As the Obama era comes to a close, a snapshot of the top Black press stories of the past year alone reveal a need for a clear Black agenda as African Americans still struggle for equality and justice.
“We are spending trillions in wars without end. Inequality has reached extremes not witnessed since the eve of the Great Depression. We continue to lock up more people than any nation in the world. On an average day, 27 people die from gun violence in the United States. In Canada and other western nations, the average is fewer than five per day,” wrote the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. in a post-Christmas column.
Despite good news – the facts that unemployment and poverty are down and incomes are rising – the African-American unemployment rate at 8.1 percent is still nearly twice that of Whites at 4.2 percent and remains consistently well above the national average, now at 4.6 percent.
This is partially the reason economic justice remains among the 10 top Black stories of 2016. The following are synopses of other revealing stories told through the Black press last year:
-Election of Donald Trump as President of the United States – President Obama has announced a farewell address to be given in Chicago Jan. 10. The end of his eight-year tenure as America’s first Black president begins a new era for America. It is one marked by the national shock of the Nov. 8 election of business billionaire Donald Trump – a person who not only tormented Obama with racist questions about his country of birth until the president finally produced his birth certificate as proof that he was born in America – but also a person who won the official endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. He has since surrounded himself with a cabinet of nearly all White males, including his chief advisor Steve Bannon, a founder of Breitbart news, the voice of the so-called “alt-right” with its White supremacist and racist views.
-Racial attacks – Since the Trump election, race-related harassment and intimidation has sky-rocketed across the country. In the first month alone (between Nov. 8 and Dec. 12), the Southern Poverty law center, a foremost monitor of hate groups and activity, received reports of more than 1,000 incidents – mostly anti-immigrant and anti-Black. “Overall, anti-immigrant incidents (315) remain the most reported, followed by anti-black (221), anti-Muslim (112), and anti-LGBT (109). Anti-Trump incidents numbered 26 (6 of which were also anti-white in nature, with 2 non-Trump related anti-white incidents reported),” states the organization’s website, SPLCenter.org.
-Guilty verdict for murderous White supremacist Dylann Roof: A federal grand jury on Dec. 15 convicted 22-year-old Dylann Roof of murdering eight Black parishioners and their pastor last year as they attended Bible study and prayer at the historic “Mother” Emanuel A.M. E. Church in downtown Charleston, S.C. Roof, who represented himself, pled not guilty during the trial although he had confessed to the killings, saying he had hoped to start a race war. He now faces either life in prison or execution. Roof sat for an hour with Emanuel parishioners and their pastor Clementa Pinckney, also a member of the S. C. State Senate, on June 17, 2015, before firing his 45-caliber pistol. President Obama gave Pinckney’s eulogy. The shooting sparked the removal of the Confederate flag from public use from many sites across the nation – including atop the S. C. State Capitol.
-Death of Gwen Ifill – Gwen Ifill, the iconic, award-winning journalist who broke racial barriers in journalism, was laid to rest in a star-studded funeral after dying of cancer Nov. 14. President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder were among those who paid their respects. Ifill, 61, spent decades climbing the ranks from print journalist to news anchor and famed political moderator. Last spring, she co-moderated the Democratic primary debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Ifill had performed that role solo during vice presidential debates in the 2004 and 2008 general election campaigns.
-Opening of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) – More than a century after Black veterans of the Civil War proposed the idea of a Black history museum in D.C., the opening of the NMAAHC on the Mall took place in grand style Sept. 24. Led by Georgia Congressman John Lewis, it was then-President George W. Bush who signed legislation in 2003 that allowed the project to begin. President Barack Obama officially dedicated the museum, saying, “What we can see of this beautiful building tells us that it is truly a sight to behold. But what makes it special are the stories contained inside.”
-Death of George Curry – George E. Curry, the dean of Black press columnists, died suddenly of heart failure August 20. The funeral service, held in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., drew national civil rights royalty, including the Rev. Al Sharpton who gave the eulogy, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who preached a memorial, the Rev. Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Curry’s lifelong friend and comrade; and Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president/CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, where Curry served as editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service for a collective nine years. Before coming to NNPA, he was editor-in-chief of his beloved Emerge Magazine for seven years until it went defunct. Curry was among the most respected voices in Black press journalism. When he died, he had founded Emergenewsonline.com, a digital version of the hard copy magazine, which he never gave up hope to revive.
-Police shootings and abuse of Blacks – Black Lives Matter activists and civil rights leaders across the country continued to protest police shootings of African-Americans. The controversy came to another peak last year after the police killings of Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, La. on July 5 by two Baton Rouge, La. police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake and the July 6 shooting of Philando Castile by Officer Jeronimo Yanez, in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Castile’s girlfriend recorded the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live as Castile died. Then, on the evening of July 7, 2016, allegedly in response to the two previous shootings Micah Johnson, killed five law enforcement officers in Dallas. Johnson was then killed by police operating a robot with a bomb. In another police killing, the trial of Officer Michael Slager, in the videotaped back-shooting of Walter Scott as Scott fled the officer in South Carolina April 4, 2015, ended in a mistrial Dec. 5. Slager is slated to be retried.
-Death of Prince – The shocking death of Academy Award winning singer, songwriter and musician Prince on April 21 rocked the entertainment world. He died in his home after accidentally overdosing on opioid fentanyl. The 57-year-old, perhaps best known for his 1984 Academy “Best Original Musical”, “Purple Rain”, was discovered unresponsive on an elevator in his Chanhassen, Minn. home and recording studio.
-Homicides – Street violence continued to be the number one cause of Black males between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Perhaps no city has been hit harder than Chicago, which ended 2016 with 762 homicides, 57 percent more than last year. Gun violence plagues the streets of major cities year after year. Despite citizen pleas for new gun laws, partisan stalemates prevents Congress from moving new legislation. Other programs to deal with the social aspects of street violence appear to do little without the balance of the gun laws.
Despite major strides by Obama, particularly in areas of health care and criminal justice reform, civil rights leaders say a clear Black agenda is necessary for major progress. A Jan. 14 march planned by Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network aims toward that end. Trump will be inaugurated Jan. 20. Sharpton said the march aims to “warn President Trump and Congress that the fight for criminal justice, voting rights, affordable health care, improvements in education and other issues around equality and justice continues.”