Each year brings its big events. 2013 was no different. Some of the “big events” were welcomed such as the Dow Jones hitting a new record high (December 31). Some “big events” were devastating like Typhoon Haiyan (November 3 to 11). Other big events were simply game changers like launch of the Obamacare website (October 1). What these big events have in common is that they affected a large number of people and they will be remembered for years to come.
There are also “big events” that primarily affect a certain group or community. It is unrealistic to think that big events are not felt beyond any group or community. Yet big events can be felt more strongly by a certain group though big events are (by their nature) “big” enough to affect an entire country or even the entireg planet.
Here are the five big events of 2013 that were felt by the African American community. This list might surprise you but they were definitely big.
George Zimmerman Acquittal (July 13)
In this “big event”, there was the good and the bad. It started off quite good. George Zimmerman went on trial for killing Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. This was a good start because, immediately after the killing, the police were not going to investigate further and the DA was not going to prosecute. After the immense public outrage and demonstrations, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. Here is where the “good” part ends. On July 13, the verdict (after 16 hours of deliberation) acquitted him of all charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The marches and protests began again. President Obama even made a heartfelt and moving speech about the verdict. This big event during the summer of 2013 touched on the feelings of injustice and racism that the African American community has felt and experienced for decades. This “big event” verdict even rekindled thoughts of the lynching of 14-year old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi in 1955 and the quick acquittals for his killers.
Supreme Court Decision on the Voting Rights Act (June 25)
Here is another “big event” court case. This time, the case involves one of the most important rights in a democracy: voting. This landmark case was almost overlooked because it was released on the day after a Supreme Court decision upholding federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Court did not show the same respect for voting rights. In Shelby County v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court invalidated section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 required certain jurisdictions that have a history of discriminatory voting practices to get advance approval from the federal government before changing their election laws. Section 5 was originally passed in 1965, and has been extended by Congress on four separate occasions. According to the congressional report, without Section 5 "racial and language minority citizens will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted, undermining the significant gains made by minorities in the last 40 years." On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down this important section of the Voting Rights Act. Without a doubt, this was one of the worst and most far-reaching Supreme Court decisions to affect African Americans and other ethnic and racial minorities. This was a very big event. Watch out for changes in the voting laws!
50th Anniversary of the March on Washington (August 28)
This “big event” took 50 years in the making and it was very, very big. It was the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom! No, it was not the actual March on Washington, which was held on August 28, 1963 and attended by 250,000 people in the Capitol Mall and topped off with the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. But it was the fiftieth anniversary and it made people remember that incredible day. For youngsters who were not yet born or for people who could not make the trip to U.S. capital that day, the anniversary celebration on August 28th was a day to remember the march, reflect on the meaning of the march, and to gain a deeper understanding on the march. How many people knew that the march was focused on jobs and freedom? This big event caused people to consider the impact of the march and to examine how the U.S. is faring on freedom and jobs five decades after the march. It was a golden opportunity!
Scottsboro Boys Pardon (November 21)
Here is a “big event” in the courts that had a good outcome. The three remaining Scottsboro boys were pardoned. The Scottsboro boys were nine African American youths who were convicted in 1931 in Alabama for the rape of two white women. The group went through numerous trials, appeals, lawyers, Supreme Court decisions, all-white juries, witness recantations, eight death sentences, imprisonment and an attempted lynching. Six of the Scottsboro youths had already been pardoned over the decades. However, Haywood Patterson, Charles Weems, and Andy Wright continued to live under their criminal convictions. On November 21, they were posthumously pardoned by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles--eighty years after their alleged “crimes”. Was this a “better late than never” big event or a simply long-term denial of justice for the Scottsboro boys and their families?
Death of Nelson Mandela (December 5)
On December 5, 2013, the world lost one of the greatest people of the 20th century: Nelson Mandela. This was not only a “big event” for African Americans, but for the world. He was 95 years old, but his death still came as a surprise and it hit hard. Yet his death and legacy remind us that heroes do exist and they are changing the world. African Americans were filled with such pride and respect for their “father” and his loss left a hole that cannot be filled—and he cannot be replaced. His funeral was a multi-day, internationally televised event that showed a personal, loving, truly African side to this fascinating man. Mr. Mandela was a role model for the world. His bright smile, vision, and glow are a beacon for all peace-loving people to follow. He will be missed. Amandla…awethu!
2013 was a year of big events. Yet a new year has come: 2014 is another year filled with promise and hope. Big events—good, bad, and game changing—are sure to happen. They bring excitement and opportunity. Bring it!