For every one of them who’s here are many thousand gone

Published 11:31 am Friday, January 10, 2020

On Jan. 15 this year, we will celebrate the 91st birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He died when he was 39. So, we have been without him for 52 years this year, much longer than we had him.

And there is an old, much loved spiritual called “Many Thousand Gone” which actually has several names, and one is “No mo’ auction block for me.” It was sung by slaves fleeing the plantations and heading to Union Army camps by darkness and in fear.

I remember singing it at the end of meetings right here in Vicksburg in the 1960s when none of us were sure a bomb would not explode, or a fire not ignite before we reached the end of it.

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Of course, the refrain’s reference was to the many thousands who had endured the auction block and the driver’s lash; the peck of corn and the pint of salt, and the hundred lashes, but wouldn’t anymore.

Because of Martin Luther King, Jr., no more.

Even as still more of it remains with us today.

I propose this reference though for those thousands who are gone; those thousands and thousands and thousands of people over centuries of years whose slavery and bondage prevented the acumen and art; the technology and teaching; the medicine and math; the literature and life of this present place and all its present lives.

For every one of them who’s here are many thousand gone.

If slavery were not over, think of who would not be here.

Just think who wouldn’t be here.

For instance, Leo and Earnestine, he an MBA, she an engineer at Grand Gulf, together partners and co-owners of “Outside The Box” Business Center. Theirs is likely the most successful business in Vicksburg because it provides high-tech availability and access on almost a moment’s notice. Who else can do that here?

Many thousand gone.

There is a gentleman I know who has taught every one of his three daughters (he has no sons) how to properly mow lawns. They’re just as good as he is; experts in every aspect. One is also an engineer at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. Another is a pharmacist. And the youngest, “the baby” has just achieved her Doctorate in Music.

Many thousand gone.

Historically, a woman named Mayme Upshaw Foster had been the first graduate from the segregated Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Mississippi and had gone on to receive a Master of Arts from the Catholic University of America and then the acting dean of women at Howard University.

Many thousand gone.

And Vicksburg has benefited powerfully and long from the recently retired lawyer and judge, the Honorable Walterine Langford. Now, look at who has followed her.

But many thousand gone.

And our mayor is a black man, with predecessors in his race, who have lived when this city’s mayor would rather come outside to meet black citizens than go with them inside City Hall.

Many, many thousands gone!

Thank you, dear, dear Martin.

Very much.

And Happy Birthday once again.


Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.