Monday, June 12, 2017

Civil Rights History

The Selma movement represented the end of the early era of the Modern Civil Rights Movement. It was the total peak of unity among many civil rights groups in desiring one major goal (which was the expansion of voting rights to all people regardless of race or color). Black people in the South historically during that time were deprived the right to vote via many ways from literary tests, intimidation, threats, assaults, and even murder. The black people of Selma were oppressed by a racist government. Now, the black people of Selma and other civil rights activists united to stand up for their own rights. SNCC and the DCVL fought for voting rights in 1963. Yet, little progress was made in the voter registration program. By 1965, SCLC became involved. The sheriff of Selma was the notorious bigot Jim Clark. Dr. King came into Selma to lead many marches. He was arrested along with 250 other demonstrators. Activists wanted to fight for federal legislation to defend voting rights. The marchers were opposed by racists and many police officers. On February 17, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed by the police in nearby Marion. This caused James Bevel (a leader of the Selma movement) to plan a March from Selma to Montgomery (or the state capital of Alabama). Also, it is important cite the black women leaders of the Selma movement like Amelia Boynton, Prathia Hall (a member of SNCC), Colia Liddel Lafayette, Mrs. Richie Jean Jackson, Diane Nash, Harriet Richardson, and others. Black women have always been leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. On March 7, 1965, Hosea Williams of the SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC led a march of 600 people to talk the 54 miles from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery. They walked just six blocks into the march. When they came at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers and local law enforcement caught them. The cops brutally attacked the peacefully demonstrators with billy clubs, tear gas, rubber tubes wrapped in barbed wire, and bull whips. Some cops were on horseback. They drove the marchers back into Selma. Lewis was knocked unconscious and he was dragged to safety. At least 16 other marchers were hospitalized. Amelia Boynton Robinson was gassed and beaten too. She was a great leader of the Selma movement. National TV recorded the chaos. These protesters just were peacefully exercising their human right to march and promote voting. Many people were upset at this police brutality. More national support came for the movement in Selma. The evening of a second march on March 9 to the site of Bloody Sunday, local whites attacked Rev. James Reeb, a voting rights supporter. He died of his injuries in a Birmingham hospital March 11. The second march was that they or the protestors would march to the bridge and turn back. This angered some in SNCC and some viewed it as a compromise by Dr. King. Later, the courts (via Judge Johnson on Wednesday, March 17, 1965) ruled in favor of the protesters to march from Selma to Montgomery.

On Sunday, March 21, close to 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to commence the trek to Montgomery. Most of the participants were black human beings, but some were white and some were Asians and Latinos. Spiritual leaders of multiple races, religions, and creeds marched abreast with Dr. King, including Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos, Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel and Maurice Davis, and at least one nun, all of whom were depicted in a photo that has become famous. On March 25, 1965 (on Thursday), 25,000 people marched from St. Jude to the state capitol. People spoke and Dr. King gave his famous, “How Long, Not Long” speech.  The Dutch priest Henri Nouwen joined the march on March 24. On March 25, four Klansmen shot and killed Detroit homemaker Viola Liuzzo as she drove marchers back to Selma at night after the successfully completed march to Montgomery. One of the Klansmen in the car was FBI informant Gary Rowe. The FBI COINTELPRO slandered Liuzzo back then.  President Johnson worked to make sure that the Voting Rights Act would be passed by Congress. He would give a speech citing the words “we shall overcome” to advocate for equality. He signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6, 1965. The act was powerful and it ended poll taxes, literary tests, and other evil voter suppression tests.  It authorized Federal supervision of voter registration in states and individual voting districts where such tests were being used. African Americans who had been barred from registering to vote finally had an alternative to taking suits to local or state courts, which had seldom prosecuted their cases to success. If discrimination in voter registration occurred, the 1965 act authorized the Attorney General of the United States to send Federal examiners to replace local registrars. LBJ knew that the law would cause many whites in the South to not vote for Democrats ever again, but he signed it anyway. The Voting Rights Act increased African American voting registration. There was a massive increase of black people in Congress and black people in public office in general.  Within months of its passage, 250,000 new black voters had been registered, one third of them by federal examiners. Within four years, voter registration in the South had more than doubled. In 1965, Mississippi had the highest black voter turnout at 74% and led the nation in the number of black public officials elected. In 1969, Tennessee had a 92.1% turnout among black voters; Arkansas, 77.9%; and Texas, 73.1%. Black people voted Jim Clark out of office in 1966. Black political power increased. The Selma movement changed everything. Many even white liberals (along with many conservatives) felt that black people should just be content with the voting rights law. Yet, black people legitimately responded that the job isn’t finished yet, because economic security, housing, child care, medical care, and other human rights must be defended not just voting rights. The black poor and the working class still suffered multifaceted forms of oppression. Also, it is important to mention that it is hypocritical for some to call for black people to be nonviolent while using violence in the Vietnam War. Black people saw that hypocrisy of the American capitalist system and desired revolutionary change beyond reform. Selma was an end of an important phase of the Civil Rights movement. Now, after Selma, a new era would start.

