Master P and Romeo Miller love the Saints, like Stephen Curry, and look forward to Lonzo Ball The father/son stars of ‘Growing Up Hip Hop’ on basketball, heroes — and courage

Seems like Master P and Romeo Miller are always fighting. It’s just a thing they do. The love is real between father and son, but so is the drama. No Limits Records founder Percy “Master P” Miller and his rapper-turned-actor son, Romeo, are executive producers and stars of WE Tv’s Growing Up Hip Hop, which chronicles the duo’s sparring sessions. Now in its third season, the show has showcased Romeo’s decision to skip the family’s record label event in New Orleans to film scenes for Fox’s hit show Empire. Papa Miller also wasn’t happy about Romeo being slapped with a $500,000 lawsuit after an on-camera restaurant brawl. On a recent visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, Romeo and his dad talked sports (of course), the Balldashians and keeping it real.

Which NBA and NFL teams are your favorites?

Master P: In the NFL, we got the New Orleans Saints.

Romeo: Even when we were losing, we still had the Saints.

Master P: We won the Super Bowl, and Drew Brees about to go back again.

Romeo: Let me tell you a secret. I’ve always liked the Cowboys, too. It’s always been the New Orleans Saints first, but Deion Sanders is my favorite player. Him and Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith — them days? That’s the glory days for me.

Master P: As for the NBA, I really like Steph Curry. I think he’s an underrated player at this point. My favorite guy to watch play basketball right now, for sure.

Romeo: Let me say something about basketball. If the New Orleans Pelicans let [my] pops come over there and coach, I think they could make it to be a top-three team.

Master P: I’ve been talking to them about it a little bit. [Laughs.]

Romeo: My favorite NBA team is the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m a ride-or-die Lakers fan. I like Lonzo [Ball]; he’s a great talent. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do. I like LaVar [Ball] too. Lonzo’s got a strong father figure in his life, and that’s amazing. Can’t wait to see what all of the Ball brothers do in their careers.

Master P: I take my hat off to LaVar for being such a strong presence in his kids’ life.

What’s the craziest lie you’ve ever told?

Master P: Hmm, I’ve got to think on that one.

Romeo: That’s the thing about him; he keeps it real. He’s not a yes man at all.

Master P: I always try to live by my word. If I say something, I’m giving my word. Now that I think about it, I do have one. I told my dad once that I was on my way to school when I had actually been expelled. I’d gotten into a fight at school and they kicked me out. So that wasn’t good to do at all.

Where do you get your courage?

Master P: Coming from nothing, growing up in poverty.

Romeo: I get it from seeing my two cousins die with my own eyes when I was 9 years old. You go give anybody $10 million, $100 million right now, but you don’t change overnight. And that’s why I always had the blessing with my family where I’ve seen both sides. I’ve seen my favorite cousin locked up, my best friend dead. And I know you can’t take nothing for granted.

Who is your childhood hero?

Master P: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He said, ‘I have a dream,’ and that meant something to me. That’s how I made it in this world.

Romeo: It’d definitely be my pops, and Allen Iverson.

Labor Day and Dr. King should always be in the same thought MLK was assassinated in Memphis just after speaking in support of striking sanitation, and AFSCME’s president wants to make sure we never forget that

“The labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Many Americans around the country celebrate Labor Day annually as the last three-day weekend before the summer ends and cooler weather kicks in. True, but it is also a day of reflection for those who fought for an equitable job market for all.

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) wants to change that narrative of how many Americans think of the labor movement. Saunders wants citizens to be aware of King’s contribution to a cause that essentially was his last call to action before being killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

That’s why Saunders is heading a new campaign with AFSCME and the Church of God in Christ to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and King’s “Mountaintop” speech. I AM 2018 was launched in June. The program entails holding town hall meetings across the country to spread King’s message of fairness and equality.

“It’s just not a commemoration, it’s activity, and it’s activity leading up toward the activities that will take place on April 3rd and 4th in Memphis, Tennessee, where on April 3rd we will recreate that level of excitement that existed when Dr. King gave his mountaintop speech, and then have a march leaving the union hall in Memphis and going to Mason Temple Church of God in Christ [where King made his final speech],” Saunders said. “But we’re also planning to have similar events around the country, so we really want this to be a major mobilization effort, No. 1 to understand our history, understand that we’ve come a long way since 1968 but we still have a long way to go, and to link that story with what we must do presently.”

For Saunders, the labor movement hits close to home, and so does King’s death. A leader of the labor movement in the United States, Saunders grew up in a union household in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a bus driver and a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union. His mother was a community organizer and, after raising two sons, returned to college and became a community college professor and a member of the American Association of University Professors.

Saunders, the first African-American to serve as AFSCME’s president, began his career with AFSCME in 1978 as a labor economist, and he recalls King vividly.

“I was in high school and I remember when Dr. King was killed, and I remember the next day the African-American students who attended that high school walked out, walked out of school, and we gathered in downtown Cleveland to pay respect and to make a statement,” Saunders said. “That’s ingrained in my memory. I mean, we did that collectively. That was a collective action that those African-American students believed that we needed to take to recognize that Dr. King did not give his life in vain, that we have a responsibility. Our community has a responsibility, and folks who care about working families and the issues that affect all of us — all of us, not just a few but all of us — we have a responsibility to organize and mobilize and make our voices heard. I try to do that every single day.”

King’s support of unions was long-standing, although that endorsement was not returned by unions that did not allow African-Americans to join. In 1961, King’s address at the AFL-CIO’s annual convention was considered a turning point.

“Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community,” he said. “That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

Saunders now serves as a vice president of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, which guides the daily work of the labor federation.

By 1968, King would make his last attempt to stand up for the labor movement. Details of the sanitation strike once existed in an exhibit prepared by the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University.

“Wages and working conditions for Memphis sanitation workers were atrocious,” reads the online text from the exhibit. “The average pay was $1.80 an hour. The wages were so low that forty percent of the workers qualified for welfare and many worked second jobs.”

They lifted leaky garbage tubs into decrepit trucks and were treated unfairly. During foul weather, black workers were sent home without pay while the white workers were paid for a full day. There were no benefits, vacation or pension. The sanitation department refused to modernize ancient equipment used by the black workers. Black sanitation workers were called “walking buzzards.”

Aside from the pay and unfair treatment, it was dangerous. Two black sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were killed when each was crushed to death in a garbage truck with faulty wiring. The families of the workers were given just $500 to pay for the funeral services and one month’s pay from the Memphis Sanitation Department.

As Saunders recounts those events, he reveals that moment when the members of Local 1733 AFSCME had to go out on strike for a change in conditions. King was right there to help lead the charge.

“That was something that was unheard of, but they were sick and tired of being disrespected and being mistreated, and they went on strike to have a seat at the table and for dignity and respect,” Saunders said.

