Why 'August 28' Marks A Day Of Black Historical Reckonings
A summer day full of black history.
August 28, 2018 at 2:35 pm
Ava DuVernay may very well be the best documentarian of these times. In addition to directing and producing award-winning films — Selma, A Wrinkle in Time — specifically for the black gaze, she created 13th, a critically acclaimed documentary detailing the problematics of the 13th Amendment, how it has been and still is an act of violence toward black folk.
August 28: A Day in the Life of a People is a 22-minute docu-drama that strings together historical events, highlighting black “progress, protest, passion and perseverance” which have all taken place on August 28.
The short film was previewed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on its opening weekend. However, timing is everything, and DuVernay knows this as the film’s official release falls on the actual date — August 28 — and can be seen on Oprah’s OWN network on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.
August is a murderous month. It claimed the young lives of Emmett Till, Yusuf Hawkins, Michael Brown, Korryn Gaines, Kenney Watkins, John Crawford III and others. It also brought in a not-guilty verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Last weekend alone, 74 people were shot in Chicago, making August the city’s deadliest month. However lethal the month of August, it's 28th day bears such harrowing and gratifying history. So much so, the events which have occured on August 28 seem to have happened by design. There’s no perfect day than today to reckon with events that make August 28 significant to black lives and DuVernay’s film a historical slam dunk.
Though established in Britain, this act was influential in the eventual end to slavery in the United States. It covered South Africa, the Caribbean and northern Canada, which became a region of refuge for American slaves who escaped bondage as well as their brutal reality. Make no mistakes about it, the decision to abolish slavery in England was not born out of sympathy for the enslaved, but rather a response to the uptick in slave rebellions threatening the lives and economy of plantation and slave owners. Think Toussaint L'ouverture; think Haitian Revolution.
While visiting family in Money, Mississippi, 14-year-old Till was brutally beaten beyond recognition, shot in the head and tossed into Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River with a metal fan barb-wired to his back by two white men for allegedly hollerin’ at a lying white woman. Both cowards were tried and acquitted for their bastardly act. Till’s death became the catalyst for the civil rights movement.
The Marvelettes song “Please Mr. Postman” being played on broadcast radio was a turning point in black music and marked the beginning of Motown Records' inevitable success. The tune is noteworthy as Motown’s first No. 1 single to top Billboard charts and was covered by multiple commercial bands, including the Beatles. For those who don’t know (but should), Motown Records is to black music in the 1950s and '60s is what Bad Boy Records is to hip-hop and R&B in the '90s and early 2000s. The Motown roster boasts musical icons like Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Ashford & Simpson, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Rick James.
This march was heavily organized and spearheaded by lesser-known human rights activist and social justice darling Bayard Rustin. It also set the precedence for subsequent social justice movements, e.g., Black Power and Black Lives Matter. Rustin, a gay man, is not only known for orchestrating the monumental march, he is considered the architect of the civil rights movement, having introduced the non-violent strategy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. The veteran activist’s sexual orientation prevented him from being highly visible but never flawed his commitment to black people. He is black gold.
Dr. King’s canonical speech lives among the best written works of all time. His declaration was delivered at the March on Washington to over 250,000 people and addressed freedom, racial justice and equality. This speech cannot be understated; 55 years ago King made an appeal for a post-racial society America has yet to see. The context is the antithesis of you-know-who’s … you know what.
This Category 3 storm was highly underestimated and devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast: Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. New Orleans’ residents were impacted the worst. Thousands were displaced, having to seek refuge in neighboring states, and many died trying to survive the storm in their homes, flooded streets or local shelters. Media coverage lasted several days and portrayed the city’s black population negatively, marking them “refugees,” “looters,” “hoodlums” and “rapists.” Reporting on the tragedy also brought necessary attention to the racial inequities in the government’s response. During the NBCUniversal broadcasted A Concert for Hurricane Relief, Kanye West called out former President George W. Bush for his lack of urgency and provision vis-a-vis black people, saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Yeezy used to love us for real.
In the 232-year history of the United States, this country had yet to see a black man become president, much less receive a major party nomination. Black people were among other world citizens who watched in awe with hope as the then-president elect became the POTUS and America’s representative in the free world for two terms. We cherished his family and were witnesses as he evolved and delivered on a few good promises.
August 28 — both the date and the film — exemplifies both tragedy and triumph in American history. In many ways, it is likened to a national memorial holiday. Though it is not, it wouldn't hurt to honor black resilience, the black legacy created and the blacks lives directly affected. Lift it up. Say their names.
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