Monday, June 19, 2017

Important Civil Rights History.

Robert F. Williams was a heroic Brother who not only stood up for self-defense in the South. He inspired many movements from the Black Panthers to SNCC. Back then (during the late 1950’s), Jim Crow was not only harsh, but murderous. Many people were murdered, raped, homes bombed, etc. as a product of the acts from pro-Jim Crow white racist terrorists. In many cases, the Klan worked with the local police in open collaborations to oppress black citizens. The violence of the Klan harmed many efforts of Civil Rights activists. Therefore, many black organizations (in the South) started to use armed self-defense to protect themselves, their families, and their communities. Self-defense is a human right. Robert F. Williams of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP started to promote self-defense during the late 1950’s. He rebuilt the NAACP chapter after the Klan terrorized black people in North Carolina. He wanted a newer, working class membership to be armed and defend themselves against attackers. When Klan nightriders attacked the home of NAACP member Dr. Albert Perry in October, Williams’ militia exchanged gunfire with the stunned Klansmen. The Klansmen retreated. During the next day, the city council held an emergency session. They passed an ordinance banning KKK motorcades. Later, the Lumbee Native Americans in 1958 successful led an armed standoff against the Klan (i.e. the Battle of Hayes Pond). This caused Klan leader James W. “Catfish” Cole to be convicted of incitement to riot. Many white men sexually raped black women in Monroe, NC. The white men were acquitted. This caused Williams to say in the United Press International that he would “meet violence with violence" as a policy. Williams' declaration was quoted on the front page of The New York Times, and The Carolina Times considered it "the biggest civil rights story of 1959." NAACP National chairman Roy Wilkins immediately suspended Williams from his position, but the Monroe organizer won support from numerous NAACP chapters across the country. Later, Wilkins was so wrong that he caused a campaign to fight against Williams. The suspension was upheld. The NAACP convention nonetheless passed a resolution which stated: "We do not deny, but reaffirm the right of individual and collective self-defense against unlawful assaults."   Martin Luther King Jr. argued for Williams' removal, but Ella Baker and WEB Dubois both publicly praised the Monroe leader's position. Robert F. Williams and his wife Mabel Williams continued to fight for justice in the Monroe movement. They became national heroes. Both Williamses published “The Crusader” which was a nationally circulated newsletter starting in 1960. Robert F. Williams wrote the influential book entitled, “Negroes With Guns” in 1962. In that book, he called for “flexibility in the freedom struggle” and self-defense. He knew of legal tactics. He worked to defend a black child in the Kissing Case of 1958 and he supported lunch counter sit-ins in Monroe back in the day too. He believed in self-defense as a complementary tactics along with nonviolence. He supported the Freedom Rides. SNCC leaders Ella Baker and James Forman invited him to participate. He campaigned for peace with Cuba. The FBI targeted him and falsely accused him of kidnapping as he was cleared of all charges in 1976. Meanwhile, armed self-defense continued discreetly in the Southern movement with such figures as SNCC's Amzie Moore, Hartman Turnbow, and Fannie Lou Hamer all willing to use arms to defend their lives from nightriders. Taking refuge from the FBI in Cuba, the Williamses broadcast the radio show "Radio Free Dixie" throughout the eastern United States via Radio Progresso beginning in 1962. During this period, Williams advocated guerilla warfare against racist institutions, and saw the large ghetto rebellions of the era as a manifestation of his strategy. University of North Carolina historian Walter Rucker has written that "the emergence of Robert F Williams contributed to the marked decline in anti-black racial violence in the US…After centuries of anti-black violence, African-Americans across the country began to defend their communities aggressively – employing overt force when necessary. This in turn evoked in whites real fear of black vengeance…" This opened up space for African-Americans to use nonviolent demonstration with less fear of deadly reprisal. Of the many civil rights activists who share this view, the most prominent was Rosa Parks. Parks gave the eulogy at Williams' funeral in 1996, praising him for "his courage and for his commitment to freedom," and concluding that "The sacrifices he made, and what he did, should go down in history and never be forgotten."

Rest in Power Brother Robert F. Williams.

