From this you sense, at the end of his life, Jack Gravely (radio host and former head of the Virginia NAACP from November 1976 to January 1985) was terribly frustrated with economic and social progress in America despite the opportunities born from the efforts and sacrifices of the civil rights movement. The following address was delivered last year not long after the upheaval in Baltimore.
I don’t care what you hear, it’s not going to stop me from doing my job; not going to stop me from running the roads; not going to stop me from looking; not going to stop me from calling out issues that I think are important; not going to stop me from doing what the NAACP needs; has made it possible to do in my lifetime. So it’s not going to stop me at all.
There is a nasty streak … out there in America today … and it is a vicious streak … I didn’t see it my first time around; I see it now. People will hurt you. And that’s a polite way of saying, “People will kill you.”
I went back (to the NAACP) because this is my calling. I didn’t get no message from God. But I was trained for this: my education, my experience, my temperament … everything about me is built for the NAACP.
There is a song that you hear around Christmastime … “says the night wind to the little lamb, do you hear what I hear?” I want build my remarks around the words to that song.
The land that I went 10,000 miles from as a 22 year old college graduate who fought in the jungles of Viet Nam. A land that produced my father, my father’s father, my father’s father’s father, and my father’s father’s father’s father out of the dirt of Henry County in Southwest Virginia farm fields; Danville. The name of Gravely was given to my family by the white folk that bought my daddy’s daddy’s daddy’s daddy’s daddy off of a slave ship down in the Turning Basin in Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, Virginia that I drove through for 15 years and never knew until my younger sister started to do the genealogy of the family; if you hear what I hear.
So my soul and my blood runs deep in the soil of America. It runs deep…one of seven brothers and six of them served in the United States military honorably; my daddy had served. I want you to know who’s talking to you; someone that grew up in a house with seven brothers and five sisters and a mother and a father that never finished high school, never went to college, eight out of their twelve children got a degree at somebody’s college. A mother that was a domestic, a father that was a coal miner, brothers and sisters that slept three in a bed.
We lived in a six room house at the end of a road. I want you to know that the day my father died, the hearse could not come to the house to pick my daddy up. Some you may remember that back in the day when someone died, you brought them home, you brought them to the living room, you brought them to the dining room and moved all the furniture out and that is where my daddy laid for seven days and seven nights. And the hearse couldn’t come down the road because the road we lived on had so many potholes in it. The mud was so deep that me and my six brothers and some other men carried my daddy up the railroad tracks to put him in a hearse. And they took my daddy away. This is who’s talking to you. I want you to know that I don’t have to make up to tell you how poor I was. It wasn’t even poor then. It was “po.”
I had a mother and I had a father that breathed education, that breathed books, that breathed … My mother used to work for these big white folk back home. Every now and then they would throw away these magazines and National Geographic would end up on our dining room table, and I would read that magazine and my sisters would read it then we would have debates in the house…do you hear what I hear?
Parents, you’ve got to expose your kids to graces for them to be graceful. … Exposure, if you hear what I hear … no we don’t have very many young folks but I can tell you, the gist of what you see here is because I grew up loving to read. I grew up my mother reading I grew up my daddy reading the paper every morning I went out in the lobby and I just read the Waynesboro Virginian. I read newspapers, I read magazines, I read books. This is my traveling companion tonight. If I stop on the road, if I get sleepy, I just pull over, pop this book out and read it.
If you hear what I hear, there is a kind of failure of parenthood and leadership in our community. There is a failure and I’m not here beating up on anyone, I am not here slapping anyone around the head and shoulders. I am not here to talk about, to run you down, or be cruel but let me tell you not only is there a failure in the families, there’s a failure in the community, there’s a failure in our churches, there’s a failure in the NAACP because we’ve gotten fat, we’ve gotten lazy, and we’ve got all…everything…we’ve got our flat screen TVs, our pick-em-up truck, and our tickets to the concert. We’ve gotten fat and lazy.
Look at what’s going on. Baltimore may very well have been a precursor. There are other Baltimores in America. There are Baltimores in Virginia; there are Fergusons in Virginia; that’s what I’m telling the FBI when I meet with them. I know why they want to meet. I know what they want to hear. “Jack what are you hearing around Virginia? What are you hearing when you are in Waynesboro? What are you hearing? I’m speaking tomorrow when I am in Richmond, Jack, what are you hearing? And I’m going to tell them.
