Monday, June 13, 2016

Historical Lessons from the 1960's.

Today is the time which was 50 years after the Meredith March against Fear. This event is one of the most important events of the black freedom struggle. It represents the ideological diversity of the black community which persists in our generation in 2016. Also, this time outlined the new era of the civil rights movement in amazing detail. That is why we should study information about that period of history since history repeats itself and what happened decades ago showed how we can move forward as one community. In 1966, different factions of the civil rights movement debated on where to go next. Some wanted to focus on advancing full employment, some wanted to deal with voter registration, and others wanted to focus solely on improving the black community. Such debates transpired as early as 1964. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. These were legitimate reforms which came about by the sacrifice of courageous human beings who fought against the oppressive system of legalized apartheid. Yet, work more work was needed. Organizations involved in the March Against Fear occurrence were SNCC (or the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), MCHR (the Medical Committee for Human Rights), and the Deacons for Defense and Justice (DDJ). Many places of the South still had poverty and voter disenfranchisement. Many black people in the North, the Midwest, and the West Coast still suffered de facto segregation (which means that segregation and discrimination that doesn't happen by law, but by the current reality of discriminatory policies), police brutality, and economic deprivation. Therefore, civil rights leaders and other black freedom activists wanted to figure out a way specifically to move forward. There was the 1966 Civil Rights bill in Congress (which promoted housing legislation and juror selection). Urban rebellions existed in Harlem, Philadelphia, and Rochester in 1964. Then, in 1965, a massive rebellion happened in Watts, Los Angeles. In 1966, a rebellion happened in Chicago. Therefore, many people didn’t like the slow pace of the civil rights movement, which was a legitimate viewpoint. People wanted power. People wanted political independence, because SNCC legitimately criticized the Democratic Party establishment for its disgraceful response to the MDEP participating on Atlantic City, NJ during the 1964 Democratic Convention. The Democratic leaders wanted Fannie Lou Hamer and other MDEP members to have token representation in 1964 and they refused. So, SNCC became more revolutionized after the betrayal in the 1964 Convention. SNCC leaders like Forman and others started to overtly reject pacifism. By 1966, SNCC elected the new leader Kwame Ture (who was from Howard University) and Floyd McKissick of CORE was another leader in the Black Power movement too. John Lewis resigned from SNCC in early 1966. President Lyndon Baines Johnson was promoting the Great Society and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. publicly wanted a negotiated settlement between American forces and the Vietcong involving the Vietnam War. LBJ distanced himself from Dr. King’s views on the Vietnam War. Even moderate civil rights leaders didn’t agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s views on the Vietnam War too.

The movement had political, generational, and organizational differences. First, one main person of the March was James Howard Meredith. He was known as the first black student to attend the previously segregated University of Mississippi (or Ole Miss) in October 1, 1962. James Meredith believed in self-defense and had a combative relationship with the traditional organizations of the NAACP and even the SCLC. He was a man with a lot of determination. For years, he wanted to march from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson Mississippi to oppose white oppression and promote a counterbalance to the view of nonviolent reformism.  James Meredith wanted to march from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi overtly in Monday, June 5, 1966.  He wanted to march against the bigotry and racism of white racists. On his second day of marching (on Highway 51 near Hernando), he was shot in the back on June 6, 1966. He desired to promote black voter registration in Mississippi (which was a state filled with massive racism. Mississippi was where Emmett Till was lynched in 1955, where the heroic NAACP organizer Medgar Evers was assassinated in 1963, and where the murder of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney transpired in 1964). White racists were cursing at the highway that he was walking on. The white racist shooter was James Aubrey Norvell. An ambulance sent James Meredith to the hospital. He recovered in Memphis, TN. Immediately, civil rights leaders came to James Meredith’s aide and promised to continue with the march. Civil rights leaders condemned the shooting. Meredith was in a Memphis hospital where Dr. King, McKissick, Roy Wilkins, James Lawson, Kwame Ture, Cleveland Sellers (a famous leader in SNCC), Dick Gregory, and others spoke with James Meredith (on Tuesday, June 7, 1966). On Tuesday afternoon in June 7, 1966, Dr. king, Kwame Ture, McKissick, SCLC Education Director Robert L. Green, and others marched in U.S. Highway 51 near Hernando. Missisippi highway patrolmen wanted the marchers to travel on the sidewalk and not on the road. Officer L. Y. Griffin said to the marchers to get off the road. Dr. King told Griffin that it is the duty of the cops to protect them. Sellers was pushed into the mud by the police. The marchers were assaulted by the police. Kwame Ture had legitimate anger at this treatment and tried to lunge at one officer in the realm of self defense since Kwame Ture was pushed by one officer first. Then, Dr. King held onto Kwame Ture's arms to prevent Kwame from defending himself. Then, the marchers continued to march and joke with each other.

