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Industry Briefs
What Happened To The Spirit Of Unity And Activism That Fueled The Civil Rights Movement?
Solomon J. Herbert

The events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington have brought on a flood of memories for me. I know that many of the younger people in our industry were not even born in 1963 and have little understanding of what that March symbolized. But for those of us who planned and participated in this historic journey, it was a life-changing experience. There was a sense of unity, togetherness and brotherhood that engulfed the estimated quarter million people who descended upon our nation’s capital. It was the largest gathering of Black folk and others of good will DC had ever seen. And despite all of the fear mongering that warned of riots and violence erupting as a result of the March, it went off without a hitch. By so doing we sent a clear message to those in the highest halls of power that the Civil Rights Movement and the people who it represented, everyone from grass roots community organizations to high profile celebrities, demanded more jobs and freedom for African-Americans.

I can remember vividly, when traveling through the South in the late 1950s, being confronted by “colored drinking fountain” and “colored restroom” signs. Or being counter picketed in Baltimore by Ku Klux Klan members in full regalia as we broke down the color barrier in local establishments in the early ‘60s. Even in New York City, with its large Black community in Harlem, we fought the Board of Education with great passion to finally get the first Black school principle during that same timeframe. And in the face of intimidation from menacing White Supremacists and Skin Head thugs, we held massive demonstrations at a White Castle fast food restaurant in the Bronx because they would not hire African-Americans, or “Negroes” as we were called at the time.

I’ve often wondered what was it about those days, when the threats against people of color were very real and tangible, that allowed me, along with many of my brothers and sisters, to stand up for freedom and justice knowing full well the risks involved. And conversely, I also wonder why today, when many of the same kinds injustices and biases prevail in society and especially in our industry (though the risks are certainly not life threatening), that more of us don’t stand up for principles that we know are right and just, like inclusion, diversity and parity for African-Americans and other people of color.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the difference between then and now is that the spirit of unity that was the order of the day in our community back in the ‘50s and ‘60s no longer exists today. Not only do we not cooperate with one another and work in unison as a group as much as we should, many of us do not even support other African-Americans in our industry and give them the credit, accolades and business they are due.

Somehow, we as African-Americans must rekindle that spirit of unity that once prevailed in our community. We must become activists for change and not sit on the sidelines just protecting our own jobs and ignoring the glaring inequities of which this industry is guilty. I for one don’t accept the fact that there are only eight African-Americans who are qualified to serve as CVB presidents/CEOs, or that there are less than 100 African-Americans who are qualified to serve as hotel general managers. And in my opinion, neither should you. But these, and many other inequities will continue until this sense of unity, togetherness and brotherhood is reborn in our community and we make our collective voices heard.

Solomon J. Herbert is Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Black Meetings & Tourism, an award-winning, bi-monthly trade magazine for the meetings/tourism/hospitality industry that is launching a yearlong celebration of its 20th anniversary throughout 2014.