If you see what I see…I see a wall around a moral compass all across this land. Not only from our political leaders but in some cases some of our spiritual leaders. And ministers, hold tight…See these kinds of issues out there and no one speaks up and no one speaks out on them. No one has the audacity, the unmitigated gall to say, this is wrong or this is right. No one says “This is what I would do.” And then who are we, to take everything we’ve been given, and we put it all in our tank and go home and do nothing but close the door and go to bed. Yes I have to challenge those of you who are here. Especially those of you who are African Americans in this room and I know what you are going to say, “Jack, you didn’t have to hit so hard in front of those white folk.” I’m going to hit you hard.
We have a rendezvous with destiny. We have everything we need. We have been richly blessed. We have the economic, the social, the educational, and political tools to do anything we want. Let me talk economics. Any people that has political power without economic power is like a person taking a long walk on a short pier; you are right, you are walking into the water. How can you live in a country where someone comes from another country that’s never been on an escalator, don’t speak your language, never driven a car, and comes to your country and builds a business in your community?
What is it? Your papas and mothers built businesses. Your grandfathers and grandmothers built businesses. Why is it that you can’t build a business? Or your son or your daughter build a business? People with political power without economic power…you look at the folks who run this country, that govern this country. There are two things that they are married to. They are married to power and they are married to money. Money is not everything, but I’ll tell you what: you get a lot more power with money in the political and economic arena. What is it about the service station or corner store? There must be something good about the corner store because every group that comes to this country opens one.
Professor John Walton of Brooklyn College wrote a book about Asian communities in downtown New York City. Generation after generation of Asians that came into New York City never went to the banks. They never went to Bank of America. They didn’t go to Wells Fargo. They didn’t go to First Union. They went to groups of men in the Asian community that loaned them money to open a business without interest. What happens is that business hired my daughter; that business hired my son; that business got its flour from me; that business got its rice from my brother. It built the community. I looked up the numbers here. The town of Waynesboro has roughly 21, 22,000 people; 11% of them African American. The Hispanic population in this town is almost half of what the black population is. We’ve been here 2, 3, 400 years longer. They just got here and built it; and there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing. More power to them.
But, you’re going to let somebody come to your country, come to your community, and sell you your food, sell you your cars, cut your grass, lay your bricks, do your plumbing; there’s something wrong with that. Can’t blame that on mean old white folk. Let me say that again: you can’t blame that on the mean old white folk. I sick and tired; do you see what I see? Black folk running around this doggone country making excuses for what we won’t do for ourselves. That’s my message tonight. I am sick and tired of what I’m seeing.
You want to determine your future, get an education, get a business, go to church on Sunday morning and hear the sermon. ‘Bout time for you preachers to come in here. Those of you who preach, you gotta preach for knowledge and sense of serving the people. We cannot live by amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. The church is an institution and for those of you who are preaching I hold you to a higher standard. You agree? Why do I hold you to a higher standard? Because you told me, you told Brenda, you told Satan, you told Joyce that God called you. You told me and you told everybody else that God called you and if God called, you gonna be somebody special. And from somebody special, I expect special things out of you instead of just preaching on Sunday morning and “Amazing Grace” take up a collection and lead us away. The richest institution in the black community is the black church, the richest institution in the black community is the black church. Reverend Clayton, Congressman, New York City, prototype for the black pastor; left Congress, went back to New York City and built apartments, built nursing homes, built community centers, out of the church.
What is it? Open the doors on Sunday and they are closed on Monday and Tuesday, and Wednesday and Thursday while kids are running in the street. God didn’t call you…maybe your wife phoned.
The church must and can…reform… you have the power, you have the prayers, who are some of the best praying people in our community? Who are some of the best connected to those churches? Churches, you gotta help us, the NAACP. You might have your pick-em-up truck and your flat screen TV but we still have work to do in America.
In the 45 largest metropolitan areas, young black boys drop out of high school at a rate of 6 out of every 10 drop out before they finish the ninth grade. Two million people are locked up in our prisons in this country tonight and something approaching 60%, read Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. You have no education, you have a criminal record, you have no skills, you’re out of jail, and you have no job: a recipe for what? Lot of black folk won’t say that. I will. You don’t have an education, you don’t have a skill, you have a criminal record, you don’t have a job…what’s the recipe? And one of the secrets is…is there any media in the house? I’m only joking. Any other media in the house? I’d better scratch that…gotta be careful about what you say…but I will say this, when the FBI comes to talk to the NAACP, they are worried about something, they’re looking for something, they see something. But it seems to be much more of a push, much more of a rush…usually they don’t leave a message. They left a message this time.
