I have been thinking non-stop, as have many of you, about the Inauguration and coming Presidency of Barack Obama. Leaving behind for a moment all the political arguments from the left and right, from those who voted for him and those who did not, this is just an amazing moment. I look at the Obama family and can't keep from breaking out into a smile. We are facing the worst of times yet hope is the operative emotion that is coursing through the veins of this nation. You can read it in the latest polls but more importantly you can feel it when you listen to people, talk to your friends or when people of all stripes discuss this moment. I have never experienced anything close to this in political annals of our nation. The closest was JFK, maybe RFK but still, this moment is different.
Over the weekend I could not get Mack Parker out of my head. Who is Mack Parker? Fifty years ago he was lynched. He had been accused of raping a white woman. Subsequent investigations revealed he was most likely innocent. But that is not important. He was lynched by a white mob. White judges in Mississippi who were part of the White Citizen's Councils (a refined version of the KKK) refused to do anything about the crime. His brutalized chained body was found floating on the Pearl River ten days after the mob dragged him from his cell. I can only imagine the fear and pain he suffered.
When I was almost thirteen years old I opened a Life Magazine. The picture in the center of the Magazine was of a pair of work boots neatly placed under a cot in a prison cell. They were Mack Parker's boots left behind where he put them before a mob dragged him out to be tortured, mutilated and murdered.
I kept that picture on my wall for years. It haunted me. It reminded me why I fight for a new America that belongs to all of her citizens, breathing in, and living, the same air of equality.
Now Barack Obama is standing there fifty years later, an African American man about to become President of the United States of America. Many people have written that just because we have elected an African American President of the United States of America does not mean that racism will end. They are right, but I deeply believe that it is having and will have a profound effect on American consciousness.
It is an amazing time. I can't believe we are here. The hope is palpable. Let it be real.
What are you feeling now?
I hate watching this happen. It is no small matter for a sitting Mayor to be indicted.
I have known Sheila Dixon for over thirty years. We are not close friends. We have not been in a private social setting together in 32 years. We met when we were both counselors and teachers at Baltimore Prep, a program at Westside Shopping Center for street kids who had just come out of prison or had been kicked out of school, whose lives were on the corner instead of the classroom. Sheila was committed to those kids. She didn’t take any stuff from them and she knew every game they could play, because she came from the same streets that they did. Baltimore Prep is also where she met Mark Smith, who later became her husband, with whom she raised her nephew Juan Dixon and his brother. The boys’ parents had died from heroin addiction. Sheila and Mark saw those boys to manhood. This is the Sheila Dixon I know.
I knew her a little in the intervening years. I remember when she was first elected to the city council. I remember when she banged her shoe on the table exclaiming it was our turn now. She was committed to working class black folks. She lived and knew their pain, joys and struggles. A lot of white journalists, politicians and others thought she hated white people. I don’t know what her innermost thoughts about race were, but I can say that anyone who came up in a certain way who was from a certain place had historical reasons to have a mistrust of white people. Whatever she thought then, however, she has grown from that place, as did William Donald Schaeffer from his place of not caring about Black folks before he became Mayor. She bleeds working class blue in her veins. That is the Sheila Dixon I know.
So, these indictments are just tragic. If they are true, they show stupidity and sheer greed.
As I wrote last week, the only difference between the actions of our city officials and indicted power developers, and goings on in Congress between politicians and corrupt corporate leaders, is the thin but sturdy line of legality.
Politicians are always doing favors for the powerful and their friends. It is part of human existence. Nevertheless, it was not the fur coats that bought Ron Lipscomb city contracts, but rather all of his city and corporate contacts.
I am not excusing anything here. If Sheila and others broke their sacred trust with us, they have to leave elected office at the very least. It cannot be tolerated.
The worst offence would be if she actually took gift certificates that were intended for poor families and children to enjoy Christmas. I hope that even if the bribery and malfeasance indictments are true, that stealing from street kids and poor families is not true. That could break a city’s heart.
That would not be the Sheila Dixon I know. Soon we will know whether she broke the law. If she did, then the court will decide her fate. If she is exonerated, she could become one of our greatest Mayors. If not, she will become one of our greatest disappointments and tragedies.