The fight for fair housing existed for decades before the 1960’s. Federal legislation involving housing that fought discrimination would exist in the 1960’s. Housing is a civil right and a human right. Black people, for centuries, have been denied real housing rights in American society. Many black people have been denied to live where they want. Housing relates to credit, resources, and other aspects of human living. Housing can grow in value, so black people being denied adequate housing is a denial of power. Racist covenant policies existed in the Midwest and the West Coast. Racism in housing existed in the South and in the North too. Black people fought back via lawsuits, protests, and other forms of activism. One law that fought against housing segregation was the Rumford Fair Housing Act in California. This state law was passed in 1963. Later, it was overturned by mostly white California voters and real estate lobbyists in 1964 with Proposition 14. This was a discriminatory law and Ronald Reagan supported that evil law too. The Watts Rebellion happened in 1965. The California Supreme Court invalidated Proposition 14 and reinstated the Fair Housing Act. Many civil rights leaders fought for fair housing including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, James Bevel, and Al Raby.  They were involved in the Chicago Freedom Movement in the year of 1966.  In the following year, James Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council also attracted national attention with a fair housing campaign in Milwaukee. Both movements faced violent resistance from white homeowners and legal opposition from conservative politicians. The fair housing movement faced strong opposition from Congress. After the 1966 Congressional elections, many progressive politicians were out of office. Legislation was filibustered. Senator Walter Mondale, who advocated for the bill, noted that over successive years, it was the most filibustered legislation in US history. It was opposed by most Northern and Southern senators, as well as the National Association of Real Estate Boards. A proposed "Civil Rights Act of 1966" had collapsed completely because of its fair housing provision. Mondale commented that: “A lot of civil rights [legislation] was about making the South behave and taking the teeth from George Wallace, [but] this came right to the neighborhoods across the country. This was civil rights getting personal.” Federal housing rights legislation finally was passed in 1968 with the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It was passed after the King assassination. The law banned discrimination involving housing based upon race.

The Black Power movement is one of the most dynamic movements in human history. It has galvanized many black people. It has been a movement, which has been debated to this day. The concept of Black Power has been spoken about before the 1960’s like from Richard Wright and others. The Black Power movement has been influenced by the views of Garvey, the NOI, the Deacons of Defense, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, Pan-Africanism, etc. Yet, the modern Black Power movement existed in 1966 in Greenwood, Mississippi (on the date of June 16, 1966). At that location, Kwame Ture spoke up to speak about Black Power in fighting for black Americans to register to vote. This came after James Meredith was shot by a racist coward in a Mississippi road. Dr. King, Kwame Ture, and Floyd McKissick came to the aid of Meredith of supporting him. The movement of Black Power existed because of numerous factors. Many felt that the civil rights movement didn’t go far enough in addressing the poverty, the police brutality, and other economic issues of the North, the Midwest, and the West Coast. Some rejected nonviolence as a way of life and wanted a more militant movement for social change. One big lie is that the Black Power Movement was racist. It is not. Black Power wanted black liberation not racism in the world. There are diverse factions of the Black Power movement. The common image that we see of the Black Power movement dealt with the Black Panthers. This was the progressive faction of the movement. There is also the conservative faction that believed in Black Capitalism. There were also the cultural nationalists who believed in accepting African culture, but many of them refused to enact political activism to make change. They wanted change from cultural efforts.  There were other factions too. What unified them were their embrace of their black African heritage, their promotion of an independent, autonomous black powerbase that can benefit black people, their advocacy of self-defense in an explicit fashion, their belief in self-determination, and their advocacy of black liberation. Black Power in essence was a call for independence among all black people among our communities nationally and internationally. It wasn’t endorsing segregation or integration per se. It advocated the economic, social, and political enrichment of black people regardless. The Black Power movement was a cultural revolution too. There were black poets, writers, and dancers who wrote about pro-black and pro-African themes. More people wore dashikis and afros. People spoke African languages like Swahili. It was a vibrant cultural time. Immediately in 1966, most of the moderate Civil Rights leaders opposed Black Power. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP viewed it as racist in his 1966 NAACP Convention. Some white liberals called it reverse racism. Whitney Young of the Urban League criticized the conception of Black Power.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took a more nuisance position. He acknowledged the positives of Black Power which dealt with economic and political development among the black community, but he rejected separatism. Dr. King would later endorse the Poor People's Campaign which wanted people including workers of all colors to have economic justice. Bayard Rustin opposed the Black Power movement from a class perspective accusing it of having no strong political or economic program (in order words, Rustin said that since automation was growing, many jobs would be lost. So, he wanted African Americans to form a coalition with workers of all colors in order to achieve economic justice in using the Democratic Party as a vehicle). By 1966, many black and white people left SNCC and CORE in viewing those groups as too nationalistic and in their minds too separatist from John Lewis, James Peck, to Charles Sherrod, etc. Nevertheless, the black youth, black poor people, and the black middle class in many cases appealed to the message of Black Power.  By 1967 and 1968, the movement grew. The black capitalist Black Power Conference was held in Newark, NJ on July of 1967. It was organized by the black Republican Nathan Wright. The conference wanted a piece of the action. Many corporations funded Black Power activists who believed in capitalism. The scholar Harold Cruse viewed Black Power as similar to the views of Booker T. Washington (in calling it reformist) and being not revolutionary. To many Black Power advocates' credit, many of them legitimately opposed the Vietnam War as a war of aggression and being unjust. SNCC issued a statement in opposition to the war back in 1966 and this inspired Dr. King to oppose the Vietnam War more forcefully in public as well. Kwanzaa was created by the cultural nationalist Maulana Karenga in 1967. I don’t agree with the conservative Karenga on many issues. It is what it is. The Black Power movement attacked nonviolence as a way of life without question. Rev. Adam Clayton Powell in NYC rejected nonviolence as the most effective civil rights strategy by 1968. Beyond in 1969, the Black Power movement grows. There is the Black Manifesto of James Forman in 1969 along with the 1969 National Black Sisters Conference (which attacks racism and sexism in the world. Sister M. Martin de Porres Grey organizes 155 women from 79 national and international congregations to form the National Black Sisters' Conference), and the Black Theology views of James H. Cone. So, the Black Power Movement was multifaceted or diverse in its manifestations, but they (or Black Power advocates) were unified in desiring black liberation.

By Timothy

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