US Embassy celebrates with Daisy Bates
Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
Fifty years after Martin Luther King and members of the civil rights movement in the United Sates of America (USA) led a historic March on Washington DC, his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech still reverberates around the world.
On Wednesday, in commemorating the anniversary of the march, at the Embassy in Kingston, the United States Ambassador to Jamaica, Pamela E. Bridgewater, shifted the focus from King to Daisy Bates, a civil-rights activist, and one of three females to have addressed that gathering in 1963.
Bates' story was presented in a documentary, Daisy Bates - First Lady of Little Rock, with the viewing of the tear-jerking documentary taking place in the embassy's Grand Altrium.
The approximately two-hour-long programme also included a panel discussion on the film. The welcome and closing remarks were given by the ambassador.
Bridgewater, along with providing background information on the march itself, described King's speech as one of the best written and delivered in the United States.
She also informed her guests that Bates was a community organiser who was outspoken and a rebel.
After the viewing, Bridgewater, who was an activist herself, and has picketed for justice and equality in Virginia, said, as a teenager, she had heard about Bates but did not know as much about her as she learnt from watching the film.
"We need to learn, as human beings, to respect others, not to prejudge others, to not be prejudiced," said Bridgewater about the lessons America has learnt from the last 50 years and incidents like the Trayvon Martin case.
"The 50th anniversary march gives us the cause to pause and to think and to reflect."
"We should never be stagnant, because we can always be better and we can always do better," said Jeanette Vail, deputy director of USAID, adding her voice to the evening's proceedings.
The Sharon La Cruise-written, directed and produced film demonstrated how far the civil rights movement has come through the story of a woman born in Hutting, Arkansas.
Daisy Lee Gatson, Bates, given name, lost her mother in very tragic circumstances at eight years old, only to be abandoned by her father not long after.
A childhood steeped in horror seemed to transform Daisy into a fearless civil-rights activist. It was in Little Rock, married to journalist L.C. Bates, who eventually owned and operated a newspaper company, that her fearlessness as the first female National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) president became evident.
She worked tirelessly to ensure that the first set of black students (who became known as the Little Rock Nine) were able to attend Central High, a previously all-white school.
Bates would later become destitute.
Panellists Bernard Jankee said it was hard not to be emotional when watching the film. He called it a story of simplicity, telling complexity.
Fellow panellists Dalea Bean said the film was a timely reminder that one person can change the world and that there is no substitute for hard work. Jermaine McCalpin, said human rights was foremost on his mind after the film.
The audience also had the opportunity voice their thoughts as well as pose questions to the panellists. Their questions and concerns varied and included comparisons between homosexual lobbyists and the human-rights struggle the marginalisation of women then and now, as well as their role in society.