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The H3O/Art of Life Blog

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A Way Out of No Way

by Rodney  K. Strong, J.D.

In 1994, Ambassador Andrew Young published his spiritual memoir entitled,  "A Way Out of No Way". In June of 2022, Senator Raphael Warnock (D- GA) published his memoir with the same title, "A Way Out of No Way". Both men paraphrased a common African American expression, i.e., “making a way out of no way.

 The African American experience is a story of “making a way out of no way” as evidenced in the way free Africans were kidnapped  and brought to the United States to be held  as captives , while being stripped of their land and language,history and  culture as well as their kinship and humanity, i,e., declared ,by law, to be sub-human. In fact, it was the Decision of  the Supreme Court of The United States that:

 “they had for more than a century before been regarded as  beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it…" [Dredd Scott v.Sandford 60 U.S.393, (1857)]

The survival of the African American people is a constant story of “making a way out of no way”. Modern scholarship has underscored  the refusal of the African American people to accept subjugation.  African cultural resilience and innovative adaptations, in America, have created a distinct  African American "way"  of making a way when, apparently, there  is none.

Two key Black institutions  have been instrumental in African American  resilience, survival, and cultural innovation: the Black Church and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Both Ambassador Young and Sen. Warnock are products  the Black Church and HBCUs. Ambassador Young is a graduate of Howard University and is a seminary- trained ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Sen. Warnock is a graduate of Morehouse College and is a seminary- trained ordained minister in the Baptist Church. Both men have been influenced and are closely aligned with the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ambassador Young worked directly with Dr. King as Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and Sen. Warnock currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was Dr. King’s home church. When Sen. Warnock was elected, he provided the crucial vote in the United States Senate which  facilitated the passage of the most significant legislation beneficial to the African American community since the immediate aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968.

The improbable journey of Ambassador Andrew Young from a racially segregated New Orleans to serving as United States Ambassador to the United Nations and breaking the back of the white racist regime in Rhodesia, leading to a free and independent Zimbabwe, was a testament to “making a way out of no way”. The even more improbable journey of Senator Raphael Warnock, from the housing projects of Savannah to providing the crucial votes in the United States Senate to pass generationally significant economic and social legislation[1], is also a testament to the  “making a way out of no way” of African American people. Neither man achieved these milestones on his own, the institutional support came from the Black Church and the Black College.

The unsung heroes of these high-profile victories are the men and women in the trenches, people like Sister Pollard, a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and a fervent supporter of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. King, concerned about  the health of Sister Pollard , given her advanced age, asked if she got tired while walking to work as a domestic in a segregated white neighborhood miles from her home. In what Dr. King characterized as “ungrammatical profundity”, Sister Pollard replied, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested".

The professors at HBCUs who, for meager pay and little acclaim, provided the essential education that prepared these men and their mentors to achieve critical milestones in the advancement of the African American people were also crucial. One such man ,who laid the foundation and deserves to be highlighted, is Professor Claude B. Dansby of Morehouse College. Professor Dansby had an outsized influence on the African American community and the entire United States because of his dedication to the education of African American men. Although he is relatively unknown, the fruit of his labor is not. Former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said that, despite having  graduated from an elite preparatory school in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t until he took math from Prof. Claude Dansby at Morehouse that he understood the subject.

Born and raised in rural Georgia, Dansby  "made a way out of no way" by walked across two Georgia counties to catch a train to Atlanta to attend the Academy of Morehouse College which was one of the few schools at which an African American could obtain a secondary education in Georgia in 1914. He completed the Academy,which was the high school program, in 1918 and graduated ,as Salutatorian of his college class, in 1922.[2] 

He then attended the University of Chicago, receiving his Master’s degree in 1923. He taught at Morehouse for the next 44 years. It was said that Professor Dansby "made mathematics so simple that even a fool could understand it". He was a teacher and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mayor Maynard H. Jackson, Jr., Chairman Julian Bond and numerous other men who fought the good fight for justice for the African American people. Dr. Hugh Gloster, former president of Morehouse, said that Dr. John Hope (the first African American president of Morehouse) “wishing to strengthen the mathematics faculty at Morehouse, asked a University of Chicago official to recommend an outstanding Black prospect for appointment. The University of Chicago representative reportedly replied, ‘You already have the best teacher, Claude B. Dansby’”. In 1967, while he was still teaching at Morehouse, the college built a new academic building and dedicated it to Claude B. Dansby.To this day,  the Morehouse Mathematica Department is in Dansby Hall . Professor Dansby is but one example of the selfless unsung men and women that have allowed the African American community to survive in a nation hostile to our existence. There are other great professors at Morehouse and at all other HBCUs. The dedication of these professors is one of the key pillars on which the African American community is built and continues to survive and thrive.  

 Blog note

[1] In early March, 2022, Pres. Biden signed ,into law, the American Rescue Plan, a sweeping $1.9 Trillion dollar package,The series of measures-which make up one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in decades intended to bolster the recovery of the U.S. from the Coronavirus Pandemic-included stimulus payments of up to $ 1,400 per person for about 90% of American households, a $300 federal boost to weekly jobless benefits, and an expansion of the child tax credit of up to $3,600 per child.

The plan, which did not receive support from any Republicans in Congress,also included $350 Billion in state and local aid, as well as billions of dollars for K-12 schools to help students return by classrooms, to assist small businesses hit hard by the Pandemic and for vaccine research, development, and distribution.

That same month, Biden also signed two bills extending existing economic relief during the Pandemic. He signed legislation into law extending the Paycheck Protection Program- the federal government's key relief effort to deliver aid to small businesses hard hit by the Pandemic. He also signed , through the COVID-19 Bankruptcy Relief Extension Act, which extended temporary bankruptcy relief provisions granted by the CARES Act.

[2] With the exception of the Clay Street School ,which was founded in 1873  and was among the first public high school for African Americans in Memphis, public high schools for African Americans in the South ,before the 1920's, were only in the big cities (Memphis, Atlanta,etc.). In 1891, it was renamed Kortrecht High school. A new building was constructed in 1926 and the school was renamed in honor of African American Educator and Civil Rights leader, Booker T. Washington. Another Booker T. Washington High School opened in Atlanta, Georgia ,in September of 1924, under the auspices of the Atlanta Board of Education. It was the first public high school for African Americans in the state of Georgia. 

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