jim Crow coming on the heels of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Billie Holiday was born fourteen years after Plessy. This case stated that separate but equal is constitutional. Lynching’s of African Americans were also on the rise during this time period. Irrespective of these dire circumstances, Billie Holiday’s voice rose above the din of destruction in order to provide a melody upon which our ravaged ears could find solace. Billie Holiday died in 1959. Her death came before the election John Kennedy as President. Although Kennedy was not a firm advocate of Civil Rights, he came to be a defender of Civil Rights. Billie Holiday did live to see an end to the racial dispensation of Jim Crow with the decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. She was also alive when the Bus Boycott showed that Black working together could achieve major victories in order to move forward. Once again, what survives out of this turbulent century is the divine voice of Billie Holliday.
Sankofa means to go back and fetch. The essence of Sankofa instructs us to go back and latch on to the essence of those who have gone before. Sankofa also states that we must look back before going forward. It also admonishes and individual or group not to forget whence one comes. Under the current political maladies, it is imperative that we individually and collectively lean back in order to keep from falling back.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”