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Opinion | What would Jesus have done during the Montgomery Brawl?

When Black folks get tired, you don’t – as the young folks say – want that smoke.  

A brawl erupted in Montgomery after white boaters attacked a Black city worker.

What would Jesus have done during the Montgomery Brawl? And what about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Who knows, but let’s speculate. 

Jesus, the counter-cultural, radical Jewish rabbi, revered by more than 2 billion people as either God (Christianity) or the greatest of God’s prophets (Islam), probably wouldn’t have thrown a punch. Maybe he would have said “Peace, be still,” ending the brawl before it began.

King, the fearless, silver-tongued preacher, assassinated like his savior and posthumously given a national holiday by the very government that harassed him, may have recited some lines from his sermon Loving Your Enemies. “If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back” – and that would have been as far as he got before being pummeled. 

Not that the Nobel Peace Prize winner couldn’t be persuasive. He convinced two presidents to embrace civil rights before the nation had. King also convinced people from across the country to come down here in 1965 to protest for black citizens to have the right to vote.

His non-violent philosophy, influenced by Bayard Rustin, the gay Quaker who advised him, was revolutionary in 1965. Today, it seems more like quaint nostalgia.

Hence, the celebration of the Montgomery Brawl by repressed, turn-the-other-cheek Black people everywhere. Memes galore about the key characters: renegade boaters, reportedly drunk, dropping N-bombs while they attacked Damieon Pickett, the black co-captain of the Harriott II. Picket was just doing his job, trying to get them to move their boats so his riverboat could dock. 

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There’s also Pickett’s 16-year-old defender Aaren – hilariously lauded as “JaMichael Phelps” and “Aquaman” – for diving off the riverboat and into the fray. And let’s not forget Reggie Ray, the black man wielding the folding chair as a weapon against the instigators and others. (The chair has developed a social media stardom all its own.)

Some may not understand or appreciate the fanfare and fuss. So let me explain. The memes and social media buzz equals, at least for many Black folks, repressed rage set free. 

Yes, rage. Beneath vibrant church services, dynamic gospel singing, great preaching, amazing dance moves, trend-setting fashions, athletic brilliance and everything else Black that has shaped so much of American culture, it was there all the time.

Raw. Roiling. Rage.

Without it, we would have gone crazy. Being Black in America hasn’t been an easy ride for the past 400-plus years.

Read Taylor Branch’s Parting The Waters, the first book in his brilliant civil rights trilogy. Or Danielle McGuire’s At The Dark End Of The Street, the first book to document how rape was used systematically to terrorize Black women and their families during Jim Crow. Or The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Watch Eyes on the Prize, the award-winning PBS documentary series. Or the illuminating 2013 film 12 Years A Slave, the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man living in upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Or the ground-breaking TV series Underground.    

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Listen to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s hip-hop classic The Message. Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace. Prince’s Colonized Mind.

They all, in their own way, capture the brutality, challenge, pathos and rage of being black in America.

Some deny this history. They dismiss us and our rage, calling it ungrateful and unpatriotic.

They’d much rather we take the posture of our gentle savior. Or our peaceful American prophet.

But even Jesus flipped some temple tables and wielded a whip before he was lashed to the cross. And King, toward the end, got fed up – arguably, even a bit enraged.

Some may even fear black rage, wondering if it will be retributive.

They can stop clutching their pearls. Rage and peace can co-exist in Black souls. It has for 400-plus years. 

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We still love Jesus and Dr. King. And we will continue to live by their precepts. 

But the Montgomery Brawl has revealed – perhaps unleashed – another side of us. It’s the we-tired-of-the-violence side. It suggests self-defense against violent racism will become the new normal.  

So renegade boaters and other thugs, beware. When Black folks get tired, you don’t – as the young folks say – want that smoke.  

David Person is a media personality and consultant who has been working in the Huntsville market since 1986 as a talk show host, columnist, and director/producer. David co-hosts the podcast Alabama Politics This Week.

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