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Monday, April 04, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Four revolutionaries

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Four revolutionaries: Four revolutionaries

The recent deaths of Bobby Short, Bruce Wright, Harold Cruse and Johnnie Cochran symbolize the very great changes that have taken place in America over the last 40 years while reminding us of how much is left to be done.

One could not imagine four more dissimilar men or four men more driven in arenas that seemed largely closed off to them when they were children.

Each was something of a revolutionary in his given field and each proved how much could be done by a black man who had chosen to embrace the complexities of his identity.

Each had a sort of integrity, whether or not one always agreed with the decisions made.

One of Bobby Short's accomplishments was that he represented a sophistication and taste that one did not associate with the show business conventions that held sway 80 years ago when he was born (and holds sway today in the new minstrelsy of gangster hip hop). But Short became the "best saloon singer in the world," singing the finest songs from the American Songbook, from black town or white town. In that way, he did what all true Americans, whether born here or immigrants, want. He created and maintained a vision of beauty, wit, spunk and varied feeling that irrepressively rose above any imposed limitations of color.

Bruce Wright was a controversial New York judge who maintained a running battle with the New York Police Department as long as he sat on the bench. He demanded professional conduct, questioned tactics and hectored against minority suspects unnecessarily experiencing excessive or deadly force. Some considered Wright no more than a bitter man who hated the police. But in a democracy, such judges keep the police on their toes, which is what should be demanded of those who go to work carrying guns. Under harsh scrutiny, the police do their best work and they most benefit their own reputations and the lives of our communities.

Harold Cruse's "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual," exploded in 1967 and called on the carpet simplistic ideas about Afro-American life, troubles, culture and political solutions. Cruse was an independent. He did not care; he attacked the left, the right, the integrationists, the separatists, the black nationalists and those who laughably considered themselves "revolutionaries." But Cruse always understood that the black American is, above all else, an American. For Cruse, as with any sane person, culture was always more important than skin tone because it told us so much more than color.

Johnnie Cochran achieved astonishing levels of eloquence and charisma, but also tried to impose a demagogic allegiance to color on the black reporters who covered the O.J. Simpson case. He proved two very important things about American society. First that we cannot be too careful in examining the actions and motives of our police and forensics people. Second, with his achieving an acquittal for wrongly convicted and imprisoned former Black Panther Elmer (Geronimo) Pratt, whom he represented for 27 years, Cochran proved something equally important. Our system continues to grow and can only achieve a closer relationship to justice if it has hardworking men who are willing to run the long distance.

All of these men experienced the loneliness of the long-distance runner and the matchless excitement and satisfaction that comes with unexpected victory.

Originally published on March 31, 2005

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