The Freedom Rides took place in 1961. They represented a transitional phrase of the Civil Rights Movement. These rides wanted to enforce existing law that stated that it was legal to integrate interstate buses into the segregated Southern United States. The Supreme Court in 1960 from Boynton v. Virginia made it clear that segregation was unconstitutional for passengers engaged in interstate travel. It was organized by CORE. Also, many CORE members did something similar back during the 1940’s. The first Freedom Ride of the 1960’s existed on May 4, 1961. They left Washington, D.C. and were scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17. This was an execution of social activism beyond using the court system to fight for justice. The Freedom Rides were made up of black and white people who wanted to travel into the Deep South to also integrate seating patterns on buses and desegregate bus terminals. They wanted to desegregate restrooms and water fountains. This was a dangerous journey, but the Freedom Riders were courageous in their deeds. When the Freedom Riders came into Anniston, Alabama, one bus was firebombed. Passengers escaped the bus to save their lives. In Birmingham, Alabama, an FBI informant reported that Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor gave Ku Klux Klan members fifteen minutes to attack an incoming group of freedom riders before having police "protect" them. The riders were severely beaten and it was a totally horrible experience. James Peck, a white activist, was beaten so badly that he required fifty stitches to his head. White racists executed violence against Freedom Riders again in Montgomery, Alabama. The Freedom Riders followed in the footsteps of Rosa Parks and rode in an integrated Greyhound bus from Birmingham. They were protesting interstate bus segregation in peace. Still, they experience violence by a white mob in Montgomery. The large, white mob attacked them since they used activism to fight for justice. They caused an enormous, 2-hour long riot which resulted in 22 injuries, five of whom were hospitalized. This violence in Anniston and Birmingham temporarily stopped the rides. Yet, SNCC activists from Nashville like Diane Nash brought in new riders to continue the journey from Birmingham to New Orleans.  In Montgomery, Alabama, at the Greyhound Bus Station, a mob charged another bus load of riders, knocking John Lewis unconscious with a crate and smashing Life photographer Don Urbrock in the face with his own camera. A dozen men surrounded James Zwerg, a white student from Fisk University, and beat him in the face with a suitcase, knocking out his teeth. By May 24, 1961, the Freedom Rides rode into Jackson, Mississippi. They were arrested for “breaching the peace" by using "white only" facilities. New freedom rides were organized by many different organizations and continued to flow into the South. As riders arrived in Jackson, they were arrested. By the end of summer, more than 300 had been jailed in Mississippi. Many of the Freedom Rides suffered harsh conditions in jail. Some male prisoners were forced to do hard labor in 100 degree heat. The cells were filthy. Some were transferred to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Some of the men were beaten. Some were suspended by wrist breakers from the walls. Many of them couldn’t breathe by the cells shut tight on hot days. The Kennedy administration was so disgraceful during this time that some of them were openly hostile to the Freedom Rides. They compromised with the racist Southerners by saying that the Freedom Rides would travel and do nothing when the Riders were arrested. Support for the Freedom Riders grew. Pressure caused the Kennedy administration to order the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to issue a new desegregation order. When the new ICC rule took effect on November 1, 1961, passengers were permitted to sit wherever they chose on the bus; "white" and "colored" signs came down in the terminals; separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms were consolidated; and lunch counters began serving people regardless of skin color. The student movement involved such celebrated figures as John Lewis, a single-minded activist; James Lawson, the revered "guru" of nonviolent theory and tactics; Diane Nash, an articulate and intrepid public champion of justice; Bob Moses, pioneer of voting registration in Mississippi; and James Bevel, a fiery preacher and charismatic organizer, strategist, and facilitator. Other prominent student activists included Charles McDew, Bernard Lafayette, Charles Jones, Lonnie King, Julian Bond, Hosea Williams, and Kwame Ture. After the Freedom Rides, the young people of the Civil Rights Movement developed their own independence and their own unique personalities politically.