But let me get back to what I was talking about, about economic development and education and this moral compass. All of that is involved in what we do in life. All that is involved. I want to tell you, about where I came from and who raised me because I wanted you to know you don’t have to have this stuff you see on CBS and ABC or NBC: a super mom with 18 degrees a Master’s Degree and all that. My mother finished the 6th grade and she raised me. My father finished the 8th grade and he raised me and my brother that’s an engineer and my other brother that’s a school teacher and my other brother that’s a telephone worker, and my other brother who and my sister who’s a school teacher and a minister and my other sister that’s an agent for an insurance company. They raised us, but they put the fear of God and moral fiber out in front of us that we never deviated from. They also told us where we could go. And that’s another thing: always tell your kids what they can and not what they can’t do.
I get sick and tired of folk always talking about apologists in the African American family. We just like any other group of people in America. Everybody got a crazy aunt in the basement. Everybody got an uncle that they tell to park the car behind the house when he comes. Everybody got a son or a daughter in the rafters somewhere: yeah, that’s Frank’s boy not mine. But this thing, Carson, the Republican nominee, the guy that’s running for the Republican nomination; why’s he so genius, I know a thousand Carsons – well maybe three – the point I’m trying to make is that the media and the press would have you believe that a Carson is something that comes down the pipeline out of the black community every five generations.
I went to college at Fayetteville North Carolina. There was four of us in a dormitory room. Out of the four, out of the six of us in a suite of rooms, out of the six of us, four of us was raised by a single mother. I was raised by a single mother at 12 when my father was killed in the coal mines in Southwest Virginia.
George Laurie, my best friend in college, grew up in a housing project called Happy Hills Garden in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His mother never finished elementary school. George got his PhD from Harvard. Joe Johnson, from Wilmington, North Carolina mother worked in a laundry, she never finished high school; had four boys. Joe Johnson got his PhD from down the road at Virginia Tech, my other roommate. And then the best one of us at all, from Greenville North Carolina, James Clinton Greene daddy couldn’t walk, barely could talk, his mother caught the bus and went to work for 30 years. James Greene got his doctorate from George Washington University. And then I tell you about that boy Jack Gravely, whose mother and father worked, he got his law degree from the University of Virginia.
Each of them became a lawyer or became a PhD. Richard Mosely, the other guy became rich. He and his wife started selling Tupperware when he was in college. He got rich. And then the sixth guy dropped out our sophomore, his sophomore year. And then I have other friends like that. And what I’m telling you, the community can produce. Don’t let the news channel or news report or MSNBC or Fox News tell you that Ben Carson is something great because he’s a great surgeon – and he is; he is an exceptional surgeon – but I can tell you about other Carsons I know.
Robert Lee Dillon from Virginia … He had to walk down the mountain every day and catch a bus and his shoes were so muddy, he wore an old pair of shoes and he carried his good shoes and when he got on the bus he changed out of his muddy shoes into his good shoes. Robert Dillon is a surgeon down in Virginia Beach. I know where Carson comes from but it isn’t that Carson is so rare and so bright.
We must understand the dynamics of where we are today. Oh yes we have rights. Things are looking better in this country. There are things a lot better. I understand that. I would be a liar and a fool to tell you that there are instances or ideas that my father said and told us about growing up in the coal fields of Southwest Virginia and some of the incidents that happened to us.
We moved in the only houses they allowed Negro families to move in back in the day. You ever heard of a company town? That is where the mining company owns the town. We shopped at a place called the company store. May daddy worked for the company; we lived in a company house; the company built the elementary school I went to. My momma worked for one of the bosses in the company. My daddy used to pick up his paycheck in script on Friday afternoon. Not real money…script that was issued by the company. I grew up in a company town. Tennessee Ernie Ford was true and right, “I owe my soul to the company store. The day they buried my father he had a payroll in company store, my mother told us, something south of $400. My mother told me that when she walked out of the store after paying for food, paying for rent, and paying for our clothing…momma said my daddy’s last check was worth $37.