Reflection on the true meaning of Labor Day prompts a short history lesson. Celebrated on the first Monday in September, the day was formed during the height of the Industrial Revolution to commend the contributions that workers made in building and strengthening their country, while also offering a day of respite for some. Founded after the Pullman Strike of 1894 gave railroad workers increased recognition, it ironically failed to include black Pullman porters in that same labor movement.

Black porters were a huge part of the workforce but were not allowed access to the American Railway Union. They later formed their own union, the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, which was the first black union in America.

Given the fact that labor gaps exist right now, taking the day to remember the history of the labor movement, King’s contribution and the strides that influencers like Saunders are continuing to make, Labor Day should be more than just another three-day weekend at the beach or the mall.

Rapper Master P chronicles the defeats and triumphs of his journey in new documentary ‘I Had a Dream,’ inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, will be released on the late civil rights leader’s birthday

2017 has been one of the most productive and creative in years for entertainment mogul and entrepreneur Master P.

From reality television to No Limit reunions, Master P is proving he still has staying power after more than 20 years in the entertainment industry. Lately, Master P’s focus has been centered on his children and business ventures, but the New Orleans native is now ready to give fans an intimate look into his own life through a new documentary, I Had a Dream.

The documentary, set to be released next January, will chronicle the wins and losses, struggles and many successes of Percy Miller — before he became known to the world as Master P — and what lies ahead for the multimillionaire. The documentary’s title, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and release date, King’s birthday, were very personal choices for Master P, who grew up idolizing the late civil rights leader.

“People don’t realize Martin Luther King really inspired me,” Master P said during an interview on the Breakfast Club. “Coming up as a kid, I had to keep reciting the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and stuff like that. It made me feel like, man, you’re talking about dreaming. I’m in the projects, but I got an opportunity to dream and do something big.”

Growing up in the Calliope Projects of New Orleans, Master P knew he had what it took to reach the pinnacle of a successful career. But he realized that first he had to take a chance on himself. In 1990, Master P founded his own label, No Limit Records, which attracted New Orleans artists including Mystikal, Silkk the Shocker, Kane & Abel, Mia X and, later, Snoop Dogg. Although Master P was not short on talent and business sense, he said he was driven primarily by neighbors and a support system that believed he would make it big.

“That’s what life is about,” Master P said. “You find somebody that believes in you. I had this one old lady in my neighborhood, she called me Bright Eyes. She said, ‘Bright Eyes, you’re gonna be a star.’ The power in those words will take you a long way.”

Today, Master P is investing his time in his children and growing his latest business venture as an owner of the New Orleans Gators, a mixed-gender professional basketball team. So far, Master P has gone to work recruiting ex-NBA players Glen Davis, Stromile Swift and Tyrus Thomas. Former WNBA All-Star Lisa Leslie will be the team’s head coach.

Jon Jones tested positive for drugs (again) and other news of the week The Week That Was Aug. 21-25

Monday 08.21.17

The Secret Service has already run out of money to protect President Donald Trump and his family. While the University of Texas removed four Confederate statues from its Austin campus, a dissenting protester claimed that “white supremacy is over because of Obama, pro athletes and Jay-Z.” Comedian Bill Cosby, like a job announcement, tweeted that he is “pleased to announce his new legal team for his criminal retrial.” @daM00N_ blocked the @sun. R&B singer Chris Brown solved racism through the gift of dance. Trump stared directly at the sun. Wile E. Coyote A Texas man was charged with attempting to blow up a Confederate statue. Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, called an Instagram user “adorably out of touch” after the user criticized Linton for posting a photo of her expensive wardrobe while disembarking a U.S. military jet. A Florida man involved in the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weeks ago and who once killed a goat and drank its blood is running for U.S. Senate. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who once referred to nonwhite people as “sub-groups,” posted a photo of a solar eclipse with a superimposed photo of Harambe, who was born in Texas, because King was in Tanzania at the time. Former Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, surprisingly not a member of the current administration, said slavery is “good history.” Boxing legend George Foreman, who voiced support for Hulk Hogan the same day a tape in which the wrestler called a black man a “n—–” was leaked, called LeBron James and Kevin Durant “sore losers” for refusing to visit the White House.

Tuesday 08.22.17

Country musician Kid Rock, while singing a song with the lyrics And I will vow to the shining seas/And celebrate God’s Grace on me, yelled, “F— Colin Kaepernick” to an Iowa State Fair crowd. A former Ku Klux Klan member once indicted by a federal grand jury for threatening to kill Coretta Scott King is taking a temporary leave of absence as a Roman Catholic priest. Ben Carson, the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, doesn’t understand how lead-paint reduction works. UFC champion Jon Jones was popped for reportedly using an anabolic steroid one month after tweeting, “Daniel [Cormier] says the only reason I defeated him the first time is because I must have been on steroids, wonder what his excuse will be this time.” Proving definitively that you can’t fix stupid, physicians across the country treated “sprains, strains, lacerations,” fractures and eye damage after Monday’s solar eclipse. The Girl Scouts of the USA and Boy Scouts of America are beefing. The organizer of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville is back from self-exile, telling all the “Commies, conspiracy wackos & nazi optics cucks” to “pucker up.” Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-North Carolina) said the Black Lives Matter movement is “just as engaged in hate” as white supremacist groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis. Despite military drafts being banned in 1973, an Ohio Supreme Court Justice called members of the Cleveland Browns who kneeled for the national anthem “draft dodging millionaire athletes.”

Wednesday 08.23.17

An anonymous NFL executive said quarterbacks “Tom Brady or Philip Rivers would never consider making a stand … while they’re at work” like Kaepernick; Brady once prominently displayed a Make America Great Again hat in his locker. After 18 piglets were saved from a barn fire in England earlier this year, the farmer who owned the litter served them up as sausage to the rescuing firefighters. Less than 12 hours after agreeing to not publicly feud with Arizona’s two senators, Trump tweeted, “I love the Great State of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!” Jon Jones, a white New York game developer and not the black MMA fighter, was inundated with Twitter messages after the announcement of the other Jones’ failed drug test, with one user writing, “Oh s— u just a white dude my bad nig lmao.” A 77-year-old Pennsylvania woman with a hearing impairment was severely beaten by her daughter and granddaughter because the volume of the Pittsburgh Steelers game she was listening to was too high. Disproving the theory that teenagers don’t follow the news, six students at a private Atlanta school were suspended or expelled for playing a drinking game called “Jews vs. Nazis.” Joanie Loves Chachi actor Scott Baio, stretching the definition of “successful,” responded to criticism of Trump by stating, “I don’t give a s— if I ever work again. … I guess I’m just an old, angry, successful white guy who stole everything he has from someone else.” Even the United Nations, which famously played the “my name is Bennett” routine during the Rwandan genocide, is “alarmed by the racist demonstrations” in the U.S.