The 1963 March on Washington, D.C. was one of the most important parts of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a march for jobs and freedom. It was a march that had people of many races to fight for civil and economic rights. It started by a long history. A. Philip Randolph had a dream to march on Washington for black people working in integrated industrial jobs back in the 1940’s. By 1961, he and Bayard Rustin including others would plan for the March on Washington during the 1960’s. Both men would form a wide ranging alliance of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations to come together in order to advance justice. During the 1960’s, Jim Crow laws were very pervasive in the South and in parts of the Midwest. Discrimination existed. Police brutality and economic exploitation were in epidemic levels. Black people feared for their lives literally because of racist terrorism in America. There was a Prayer pilgrimage for Freedom march held on May 17, 1957 in the Lincoln Memorial to promote equality. Now, times have changed. 1863 was the 100th year anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. People from the NAACP, the SCLC, SNCC, the Urban League, CORE, etc. put their differences aside to unite in the March on Washington movement. Violent confrontations broke out in the South: in Cambridge, Maryland; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Goldsboro, North Carolina; Somerville, Tennessee; Saint Augustine, Florida; and across Mississippi. Most of these incidents involved white people retaliating against nonviolent demonstrators. Some people (who supported the March on Washington) wanted total civil disobedience in D.C., some wanted to focus nationwide on issues, some wanted speeches, and everyone was interested in the movement. During this time, JFK was criticized by many black leaders as not going far enough on civil rights. Rustin and Randolph planned for the march as early as December 1961. Union leaders joined. By May of 1963, Randolph called for the March officially. In June 1963, six men met in NYC to get funds and messaging for the movement. They were A. Philip Randolph, Dr. King, Roy Wilkins, John Lewis, Whitney Young, and James Farmer. Some didn’t want Rustin to lead the march, because he was a former Communist (ironically, he would be very anti-Communist before he passed away) and he was a homosexual, but the Big Six allowed him to lead as a massive organizer.  With Randolph concentrating on building the march's political coalition, Rustin built and led the team of two hundred activists and organizers who publicized the march and recruited the marchers, coordinated the buses and trains, provided the marshals, and set up and administered all of the logistic details of a mass march in the nation's capital. President Kennedy met the Big Six in June 22, 1963. He initially didn’t want the March on Washington for fear of violence and reducing the chance of the Civil Rights bill to be passed. Yet, Dr. King wouldn’t back down and JFK reluctantly supported the march. The catch was that Kennedy issued a program to close liquor stores and do other silly actions in preparation for the March. Rustin and other planners issued a button, phone, and advertising campaign to get people to go into Washington, D.C. The goals of the March were clear. They wanted strong civil rights legislation, an end to segregation, a public works job program, a higher minimum wage, labor rights, ending police brutality, and an end to discrimination. Many of the haters like Hoover and the hypocrite Strom Thurmond slandered the March as Communist inspired, but people from across political spectrum were in the movement. People arrived by the thousands from road, rail, and air to Washington. D.C on August 28, 1963. The March was a large success. It inspired the Civil Rights Movement. It inspired the Civil Rights Act to be passed by Congress. There were controversies though. Malcolm X was in D.C. He accused the March of being co-opted by white establishment figures (especially liberal establishment figures) in order to pacify the black freedom movement. He called it the “farce on Washington.” John Lewis was censored in some of his speech that was to really criticize the Kennedy administration. John Lewis refused to do so at first, but A. Philip Randolph told him that he waited his whole life for this moment. He censored it out of respect that he had for Randolph. James Baldwin didn’t speak as he was prevented to do so, because of his political views. Also, the March prevented many women from speaking. Anna Harold Hedgeman tried to stop this, but even some members of the movement were stone cold sexists. Daisy Bates and Josephine Baker spoke. Gloria Richardson had her microphone taken away from her when she said “hello”. Rosa Parks and Lena Horne were prevented to speak too, which is disgraceful. Mahalia Jackson sang music including Marian Anderson. Celebrities from Sidney Poitier to Jackie Robinson including Bill Russell were there. Roy Wilkins gave condolences to the recent passing of WEB DuBois. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech outlined his views. It wasn’t just about hope. It was a speech that criticized American society filled with discrimination, racism, voting rights deprivation, and police brutality. It was a call for progressive change in America.  President Kennedy praised the march and met with the leaders afterwards. The March on Washington gave new life to the Civil Rights Movement. It was a time of hope. Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000 people. The  most widely cited estimate of the amount of people in the march is 250,000 people. Observers estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were black. The march was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history. The same goals of the March on Washington are the same goals that we are fighting to this very day. Legal advances since then have been made, but we have a very long way to go in terms of economic issues (from poverty, lax wage, housing, educational issues, and economic inequality) in our communities. The March is a reminder of what the future can be.