But we lived. And that’s why I have a fire in me that I have in me. For that woman that raised us, I wasn’t going to jail to embarrass her, I wasn’t going to drop out of school to make her feel bad. I was always afraid of a baseball, but I was a pretty good football player and went to college on a football scholarship. I always wanted to be my mother’s Willie Mays because she loved baseball. Everything I did in my life, I always ran it back to my mother to make her proud because … you see your mother get up on a cold Thanksgiving morning and put a coat around her shoulders and a scarf on her head and walk a mile and a half into town to cook a Thanksgiving meal for somebody else. She comes home at five or six o’clock Thanksgiving day, we been doing some stuff, and she has to cook for us. We eat Thanksgiving dinner at eight or nine o’clock at night. That was my hero. John Wayne was never one of my heroes. My hero was my mother.
In that little town called Bluefield, Virginia that helped shape and mold and make me, my heroes are those who had to do the dog and dirty work of day in and day out. But they taught me that those of a different complexion were just the same; that men both black and white were just the same. “Were I so tall to reach the pole, Or grasp the ocean with my span, I must be measured by my soul; For mind’s indeed the measure (sic) of man.” That’s what I aim for. That is the grasp that money can’t buy. Money has never meant anything to me. That’s what my wife says; she just stays with me.
My wife and I were going to the White House once, walking down Pennsylvania Avenue or Constitution on the way to the White House and we passed an alley. As we passed the alley some guy stumbled out of there and hustled some money. Well he looked and he mumbled and my wife was fishing around in her pocketbook so I pulled out some money. The guy turned out to be one of our classmates from high school.
Hold on, gets better than that. She gave him some money and I felt so bad I gave him some money.
We kept our stroll down to the White House and as we were checking in I turned to my wife and said, “So you see what would have happened if you’d married him.”
My wife didn’t say a thing; we walked a few more steps and she said, “Jack, let me tell you something.”
She said, “If I had married him, he’d would be going to the White House.”
So you can’t take yourself too important and I know it.
But we need you with us in the trenches. We need to get people registered. We need to get people to vote. Now I don’t want to make a political speech but let me tell you. For those Republican friends of mine send a message to Speaker Howell and the Republicans in the Virginia legislature. My message to them is that we’re not going away. We want this state to be redistricted fairly and we want the voting process to be equitable and fair across this country.
For you Republicans take this word back to your boss. Tell them that Jack Gravely said that if you want black folk in your party, then you have to treat them like you want them in your party. If you can’t walk the talk, don’t talk it. Don’t tell me you want me in your party and then you vote for a restrictive voting rights law. Don’t tell me you want me in your party when everything I’m in favor of, you vote against. Don’t tell me that you want me in your party when you denigrate a President that black folks love like they love their momma.
I’m telling you, don’t tell me that. And I’m not saying we have to agree on everything, I’m not saying you have to put every issue on the table, we are going to disagree on some. But don’t tell me that in Texas, a college student cannot use his or her college ID card to vote but a man with a gun permit can. You tell me what that’s all about.
I voted in the primary the other day. Just told you my party affiliation. They asked me for an ID. This is the first time in about 20 years I’ve ever been asked for an ID. They asked me where I lived, my address and my name, and they let me go. No problem with that.
My position is, the NAACP, don’t waste time fighting the ID card. Fight precinct voting, the machines. Fight Saturday and Sunday voting. Fight for early voting. The reason why the Republicans passed a law down in Florida to end Sunday voting is because four out of ten votes that President Obama got were cast on Sunday. They know what they were doing. That’s why they outlawed Sunday voting. What is fraudulent about voting on Sunday? You do everything else in the name of God.
Vote on the kinds of issues we have to be smart on. And the other thing and I got to say it too, you can’t let folks invite you to a reception, invite you to a picnic, invite you to a party, invite you to something and they got all of your support. That’s crazy, simply because the invite you somewhere or they mention you in a speech; we have too many folks in the black community who vote because they got invited somewhere or they get appointed to a commission. No. I want to know what you are going to do about education. I want to know what you are going to do about child care. And something else, I don’t care if Terry McAuliffe is a Democrat, if Terry McAuliffe doesn’t deliver the kinds of things that I think and the NAACP thinks is important we’re going to jump him for it.
