A Message from Mark Holdaway

Happy Mark

On Racism and the
African American Spirituals Book

The year was 1972. I was 10 years old, and my mother was volunteering on a doomed presidential campaign in Dallas, Texas—Dallas, where only 9 years earlier, our president of hope and dreams, John F. Kennedy, had been slain. Everyone knew that if the poor and disenfranchised people of our country would go out and vote, the world could be very different. At that time, voter turnout in minority neighborhoods was about 10% of what it was in white neighborhoods.

On election day of 1972, my mother walked through the black neighborhood of Oak Cliff. She had been knocking on doors, encouraging people to go and vote. She was tired and demoralized by the responses of distrust that met her pleas. As she sat on the curb, wondering if she should give up and go home, a truck with a sound system on the roof slowly drove through the neighborhood, and played the slain leader Martin Luther King's speech:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." ...When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

With tears in her eyes and hope in her heart, she got up and walked through that poor neighborhood in Dallas without fear, and knocked on many more doors. She would not arrive home again until well after 7pm that evening, but to no avail. George McGovern had lost to Richard Nixon in one of the most humiliating defeats in our country's history. But my mother forever changed me and my heart. After telling me of this story, I cannot read or hear the words of Martin Luther King without crying, without feeling the pride and pain of 1960s black America and Martin Luther King himself.

And now almost 40 years later, Martin Luther King's dream has crossed a new threshold of reality. This nation which only 150 years ago treated black men, women, and children as property, which only 50 years ago greeted peacefully protesting black men, women, and children with attack dogs and fire hoses and the self-condemning words of "hate, hate, hate," has elected a black man as president.

The fact that we have Barack Obama as president is significant, but as he himself said about the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrest in the liberal city of Cambridge Massachussets, we in America still have many issues about race.

The hope and the promise embodied in Barack Obama is the potential for the different sides in any conflict to come together. He is the combination of African and European ancestry, and isn't he a beautiful man? He symbolizes this possibility, of black and white, of left and right coming together to achieve a higher unity. Can he do this? In a way, just by being elected to the presidency, he already has. One glass ceiling has been forever broken. Black children can dream that some day they could be president. And while only a very few will ever rise to that position, so many have been inspired that Mr. Obama has done what the skeptics and pundits said was impossible just over a year ago.

This is a time of great pride and great hope for people of color all over the world. Mr. Obama has entered the hall of fame of great symbolic leaders across the world: Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Patrice Lumumba, and so many more.

Whenever someone picks up a kalimba, they walk in a special place - a place that honors black people, African innovation and artistry. Even if the music they play is folk or new age or any other type of music that seems to have nothing to do with the black experience, they walk in that place. And I invite you to walk in that place with me.

African American Spirituals Book

Kalimba Magic is proud to announce our first new hardcopy book in over two years: African American Spirituals for the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba. This book takes a reflective look at the experience of slavery from which the African American spirituals grew and provides basic and advanced arrangements of 21 African American Spirituals. The core message of this book is one of standing with the pain of the history of the black experience in America, honoring the beauty, ingenuity, and creativity of the black spirit in both Africa and America, and transcending the pain with the hope and joy inherent in this most beautiful music.

I hope you can walk with me in this experience, for the respectful attitude with which I write and walk is the sort of change that we as a country - yes, we in the world - need to achieve to get beyond the race issues that still tie us - white and black - to the past and to a reality that is but a fraction of our potential as the united human species that we need to become if we are to meet the steep challenges that face us now and in the very near future.

—Mark Holdaway, August 13, 2009


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