Ernie McCray Columns

Ernie McCray: Lift Every Voice and Sing

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Ernie McCray: “

EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. The university reportedly will honor McCray by adding him to its Ring of Honor. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a column for now-defunct TucsonCitizen.com and has agreed to continue to offer his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com. McCray also writes columns for SanDiegoFreePress.org.

I remember days when Mr. Sydney Dawson, one of my two favorite teachers, would raise his baton and we, the Dunbar Junior High Chorus, the best in the city of Tucson, would stand tall and proud and sing the Black National Anthem out loud, ending with:

“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won”

That song, one I’ve never heard anyone sing but black people, has kept us afloat, kept us scratching and crawling and marching, pursuing a victory that perpetually has seemed both elusive and out of reach. Much like a fantasy.

And then I look up one day and I hear a man on ESPN say that at all the opening games of the next NFL season, the game will begin with the words “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the opening line of my anthem, and I thought I was in an nonparallel universe. As this seemed so out of sync with reality.

I know it’s all symbolic in its present form but condemning and firing a quarterback for taking a knee for justice and equality, in one moment, and then singing the Black National Anthem, reportedly, before the “Star Spangled Banner” – that’s quite a leap, one that seems like somebody is jerking my chain.

And then NASCAR, thought of as a “good old boys” kind of enterprise, aligns itself with Black Lives Matter, led by Bubba Wallace, its only black driver, and bans a Dixie flag from all its events and properties – and the Washington “Redskins” and the Cleveland “Indians” are talking about changing their names, making me wonder what’s the name of this game?

This sudden acknowledgement of what my people have endured throughout our nation’s history is a bit overwhelming, in a good way, for me. It seems that George Floyd’s murder triggered a freaky epiphany of some kind that has us wanting to examine the past deeply and confront it and use it as an example of “how not to be.”

I’m pinching myself to see if I’m awake as I watch discussion groups and the sharing of literature on social media bring folks up to speed when it comes to understanding my people’s history.

And it’s definitely a feeling of being on Candid Camera or Punk’d as I see, along with the changes being made in the sports world, the likes of confederate  statues being toppled to the ground and other symbols being removed politically.

In Mississippi, of all places, where my mother was born and where her father once ran for his life; where Medgar Evers died fighting for our rights; where James Meredith’s life was in danger just because he wanted to enroll at Ole Miss; where Emmett Till was lynched for “reckless eyeballing”; where James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were abducted and murdered…

And one of the biggest movie stars of all time, John “The Duke” Wayne, a man big on bigotry and white supremacy, might have his name taken off a Southern California airport in Orange County? A county whose conservative tastes were always in dark skinned folks’ face?

Why is there a smile on my face?

What’s truly remarkable to me after so many years in the struggle is that I have an intense feeling that what’s going on isn’t just window dressing, that we’re at the beginning of a true revolution, that we’re learning our history and what we need to do to right the wrongs of that history.

A little of everybody is now buying into my people’s quest, the “faith that the dark past has taught us.”

More people are feeling “the hope that the present has brought us.”

In these moments I can more clearly envision a just world for everyone because people, who had been quiet, have chosen to face, with us, “the rising sun of our new day begun,” marching with us “’til victory is won.”

The game’s still on.

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