In the middle of a world that was radically changing, a world that for a child was on her own block, my father imparted a global perspective to my brother and sisters.
Once, he brought an African student home for dinner when I was about 10 years old. I had never seen a human being as Black as the smiling medical student who sat at our dinner table. When he left, I asked, "Daddy why was he so Black and we are not?" My father sat back in his chair, crossed his arms, looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling, then told me, "Honey, we are American Negros and he is African."
With the fires, the word Negro began to burn somehow, and tragically so did my symbiotic tie to my Daddy.
The fierceness of these fires came to a crescendo with the assassination of Malcolm X and then Dr. King, and the flames began lapping up what I had relied upon as my identity. The entire notion of "father" began to have new meaning as did everything else. Out of no place new fathers sprouted from everywhere, but these "fathers" ruled with brute strength, hurled fists at the white man and held secret meetings with Mao's red book. They taught that men like my father were counterrevolutionary ... reactionary ... enemies of the people ... Uncle Toms ... step and fetch it Negros ... house niggers who are at war with the field niggers who are our foot soldiers of the revolution.
My father's words felt like a covenant promise.
"You're going to make some lucky man a good wife someday," now felt like a curse, for like most teens my age, we had our sites set on larger – more clever things – that involved women in armed combat, side by side her soldier brothers, to topple the evil systems of the world, once and for all. We embraced romantic images of beautiful Angela Davis on the run from the FBI; Assata Shakur fighting armed combat with the Black Liberation Army.
I watched my father begin to shrink. But not just Daddy, the principal of "father" as hero of his home and community began to dissipate as well. And When the War On Poverty was declared throughout America, and teenaged girls began receiving welfare checks for children they had out of wedlock, "father" – in many circles did not seem necessary anymore ... the county – the state – became "Daddy."
Just as fires devoured everything in its path, I witnessed flames lap at the giant called my father. I watched him become smaller and smaller in my young eyes. He was smaller in our home and it seemed in the world. But he kept marching forward, like David, armed only with five smooth stones, he steadfastly retained his quiet, methodical battle stance, building within organizations such as the NAACP, the Urban League and the Democratic Party.
It was during the raging of these "fires" that he received a call that his father had died in North Carolina ... and shortly after, his spiritual father, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry and seeing his eyes fill with tears alerted me that the fires had now taken a frightening new dimension.
Ralph Ellison, the acclaimed African-America novelist, described being invisible, in his award winning "The Invisible Man." In his prologue he wrote, "I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms ... I am invisible because people refuse to see me. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination ... everything and anything but me."
Had my father disappeared instantly it would have been less heartrending, but his invisibility occurred "little by little"(excuse the pun) however, true to the soldier that he was, he never broke rank and held fast to that which kept him alive ... to see the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement manifest fully within Minneapolis, and the United States.
In the same way I watched as my community fathers began to disappear, friends of my father such as Harry Davis, Sr., Robert Green, (father of FOX News anchor Loren Green) who lived right across the alley, Booker Daniels, who lived next door to him, Walter Creighton, across the street and Mr. Kodadic who lived right next door to us. There were fathers in our direct family such as George and Bud Booker – my mother's brothers – and my father's younger brother, Jamie, who lived in Atlantic City and where my father hastily shipped me to at 15 when the "flames of the 60s" began to overwhelm me.
They served as watchmen in our neighborhood, in a time when the fires lapped away – even at clothing and I snuck a micro-mini-skirt into my school bag daring to strut down 4th Avenue knowing that my father was at work. With a certainty one of these fathers alerted my father and I never tried wearing it again ... at least not down 4th Avenue.
All of these strong human pillars of subdued strength and love began to diminish in a sense, while a new generation of fathers began to emerge, amplify and multiply.
Azaniah Little lives in Seattle. She works as a freelance writer, minister and consultant, and is currently seeking publication for her first book, "Purpose for Your Pain..."
She is the proud mother of Namibia Little who lives in Minneapolis.