Thursday 08.24.17

Floyd Mayweather plans to visit the Las Vegas strip club he owns every night before his fight on Saturday. A Twitter user whom Trump retweeted in the morning once posted, “We have enough Jews where I live.” A South Carolina man, seconds after pleading that Confederate statues are not a “symbol of racism,” called a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. “Martin Luther Coon.” The Baltimore Ravens played themselves. A year after Trump tweeted, “Mexico will pay for the wall!” the White House can’t confirm whether Mexico will indeed pay for the wall. Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, who got into a fight at a nightclub in 2016, said teams don’t want to sign Kaepernick because of the “chaos that comes along with it.” More baseball players don’t know how to properly scrap. A 21-year-old New York man was arrested after having his driver’s license suspended 81 times. San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, still old, has decided to continue playing basketball. In the ongoing war against Skynet, Apple’s latest phones will use facial recognition to unlock the device. Famed director James “Draw Me Like One of Your French Girls” Cameron said blockbuster film Wonder Woman was “a step backwards” for lead female characters. Durant, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, said he would still drink actress Scarlett Johansson’s bathwater. The St. Louis Cardinals are feuding with a nonprofit over a stray cat.

Friday 08.25.17

A Washington, D.C.-based agriculture lawyer says Department of Agriculture chief scientist nominee Sam Clovis has “iron testicles.” Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, who once said paying college players would make him “do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is,” will now make $7.5 million this season. Another team that will not sign Kaepernick said it would “absolutely” sign Kaepernick. UPS’s stock suddenly dropped 500 percent. San Francisco residents, including one named Tuffy Tuffington, plan to leave dog poop in a local park ahead of a planned right-wing rally in the same park. For dangerous investigative work that will surely win it a Pulitzer Prize, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ate at Arby’s. Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown, accused multiple times of domestic abuse, said, “I’m not gonna do anything against the flag and national anthem.” Metta World Peace is back playing basketball … for Master P.

Motown mastermind behind ‘Dancing in the Street’ recalls the 1967 Detroit riots – when black folks took to the streets Writer William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson remembers the pain, the glory, the commitment to creativity — and to changing the world

It was time for a change.

Motown was becoming bigger than music. The label was challenging the segregated whiteness of American pop with songs such as 1961’s “Shop Around” from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, which was the label’s first million-seller. And “Please Mr. Postman,” from the Marvelettes, was Motown’s first No. 1 pop hit in that same year. Yet, by the time the middle of the decade arrived, Motown — with recordings such as Martha and the Vandellas’ hit 1964 anthem “Dancing in the Street” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s politically direct 1967 “Why I Oppose The Vietnam War” (recorded on Motown’s Black Forum label) — was dipping its collective toe into the creation of socially conscious works.

This label, based in Detroit’s midtown area, was of course the brainchild of young Berry Gordy, a former featherweight boxer with a dozen wins on record. In 1959 he launched Tamla Records, which was incorporated a year later as Motown Record Corp. He did this with an $800 loan he’d collected from family. Motown’s records were addictive, a pop culture phenomenon: gospel-inflected vocals draped over infectious, energetic beats, and most often telling stories of good folks having good times, good love gone bad, or pining away for some unrequited love. It was the kind of music that soundtracked rent parties and backyard barbecues — and eventually, after much behind-the-scenes prodding, stridently white spaces such as The Ed Sullivan Show. But the sound shifted. It had to. Too much was going on — right in the label’s neighborhood.

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Smokey Robinson and the Miracles perform live on stage. (Echoes/Redferns)

Unrest broke out in Detroit on Sunday morning July 23, 1967, and lasted through July 27. Although “the insurrection was the culmination of decades of institutional racism and entrenched segregation,” the sparking incident was when a police squad raided a “blind pig” (an unlicensed bar) near the intersection of 12th Street and Clairmount Avenue on Detroit’s West Side, about a half-mile from Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. offices and studios. Confrontations between the Detroit Police Department and the city’s black citizens resulted in one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States.

A new Kathryn Bigelow film, Detroit, starring Anthony Mackie, John Boyega and John Krasinski, is set to premiere Aug. 4. It brings to the screen the bone-chilling Algiers Motel incident: during the Detroit Riots, at the motel, three black men were killed and nine others were beaten by law enforcement. Overall, the civil unrest known as the 1967 Detroit Riot (and alternatively as the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, and the 12th Street Riot), left 43 dead. The Michigan State Police, the Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Army were called in. One thousand, one hundred and eighty-nine people were injured. There were more than 7,200 arrests. More than 2,000 buildings were destroyed.

A city, forever changed.

Motown, which formally moved to Los Angeles in June 1972, was still in Detroit in 1967. It was a wildly successful company; at the time, it was the country’s most successful black-owned business. By the end of 1966, Motown was home to more than 450 employees. The label owes much of its early success to songwriter and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson, the company’s first director of artists & repertoire.

Stevenson was in the background but stood next to Gordy and Robinson and played a huge part in recruiting and nurturing the talents of icons such as Martha Reeves, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye. He assembled “the best-kept secret in pop music,” Motown’s legendary in-studio band, the Funk Brothers. Stevenson also wrote approximately 500 songs during the course of his Motown career.

Songwriter and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson at New York’s Verve Records on March 16, 1967. (PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Some of his bigger hits include the Marvelettes’ “Beechwood 4-5789” and Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” both from 1962, and Gaye and Kim Weston’s classic 1966 “It Takes Two.” He co-wrote Martha and the Vandellas’ fun 1964 “Dancing in the Street,” his most successful track for the label and one that functioned as a “radical anthem” during the civil rights movement. There’ll be laughing, singing, and music swinging / Dancing in the street / Philadelphia, P.A. / Baltimore and D.C. now. / Can’t forget the Motor City.

Yes, the Motor City’s discontent was a tipping point for the music of Motown. As the label sailed into the 1970s, the music became compellingly and deliberately politicized: There was Gaye’s 1971 pitch-perfect “What’s Going On,” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” The Temptations’ 1971 “Ball of Confusion” and Stevie Wonder’s 1973 “Living For The City,” among many others.

“We represented a social environment that was changing,” The Supremes’ Mary Wilson said in 2009. “The experience we had known being black was not being bona fide citizens, not being able to drink out of the same water fountains, playing to segregated audiences. When that started to fall away, and you saw that music was one of the components that was helping it fall away, that’s when it really felt like we were doing something significant.”

Stevenson, now 80, reflects on how that era, as painful as it was, shifted the Motown sound and was an authentic soundtrack to a changing America.

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In the aftermath of the 1967 Detroit riots, members of the National Guard patrol neighborhoods. (Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

What was it like being black in 1967 Detroit? Before the end of that July?

For me and my brothers — and I mean Smokey, and the Temptations, and the Four Tops — it was a proud thing. We were proud. ‘I’m black and I’m proud!’ We meant that. And we knew it was just a matter of time. We were doing wonderful things, and we were doing it around the clock. Listen — the work we were doing was not a job. It was a joy. We could do it ’round the clock, and that is pride. It was love.

Do you remember where you were, physically, when you first heard about Detroit heating up?

