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Journalist Roland Martin describes African American history as mix of bad and worse times

Mike Desmond
Roland Martin spoke Tuesday at the 50th anniversary of the Canisius College Afro-American Society.

In his lifetime, journalist and author Roland Martin says African Americans have made a lot of progress, but there remains a long way to go. Martin spoke at Canisius College Tuesday at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Afro-American society.

Martin told a crowded Montante Center that American history is a mix of bad times for black people and worse times. He told reporters the Electoral College, which elected President Trump, was set up to maximize the power in the presidential election process of slave states.

Martin said Americans of all races do not know enough of their own history, and that discrimination and ill-treatment are not unique to African Americans.

"Italians, Jews, Polish and others - people who came from other countries had to deal with that, but no group of people has been under the level of sustained attack as African Americans," Martin said, "not just when it came to jobs, not just when it came to education, but even when it came to personal comment or just being black. How we look, hair and all of that, yet still survive, yet still thrive. No, that's the story of a survivor."

He said there is a major problem of people not knowing the country's troubled racial history and the long-term effect of slavery and Jim Crow discrimination. From sports to finance, he said African Americans have not received their fair share of the pie and have been routinely pushed aside.

Speaking of the major success of the movie "Black Panther," Martin said it does not mean Hollywood has changed in any way, pointing to director Ryan Coogler, who put the movie together.

"Ryan Coogler is the black Steven Spielberg. Really? So that means any movie that Ryan Coogler wants to make will automatically be funded and greenlit by any Hollywood studio? I daresay that's not the case," said Martin, "because when George Lucas made "Redtails," he went to the seven - this is George Lucas, "Star Wars" George Lucas - who went to the seven major Hollywood studios and every single one of them turned him down. They said because it's all-black cast and no white hero."

Martin said Hollywood also did not buy into the theme of the black airmen being the heroes in the tale of the Tuskegee Airmen fighting Nazi Germany in World War II.

Looking at the highly publicized image of black professional athletes, Martin said they have often been barred from prime positions and black coaches seldom get a second chance.

"Kevin Sumlin, who was - I'm a Texas A&M graduate - who got fired from Texas A&M and got hired by the University of Arizona. Folks have no idea how rare it is for an African American to be fired at a major football program and then get a job within a year at another major football program," Martin said. "That rarely has ever happened."

Martin said there may be many black athletes in big-time college sports, but they are not there to get degrees. Instead, they are there to play and if they don't play well enough, the school is allowed to yank the financing that keeps them in school.

A related problem, he said, is that the image of black athletes is shaped by overwhelmingly white sports writers.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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