Tuesday, February 02, 2010

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Books Review: The Education Of A Black Radical (D'Army Bailey)

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Books: 'The Education Of A Black Radical' Makes It Plain On What It Means To Be Young, Gifted & Black In America
By R2C2H2 Tha Artivist

“When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right...Make sure you done take into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got wherever he is.”
~Lorraine Hansberry

Judge Bailey is a man of both word and action. He is a truly impressive man, a man of the people as well as one who is self made. In the tradition of Frederick Douglass & Booker T. Washington, The Education Of A Black Radical (the first of a 3 book offering center around the life story (autobiography) of Judge D’Army Bailey, the man who saved the Lorraine Motel and founded the National Civil Rights Museum) offers a riveting glimpse via a colorful and page turning narrative into the life of a dynamic young Black man turned freedom fighter turned civil rights leader. Judge Bailey does a masterful and nuanced job of introducing the reader to what Jim Crow life was like in a medium sized southern town such as Memphis,TN…

However, Memphis is of course no regular sleepy southern town…It is arguably the epicenter of America’s cultural crossroads, the place where the blues and r & b give birth to rock n roll…Case in point Bailey actually states that Johnny Ace, arguably the first rock n roll star ever, was a neighbor of his in his close-knit south Memphis neighborhood. In giving us an insider look into the inner workings of his early childhood one could see the benefits of a black child growing up in a segregated yet proud and thriving community in the Jim Crow South. Economically it benefitted Blacks due to the fact that many were forced to pursue entrepreneurial efforts in order to provide goods and services for the community thus providing for a recycling of the Black dollar rarely seen today.

Bailey’s industrious paternal grandfather seems at ease in this environment as he is the proprietor of Bailey’s Stand, a mini grocery store as well as a successful housing contractor who is able to pay for the early private education of his grandsons. What make these feats even more amazing is that his grandfather is functionally illiterate. Bailey’s father is a well traveled and well read Pullman porter and chess master while his mom is described as a resourceful and highly intelligent renaissance woman with several engaging careers including that of nurse. Bailey does an excellent job of also adding flesh and bones to legends in the Memphis Black community such as education giants Blair T. Hunt and Nat D. Williams both of Booker T. Washington High School. By growing up in an environment with such role models it is easy to see where Bailey gets his trademark confidence from.

Bailey does an exceptional job of showing his evolution from observer to participant in the burgeoning modern American Civil Rights movement. What is really intriguing is his incubation period at Southern University…Towards the end of his tenure at the prestigious institution Bailey grows into a rebel with a cause, catching the attention and loathing of the school’s president as well as of the Louisiana State Board of Education apparatus. Bailey’s activism also gets him the attention and disdain of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, something he won’t fully become aware of until years later because of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Bailey should be considered a demonstrative as well as definitive man of his times in the annals of a people’s history. The people he called his comrades in arms reads like a who’s who of power players and martyrs of both the civil rights and student movements respectfully. From Dave Dennis, Diane Nash, Ella Baker, James Meredith to Bob Zellner, Congressman Barney Frank, Rev. James Reeb, Mickey Schwerner and Abbie Hoffman, Bailey draws you into his coming of age story freedom songs, marches, sit-ins and all.

Another highlight of the book comes in the chapter entitled The Original X Man which is of course about the one and only Malcolm X and the time that Bailey arranged for the controversial Black leader to speak at predominantly white Clark University (his new school after Southern University expelled him) in Worcester, Mass. Bailey does a superb job of painting the often times polarizing Malcolm in all of his complexities and splendor. He makes it plain that when it comes to Malcolm there are no in betweens: you either love or hate him, but in the end all must respect him. Just reading the words in this chapter, one can envision Malcolm’s devious grin, hypnotizing intellect and charming wit dripping from every page.

In conclusion, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised in reading Judge Bailey’s magnum opus. It gives me a greater appreciation for his achievements as well as for the man I have known as a dear friend for most of my life. This is a must read book for all students of the American Civil Rights Movement as well as those interested in organizing young people to take up the call once again for this and future generations to come. Although Bailey’s generation were able to plant the seeds of change which has allowed for the rise of our 44th U.S President being a Black man, the struggle continues. The book is very accessible and should be required reading for young people especially those students in inner city schools and communities.

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