Yes. I was in Detroit, and I was at home. I had friends with me — Jewish friends. We were there at my place, and when it was taking off, my first thought was to make sure [they didn’t] leave my house. My house was in the city, right in the middle of the riots. My house was on Courtland and, like, Dexter. That’s where it all kind of happened, right in that area.

Detroit burning, July 24, 1967. (AP Photo)

And you didn’t want your friends to leave?

I didn’t want [them] to get killed. [They] would have been in danger trying to get to the airport. It wouldn’t have happened.

As a black Detroiter, I imagine that you were empathetic to some of the issues …

Yeah. Well, it was working itself up for a while. We’d come out of one riot much earlier, when I was a kid. I could see this coming back again. It was an uncomfortable situation … you had to watch yourself. Motown was out on West Grand Boulevard, which was a pretty good street. And even there, at a certain point, like 12th Street, moving in that direction — Dexter, Linwood, like going deeper, where I would say the ghetto was, you had problems. It was building itself up. I didn’t know it would break into a riot, but it was building itself up where we had to watch it. All of us.

What was happening at the label in July of 1967?

I was A&R director of Motown. We just had to stay busy, doing the best we could. We didn’t take time to deal with the problem of the city. We had enough problems dealing with the manufacturing and producing of product, to go out. We were always in a fight somewhere, in some place. Moving black product on white radio, that was not a walk in the park. You understand what I’m saying? We were in position — we had to stay in position at all times.

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A month after the Detroit uprising, what began as a demonstration turned into something else. It was Aug. 21, 1967, and the Michigan State Police intervened. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

My understanding is that Martha Reeves was on stage at the Fox Theater, in the midst of a Motown Revue, when they got word the riots were still happening near the Tiger Stadium?

If she was there, I was there. Because she was one of my favorite, talented artists — and of course my biggest song, ‘Dancing in the Street.’ I’m sure the idea was for her to keep everybody calm, because that’s the way we operated, period. It was not like, ‘Should we do it?’ That’s an automatic thought. We had this kind of thing come up in New York, and Philadelphia, and Washington. And so, it was always when things got out of hand, we would have to say to the audience, ‘Look, let’s stay under control.’ Nothing unusual for us to make that happen.

Your acts often performed in places where black and white concertgoers couldn’t lawfully integrate. What was Motown’s biggest role within the civil rights movement?

[Singing] our songs to both black and white audiences. We made it a point to insist that everybody had a chance to hear our songs. We didn’t look at it as black music. We looked at it as music. When Motown artists came on, we made everybody get involved, because if you didn’t, you were adding to segregation. You’ve got to look at it like this: Our whole staff was mixed at Motown. Our sales department was mixed. Our marketing department was mixed. We forced an issue. If you’re with us, you’re with us, or you’re not with us. Let’s build as one unit. We were very proud to push that button. Sometimes we got challenged.

How so?

Some of our trips. I remember getting stopped in the car and the police made me get out and sing. You either put up a fight and get your head blown off, or you sing. Which one you want to do? If I sing now, I’ll be able to sing later. If I stand and fight, there’s no telling where I’ll be. You got it? I can name that with a few artists. I know Smokey had problems with that. It’s not like it was an easy time. We had to deal with it, but we had made up in our minds, we gonna make this thing work. I tell everybody — I don’t want to overtalk this thing — but I tell everybody, ‘This is God’s work.’ We were just instruments at that time. We took on great stands because we had no other way to think.

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Detroit, July 1967. (Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

How did you and Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson talk about the creative direction of Motown, after the riots?

When the riot was on, nobody could get to the studio. Remember, we were on a main street, so we’d have had a huge problem. When it calmed down … we went to the studio. And when we went in — fortunately we didn’t have broken windows and none of that kind of craziness — we went in going to work. We went in trying to figure out, what’s the next best songs we need to get out? What sessions can we pull together now? I know that sounds odd, but we were a machine. We worked like a machine, not like individuals. ‘What happened to you? Anything happen to you? Are you all right?’ No. We didn’t get into that. If you’re standing there, you’re all right. Go to work.

Were you inspired by the uprisings to think about the socially conscious music that Motown started making, going into the 1970s?

Not so much the riots. We were inspired by the workings and the help of Dr. King and people like that. Our job was, in our heads, to let it be known that we’ve got to back this up, be behind it, care about one another. Take a stand. When we put out the album, [featuring] King, on our label [Black Forum] … we were into that kind of thinking. We thought that if we didn’t work together to fight this thing, it was not going to go away. So we did it with music, with artists — and backed financially as much as we could.

When did you notice that a tide was changing socially and culturally? When did you notice that perhaps the music you all were creating was helping black folks be seen in a way that we weren’t seen before, and kind of being able to exist in a way we weren’t able to before?

Certain spaces and certain places we couldn’t get in or get on, or be on that show, or whatever — all of a sudden, we started getting calls, ‘Come do this show.’ It took people like Dick Clark and others who broke that barrier. ‘If I put this Motown act on, I could have the hottest show on TV.’ He was absolutely right. They had all white artists. No blacks. Clark was a huge gambler, and he really believed in the music. I got to give it to him. He made it a point and took a risk. He stood his ground and became the hottest thing on television. Then there were people like Ed Sullivan who refused to let us come on and sing a whole song. If he brought you on, it was only for him to say a few words right at the end of his show. You know what I mean? And we changed that theory. We made him put on The Supremes, and do two songs, and talk to them.

Unspecified, circa 1970: Martha and the Vandellas with Dick Clark. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The Supremes, (from left to right) Cindy Birdsong, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross, pose with host Ed Sullivan onstage at The Ed Sullivan Show in New York on Dec. 20, 1969. (CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Left, circa 1970: Martha and the Vandellas with Dick Clark. Right, The Supremes, (from left to right) Cindy Birdsong, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross, pose with host Ed Sullivan onstage at The Ed Sullivan Show in New York on Dec. 20, 1969. (Left, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images. Right, CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Motown music is the music that changed the world. It also helped to heal a nation while it was suffering through yet another one of its horrific racial ruptures. Why do you think this particular music helped?

I believe in my heart, and quite a few of us do — Smokey, we talk about this all the time – Motown was God’s game plan, and we all bought into it. That whole sound happened at a time when our country was at its worst. And the love of the music … reached everybody. This music’s got so much love, and so much caring in it. Those moments … while you’re listening … all that hatred, all that dislike for one another, was no longer there. That changed the world. Not only here in America, in London, all over the place. That had to come from a source bigger than you and I. I’ve heard men say to me that the time when Motown was going on, and the riots and stuff was going on — ‘Man, I used to get in the van, pull the cover over my head, and listen to Motown music. When I heard those words, that was incredible for my heart. It took me to a wonderful place.’ That’s exactly what the music was for. It lasted for 60 years. It’s still lasting.

‘True Blood’s’ Nelsan Ellis, dead at 39, was a unique and undeniable talent He made Lafayette Reynolds an important character rarely seen on screen

Hooker, you left way too soon.

