“They are an American people who are geared to what is, and who yet are driven by a sense of what it is possible for human life to be in this society.”

Ralph Ellison April 6, 1970

Oh well it’s that time again in the calendar year to take a moment and think about the history of black people in the United States of America.  But this year…I want to pose some questions to you.  What would the United States be today if the history of black people in this country never happened?  What would it mean to be progressive absent our history of black struggle?  What would the histories of gender equity, class struggle and LGBT equality be without the black fight for dignity, acceptance and enfranchisement?  What battles would not have been fought if there were no black people in America?  What conversations at your dinner table would never have happened if there were no black people in America? What would be the status of the children of immigrants legal or undocumented if there was no black demand for full citizenship? How would you feel about the color of your skin and the texture of your hair if there were no black people in America?

I ask these questions not to score points for black Americans or to over valorize black American history. Rather I ask these questions to underscore the fact that in some significant way all of us who have been on the side of justice and equality in these great United States are all black like me.  Martin Luther King Junior Day is not just a day for or about black Americans; it is a day for and about all Americans.

Toby Thompkins

Vice President  Tides 21st Century

Friday, January 18th, 2013