Thursday, February 28, 2013

Duty of the Hour

            I recently went to a showing of The Duty of the Hour documentary about the life of Benjamin Hooks.  Hooks was a native Memphian who had a huge impact on the Federal Communications Commission by making fundamental changes on the media for African Americans. He also eventually went on the become the president of the NAACP and made grade strides for the organization even though the organization was falling apart when he came into position.

During the documentary, one scene that caught my eye was the sanitation workers strike in Memphis during the late 1960’s. The strike was a grassroots movement that resembled many of the grassroots protests and strikes we have talked about throughout many class discussions. Just like other grassroots movements, the sanitation strike was fueled by local leadership and helped to build national momentum to test segregation. Although the strike began with local workers, people throughout the nation became aware of the strike. Even Martin Luther King Jr. knew about the strike and actually made a speech to the workers in Memphis. I was glad the documentary mentioned the local strike because of how often grassroots movements are ignored in history today. 

While the movie itself was very compelling, the thing that stuck out to me the most during the event was the speech that Mayor Wharton made before the showing of the film. He talked about how not everyone can be as influential and monumental as Benjamin Hooks or Martin Luther King or Ida B Wells, but there is still a lot left undone in regards to racial equality. Specifically, Wharton explained the saying “duty of the hour,” which I found was important. He clarified “duty of the hour” as a person’s individual obligation to civil rights that should always be getting modified. He also explained that there is always going to be a need for individuals to participate in their own duties of the hour to work to lessen social injustice and discrimination in the future.

The talk by Wharton also parallels to the reoccurring class topic that the Civil Rights Movement does not actually have set beginning and ending dates in history, unlike popular assumption. Because racial inequality cannot be cured or ended with one event or law, it is important to remember what Wharton emphasized in his speech. Although times have changed and segregation is not as public as it used to be, there are still many strides forward to be made in America. There is no actual “master narrative” for the movement because discrimination is still present in every day life. For example, The KKK rally that is coming to Memphis due to the renaming of public parks is obviously fueled behind racial divides. The rally may very well result in the desire to violently retaliate the KKK, so someone’s duty of the hour could be to spread the importance of non-violent responses.

 While I have constantly been thinking about my possible duties of the hour since this documentary, I challenge you to think about potential individual duties of the hour you can take to continue to work to prevent discrimination in America. 


  1. I agree with your idea that, although enormous strides have been made in the advancement of civil rights, racial prejudice is still prevalent in society today. I think it's important for people to understand that this is not something that just happened in the past, but something that is happening right now - and that we can ALL do our part in putting a stop to it.

    I also agree that the best way to go about doing this is through peaceful, non-violent methods. It's easy to get caught up in all the hatred and violence and to want to respond with anger, but that isn't the best way to solve problems like these. Take, for example, the KKK rally being planned in Memphis. Sure, people could fight it, but that will only give the organizers and members exactly what they are looking for - attention. It's comparable to a child throwing a tantrum; if we don't give in to the idiocy of racist individuals and organized institutions such as the KKK, they will not be able to make any significant advances with their cause and maybe, HOPEFULLY, the entire institution will one day be abolished once and for all.

  2. I think one of the biggest problem facing discussions of civil rights today is distancing. Having gone to school in North Dakota, with one black student in my entire high school, I can attest to this. Racism was always discussed as a problem that happened to others and was perpetuated by others, rather than a problem we had to take a personal interest in. I think this happens to a less extreme degree in other settings. Prejudice and discrimination is framed in our dominant discourse as a historical or abstract issue confined to certain neighborhoods and time periods. While to some extent it is understandable that we would like to separate ourselves from these unpleasant realities, this convenient distancing strategy is not a choice those suffering from racial injustice enjoy. By not recognizing the problem, we reinforce it.

  3. Great post Kenz. I didn't attend the showing but you post sparks two thoughts.
    As an environmental science major I have spent more than my fair share of time discussing environmental justice. Racism is still evident today and it's not just in the continued dealings of the KKK but also in the way the poor are exploited. There is no disguising the fact that poor Americans are in large part African American and other minorities. Those minority communities are taken advantage of every day by environmental injustices such as unlawful and polluted dumping in their community. The country does these type things because they know that they can get away with it. There are so many issues surrounding environmental justice and it's hard to outline those hear, but the Mayor's comments made me think about things that are happening here in Memphis to African American communities.
    My second thought, was that this kind of brings us to Baldwin. Before we read Baldwin I couldn't help but think that we were thinking of the Civil Rights Movement as something that just happened. I think the reading of Baldwin was great because it really outlines the human experience and the human struggle during the civil rights movement. It brings an individual's insight into the context and that has really changed my outlook on the movement.

  4. I believe that grassroots movements are the most important part of societal change. Without these smaller movements, the larger ones that are often remembered would not be able to take place. Grassroots movements compliment larger movements well by showing exactly who is affected within a community. Grassroots movements have passion and support behind them. This leads to a greater determination for change. Grassroots activists only grow stronger when their cause is publicized and receives national attention, like with the Memphis sanitation strike.