I imagine that’s what True Blood’s Lafayette Reynolds would say about the untimely death of Nelsan Ellis, the actor who created him. Ellis, a 2004 Juilliard graduate, died of heart failure at age 39, his manager said Saturday.

On True Blood, which aired on HBO from 2008 to 2014, Ellis brought to life one of the most important depictions of queerness on television, in a series that bubbled with crazy camp improbabilities. His short-order cook who moonlighted as a drug and vampire blood dealer was enticing and bawdy, femme and butch, learned and country AF. He was open and unapologetic about his love of sex and the male form while living in the tiny fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana — the type of place where it’s not necessarily safe to be gay, or black, and certainly not both at the same time.

Nelsan Ellis portraying character, Lafayette Reynolds in the show HBO show “True Blood.”

HBO

As Lafayette, Ellis expanded the country’s collective imagination of what a queer black man could look, sound and act like, starting just months before California passed Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, and years before President Barack Obama announced an “evolution” in his thinking about gay rights. And for queer black people, he was a reflection of a truth rarely seen on screens big or small, especially after the Logo series Noah’s Arc went off the air in 2006.

“Important” often implies that something is the cultural equivalent of kale: fiber-packed, nutritious, but not exactly fun. For example, Red Tails is arguably an “important” film because it’s about the Tuskegee Airmen. It’s also … not very good.

But in Ellis’ hands, Lafayette would deliver acerbic quips with the expert raise of an eyebrow, succinctly summarizing the pitfalls of patriarchy without making your eyes glaze over. He could just as easily spread his glossed lips into a smile and flutter his fake eyelashes as he could hem up a delinquent customer in a full nelson, a quality that made him eminently GIF-able.

Lafayette existed before Dan Savage launched his It Gets Better project in 2010, a nonprofit aimed at stopping queer kids from committing suicide when their adolescent years seem interminably, hopelessly miserable. And that’s significant. Certainly, it’s important for a suicidal teen to know that life improves as you get older and get away from people and attitudes that fill your life with hate. But Lafayette provided a different, necessary sort of queer hero, shaped in part by the gender-bending provocations of New Orleans sissy bounce queens Big Freedia and Katey Red, a boi that you couldn’t just push around.

My favorite scene of Ellis’ is also one of his most famous. It’s from episode five of the first season of True Blood, when a customer at Merlotte’s, the restaurant where Lafayette works, sends his burger back to the kitchen because, he tells his waitress, he doesn’t want a burger with “AIDS.”

Lafayette, fully and perfectly made up despite sweating over a hot stove, pulls his earrings off and comes swaggering out of the kitchen, head wrapped in his glittery take on Louisiana’s famous tignons. His body is a mass of gender-nonconforming contradictions: From the neck up, he’s practically coquettish, but he’s wearing a tank top that shows off his toned biceps, black Timbs and camo shorts that hang off his butt, held just so by a belt perhaps best described as ghetto fabulous.

Lafayette delivers a read in his signature Louisiana drawl, informed by Ellis’ childhood spent growing up in Bessemer, Alabama: “’Scuse me,” he says. “Who ordered the hamburger wit’ AIDS?”

“I ordered a hamburger deluxe,” the customer responds.

“In this restaurant, a hamburger deluxe come wit’ french fries, lettuce, tomato, mayo — AND AIDS,” Lafayette says, raising his voice. “DO ANYBODY GOT A PROBLEM WIT’ DAT?”

“Yeah,” says the customer. “I’m an American. I got a say in who makes my food.”

“Well, baby, it’s too late for that,” Lafayette retorts. “F—-ts been breeding your cows, raising your chickens, even brewing your beer long before I walked my sexy a– up in this m—–f—–. Everything on yo’ gotdamn table got AIDS.”

Lafayette’s altercation with the customer gets physical. “B—-, you come in my house, YOU GON’ EAT MY FOOD THE WAY I F—ING MAKE IT!” he bellows. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

And just as swiftly, his temper recedes. “Tip your waitress,” he says before sauntering back to the kitchen, every set of eyes in the restaurant on him.

It wasn’t just that Lafayette was a self-affirming queen who didn’t take no mess. He was country and proud of it, providing the sort of regional stamp on queerness that would later set Moonlight apart because it was so steeped in the specifics of Miami and, furthermore, the Pork and Beans of the Liberty Square housing projects. It’s part of what makes Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) such a memorable part of The Wire — his gayness isn’t the defining feature of his character. He’s gay in a way that feels unique to the projects of Baltimore. Similarly, Williams added a regional flair to his depiction of Leonard Pine, one half of the Texas duo Hap and Leonard. Those characters — Moonlight’s Black, Lafayette, Omar and Leonard — offer a counterweight to prevailing tropes of queerness that’s white, polite, well-off, neatly domesticated, sexless and almost always cosmopolitan. When it first aired in 2005, Noah’s Arc in many ways felt like a black response to the overwhelming whiteness of Showtime’s American adaptation of Queer as Folk, another landmark show that challenged what it meant to see gay men on television. Noah’s Arc centered on a group of middle-class gay black men living in Los Angeles. It was a way to say, “Hey, black people live in gentrified gayborhoods and drink cosmopolitans and battle HIV stigma too.”

But characters like Leonard and Lafayette offer depictions of men who are able to make space for themselves in the places they call home, without having to move out of one’s oppressively small hometown.

Nelsan Ellis portraying character, Lafayette Reynolds in the show HBO show “True Blood.”

HBO

And although he’ll long be remembered for Lafayette, Ellis was more than just one character. In his too-brief career, Ellis exhibited a rare elasticity and was famously circumspect about his sexuality. Ellis’ interpretation of Lafayette was so memorable that of course he’d seem right at home as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he was. Still, Ellis managed to erase all traces of his breakout character in Get On Up, in which he played singer-songwriter and James Brown collaborator Bobby Byrd, and in The Butler, where he played Martin Luther King Jr. By the time he inhabited Mack Burns, a writer obsessed with free jazz in a straight interracial relationship in the 2017 film Little Boxes, Lafayette was nowhere to be found.

Indeed, Ellis found it insulting when entertainment professionals seemed to overlook his Juilliard bona fides by assuming that he wasn’t a character actor.

“I can’t just get upset with regular folk because all they see is the character. But when the industry can’t tell the difference, I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s a little closed-minded,’ ” Ellis told Vibe in a 2010 interview. “… When white people play a character, people expect it to be a character. But black people — we can’t just be character actors, we have to [really] be the things we’re hired for, which is what offends me. I don’t answer that question — ‘Are you gay or not?’ — when it comes down to industry people. But if it’s a regular person asking me, that just says that maybe I’m doing a good job. But when a casting director or an agent asks me that question, it takes on a deeper thing that says, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this unless you are that.’ ”

Ellis wasn’t alone in that regard. Nine years after the last episode of The Wire aired, Williams is still insisting in interviews that he’s more than just Omar Little, despite a litany of roles, gay and straight, since Omar debuted.

