by BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon
Having black reporters in the newsroom ought to make a difference in how stories are covered. But often it doesn't. The August 26 arrest of a black Brunswick GA preacher allegedly counter-protesting at a right wing demonstration against universal health care briefly made national news, mostly because there was a few seconds video of the arrest. The lesson, CNN's Roland Martin sternly warned us, was to obey the cops. You wouldn't know it from CNN or Fox, but the arrested preacher was a man with a forty year record of fruitful advocacy, and not a “counter-protestor” at all. But news and journalism nowadays are two very different things.
Roland Martin, Rick Sanchez and CNN Blow Off The Real Story. Again.
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“A real journalist, rather riffing lazily on the “angry black guy gets what he deserves from local cops” theme might have asked who the arrested guy was”
At the age of 70, Rev. Zach Lyde has been in the storm a long while. A lifetime activist from a family of the same, a second generation Baptist preacher and member of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, Rev. Lyde is the living intersection of multiple streams of African American culture and struggle.
When Rev. Lyde stopped on the sidewalk outside the Brunswick GA post office August 26 to engage right wing teabaggers demonstrating against the advent of what they called “socialized medicine” in a spirited discussion, he was manhandled by police and arrested for protesting without a permit. Since there was video footage of the incident, the arrest made the news hole on CNN, where Rick Sanchez and Roland Martin used it to frame the kind of self-serving, lazy authoritarian spiel that fills the time on network and cable news shows nowadays.
To be fair, Rick Sanchez at least noted that Rev. Lyde was trying to engage the teabaggers in a discussion, maybe even an important one. But the CNN video showed only a brief exchange with cops that ended with Rev. Lyle face down on the sidewalk being cuffed. And Roland Martin was having none of it. In Martin's universe, passers by apparently don't talk to demonstrators, and if they do perhaps they should accept the consequences. The cops had done the right thing, CNN's Roland Martin continued, in allowing an exchange between white demonstrators and a passing black pedestrian to escalate into a situation in which police drew tasers on a 70 year old man, kicked and assaulted him and hauled him off to jail for protesting without a permit. Good citizens don't question the police. Good citizens obey the police.
A real journalist, rather riffing lazily on the “angry black guy gets what he deserves from local cops” theme might have asked who the arrested guy was, or what the heck he had to say. A real journalist might have picked up the phone and talked to somebody in Brunswick besides the police. In Roland Martin's case he could have two or three lowly interns or gofers make those calls for him.
At Black Agenda Report, we don't have interns or gofers, but we are real journalists. We did what a responsible black journalist ought to do. We picked up the phone and made some calls to find out who Rev. Lyde was, and what he says happened.
Click the flash player below to listen to or the mic to download an mp3 copy of our raw telephone interview with Brunswick GA's Rev. Zach Lyde in which he discusses his background, family, heritage and grounding in the life and struggle of black Georgia. We include this to show what kind of voice and presence Rev. Clyde possesses, and to demonstrate that a CNN interview with him would have been a piece of compelling, must-see-TV, if Roland and Rick had only called him.
We found out that Zach Lyde's father Zach Sr. was a Baptist pastor who spent decades traveling the back roads of Georgia working with whoever stood up to Klan violence and terror in the early and mid twentieth century. His mother Genevieve Lyde worked with Ella Baker in the 30s and 40s organizing NAACP chapters up and down Georgia, the Carolinas and Florida, serving as secretary treasurer of the Glynn County Brunswick NAACP for sixteen or seventeen years, and holding several local elected offices. She ran for mayor in Brunswick GA in 1976, losing by seventy-some vote due in large part, Rev. Lyde says, to the opposition of black male preachers who'd rather see their city led by a white man than a black woman. One of Zach's brothers was killed around that time as a warning, the family believes, to step back and sit down, a warning they have yet to heed.
Lyde told us that he recalls his father taking him to pray regularly at the work sites of black chain gangs, a brutal Southern institution that Georgia was the last state in the union to give up. He didn't understand why till years later, when he learned a brother of his had been condemned to a stretch of forced labor in the notorious P.J. Jenkins chain gang. Lyde served twelve years in the US Army including a tour in Vietnam, and was arrested for inciting a riot when he came home from the war. In the years since his return to Brunswick GA, Zach Lyde followed in the footsteps of his father and great grandfather, becoming a Baptist pastor and a tireless and well known advocate of better housing, education, health care, voting rights, economic opportunities and land rights for African Americans in coastal Georgia and the region.