By the end of the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other heroic activists fought for the Poor Peoples Campaign and for the Memphis sanitation striking movement. The Poor Peoples Campaign started in 1967. It was about a multiracial coalition (made up of African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, poor whites, etc.) that wanted to march to Washington, D.C. to desire the federal government to send billions of dollars to abolish poverty in American society. It wanted an economic bill of rights, economic rights for poor Americans, a guaranteed annual income, adequate housing, and a commitment to full employment. Dr. King said that the Vietnam War neglected the needs of the poor and that war harmed the vision of the Great Society. Welfare rights activists and Marian Wright Edelman contributed heavily to the Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. King also wanted civil disobedience, if necessary work stoppages, to fight injustices. The movement publicly announced the Poor People’s Campaign in during early December 1967. Not everyone in the SCLC agreed with this. Jesse Jackson wanted other priorities. Rustin opposed civil disobedience. Yet, Dr. King continued with the plans. He wanted people to arrive in Washington, D.C. by May 2, 1968. The SCLC announced the campaign on December 4, 1967. King delivered a speech which identified "a kind of social insanity which could lead to national ruin." In January 1968, the SCLC created and distributed an "Economic Fact Sheet" with statistics explaining why the campaign was necessary. King avoided providing specific details about the campaign initially and attempted to redirect media attention to the values at stake. The Poor People’s Campaign held firm to the movement’s commitment to non-violence. “We are custodians of the philosophy of non-violence,” said King at a press conference. “And it has worked.” King originally wanted the Poor People's Campaign to start in Quitman County, Mississippi because of the intense and visible economic disparity there. In February 1968, King announced specific demands: $30 billion for antipoverty, full employment, guaranteed income, and the annual construction of 500,000 affordable residences. Dr. King visited Marks, Mississippi to see starving black children, and poverty in a vicious way. The FBI wanted to disrupt and monitor the campaign,because they oppose Dr. King's progressive views. Nixon didn’t want the demands to exist. Dr. King courageously moved forward. While this was going on, the Memphis sanitation strike continued. For a long time, Memphis was a victim of racism and economic discrimination. Some of the worst anti-black violence in American history took place in Memphis (like the 1866 anti-black riot in Memphis). By the 1960’s, the conservative mayor Henry Loeb refused to promote public unions. Black workers faced discrimination, lax wages, and horrible conditions in various jobs. Thomas Oliver tried to form a local union. He was restricted to do so. By February 1, 1968, 2 black sanitation workers were killed by a city truck for trying to escape the rain. This changed everything. A strike soon existed. Maxine Smith, T.O. Jones, James Lawson, Bill Lucy, and so many people joined forces to fight for their human rights. The strike lasted for over 2 months. Cornelia Crenshaw and other people were leaders in the Memphis sanitation workers movement too. The more anti-nonviolence Invaders wanted to join and they did. They disagreed with many of the nonviolent activists (like Rev. James Lawson), but they desired the same goal which is justice for the striking workers.

Rev. James Lawson was a pacifist and a minister who was totally committed. Many of the strikers wore “I Am a Man” posters to show the word that they are men. The police used police brutality against protesters. Dr. Martin Luther King came into Memphis on March 18, 1968. Many of his allies didn’t want him to go, but he did since if the strike is successful, the Poor People’s Campaign would be successful in his mind. A snowstorm prevented another march. The march came on March 28, 1968. We know now that provocateurs caused violence and the violence by the police existed too. Dr. King and others left. People were maced and filled with tear gas. The media in many cases falsely blamed Dr. King for the chaos and Dr. King vowed to do another march. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was told to go to Mason Church to speak on April 3, 1968. He was tired, but the crowd was waiting for him. He came into the Church to give his famous “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech. It was a great speech and he moved the crowd. One day later, he was assassinated at 6 pm. on April 4, 1968. Rebellions happened in over 100 U.S. cities and the strike would end on April 16, 1968, which caused an agreement to be reached. The striking workers celebrated and a new era would exist. Future actions of workers would be successful in Charleston, South Carolina by 1969 (of hospital workers) and in Atlanta by 1970. The Poor People’s Campaign continued in June 1968. It was a failure (as Congress refused to send strong legislation), but it raised awareness on the problems of poverty and economic exploitation. Programs that helped the poor were further created. Resurrection City was the encampment in D.C. that provided awareness of poverty during the Poor Peoples Campaign. It soon ended when government authorities shut the camp down. People were forced to leave the Washington Mall. Ralph Abernathy led the Poor Peoples Campaign after Dr. King was assassinated. The Poor Peoples Campaign represented the same issues we deal with today from housing discrimination, economic exploitation, educational problems, poverty, and economic inequality. The rise of 1968 outlined the end of one era of Black American history. A new era started, which was the Post Civil Rights Era (from 1968 to 2008).

By Timothy

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