During his short life and career, Ellis opened our eyes to new possibilities: You can be queer and country and happy. You can be black and a character actor. You can, in short, contain multitudes. What a shame that Ellis won’t be around to show us more.

Why’d it take so long for some of us to find out about Juneteenth? Some people think that it should be independence day for black Americans

I’ve been celebrating July Fourth for as long as I can remember, but I only learned about Juneteenth last year. Before you ask for my black card, hear me out.

1. Why social media is necessary

It takes a few hours for President Donald Trump’s tweet about a fake word to go viral, but it took almost 20 years for me to learn about a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas.

What’s more, I’m not alone. Nine out of 10 college students I know learned about the holiday just within the past five years.

We as a people are lacking education on a holiday that’s supposed to be ours in our classrooms and in our communities. “There’s so much vital history that school textbooks leave out, especially when it’s about African-Americans,” said Daryl Riley Jr., a junior at Hampton University. “Growing up, all I knew was that we were slaves and about Martin Luther King Jr.”

2. Holidays need branding too

The description of Juneteenth is not consistent. The San Diego Union Tribune described it as “a combination of June and nineteenth, the day in 1865 when many slaves in Texas learned they were free. Although emancipation had taken place more than two years earlier, federal troops were sent June 19, 1865, to tell slaves in Galveston, Texas, of their freedom after that news had been kept from them.” The Tribune called it the day slavery ended in America.

The Post Newspaper of Galveston County said it was the day “enslaved people were freed after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was ‘read on a harbor pier in Galveston.’ ”

Al.com says the day commemorates the abolition of slavery.

As a result, it’s hard to tell exactly how many people even observe Juneteenth or whether they know exactly what they are celebrating. The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau says 40 states around the country host official commemorations.

3. Now that we know, what do we do?

The NAACP hosts annual Juneteenth gatherings to teach new generations about the day.

“Throughout my undergraduate career, I performed annually at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, NAACP’s Juneteenth celebration,” said Alexjandria Edwards, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. “Each year, I performed Negro spirituals while other artists, traditional folk storytellers, dancers and designers displayed varying forms of black excellence.”

Lyndsay Archer, a junior from Wayne State University, said, “In order for black people around the world and people of color to progress, we must be able to acknowledge and embrace our past history, learn from those experiences, and gain a sense of both pride and humility in our rich narratives.”

Come to find out, many African-Americans have mixed emotions about celebrating July Fourth. After all, blacks weren’t free in 1776.

Lauren Smith, a junior at Howard University, is one.

“I celebrate the Fourth of July because we built this country for free, so every holiday belongs to us.”

Robbie Osborne, a sophomore at Hampton University, doesn’t celebrate July Fourth as a holiday at all. “I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July because it doesn’t represent the liberation and freedom of all races in America.”

I’ve been debating whether I should look at Juneteenth as the true independence day for black people.

I’m aware that the slaves were officially freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but I’m in solidarity with some of the last black folks to find out. I hate being the last to find out about anything important.

I will still celebrate July Fourth because it provides my family a chance to take a break from work, to celebrate each other, eat great food and watch fireworks. I appreciate the opportunities afforded to me as an American citizen, but Juneteenth as independence day resonates more strongly for me.

Juneteenth is the celebration of black freedom from slavery in the U.S., so why is it 2017 and so many black Americans are just learning about the holiday?

Perhaps the answer is connected to why freedom, as it was intended by the Founding Fathers, feels like an impossibility for black folks. Given all of the black people in prison, the numerous unarmed black men and women who are killed by police, the wage gap between blacks and whites and all the black girls who are discouraged from rocking their natural hair in schools or at work, I’m dubious about how free we are today.

I have only known freedom, but there are still so many black people who don’t. Like the Solomon Burke song says, “None of us are free if one of us is chained.”

James Baldwin’s essential ‘The Fire Next Time’ gets an arty and brilliant makeover With over 100 photos of the early civil rights movement and an introduction from Congressman John Lewis, this book is a collectors’ item

Fifty-four years after James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time revolutionized the way we talk about race, it still feels eerily present. Taken out of historical context, Baldwin’s words read like they were written yesterday, not published in The New Yorker more than five decades ago. At the time, Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind was so impactful that after the essay was published, photojournalist Steve Schapiro, who often shot for Life magazine, persuaded his employer to run a full profile of Baldwin. The assignment led to Schapiro shooting some of the most iconic images of his long and legendary career, including one of a young, then relatively unknown Martin Luther King Jr. These images, many of them never before published, are featured alongside Baldwin’s words in a new limited edition letterpress edition of The Fire Next Time, released by art book publisher Taschen.

There are 1,963 first-edition volumes — a nod to the original publication year — and this rerelease of The Fire Next Time is the third in a literary letterpress series that combines iconic works of nonfiction with the work of acclaimed image-makers. Nina Wiener, Taschen managing editor and lead on the Baldwin project, noted that the series is ongoing.

“It features work of great nonfiction writers in the second half of the 20th century in English,” she said, “with a focus, at this point, on New Journalism.”

The two other books in the series reimagine Gay Talese’s 1966 Esquire story Frank Sinatra Has A Cold coupled with photographs by Phil Stern, and Tom Wolfe’s 1968 The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test alongside photo-essays by Lawrence Schiller (who conceived the idea to include Baldwin in this series) and Ted Streshinsky. The Baldwin volume is a silk screen hardcover with an embossed case and is letterpress printed on two different stocks of natural uncoated paper. It’s 272 pages and retails for $200.

The previous two books in the series, said Wiener, are “very large, very heavy and very expensive,” but Wiener’s team — composed of Lawrence Schiller, art director Josh Baker, designer Jessica Sappenfield and captioner Marcia Davis — decided to create The Fire Next Time on a more intimate scale. It’s smaller and designed in such a way to encourage the reader to actually, well, read.

“We thought it was extremely important,” said Wiener, “that we had the captions written by someone with a strong knowledge of the history of the civil rights movement — but who could also connect it to the events of today. Marcia Davis, a longtime editor with The Washington Post, worked with us on the captions. She’s the main reporter there who’s been covering Ferguson and had been covering social justice issues … for the last 20-plus years. She’s just fantastic … and she managed some pretty relevant stories in very short word count that the captions allowed for — an art unto itself. She was a critical part of making this book work.” This is not your average coffee-table book.

According to Wiener, Baldwin was Schapiro’s entrée into covering the civil rights movement. “It was through him that he met activist Jerome Smith, and one thing led to another. … He was meeting a lot of the Freedom Riders and SNCC members, and eventually [he] photographed Martin Luther King,” she said. “[In] the first picture that he took of King, Ralph Abernathy is in the foreground talking to a couple of children, and [King] was in the background, totally out of focus. Steve didn’t even know who King was at that time.”

Because of Schapiro’s desire to cover Baldwin in his element, he traveled to the South with him and ended up documenting, although Schapiro didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of it at the time, the beginnings of the civil rights movement. John Lewis, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the Freedom Riders and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, key players in the battle for civil rights, were captured in Schapiro’s resolute search for authenticity.