Kwame Ture had a private argument with both Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young (who came to the South from New York City). Ture viewed Wilkins and Young as right wing or too moderate to participate in the marcb and when they left, he was satisfied. He wanted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to overtly advocate Black Power. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP later pulled out of the march, because the self-defense Deacons of Defense and Justice would be there to protect the marchers. Whitney Young of the Urban League didn't participate in the march, because he didn't like Kwame Ture criticizing the Johnson administration. Black and white people would march to Jackson, Mississippi. The march would last for 19 days from June 6 to June 25, 1966. In the beginning of the march, 20 Mississippi state troopers provided some protection. Half way in the march, only 4 troopers remained to protect people. White racists were near the marchers can gave them middle fingers and cursed at them with profanity and racial slurs. The marchers camped at night and they were protected by the Deacons of Defense with weapons. The March against Fear was a march against oppression and injustice. During the march, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Kwame Ture and had a friendly, important debate on nonviolence and Black Power.

Both men agreed with developing economic and political power among black people. Dr. King felt that nonviolence was the only progressive means to solve problems while Kwame Ture supported self-defense if necessary to cause black liberation. Dr. King and Kwame Ture would expose racism, poverty, and capitalism as a detriment to black progress. Kwame Ture felt that the federal government betrayed black people so much that Black Power was the necessary solution to the problems of black people. Many SNCC leaders during this time rejected white liberal involvement, rejected a non-violence alone approach, and rejected reformist politics. Also, it is important to outline the youth component. It was the youth primarily in control or having a massive influence of SNCC and the Black Power movement in America back then. As this was going on, Dr. Martin Luther King was working in the Chicago campaign simultaneously, which fought against poverty, racism, housing discrimination, and economic injustices in the city of Chicago. Roy Wilkins rejected Black Power as equivalent to white racism, which is ludicrous. Dr. King took a nuisance position. He believed in black people organizing resources economically and politically, but believed that some people may misinterpret Black Power and erroneously place negative connotations to it. Willie Ricks of SNCC helped sharecroppers and other black people to register to vote and he promote Black Power views around the area. Kwame Ture gave his famous June 16, 1966 Black Power speech in Greenwood, Mississippi. Kwame Ture said that we want Black Power in a strong fashion.  Kwame Ture (who took influence from the anticolonial movements from Africa, and Asia) fully explained what black power meant. Black Power is about black people creating their own independent, autonomous black powerbase, so black people can have independence against an evil white supremacist society. Black Power has been interpreted in many different ways and there are progressive and conservative factions of the Black Power movement. What unified this movement are the promotion of Black self-determination, love of Blackness, and the love of black community growth. SNCC promoted the Black Power slogan in the march while SCLC promoted Freedom Now slogans. The police used tear gas against marchers in Canton, Mississippi. Kwame Ture and Dr. King were in Canton. Kwame Ture, Andrew Young, and other marchers experienced tear gas and breathing problems.  People were crawling around. Later, the police kicked people on the ground. Still, the March Against Fear continued. James Meredith was part of the last part of the march by June 26, 1966. On that date (which was the time that about 4,000 black Mississippians were new registered voters), about 15,000 mostly black marchers came into Jackson, Mississippi where Kwame Ture, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., McKissick (who said that black people want to be called black people not "Negroes" anymore), and others gave powerful speeches in favor for justice for black people.  The March inspired many black people to vote in high numbers. The 1966 Civil Rights bill unfortunately failed in Congress. The Black Power era was a new era of the civil rights movement that inspired America and the world forever. We learn lessons from the March against Fear to oppose racism, white supremacy, and capitalism. The 1966 March for Freedom was the last massive march of the Southern civil rights movement during that decade and it represented an end of era (and the beginning of a new era of the freedom struggle). Today, there is high income inequality, many of our leaders are assassinated, imprisoned, and even co-opted. The Black Lives Matter movement is one fruit of the Black Power movement too. Even now, the forces of corporate America and the liberal establishment want to co-opt and control the BLM movement. The FBI has monitored the BLM too. So, the Black Lives Matter movement should always maintain its political independence. This is also a class struggle as we want the poor and the working class to be liberated.  We want racism to be eliminated, so black people can be liberated.

