Detroit Free Press (MCT)
The coffin was cheap, and the flowers were fake — a fitting send-off for something despised by so many.
This was no celebration-of-life funeral. The thousands who gathered in Hart Plaza on the city's riverfront were more than happy to rejoice in this passing, the hoped-for demise of the N-word and its slang derivative.
A gospel choir rocked out, and speaker after speaker jovially bid good riddance to the words historically associated with the racist degradation of African-Americans, but now often casually used to greet friends or get a point across in a song's lyric or stand-up comic's routine.
"Realizing that it was inappropriate to blatantly continue his past messages of white supremacy, nigger changed his name to nigga," said Victoria Lanier, an NAACP youth field director, reading an obituary prepared for the event. "Nigga, now disguised as an ally to black youth, could go undercover and position himself as a link to black unity."
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said, "So good riddance. Die, N-word. We don't want to see you `round here no more."
The burial was part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's national convention in Detroit this week. The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP, called the moment historic, a paradigm shift in the mind-set of African-Americans.
But some wondered whether the N-word would rest in peace. The word is embedded in everyday language and pop culture. Hard-core rappers use it, as do suburban white kids.
Hart Plaza was filled with thousands of like-minded individuals, but what happens when the word continues to be bandied around on playgrounds and in neighborhoods?
"This is a start, but I think it's going to be four or five generations before it's gone," said Clyde James, 39. "There will be people who just won't stop saying it; I know I have some friends who won't. There are also children who think the word is OK to say and associate nothing negative with it.
"We have to hope that they'll learn to stop," James said. "Instead of saying the N-word, why can't we say `Hey, my brother' or `Hey, my sister'?"
NAACP leaders said they're not delusional. They know the word will be uttered. But Monday's funeral and others recently in Houston and Philadelphia were an effort to raise awareness and — eventually — understanding.
"It takes some folk who have a vision and makes a decision to start the train moving," said Anthony, who stressed that the funeral was not an assault on young people or the hip-hop community. "Sometimes you have to force people in spite of themselves."
The pine coffin will be buried beneath a headstone at historically black Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery. NAACP officials did not immediately know what the headstone would read.
Monday's procession was led by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, Kilpatrick, hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow and R&B legend Eddie Levert. Thousands of convention-goers followed, marching to the beat of Detroit's Cass Tech High School drum section.
Blow said he has been a rapper and in hip-hop music for about 35 years, has recorded more than 150 songs and never used the N-word. "I'm living proof that it's possible to rap or do hip-hop and not offend anyone."
The nearly two-hour service, in the heat of the early afternoon, didn't stop young and old, black and white, from participating. As suited members of the Nation of Islam stood guard, many older people used motorized scooters to get to the plaza. Some younger ones arrived on bikes.
Kristina Moore, 11 attended the funeral with her 14-year-old brother and grandmother. Before leaving home, the girl's grandmother told her she wanted her to experience a slice of history. First, though, her grandmother had to explain to her the significance of the N-word.
"A lot of people use it to bring black people down, but I've never heard it said," Kristina said. "I guess they do it because they feel bad about themselves, and it helps to make them feel better."
Gov. Jennifer Granholm told the crowd she was proud the funeral was in Michigan. She also encouraged attendees to bury not only the N-word, but also other racial injustices, such as predatory lending, redlining, the fight to end affirmative action, and disparate health care.
"We can plant the seed to a new word, the A-word," Granholm said. "All — all our people. We're all in this together."
Ruth Poole, 75, of Durham, N.C., has been an NAACP member for most of her life. She said she was born in the 1930s, a time when parents instilled the values of church, home and community in their children.
Now Poole, a retired tobacco factory office administrator, spends her time volunteering in prisons in the hope of inspiring future parolees. She said black people historically lacked self-respect — a result of racism — but it is the responsibility of African Americans now to reverse that.
"I certainly hope we'll remember this day and what it means," Poole said. "I hope that this is a call to carry ourselves better. I don't think other races talk in the negative form about themselves like we do, yet we try to blame that word on others."
(c) 2007, Detroit Free Press.
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