|I am printing today a statement written by Dr Everett McCorvey. He signed this document as the founder and director of the American Spiritual Ensemble, an auditioned choral group of highly trained and accomplished professional vocalists. They travel the county and the world giving concerts featuring the American Negro Spirituals and other songs associated with black life in America.
For seven years Dr McCorvey served as Music Director of the Academy of Preachers (of which I was founder and president). He is also the director of the National Chorale of New York City and a tenured professor of voice and director of opera at the University of Kentucky.
Most of all, he is my dear friend and colleague, and I hear, receive, and endorse every word he has written:
“As the Founder and Director of the American Spiritual Ensemble I feel compelled to comment on what is happening in our nation. This past week has been difficult for our entire world as the wounds of racism were ripped open when a Minneapolis police officer suffocated the life out of one of its citizens, George Floyd. In Louisville, Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was killed by police as she rested in her own home in March. Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man was killed while out on a jog in a white neighborhood in Georgia. The list goes on and on. Until now, there were uprisings for a few days and then it would seem like the uprisings would stop and life would return to normal.
“What is normal for a black family in America? Normal is praying every time your son goes out of the door wearing a hoodie, hoping that the police or others might not mistake him for a criminal and gun him down in cold blood. Normal is training your child to place his hands on a steering wheel in plain view so that if they are stopped by a policeman, they are not shot and killed as was the case with 32-year-old Philando Castile, also of Minnesota, who was gunned down by a Minnesota Police officer while sitting in his car after being stopped by said officer. Normal is knowing that every time your child leaves the house, there is a possibility that they may suffer at the hands of people who don’t like the color of his skin. Normal is knowing that every job that you apply for, every audition that you take, every class that you walk into, every loan that you apply for, every apartment that you try to rent, every house that you try to purchase, that even before you utter a word, you have already been tagged as suspicious and inferior just based on the color of your skin. Normal is realizing that you have to be twice as good, twice as eligible, twice as talented, twice as prepared, twice as clean, twice as qualified, twice as, twice as, twice as, just to appear equal in your white counterparts’ eyes, to even be taken seriously. Normal is knowing that you will have to justify your very existence on this earth just to be considered worthy. Racial strife in this country, brought on by an unequal system of justice has been the way of life since the first enslaved Africans were brought here 400 years ago in 1619.
“I grew up during the first Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery, Alabama. My father was a deacon at First Baptist Church where the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Martin Luther King’s assistant, was minister. My family lived a few blocks from the state Capital and two blocks from Martin Luther Kings’s home in Montgomery. As a child, I witnessed the fears and frustrations of the movement first hand, with many stories to tell. It seems like we are now living in a 2 nd Civil Rights Movement. The Black man has had to fight for freedom, justice, equality and the right to carve out an existence in this country for centuries. A country that has been mostly silent about the injustice that has been laid before their eyes for centuries. Silent, because in their eyes, it was the problem of the black man and not their problem. Silent, because the trials and tribulations of the black man did not affect them and so their decision was not to get involved. Of course we have had our white brothers and sisters who have broken the silence and said that racial hatred and inequality was wrong, but their voices were like small ensembles in a big chorus. The small ensemble said “yes,” while the large chorus said, “not yet.”
“America has a Great Problem. The problem of unequal justice. Unequal justice leads to unequal access, unequal opportunity, unequal wealth, unequal respect, and an unequal application of the meaning in the Declaration of Independence that guaranteed all men, black and white, the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail in 1963:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is…the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.
“Perhaps, after 400 years of inaction, that “more convenient season” has arrived.
“I hope that as a nation, we can find an answer to the Great Problem that has plagued us for centuries. I am convinced that the answer centers around love, and not hate. It centers around not just focusing on the bad actions of the few, but unlocking the silence of the many, who, up until now, have been witnessing what has been happening to people of color in this country, but who sat back and said nothing. It seems that, over the past week, this silence has been broken, and the chorus of the many, are beginning to speak in support of those voices who have been marginalized. Perhaps that “more convenient season,” has finally arrived.
“That’s what I see happening in this current uprising. It’s an uprising of the young people of all races, especially white young people, who seem to not want to sit idly by and say nothing or do nothing. The silent voices are beginning to speak, and they are saying, enough is enough. I confess to being tired of continually trying to rationalize hate and accept delay. In a way, it feels hopeful to see that so many are now beginning to realize the difficult plight that African-Americans have had to endure for centuries. Maybe this will finally be the turning point that our country so desperately needs.
“My thanks to you all, and I pray that with all of us working together, God will see us through.
“Sincerely, Everett McCorvey, Founder and Director, American Spiritual Ensemble”
NOTE: Dr McCorvey and the Ensemble will be performing here in Brunswick and on St Simons Island under the sponsorship of The Meetinghouse (of which I am Principal and Host), January 28-29, 2021. Featured art by Ike Moody.