“After many years of work and struggle and long meditation, in the late nineties Rev. Lyde walked away from the Democratic party to join the Georgia Green Party, where he served three terms as its state chair... he believes the Green Party ought to and can become a red, black and green party.”
We discovered that Rev. Lyde is an active participant in the Gullah/Geechee nation, a cultural and historical ambassador of those descendants of Africans who have continuously inhabited the islands and coastal areas from Jacksonville NC to Jacksonville FL for nearly four centuries. Against all odds, Gullah/Geechee people have preserved a broad array of African traditions and African-influenced speech, and are hence recognized as inheritors and conservators of a unique cultural heritage bridging Africa and the Americas. An accomplished tour guide and folk historian, Lyde conducts group historical excursions to sites of interest in the Brunswick area, the sea islands and beyond.
By the late 1990s, after many years of work and struggle and long meditation, Rev. Lyde walked away from the Democratic party to join the Georgia Green Party, where he served 3 years as its state chair. Like our colleague Dr. Jared Ball in Washington DC, Rev. Lyde thinks the Green Party can and ought to become a red, black and green party. When the planet's wealthiest nations, the G-8 came to nearby St. Simon's Island, he and his congregation took part in the protest and opened their church to the out of towners who came to register their public disapproval. This stand earned St. John's Missionary Baptist Church a dose of special harassment from the police and military forces who flooded the city for the event. Lyde was also a prominent supporter of the candidacy of Elaine Brown for mayor of Brunswick until she was forced to withdraw from the ballot.
And beyond all this, we got Rev. Lyde's version of the events outside the Brunswick post office, something Roland and the big boys behind the big desks at CNN didn't bother to do.
Lyde was on his way into the post office to buy stamps when he ran into the right wing demonstrators outside. Having spent a little of his own time on sidewalks holding a sign and talking to passers by, Rev. Lyde obliged his neighbors by engaging them. He challenged the senior citizens demonstrating against socialized medicine to tear up their Medicare cards. He wondered aloud why another woman who identified herself as a hospital employee was protesting universal health care, since it figured to make her job more secure.
The conversation was spirited but civil, Lyde insists, until a costumed white male named Larry Lynch intervened and adopted a frankly belligerent tone. Rev. Lyde understandably ascribed Lynch's hostility to the fact that black men were not generally supposed to look white women in the eye, let alone engage them in loud, contentious public exchanges. Lynch couldn't handle the debate, either as spectator or participant, so he called the cops, claiming that Lyde was not a passer-by talking to the demonstrators, but a one-man counter-protest all by himself, a protest without a permit.
An officer approached Lyde and demanded his permit. Lyde sensibly replied that he didn't need a permit to talk to people who were protesting, that in effect their permit should cover people stopping on the street to talk to them. The cop invited Lyde to step away and when Lyde declined he called for backup. When additional cops arrived they ordered Lyde to step away and grabbed at him. The video shows the 70 year old preacher jumping backward and slapping at the hands reaching out to grab him. Then two officers draw their tasers and point them. Rev. Lyde hesitates, and places hands behind his back, turns around and begins to kneel. When one of his knees touches the ground the officers quickly put his face on the sidewalk and cuff him.
When BAR told Rev. Lyde that Roland Martin was a son of the family that managed the historic Chicago Daily Defender for generations, Lyde opined that Martin was sullying his family's proud black reportorial heritage. Martin didn't lie about anything, but he didn't bother to seek or explain any useful truth to his audience either. Such is the state of mainstream corporate-owned journalism, and such is the quality of too many of the black faces in those chairs.
Groups interested in arranging one of Rev. Zach Lyde's historic tours of the Gullah/Geechie country, or who want to have him come and speak about Gullah/Geechie heritage, local black history, the movement in Georgia or other matters can reach him via fax at 912-275-7838.
Click the flash player below to listen to or the mic to download a portion of our background interview with Rev. Zach Clyde containing his account of the incident that ended in his arrest for having a public conversation with teabagger protesters outside a Brunswick GA post office. About 15 minutes.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.