Besides Baldwin’s words and Schapiro’s photographs, this new edition features an introduction by activist U.S. Rep. John Lewis and a note from Baldwin’s sister (and executor of his estate) Gloria Karefa-Smart.

“We spent a lot of time working on how to organize the book,” said Wiener. “Initially we anticipated organizing pictures chronologically, but we felt that the visual story was not as interesting that way, and we ended up going with more of a thematic organization.”

Because of its intimacy, this is a book that we can open to learn from, and to find glimmers of hope in, for a long time to come.

Stop using basketball as a Band-Aid for racial progress The Grizzlies, or any NBA team, can’t fix what systemic racism created

Every time the Memphis Grizzlies make the playoffs, which they have for seven years running, the same storyline emerges: Look at how basketball brings this city together. The most recent example showed up in the city’s daily newspaper before Game 5 of the first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs.

The headline: “Grizzlies help break down barriers.”

“In a region where income inequality rules, neighborhood segregation is rife and there are precious few places where people from different income groups and races regularly mix, the Grizzlies have been a unifying force,” read an editorial in The Commercial Appeal.

“When the Grizzlies tip off at FedExForum, folks from Frayser to Fisherville will be rooting for the team whose players and organization has helped bridge divides across race, geography and income. … Even after this season ends, we should remember how effortlessly we connected over the shared joy of watching our NBA team.”

Ugh.

I say this as a Grizzlies fan with a box full of yellow growl towels to prove it: Don’t use basketball as a Band-Aid for the racial inequality that Memphis can’t shake.

This city has a sore spot when it comes to race. Being the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated will do that to you.

Sometimes we act like we’ve forgotten why King interrupted planning for the Poor People’s Campaign to come to Tennessee in 1968. He came on behalf of striking black Memphis sanitation workers who were underpaid, mistreated and trying to unionize. Back then, the poverty rate for black Memphians was 60 percent. Today the poverty rate for black children is nearly 50 percent.

Memphis is not unique. The racial disparities in this city are the same as in cities across the nation.

But we dishonor King’s dream to suggest that anything other than “a radical redistribution of economic power,” as King said, can bridge the racial and economic divide created and maintained by systemic racism and flawed public policy.

I intend no shade toward any NBA team. The Grizzlies are good, generous members of our community; Memphis is the only team with two nominees (Zach Randolph and Mike Conley) for this year’s NBA Cares Community Assist Award.

What the team does, and does exceptionally well, is bring under one roof a racially diverse group of people with a shared interest for about three hours, 40-plus times a season.

Those hours can be electric.

Even yelling, “Whoop that trick!” — which I’d otherwise be far too bourgie to chant — is exhilarating. When we win and those blue-and-yellow streamers drop from the rafters, it does feel magical.

But if you look closely, the magic starts to fade.

At one of this season’s last home games, a group photo of the forum’s ushers appeared on the big screen. All but a few of the faces were black. Walk around the concourse and see who is selling barbecue nachos and overpriced beers. Virtually no white faces.

“If a city has a 30 percent Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30 percent of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas,” King said.

During timeouts at the last few games I’ve attended, I took an unscientific poll of sideline seats. The fans aren’t representative of Memphis or even the region.

Take the courtside seats for the April 22 playoff game vs. the Spurs. Of the 50 seats I could see from where I sat, about 16 percent were occupied by people of color. In the section next to me, 21 percent of the fans were black. In my section, 24 percent of the fans were black, including me and my dad.

If the Grizzlies games looked like the city of Memphis, two-thirds of the fans would be black. If you expand that to the nine-county metro area, you’d still have more black people than white people.

But the city’s racial diversity isn’t reflected in the high-dollar seats — or in any other space occupied by power brokers. Memphis isn’t unique; all urban areas are the same.

According to the National Urban League’s 2017 State of Black America report, black families in Memphis earn an average of $32,000 less per year than white families. The income gap — $34,562 to $66,225 — means that black families have less disposable income to spend on extras like sporting events.

“Integration without economic equality was not enough,” wrote Joan Turner Beifuss in At The River I Stand, the definitive biography of the sanitation strike. “Economic equality was what Memphis was all about.”

Yes, the crowds at Grizzlies games are more racially mixed than probably any other setting in town. But proximity is not proof of progress, no matter what civic boosters want to believe. In virtually all measures that matter — rates of homeownership, poverty, income, graduation and wealth — black Americans lag behind white Americans. And in some measures, like wealth, the black-white gap is growing.

Had the NBA been creating a racial nirvana, racial attitude polls would reflect that, but they don’t. It’s almost as if blacks and whites live in different worlds. A 2016 national poll showed that while nearly 40 percent of white respondents believe America has done enough to make blacks equal to whites, only 8 percent of blacks said the same.

Black and brown students fill the city’s public schools, and private schools, for the most part, are filled with white students. Memphis East High School, whose boys’ team won this year’s state basketball championship and is coached by NBA great Penny Hardaway, has no white faces. East beat another local team, which also has no white players.

Last summer, more than 1,000 young people, all but a few black, blocked the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River, stopping traffic for hours. In the crowd were “I Am A Man” signs like those carried by sanitation workers nearly 50 years ago. Others had signs with the 21st-century equivalent: “Black Lives Matter.”

Among the demands presented to the mayor days after the protest: an end to police brutality, restoring voting rights to ex-offenders and erasing black-white economic disparities.

Just this week, the Memphis City Council heard from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with King when he was killed. If the city doesn’t give black businesses their fair share of city contracts, Jackson said, he’ll be back to march.

The issues that brought King to Memphis in 1968 and propelled young people onto the bridge in 2016 are problems that neither the Grizzlies nor yellow growl towels can solve. And we shouldn’t expect them to.

The fight for reparations can be a useful decoy in solving America’s racial wealth gap ‘Baby bonds’ is a more politically viable answer to the disparity in black and white wealth

Reparations can help close the racial wealth gap — just not the way you might think.

America’s racial wealth gap should leave us all gloomy. For every dollar owned by the median black household, the median white household owned $13. And for every dollar owned by the median Latino household, the median white household owned $10. Those numbers are from a recent study, The Asset Value of Whiteness, produced by researchers at the think tank Demos and Brandeis University, based on data from 2013.

Our path to this inequity began centuries ago: Slavery. Segregation. Redlining. We don’t appreciate how much programs like the GI Bill disproportionately helped white World War II veterans attend college and buy homes with guaranteed mortgages. This and other federal policies intentionally bolstered a largely white American middle class while crippling that of people of color.

A country in which wealth is so unevenly distributed along racial lines reproduces racial stratification generation after generation. As the study notes, if “a substantial racial wealth gap persists, white households will continue to enjoy greater advantages than their black and Latino neighbors in meeting the financial challenges of everyday life and will be able to make greater investments in their children, passing economic advantages on.”

