Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In Memoriam: Al Lipscomb (1925-2011)

Former Dallas City Councilman and Civil Rights activist Al Lipscomb died this past Saturday at the age of 86.

I liked Al, a lot! I wouldn't describe us as 'friends'. But I like to believe that we liked and respected one another. But what I also like to believe that Al Lipscomb always sought to do what was best for his community and for his city.

Oh you can question him all you want. Al may well have been, to varying degrees anything you want to call him, good or bad. He was saint, scallywag and statesman. But, with me throughout all of our encounters, I don't ever remember seeing anything about him that wasn't sincere.

I first met Lipscomb when I was about 19 years old. I was a freshman at Bishop College, a young preacher trying to develop a social conscience. I wanted to know more about this guy that I saw raising hell in the streets of Dallas. So I went to the South Dallas Information Center - Al's headquarters then, there among the African Bandits motorcycle club, I talked with Al and listened and pretty much just hung out. I don't remember the conversation at all, but I left impressed. Afterward I went to my father's house and told him, 'I just spent some time with Al Lipscomb.' 'Boy' he said, 'you better watch out hanging around him.'

Of course, that just made me want to know more about him...

I continued to follow Mr. Lipscomb from a distance and was shocked when he won a seat on Dallas' City Council. Al Lipscomb went on to serve an astonishing seven terms on the city council! He was also the first African-American to run for mayor of Dallas. When I became a pastor and got involved in community and civic affairs, Al was always respectful, encouraging and always helpful.

Al Lipscomb and Diane Ragsdale were pretty much the full complement of political leadership that black people had in Dallas. When people criticize their representation on the council many do so without remembering that there was no one else to make sure more black people were hired at city hall, or who got their share of city contracts, or to speak up from an official position on police brutality. And those were just a few of the issues with which they had to deal that went beyond the 'potholes and trash pick up' agenda of many of their white counterparts.

Al wasn't perfect. But the outpouring of sympathy, grief and love, is testimony to the fact that those of us who knew Al Lipscomb knew him to be greater than his failures and inconsistencies. We also know that any of us, elected or un-elected, who have any influence at City Hall or in Dallas County politics, for that matter, have it because of his contributions and his sacrifices. What most people beyond southern Dallas never understood is that black people weren't blind to Al Lipscomb's faults - we knew them - but we also knew that we were as loved and celebrated by him as he was by us. As he said himself,  “I’ve been obnoxious, bodacious, unorthodox, and I have been strident,” he once said. “That’s what I had to use; those are my tools for change.”He was just what politics in Dallas needed during his time, and Dallas is a better, more inclusive city because of him.

Rest in peace Al Lipscomb...and, although I've told you while you were among us, let me say it again...thank you, for all that you've done!

Funeral services for Al Lipscomb will be this Saturday, June 25, at 11:00 am at the Friendship West Baptist Church.

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