The second Vine Street Connection reunion was held July 25-27. I was late getting into Cape on Friday, so I missed the fish fry at Capaha Park, but I did manage to attend the dinner and dance Saturday night and the picnic at North County Park on Sunday.
I recognized quite a few folks from the first reunion two years ago and had interviewed others for the Smelterville: Community of Love book and video I’m working on. I’m usually pretty detached when I’m covering something, but there were at least three instances that really moved me this weekend.
The first came when Brenda Newbern called forward all those in the audience who had served in the military or who were presently serving. While they were coming up, she delivered this speech:
I don’t know about you, but when I was young and watched the movies about the war and how the “colored” soldiers were treated I wondered why would you go fight and risk your life for a country that doesn’t want to count you as a human. Doesn’t want to give you a proper uniform or shoes and doesn’t think you are intelligent enough to be an officer or fly an airplane and don’t even think you are going to get equal pay. Oh my word, not you!!
I asked my dad why he went to fight and he never really gave me an answer. Because I believe it was a deep-rooted conviction that those men had to show the world just who and what they were made of. And to say this is my country too!! But as I grew older and watched the same movies and saw how God would set things up to prove all of the ASSUMPTIONS WRONG!! I began to ask the question:
What if there was no 54th Massachusetts Infantry that produced the likes of Col. Robert Gould Shaw and took the battle to the assault on Fort Wagner.
What if they had not served in World War I & II? 179,000 Black Men served in the Civil War (10% of the Union Army). 19,000 served in the Navy. 40,000 Black soldiers died over the course of the war.
What if there were no Buffalo Soldiers building forts and maintaining order on the frontier?
What if there were no Tuskegee Airmen and Capt. Benjamin Davis, Jr. who would become the first African American Air Force General
What if there was no Major Martin Robison Delany, the first Field Officer in the US Army; or First Lt. Vernon J Baker, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in the battles in Italy, or General Daniel “Cappie” James, Jr. who became the full general commander of the North American Air Defense Command!
AND, WHAT IF there were NONE OF YOU!!!!
Each of you served your country and left your families, placed your life on the line and did it with dignity and honor. We as a black people may be proud and know that you did this to represent each and every one of us and for that I say “Thank you!” When I salute the flag and say the pledge it will be to remember all of you and those that have served before you that I may be free. May God Bless You and May God continue to Bless America.
We Shall Overcome
The second came when the group stood and sang We Shall Overcome. I’ve heard Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul & Mary sing it live, and I’ve been a dozens of marches and protests where it was sung, but hearing the Vine Street folks sing it, and knowing some of the things they had to overcome in Cape Girardeau suddenly made the song meaningful to me. It will never be “just a folk song” again.
[Editor’s note: they aren’t singing We Shall Overcome in this photo. They didn’t need a song sheet for THAT anthem.]
“The Walkers bought them”
While waiting for the bulk of folks to show up for the picnic, I was talking with some men. The inevitable question of “Where are you from?” came up. One of them said, “My ancestors arrived in New York. That’s where the Walkers bought them.” He started to talk about where they went from there.
I put up my hand and said, “You just sent a shiver down my spine. It’s one thing to think about slavery in the abstract, but when I’m standing next to a man who says of his family, ‘and that’s where the Walkers bought them,’ it suddenly becomes real.”
Plenty of books left over
There are plenty of copies of Smelterville: Community of Love left over. I’ll be dropping some of them off at Annie Laurie’s Antique Shop at the corner of Broadway and Frederick. They are $20 each. They will also be available by mail, but I’m going to have to work out how much the postage is after the recent increase.
Vine Street Connection Portraits
Most of these photos were taken at the picnic on Sunday. Lighting conditions at the dinner and dance were horrible, so I didn’t shoot many pictures there. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the images. Because there are so many images, it make take longer to load than usual.