To study the civil rights movement in a higher level, we should always respect the courage and sacrifice of the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Rides lasted from May 4 to December 10, 1961. The ironic is thing that the Freedom Riders wanted to enforce legal statues that many Southern states refused to enforce. The Supreme Court cases of Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960) banned segregated public buses involving interstate travel. The Southern states ignored the rulings and the federal government did nothing to enforce them. The Kennedy administration did a disgraceful job in handling the situation. About 436 individuals participated in the Freedom Rides at least 60 separate Freedom Rides. Black people and white people were involved in the movement. There was the jail no bail tactic used in a mass scale, which was about activists being in jail and refusing bail, so jails would overcrowd and changes would come. CORE, SNCC, and the NAACP were actively involved in the Freedom Riders campaign. The activists wanted to sit in an integrated fashion in interstate buses to stand up for justice. The first Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1961. They wanted to go into New Orleans on May 17. The Freedom Riders also protested Jim Crow apartheid in the South as well. They used sit ins in segregated lunch counters. Much of the Freedom Rides were young people including college kids. As we know, many of the Freedom Riders were assaulted, arrested, and abused by white racist mobs. Many of these mobs were Klan members, white supremacists, and others while the police did nothing to stop the violence by the mobs immediately. The mobs would attack the Freedom Riders and the police would allow the violence to happen without intervention. In other words, the police would allow the mobs to attack innocent Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders were inspired by the Journey of Reconciliation. That was led by civil rights activists Bayard Rustin and George Houston. This was to test an earlier Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel. Rustin and a few other riders, chiefly members of the Congress (CORE), were arrested and sentenced to serve on a chain gang in North Carolina for violating local laws regarding segregated seating on public transportation. The first Freedom Ride started in May 4, 1961. It was led by CORE Director James Farmer. It included 13 riders  (seven black, six white, including Genevieve Hughes, William E. Harbour, and Ed Blankenheim) left Washington, DC, on Greyhound and Trailways buses. Their plan was to ride through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, ending in New Orleans, Louisiana, where a civil rights rally was planned. Most of the Riders were from CORE, and two were from SNCC. Many were in their 40's and 50's. Some were as young as 18. The Freedom Riders’ plan included many things. They wanted to have least one interracial pair sitting in adjoin seats. They wanted to have at least one black rider to sit up front where seats under segregation had been reserved for white customers by local custom all over the South. The rest of the team would sit scattered throughout the rest of the bus. One rider would abide by the South's segregation rules in order to avoid arrest and to contact CORE and arrange bail for those who were arrested. Only minor trouble was encountered in Virginia and North Carolina, but John Lewis was attacked in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Some of the Riders were arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina; Winnsboro, South Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi. During this time, Bull Connor (or the then Birmingham, Alabama Police Commissioner) along with Police Sergeant Tom Cook (who was an Ku Klux Klan supporter) organized to execute violence against the Freedom Riders via local Klan Chapters. Both Connor and Cook made plans to bring the Ride to an end in Alabama, but they failed since evil is never infallible. They assured  Gary Thomas Rowe, an FBI informer and member of Eastview Klavern #13 (the most violent Klan group in Alabama), that the mob would have fifteen minutes to attack the Freedom Riders without any arrests being made. The plan was to allow an initial assault in Anniston with a final assault taking place in Birmingham.

Major mob violence happened against the Freedom Riders on May 14, 1961 on Mother’s Day in Anniston, Alabama.  A group of Klansmen, some still in church attire, attacked the first of the two buses (the Greyhound). The driver tried to leave the station, but was blocked until Klan members slashed its tired. The mob forced the crippled bus to stop several miles outside of town and then firebombed it. As the bus burned, the mob held the doors shut, intending to burn the riders to death. Sources disagree, but either an exploding fuel tank  or an undercover state investigator brandishing a revolver caused the mob to retreat, and the riders escaped the bus. The mob beat the riders after they escaped the bus. Only warning shots fired into the air by highway patrolmen prevented the riders from being lynched. Most of the Riders refused care. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth organized several cars of black people to rescue the injured Freedom Riders in defiance of white supremacy. The black people were under the leadership of Colonel Stone Johnson and were openly armed as they came at the hospital. They protected the Freedom Riders from the mob. When the Trailways bus reached Anniston and pulled in at the terminal an hour after the Greyhound bus was burned, it was boarded by eight Klansmen. They beat the Freedom Riders and left them semi-conscious in the back of the bus. When the bus came into Birmingham, it was attacked by a mob of KKK members. This attack was aided and abetted by the police under orders of Commissioner Bull Connor. As the riders exited the bus, they were beaten by the mob with baseball bats, iron pipes, and bicycle chains. One of the attacking Klansmen was FBI informant Gary Thomas Rowe. White Freedom Riders were beat too. James Peck required more than 50 stitches to the wounds in his head. Peck was taken to Carraway Methodist Medical Center, which refused to treat him. He was later treated at Jefferson Hillman Hospital. The report of the bus burning and beatings reached US Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He said that the Freedom Riders must use restraint, which was disrespectful when the Freedom Riders were peaceful. The mobs shown no restraint when they brutalized the Freedom Riders. RFK sent an assistant, John Seigenthaler, to Alabama to try to calm the situation. The Freedom Riders legitimately continued in their journey. Robert Kennedy arranged an escort for the Riders in order to get them to Montgomery, Alabama safely. Yet, radio reports said that the mob awaited the riders at the bus terminals and these mobs were on route to Montgomery. The Greyhound clerks told the Riders that their drivers were refusing to drive any Freedom Riders anywhere. Recognizing that their efforts had already called national attention to the civil rights cause and wanting to make the rally in New Orleans, the Riders decided to abandon the rest of the bus ride and fly directly to New Orleans from Birmingham. When they first boarded the plane, all passengers had to exit because of a bomb threat. Diane Nash was a Nashville college student and SNCC leader in 1961. She believed that if Southern violence were allowed to halt the Freedom Rides, then the movement would be set back years. So, she wanted to find replacements to resume the rides. On May 17, 1961, a new set of riders, 10 students from Nashville, took a bus to Birmingham, where they were arrested by Bull Connor and jailed. These students kept their spirits up in jail by singing freedom songs. Out of frustration, Connor drove them back up to the Tennessee line and dropped them off, saying, "I just couldn't stand their singing." The Freedom Riders immediately returned to Birmingham.

By Timothy

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