In writing my new book EVIDENCE UNSEEN: Finding the Faith to Overcome, I somehow unintentionally chronicled the legacy of an amazing history of significant events and historic figures associated with the recent history of African Americans over the last 65 years.
From my conception where I emerged in my mother’s womb in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Brown vs Board of Education was being debated upon in Topeka, Kansas in the spring of 1954, only a few hours from where I live today. In fact, close to where I live would be the birth places of two leading African American authors that I studied in college: Langston Hughes, Joplin, MO. and Gordon Parks, Fort Scott, KS which is less than an hour from my home. These two authors have shaped my awareness of who I was during my tender developmental years of my youth. Some say their writing were “dark” but for me, their historic writings provided “light” to a reality that I did not see and they gave me hope by clearly defining the basic choice that we all have in life on any given day… “to either keep the faith and keep going to find better… or give up and ultimately be destroyed by the things that attempt to hold us back.”
I was born in the city of “brotherly love” in February of 1955. In December of that year Rosa Parks would be arrested on the first of the month and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would lead the Montgomery Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Little did I know that the suffering and struggle of the “negro people,” as we were called back then, would pave the way for my safety, education and an opportunity for better for my family in the years to come. As I kept writing my memoir EVIDENCE UNSEEN… it became evident that my life emerged during a special time in our country’s history.
By the time I was 8 years old, in 1963 (the year that the fraternity I would later join in college, Iota Phi Theta, Inc., was started), there would be major life changing events for African Americans . That year George Wallace, the incoming Governor of Alabama would say in his January Inaugural Speech “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” The summer of that year, the nation and the whole world would see the March on Washington and hear Dr. King’s famous “I have a Dream Speech.” In my book, EVIDENCE UNSEEN, I recall when my dad drove me to the march and recall how I was amazed at all the people and hundreds of buses that lined the streets of our nation’s Capitol. Listening to Dr. King… I heard two words from his speech that has stayed with me all these years. I heard him say, “One day….” Those who know me know that I will say in times of challenge “one time!” The thought being that “one day or this one time… it’s going to happen!”
Fast forward in time, opposite of where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech would be the very place that I would witness a dream come true. No African American ever thought that they would live to see a day when one of us would become President. However, “one day…” 46 years later, I had the privilege to witness in person and see with my own eyes Barrack Hussein Obama II’s inauguration ceremony January 20, 2009 to become the 44th President of the United States.
In fact, 50 years later, only walking distance from where I heard Dr. King give his “I Have a Dream” speech, I witnessed the opening of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in August of 2011. Politics aside, to go from Dr. Martin Luther King to President Barrack Obama during a 50 year period is amazing and I was blessed witness all this in my life time. Equally amazing was the grand opening National Museum of African American History on September 24, 2016. I one of the few African Americans in this country to have the honor to attend this historical event as a Charter Member. In this museum you will find African American history going back to the times of slavery in the 1700’s.
Reflecting on the 60’s, after the successful march on Washington, there was the assassination of President Kennedy and the success of Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in defeating “The Champ” Sonny Liston -World Title. With my last name being Clay, there was childhood drama for me where I was taunted and pushed to fight. I share my burden of being a “Clay” at that time in my book EVIDENCE UNSEEN. Then there was the significant passing of the Civil Rights Act 1964 which outlawed discrimination. There was also the assassination of Malcolm X in the same year. All this led to Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL where I would later learn that this was the city where my own family came from. My grandparents went to Selma University. I would also learn that I had living cousins who were jailed with Dr. King… I had relatives that served Dr. King food while in Selma and other family members that protested and were in the marches that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enacted President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Back to George Wallace, with his segregationist ideology, in 1968 the Governor would run for President. I had just moved to Maryland and I would end up being one of the hand full of African American students in my Junior High. In my book EVIDENCE UNSEEN, I describe how I was treated my first day and how I was told to “go back to where you came from.” It was the first time I realize that racial discrimination was happening to me on a personal level simply because of the color of my skin.
In my book EVIDENCE UNSEEN: Finding the Faith to Overcome, I talk in detail about how the dogs where sent out to attack me on the way home from school and how I had to run through the woods for hours to escape them. I so loved Gordon Parks because in his book A Choice of Weapons, he described his challenges with racial discrimination and his words in a real way inspired me to make better choices for my life despite the discrimination, inequalities and sufferings that I would surely experience in life that would make me bitter about many things. I knew I had to find the faith to overcome the “bitterness” to find “better” for my life.
My memoir was written primarily for the purpose of educating my one and only grandson about what I experienced as an African American man here in the United States. I was writing about my personal history. I wanted to leave legacy for him and my grand girls that said, “no matter what the challenge, always find the faith to overcome. I wanted to make the statement that… “we cannot change the history we are given by the past, but we can take what we have been given to create a future that will make a difference for others. This will be our history we will give going forward.”
In my book EVIDENCE UNSEEN, I talk about the struggles and challenges to graduate from college; how I earned promotions moving from lowest rank of Private First Class to becoming a Captain and Commander in the U.S. Army – many times I would find myself being only African American Officer in my Command; how I finally got my first real corporate job as a sales rep only to become an executive in a major fortune 50 company – becoming one of the first African American Division Sales Managers; and, I describe how I became the first African American to sell cellular telephones which helped the start-up to become what we all call Verizon today. Most important, I share the importance of my faith which has guided me to overcome my own personal challenges and short comings over the years. By faith I was able fulfill a primary goal of supporting and raising my family. During these 65 years, I have come to realize, “nothing is more important than your faith and your family.”
In my opinion, we have never achieved perfection in America. We have not found that perfect union in this “one nation under God.” In fact, if you travel the world as I have, there is not one place on earth has achieved this perfection we all seek. It’s an imaginary ideal that attempts to shape reality. However, every people has a history that is buried in a struggle to find better while trying to achieve perfection.
The last 65 years of American History has been an amazing time for African Americans in this regard and we have enjoyed “better” on many fronts but the struggle to overcome the evils of mankind remains, still buried deep the hearts of too many. I wanted my grandson to live his life being aware of how far I have come as an African American enjoying the liberties and freedoms of today… never taking them for granted. The last 65 years have paved the way for many possibilities for the future and for that I remain humble, grateful and faithful… proud to have written EVIDENCE UNSEEN: Finding the Faith to Overcome. Having done so, it is apparent that African American history is the EVIDENCE UNSEEN that demands that we all should keep the faith of those who have come before us and continue to overcome!
EVIDENCE UNSEEN: Finding the Faith to Overcome is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Archway from Simon & Schuster or on my website: www.frankclayjr.com (for a signed copy). It recently received 4 out of 5 stars by Edith Wairimu – CLARION REVIEW.