Black Alabama Possessing the Land
In the Biblical record, the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter the land God promised to their ancestors. But the land of Canaan was already occupied, and even though God had promised it to them, the Israelites still had to fight for it.
Thousands of years later in Montgomery, Alabama, mostly Black passengers on the Harriott II Riverboat crossed the Alabama River and were looking to dock in their assigned slip, and they, too had to fight to get what they were entitled to.
What some have dubbed “The Alabama Brawl” on a dock in Montgomery a few weeks ago, was not only Biblical in its proportion; it also was a primer on race in America. If you haven’t yet seen the video, you must have been under a rock for the past few weeks, because footage of the battle was shown everywhere.
The montage opens with a Black man we later learn is Dameion Pickett, co-captain of the riverboat trying to explain to a white boater that their pontoon boat is occupying the riverboat’s slip. Passengers on the riverboat who are waiting for the boat to dock begin using their cellphones to record the encounter.
Pickett can be seen explaining to one white man after another that their boat needs to be moved so the riverboat can dock in its rightful place and unload its passengers. In one instance he claps his hands repeatedly to emphasize the point he’s making. This is the first indication that this is a uniquely Black encounter. We often clap our hands to make a point.
Suddenly, one of the white men lunges at Pickett, who in uniquely African American fashion tosses his hat into the air as a declaration that “things are on and popping,” as the young people say. The tossing of the hat is the second indication that this is a brawl involving Black people. No one from any other ethnic group would likely have announced they were about to embark upon a fight by ceremoniously tossing their hat into the air.
Moments later, Pickett is being mauled by a trio of white men, and one white woman who appears to be trying to break up the fight, but her companions have Pickett on his back and on the ground while beating and kicking him.
Meanwhile, Black passengers who are still recording from the riverboat begin shouting for other Blacks to “help that brother.” Earlier this same group had been rhythmically chanting to the pontoon boat owners, “Move that (boat), Get out the way! Get out the way!”
One Black man joins in the fray from the dock, while another Black man jumps into the water from the riverboat and begins swimming toward the dock to help. Social media has dubbed him, “Aquaman,” for his eagerness to help – another stroke of unique Black ingenuity.
As the fight progresses, three more Black men show up on the scene while the white perpetrators retreat to their boat. But the incoming Black men mean business; they show up skipping along the dock in search of retribution. Who other than Black people skip their way to a fight?
By this time the fight has subsided, but the three men walk up to the pontoon boat where another skirmish ensues. It’s during this melee that a few white people find themselves in the river, and one Black man begins brandishing a folding chair over the heads of the white perpetrators. Black social media has created a plethora of memes starring the folding chair. Interviews have been done with the chair. Song have been written about the chair; it’s even shown up on tee shirts.
The social media excitement over this southern brawl, and perhaps even this column, might be confusing to some, but to those of us steeped in Black culture we know all too well what this situation represents.
None of the reaction to this video, for the most part, is intended to support violence. But Black people by and large have an intense commitment to fairness and justice. For any Black person watching while a group of white men unjustifiably attack a fellow Black man for simply doing his job, sees this as an act of injustice.
It’s the same reaction many of us had watching the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, only to have those officers acquitted in criminal court. It’s the same elation some Black people expressed when O.J. Simpson was acquitted, not because he was innocent, but because for once the criminal justice system worked as it should have.
This is the same reaction many of had to the Alabama Brawl. Ironically, the dock at Montgomery was the same dock where in the 1800s slave were being imported. For once, justice prevailed in the midst of bigotry. At least some Blacks in Alabama have possessed the land.
Rev. Marc Tibbs , a retired journalist, is the special columnist of The Reporter. He is the pastor of Centenaryy United Methodist Church in Akron, Ohio and owner of Tibbs Consultining Services.