Crucially, the report refutes theories that a lack of personal responsibility explains the gap. Minorities should just attend college more. Raise their children in two-parent households. Get full-time jobs. Spend less money. None of these appreciably closes the racial wealth gap, though.

How can we ameliorate this situation? I see two ways forward.

One way is to champion universal policies that help all racial groups but disproportionately help people of color because they disproportionately lack wealth. An idea called “baby bonds” is the best version of such a policy.

The other way is to push for race-conscious policies such as reparations. The former provides a more viable route, given political realities, but reparations can be a strategic decoy that eases the acceptance of baby bonds. We must walk both paths if the racial wealth gap is to ever be closed.


William “Sandy” Darity Jr., a Duke economics professor, and Darrick Hamilton, an economics professor at The New School in New York, came up with the idea for baby bonds.

Each newborn child would be granted a bond, a federally funded trust fund of sorts. The poorest child would get, say, $60,000, with the amount dwindling to nothing for the children of the richest families. The money would be put in an interest-bearing account that becomes accessible upon adulthood and could only be used for wealth-building activities, such as going to college or putting a down payment on a home. They figure the program would cost about $60 billion per year, which, Darity and Hamilton wrote in an academic paper, is “less than 10% of the non-war spending budget for the Department of Defense.”

Some might contend that baby bonds, by focusing on wealth rather than race, unsatisfactorily address a racial problem. But, Darity and Hamilton argue in their paper, “Since the distributions of white and non-white wealth are so disparate — 85% of black families have wealth holdings below the median white family — wealth can be an effective non-race-based instrument to eliminate racial inequality.” Darity told me he thinks baby bonds “could go a long way toward closing the racial wealth gap.”

The universality of baby bonds also gives it the potential to attract support from an interracial coalition of working-class people pursuing their own economic self-interest. Such a coalition could form a base that a political majority can rest upon. A poor white person in West Virginia would have as much reason to support this program as a poor black person in rural Alabama. Baby bonds might get people to appreciate their commonality with others who, because of race, rarely think of themselves as having the same interests.

Given our political climate, many will be pessimistic about the likelihood of forming such an interracial coalition. Although that sentiment is understandable, we have reason for optimism.

The current era in American politics can be compared to Southern Redemption, the period when white supremacist politicians regained power after Reconstruction. In the wake of Redemption, however, Southern populist movements in the late 1800s gained traction, getting poor white folk to ally with poor black folk by explicitly arguing that powerful white elites kept them both in poverty. These populist politicians carried a consistent and truthful message: White elites used racism to separate white and black folk who were mired in destitution yet could be lifted together through responsive lawmaking.

These times call for a similar movement, which will admittedly require a gargantuan effort. But the fact that politicians in the 1880s, two decades after the end of slavery, were able to join working people of different races should give us hope. Baby bonds — particularly because they focus on what people are most concerned with, the future of their children — can be a policy that drives this movement.


Reparations are the most prominent race-conscious means to address the racial wealth gap. But when can we conclude that a seed will never germinate? Black folk have been working the reparations land for more than two centuries with little to show for it.

During the Revolutionary War, Peter, a free black man behind British lines, was enslaved by William Steel, an American officer. Peter was freed after six months, but years later he sued Steel for back wages, one of the first claims for reparations for the atrocities visited upon black people. The court held that he articulated a viable claim but awarded him no money.

Toward the end of the Civil War, when black folk who freed themselves cried out for land of their own, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 provided them a loaned mule and 40-acre plots on the Southern coastline. President Andrew Johnson later revoked it, however, returning the land to its original white owners.

In 1894, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would have paid a lump sum of at most $500 and monthly pensions ranging from $4 to $15 to formerly enslaved people and their children. This and comparable bills never received floor votes in either house of Congress, and the “pension movement” fizzled once World War I started. Reparations arguments bubbled up again during the 1960s. And in every congressional session since 1987, Rep. John Conyers has introduced a bill that would form a commission to study the effects of slavery and American apartheid and “recommend appropriate remedies.” This bill has gone nowhere. The struggle continues, but the goal is still far away in the distance.

Reparations were once just about slavery. Its proponents have updated the claim to include harm from Jim Crow, 19th- and 20th-century white-over-black governing and 21st-century racial discrimination. The underlying claim is simple: A series of evils have been inflicted on black people, causing various lacerations requiring healing. That healing, under the most-discussed scenarios, would come in the form of taxpayer-funded payouts. And therein lies the issue — the belief that white folk would ever take billions out of their pockets to specifically remedy the harm perpetrated upon black folk.

The reparations movement has never managed to get around that impasse, as many white people are loath to do right by black people without also reaping a benefit.

To flesh out the point, let’s examine Sherman’s field order. He devised it not to champion black interests but to aid himself: He needed a way to discard, while also providing for, the freedmen who had followed his troops during their march from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean. And he desired to punish the Confederates who started the war. He achieved both with one move. If he thought the order would have helped the freedmen but undercut the Union’s interests, Sherman would never have championed it, and President Abraham Lincoln would never have endorsed it.

Besides doing nothing to close the racial wealth gap regarding Latinos, reparations provide little to black folk — because it’s a dream that will never come to life.


Despite my pessimism about reparations, the movement can act as a strategic decoy to help popularize a policy like baby bonds.

Think back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement triumphs. He was one voice among many petitioning for racial equality. Several of the others who registered nationally came from his political left. Malcolm X and black power advocates like Stokely Carmichael helped King because they made his militancy appear moderate. King’s desire for black folk to be equal partners in American democracy departed dramatically from the status quo, yet he looked judicious in a sea of more militant aesthetics.

Advocacy for reparations can have the same effect: It can be the radical idea that makes baby bonds seem like a moderate panacea to the racial wealth gap.

Even so, reparations should be sold differently to be a better strategic decoy. Al Brophy, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and the author of Reparations: Pro and Con, told me that, “one time I flippantly suggested we should [put forward a reparations bill] in Congress and call it the ‘White Supremacy Maintenance Act.’ Call it something that will be acceptable to the voters and put something else in it.” I concur with Brophy’s main thrust. The times perhaps call for a marketing shift that plays to many white folks’ self-interest.

That new rationale for reparations should focus on how centuries of racism has created a market inefficiency that harms everyone. American capitalism underperforms since black folk, 13 percent of the country’s population, are unable to contribute as much as they should because of a lack of wealth. The injustices that black folk have suffered hurt all participants in our economy, not just black folk. Perhaps an unemployed white man from Cincinnati, for instance, would have a job if a black woman had the money to start a small business. Reparations for black folk, in other words, would redound to everyone’s benefit.

According to a 2016 YouGov poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose reparations. I don’t expect this new rationale to drag reparations across the all-important “50 percent in favor” threshold. This is a smart tactical shift, nonetheless, for two reasons. First, it could make reparations more popular, coaxing its opponents to favor a less radical idea like baby bonds. Second, selling reparations like this teaches white people to cease thinking about wealth as a zero-sum game — more wealth for people of color doesn’t necessarily mean less wealth for them.