Attica Rebellion (09.09-13.1971); Tupac Shakur (09.13.1996);
World Trade Centers (09.11.2001)
September is a month with painful memorable events. Let me start with the World Trade Centers.
September 11, 2001
The two world trade centers and surrounding areas came crashing to the ground as two suicide planes crashed into them. I visited the site early the next morning, September 12. The current Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, who was our youth leader I chaired the National Black United Front and who was then a police lieutenant, assisted me in providing transportation and credentials that allowed me to travel from Brooklyn directly to the tower area. I spent almost the whole day surveying the horrific scene. It was unbelievable! Almost impossible to comprehend that the two tallest buildings in New York were now a pile of debris.
September 9-13, 1971
But more specifically for people of African Ancestry was the rebellion of inmates in Attica Maximum-Security Correctional Facility in New York. 10 officers and 33 inmates were killed. The rebellion ended with National Guards coming into the prison shooting up or spraying bullets all over the place killing inmates and officers. I visited the prison the next day, September 14th. It seems I can still smell the teargas and I see the prison with all kinds of stuff scattered about the place. As we paused by one cell, I asked the brother who was behind the bars, “How you doin’ man?” he responded enthusiastically “I’m doing alright. What don't kill me, make me strong.”
In our delegation, we were accompanied by Rev. Dr. Wyatt Walker. Dr. Walker had been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Chief of Staff. He was then employed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. It was Dr. Walker who arranged the visit to Attica.
Significantly, two weeks before the Attica Rebellion, George Jackson, a revolutionary and author was killed in San Quentin prison in California. They said he had a gun and tried to escape. The story, as told by the officials, was rejected by the community and impartial observers who had studied the episode.
September 13, 1996
But best remembered is the death of Tupac Shakur, the famous rap artist. He was killed while in a car with Suge Knight. The following Sunday I preached a sermon about Tupac at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, New York. Following is the title and the sermon:
Who will weep for Tupac Shakur?
A sermon delivered in the House of the Lord Church, September 15, 1996.
It is now 3:15 a.m. and I am driven to put to paper some thoughts about Tupac Shakur. Gone from this life forever at least in the flesh. What shall I say of this young man who lived such a flamboyant, violent, tumultuous life and who died at 25 years old on September 13, 1996?
Let me speak first to his membership in our church. Tupac’s mother, Afeni, brought him and his sister to this Holy place. The three of them stood there at the altar and united with this congregation. (Also, accompanying them was Afeni’s sister, Gloria.) He was a lad of about 10 years old. When I asked him what he wanted to be he replied, “A revolutionary.” Needless to say, I was surprised; I ought not to have been. There is a saying concerning “a chip off the old block” or “the twig doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”
His mother, Afeni, who was pregnant with him while incarcerated for allegedly plotting to bomb something, later found not guilty, was a revolutionary. She was a member of the Black Panther Party. A group of young black men and women, who some years ago, created enormous fear among some whites and a certain kind of blacks. Afeni was committed to making things better for the masses. She was a revolutionary. If ‘revolution’ means complete change, she wanted that. Afeni wanted a complete change for the better and she thought this could happen with the Black Panther Party.
Later she was to fall on hard times, but we are not here to tell her story, we are here to remember Tupac. Tupac, the revolutionary. He said, “I want to be a revolutionary.” Maybe that explains his life. He wanted ‘change’. I know there are those who will say that he went about it the wrong way. But I am not to judge. I will leave that to God. I confess I am not good at that sort of thing. But let us remember, “we shall be judged by the judgment we render”, says the Scripture, “You that are without sin, let him cast the first stone.” “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones?” said Mark Antony at the death of Julius Caesar.
But to say that Tupac wanted to be a revolutionary - that he wanted to change things - but that he didn’t know how is not too harsh. We disagreed with how he went about it and I think that those of us who loved him, in spite of everything, told him so. And if we would be criticized for that then criticize God too for that is where we learned it. The Bible says “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son…” Those of us who loved him can accept the criticism of his method. We wanted better from his behavior and words and we told him that. He had such prodigious talent. He was so likable when he wanted to be. Tupac had such fierce determination. He went from the gutter of extreme poverty and devastating rejection to reaching the mountaintop of success.
After he joined our church, he played. He laughed. He cried. He played with other children and then Afeni took him to Baltimore. She told me he did well in school. He was smart. In the performing arts school, Tupac was an exceptional student.
To be continued…