Black folks, you gotta to think larger than Democrat. I’m telling you, the world’s changing out there. The dynamics of who is coming into the electoral process in Virginia is changing. Certain places in California it is not the black vote that is important. In Florida it is the Latinos. And I’ll tell you something else. Mexicans and Latinos will not yield an inch. Who would not walk across a desert to feed his family? Who would not come across a river to feed his momma? Who would not go somewhere to get a job to feed his family? I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who do that.
And I can tell you right quick, they are not gonna stop. They’ll keep coming. And one of the reasons they are coming is the Chamber of Commerce and the business community in the United States of America like their cheap labor. They are coming. I understand that six percent of the population in the Waynesboro area is Latino, and growing. They’re coming. There’s jobs, it’s a nice place to raise your kids, there’s a community college here, it’s a nice community. You have 64 and 81. Start a business, train people, go to school, build a vision. If you fail, pick ‘em up, push ‘em back down the road, go again.
Look at some of the great people who started economic enterprises in America were failures. Look at great politicians…Abraham Lincoln. We have to go with leaders for our people, who will stand up and be true for our people, not be afraid to talk about it in any audience. What I say here I’ll say in front of a Democrat audience; I’ll say in front of a Republican audience; I’ll say it in front of a white audience; I will say it in front of a black audience. Makes no difference to me. If truth is on my side, then I have no reason to be afraid of it.
I can simply say to those people here, care about your community, volunteer in your community, be a part of your community. Mentorship programs…I was at a church the other day and somebody was running down a young man … he didn’t have a suit on. The young man said “I don’t own a suit, I never had a suit, I had no reason to own a suit.” The first thing we did in the mentorship program is bring them in here on Saturday morning and teach them how to tie a tie and wear a suit. Not only for young men but for young women, this thing of going around here half covered. That is something we have to do. That is something on us. Let’s get out and have some folks pick up some kids and take them to a college football or basketball game; or take them to a college dance. And not all of them have to go to college.
Let me tell you something. Did you know in that in the United States of America…I had Senator Tim Kaine on my radio show in Richmond. Senator Kaine said on that show something I thought was impossible…Did you know that the United States has to import welders? You know what a welder is. We don’t have enough welders in America. I was dumbfounded. Most of these Virginia community colleges have a welding program. I think it is 18 weeks or something like that. Once you finish that program, your son or daughter starts out at the bottom of the rung just making $16 an hour. Once they get their experience or journeyman’s welder certification, $28 to $35 per hour. Welding.
This teaching everyone has to go to college…five of my seven brothers went to college. I have one brother, he wasn’t for college and college wasn’t for him. Made more than all of us. Helped to build a harbor; helped to build the Richmond Colosseum. And when my brother Clyde retired about six, seven years ago, he was making $49 an hour. He was a welder, a pipefitter, an iron worker, all welding rolled into one. You know where he got that from? I don’t know if you remember the program, the CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) program? Where they used to train the poor back in the day. We need training programs because some guys don’t have to go to college; even a two year college.
I just want to tell you, we have work to do. I am challenging those here with skills and ability we have to go to work. I am telling you we have more work to do; that we are going to be in it for the long haul. I am challenging those of you here with skills and ability. You have to do some work. You’ve got to do some heavy lifting This is not giving living can you spare Virginia? This is getting up early in the morning and working long Virginia. This is a Virginia that we can call our home. I don’t want anyone to tell me I have to certify who I am. My family has been in Virginia six generations; six generations! Came to Virginia in 1835. Owned by the Reynolds family in Henry County, Virginia.
Let me tell you one more story. Last story and I’m gone.
I am down in southern Virginia and I walk out of a speech like this and I notice a white guy following me. I went to my car. I didn’t have my piece that night by the way.
He finally got the nerve to come up and ask me, “You Jack Gravely?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “My name is … Reynolds.”
And then he said something that brought me to my knees. “My people used to own your people.”
We stood in that parking lot two and a half hours. His family went to Richmond in 1835 and picked up poppy Tiller and took him out to Henry County.
You’d be surprised what comes into being when you start trading pieces of history.
We are going to have some trying times here in Virginia but we are going to stay on the front lines. If you have to lean, lean forward to help people in your community. Don’t get so high and mighty that you can’t lean back and help somebody else. Don’t forget who you are and where you come from.