Dear Talladega College Marching Band:
Before there was jazz, blues, soul music, R&B or hip hop, there was “negro music.”
It was part hymn, part African drum, part African dance and all Black. On Saturday nights, slavemasters would join hands with their wives, sons and daughters, walk to the clear spaces near the slave quarters, and watch those dark-skinned bondsmen summon Mother Africa with their waists and make a joyful noise unto their gods until the sun called them home. Besides unshackling themselves and following the north star, fleeing into the unforgiving shadows of the night toward liberty or death, this was the only way a slave could escape.
Negro music has never changed. Every note ever bellowed from a Black throat, every string ever plucked by a dark-skinned finger, every single pelvic thrust has always been a divine incantation for freedom. We do not call it “soul music” because of where it comes from—we named it that, because that’s what it is. Our souls are music. This is why no one can replicate it. That’s why it is impossible to clone.
This is also why there has always been slavemasters standing in the knolls, watching lustfully. Because their limbs cannot become as lithe as the waves of the Atlantic. Their hips cannot sway like the wind. Their bellies cannot produce the sound of the sun. Their feet have no funk. Their mouths do not make magic. So they watch from afar. It gives them joy they cannot find elsewhere.
I have heard you are scheduled to play in the inauguration parade of Donald J. Trump on January 20th. I am sure it is a prestigious honor to participate in the celebration of the installation of the leader of the free world. I know you’ve heard a million reasons why you shouldn’t go. I will not do that. Instead, I want to offer you a playlist of 5 songs you should consider playing as you march along the parade route:
- Wobble by Vic – Wypipo love line dances, and there is nothing more entertaining than watching their rhythmless bodies try to move in concert while you can see their lips moving, counting, “1… 2… 3… 4…” Sometimes they even entangle themselves and fall. This makes us laugh, and this might be the last laugh we will have for four years.
- Lift Every Voice And Sing by James Weldon Johnson – I know this isn’t a traditional marching band song, but I’m sure you can funk it up. If you are going to go, you must represent us, and this is how you do it. Plus, if Trump supporters find out there is a Negro national anthem, it might make their heads explode, and viola—you become a hero!
- September by Earth, Wind and Fire – This song just makes everyone happy, and is infectious. Also, when you’re sitting in your underfunded (You think Trump is gonna allow HBCU’s federal funding?) Russian class after Putin convinces Donald to sell the U.S. to the Soviet Union by calling it “the bigly-est real estate deal ever. Tremendous,” you’ll have fond memories of the month before we voted the Sunny-D tinted dictator doofus into office. Ahhh, September!
- Knuck if You Buck by Three Six Mafia – This will be the new negro motto during the Trump Presidency, so you should take it upon yourself to let America know that if they think we are going to acquiesce to the White supremacist wet dreams of subjugation and “making America great again,” they are dead wrong.
- We Gon’ Be Alright by Kendrick Lamar – Because we will.
Which reminds me—I have a friend who I greatly admire, who graduated from your college. His name is Dr. Art Bacon. He is a world renowned scientist and served as Dean of your school’s department of Natural Science and Mathematics. Under his leadership, Talladega became one of the top institutions for science in the country. He worked at your institution for 40 years as a teacher and administrator. After he retired he became a world-famous painter.
One day, he sat down and told me the story of when he was an undergraduate student at Talladega College. In 1961, returning after his Christmas break, while awaiting the “college wagon” to come pick him up, Bacon decided to test the new federal transportation integration laws by waiting in the “White” waiting room at the local train station.
A group of White supremacists dragged Art Bacon from the Talladega College car and beat him to within inches of his life. “I could hear them beating me,” Bacon said. They knocked out his teeth. They beat him with sticks. They kicked him. They punched him with their fists until he was a bloody pulp.
No one was ever prosecuted for the crime.
Men like the ones who beat Art Bacon helped elect Donald Trump. Thousands of them will be standing along the Parade route on which you will march. The night before they will celebrate at the event an extravagant gala they are calling their “Deploraball.” They will cheer for the newly elected man who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, and who emboldened the White supremacist movement. When he said “they have no jobs, they have horrible education…” he was talking about Black people. He was talking about your school. He was talking about you.
As you march by, I’m sure you will notice many of the revelers wearing red hats emblazoned with the words “Make America Great Again.” I know you are college students, which means you are probably young, so you might not remember what they mean by “again.”
“Again” means when your ancestors were chattel.
“Again” means when they would swoon to what came out of your mouth, but made you drink from a separate water fountain.
“Again” means when they could sit beneath the plantation’s tallest tree and watch you dance and play your music in the morning and lynch you from the branches of that tree in the evening.
Ask Dr. Bacon what “again” means. He knows.
Art Bacon told me that they had barely sopped up his blood in 1961 before students heard about it and immediately organized a march near that little train station. He said he doesn’t believe most young people today would do it, but he believed the students at Talladega College would.
I pray he never sees you wearing the colors of his alma mater high-stepping for the joy of the people who beat him with an axe handle.
They have tried every way conceivable way to extinguish our light, but it is impossible. For too long they have lived in fear that theirs was dimming and ours was becoming too bright. But Donald Trump has come to save them, and they will be celebrating like the days of yore—except this time there are no shackles binding you to the plantation. There are no fugitive slave hunters waiting for you to abscond. Make sure your instruments shine and your teeth are white, because this may be the first time in the history of our people in America that the songs escaping the lungs of Black bodies aren’t ringing for freedom, justice or equality. You made the choice to lend our music to their party. You are willingly going to share a little bit of our delight with the slavemasters. Ours. The notes are not yours. The songs are not yours. The gyrations do not belong to you. They are ours. Remember that, as you stuff our souls into the already-full bellies of the people whose fists are stained with Art Bacon’s blood and all of our pain…