Last August, New York’s incoming governor, David Paterson, spoke at Riverside Church in Manhattan during the funeral of the jazz legend Max Roach. In his address, Paterson invoked the memory of blacklisted actor and singer Paul Robeson, abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and black nationalist leader Malcolm X. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Now, he’s known for his friendly, colorful speeches. He doesn’t use a teleprompter, of course.
CARL AUGUSTO: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: We were at the Max Roach funeral last August, when David Paterson spoke at Riverside Church in Manhattan during the funeral of the jazz legend Max Roach. This is what David Paterson had to say.
LT. GOV. DAVID PATERSON: I don’t know what I’m supposed to say after Mr. Cosby’s drum lesson. But those of us who have dared to continue to experience life as an African American in this country know that we have celebrated great talent in our communities, the capacity to derive great success, but that those who have had talent knew that talent got you very little in this society. It was talent and struggle that changed the environment for all of us.
We have celebrated people in our community who had that talent. Paul Robeson, a singer and actor, a scholar, an athlete, a political scientists, a philosopher, a linguist, a lawyer, he could have gotten along very well just by going along, but chose rather to speak out against injustice with the truth. Harriet Tubman had the talent to escape her bondage, but she went back into the South over forty times to save her brothers and sisters from slavery, her strategy still studied at West Point Academy today. Malcolm X, who lived in our time but offered us a steadfast disciplined criticism and honesty about the America there was for whites and the America was for the so-called thirty million Negroes of his time. And right here at Riverside Church, we have transferred those to their reward in celebration, people such as James Baldwin and Betty Shabazz and Ossie Davis.
Today, we add to that list a young man who came from Newland, North Carolina, came to the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant, attended Concord Baptist Church, attended boys high school, and by the time he graduated, everyone in the jazz community knew that a new prodigy was among us. He had talent. He performed with Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker. He performed with Dizzy Gillespie. He performed with the unsung Coleman Hawkins, with Oscar Brown, with Clifford Brown, the great trumpet virtuoso who died tragically in 1954, and with Charlie Mingus. And his talent brought him great acclaim, but he chose rather to join those very elite, those very few people in societies who knew that struggle and talent could give more than just his own success, but could raise up his community.
No one ever wrote a bad thing about Max Roach’s music or his aura until 1960, when he and Charlie Mingus protested the practices of the Newport Jazz Festival. And when he co-authored We Insist!, demanding freedom in the suites, it was only then that his own music was pandered and called polemic by some of the so-called music evaluators. But his struggle went on. He became the catalyst for the black liberation movement, for the great achievement that we have derived since then. And as we mourn his loss today, we can celebrate our own status as a result of the fact that he came among us.
Now, I’m going to sit down, as soon as I figure out how to get down from here, but while I’m still here, I would just suggest that thousands of years ago somebody invented fire. And although I think they were probably burned at the stake that they taught their brothers and sisters to light, they nevertheless offered us the gift that had never been perceived and forever lifted darkness from the face of the earth. If you think about it, over the last centuries, there have been women and men who have taken first steps down new roads, sometimes armed with nothing but their own vision, and they fought, they suffered and they paid, but what they brought us was freedom. And so, today, Paul Robeson, Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X celebrate God’s newest drummer, Max Roach.
AMY GOODMAN: David Paterson, remembering Max Roach, he was speaking at Riverside Church. David Paterson, the incoming governor of New York.