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NAACP’s 860-mile March: The Steps to Justice Don’t Include Another March

1963 March on Washington

1963 March on Washington

By: Jim Clingman

NAACP’s 860-mile protest march  –  On March 20, 1883, Jan Matzeliger received patent No. 274,207 for his shoe-lasting machine, which made footwear more affordable. We celebrate Metzeliger’s accomplishments each year during Black History Month, lauding his talents and proudly recalling his contribution to society.

The latest call by Cornell Williams Brooks, president of the NAACP, for folks to walk 860 miles from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C., reminded me of Metzeliger’s invention and the irony of Black people wearing out our shoes in symbolic marches and treks in 2015, over 130 years after such a great invention. Metzeliger had the intelligence and assertiveness to do something meaningful, something that has lasted for over a century, yet the leader of the NAACP can only offer an 860-mile walk, similar to his 130-mile walk after the Michael Brown killing, as an answer to the problems Black folks face today.

Metzeliger accomplished his victory under much worse circumstances than we face today; instead of appropriate action by the oldest and purported “baddest” civil rights organization in the nation, we get an 860-mile walk. If our brother were alive today, he certainly would be raking in the profits from all the new shoes we buy.

Inventor Jan Matzeliger

Inventor Jan Matzeliger

So much for shoes, let’s get down to the real issue here: Leadership. Brooks sends out emails regularly informing NAACP members of his plans relating to police abuse, voting rights and incarceration. In his two latest emails he talked about demands for justice and civil rights.

In one, titled, “Breaking the silence mile by mile,” he wrote, “How do you demand justice, James? You make noise.” A lot of good making “noise” is going to do when it comes to obtaining justice. This is reminiscent of Al Sharpton’s quote in The Washington Post last year, saying Congress and the president needed to hear “marching feet.”

Yes, “power concedes nothing without a demand,” but a demand is nothing unless it is backed by power, not noise. Brooks went on to say, “We’re marching across the South to the steps of our nation’s capital to shout ‘Our lives, our votes, our jobs, our schools matter.’ And we refuse to be ignored.” He listed everything that matters to Black folks except what he is asking us to donate: Black Dollars! This is not leadership; it’s pleadership.

In his other missive, “We are giants,” he wrote, “America’s Journey for Justice is our next ‘bold’ step in the fight for civil rights…When we demanded that the Confederate battle flag be removed in South Carolina, they took it down. When we called for Freddie Gray’s murderers to be brought to justice, all six of them were charged.”

Aside from Brooks taking credit for those two accomplishments, he used the biblical characters Joshua and Caleb to illustrate how brave the NAACP is to lead such a “bold” 860-mile trek called “America’s Journey for Justice.” He even broke it down for us by saying, “That’s 46 days of old-school marching. That’s 860 miles for freedom and dignity. That’s 1.7 MILLION steps towards justice.”

If I walk 860 miles “towards” justice, that justice had better greet me when I get to the Capitol steps. If the best we can get from our largest, oldest, and boldest Black organization is a couple of marches for a combined 990 miles, the least we can do in response is find another Jan Metzeliger to invent some type of special marching shoe, so a Black person can get some of the profit from our marches. After all, as I have said many times before, the profit from our protests are significant; Black business people should get in on this latest boondoggle.

Black Lives Matter movement/protest today

Black Lives Matter movement/protest today

The brand of leadership we choose to follow is very important, and we must decide whom to follow and why we should follow such leadership based on its practicality. Leading marches to nowhere, spouting off on CNN, MSNBC and Fox, and making idle and empty threats against the establishment have gotten us absolutely nothing. If they were successful, we would not still be doing those same things.

(Want something unique, something practical, something solution-oriented? Go to and read the information there. Then decide on your path to victory.)

Black people need to stop lapping up the pabulum being offered by Brooks and others in similar positions. There is nothing “bold” about Brooks’ plan; there is no “victory” awaiting the marchers; the flag was not taken down and the police officers in Baltimore were not indicted simply because the NAACP demanded it; and who knows what Brooks means by “breaking the silence mile by mile”? Stop accepting symbolism over substance.

Finally, to those of you marching all those miles, please think about and thank Jan Metzeliger as you make your way “towards justice” — yet again.


James E. Clingman is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. His weekly syndicated newspaper column, “Blackonomics,” began in 1993. He has authored seven books, the latest of which is “Black Dollars Matter! – Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense.” Contact him at 513-315-9866 or at [email protected]

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