25. April 2013 10:35
by Administrator
6 Comments

Reconciliation and Forgiveness in the US Civil Rights Movement by Rami Khouri

25. April 2013 10:35 by Administrator | 6 Comments

 For more information on the upcoming symposium click here:  http://bcri.org/education_programs/symposium2013.html

As we and others gather today in Birmingham, Alabama to commemorate the events of 1963 that gave the civil rights movement a great push forward towards achieving equal voting and other rights for all Americans, I think this moment is an opportunity to remember some of the core values and principles of the non-violent protests and civil disobedience campaigns that characterized the movement, and led to its ultimate success. I was reminded of that recently upon reading the news of the death of a certain Mr. Elwin Wilson, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, a racist who ironically would ultimately stand out as an icon of what the civil rights movement was, and is, all about.

He was one of many white southerners who beat up the Freedom Riders, white and black young men who integrated bus services and bus stations throughout the south in the spring of 1961, often subjecting themselves to vicious beatings. Among the Freedom Riders he once assaulted were Albert Bigelow, a white man, and John Lewis, a black man, who were in a whites-only waiting room at the Greyhound bus station. Lewis later became a prominent civil rights activist and U.S. Democratic Congressman from Georgia.

Elwin Wilson said he had an awakening after Barack Obama was elected president, and telephoned a local newspaper in 2009 to admit that he had beaten Freedom Riders and other activists, and apologized for his deeds. When he learned that Lewis had become a U.S. Congressman, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet him and apologize in person, and ask forgiveness. Lewis quickly expressed his forgiveness, and the two men made several media appearances after that to promote social reconciliation and forgiveness.

Lewis later said in an interview that Wilson's was the first apology he had ever received for the violence committed against him during the civil rights movement; he added that he did not hesitate for a moment to accept it. Upon learning of Wilson's death earlier this year, Lewis said that accepting the apology and expressing forgiveness, "is in keeping with the philosophy of non-violence. That's what the movement was always about, to have the capacity to forgive and move toward reconciliation."

The sheer human courage and drama of both Wilson's apology and Lewis' forgiveness are a timely reminder of the underlying goals of the civil rights movement and any other quest for social justice: not just to achieve equal individual rights for all, but to heal past grievances and wounds, and therefore to be able to push society forward to a condition of well-being, stability, and dignity for all citizens.

23. April 2013 06:08
by Tammi Sharpe
2 Comments

Selective Buying Campaign

23. April 2013 06:08 by Tammi Sharpe | 2 Comments

Hear about the "Selective Buying Campaign" directly from one of the main activists involved in organizing this civic disobedience tactic. He will be one of the panelist discussing the 1963 Birmingham Civil Rights Movement this Thursday on the opening day of the 2013 Youth Symposium. This session will also be webcasted.

22. April 2013 07:37
by Administrator
6 Comments

Birmingham and the Arab Spring by Rami Khouri

22. April 2013 07:37 by Administrator | 6 Comments

Those who took part (and continue to take part) in the civil rights movement in the USA, especially the seminal Birmingham events of 1963, should appreciate how deeply their sentiments, actions and ethics resonate around the world until this day. Birmingham activism was not just a pivotal historical moment in one location; it marked the birth of a style of non-violent resistance that was born and successfully applied there, but that endures in the hearts of subjugated people across the world. What Birmingham gave to the world turns out to be universal and timeless, transcending religions and cultures. Those school children who marched two-by-two and then stood out in the cold prison yards in the rain, and sang freedom songs, and came back to do it again a few days later....those children who are adults today continue to provide examples for people around the world who also yearn to be free and whole.

I will speak more at the symposium next week in Birmingham about some core parallels I see between the civil rights struggle and the various struggles for rights, dignity and full citizenship by various Arab populations in recent years, in places like Palestine, Lebanon, Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and others, some going back to the 1930s and 1950s. We will explore together the mutual lessons of how citizens achieve their rights, and, equally importantly, how those rights are preserved forever under the rule of law, and not eroded over time.

The Arab uprisings today in half a dozen countries are the most recent example of citizens subjugated by their own authorities who respond by resisting oppression and seeking full rights. But the activism of citizens in the rich Gulf state of Kuwait is the one that strikes me as most dramatic in reflecting some of the same attitudes and activism techniques that we saw in Birmingham, including mass non-violent defiance and a willingness to "fill the jails." Kuwait is meaningful because the demonstrators are mostly wealthy, with all their basic needs fully taken care of by the Kuwaiti government—and still they dare the state to arrest them for demanding their rights. I mention the several reasons for grasping the symbolism of Kuwait in the excerpt below from my syndicated column today; the link to the full column is also below.

“A parallel important new political dynamic is the convergence among demonstrators of several opposition groups that had formerly mostly worked on their own, including Islamists, tribalists, nationalists, youth groups, human rights activists, and “bidoun” Kuwaitis who lack full nationality and rights. This kind of multi-constituency, non-violent, mass civil disobedience and open defiance of the emir and the police reminds me of the civil rights protests by schoolchildren in Birmingham, Alabama 50 years ago. There, thousands of youngsters who marched peacefully and sang protest songs in defiance of police orders also took their toothbrushes with them, knowing they would go to jail for at least a night. When the packed jails of Birmingham and adjacent towns eventually could hold no more protesters, and peaceful demonstrators demanding nothing more than their civil rights showed by their behavior that they were prepared to be jailed over and over again, the racist power elite gave up and negotiated an end to the protests by recognizing the citizens' demands.

It is not clear if mass civil disobedience will move Kuwait in a similar direction. What is clear is that we witness in Kuwait an unprecedented situation of anti-autocracy mass civil disobedience by elements of a population that is not poor, hungry or lacking in basic services. Unlike Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, these protesters do not demand the overthrow of the regime, but rather seek constitutional reforms that give citizens their basic rights to participate in decision-making and hold power accountable.

The modern Arab security state has always responded to such movements with massive police action, including imprisonment, exile or even withdrawing nationality (as has happened in several GCC states in the past few years). Tens of thousands of Kuwaitis seem to be challenging this modern Arab legacy, suggesting instead that genuine security and stability must be anchored in that one phenomenon that the Arab world has never seriously tried to create: a satisfied citizenry that shapes state policies, enjoys the protection of the rule of law, and is the source of the legitimacy of public authority."

The full column is at http://www.agenceglobal.com/index.php?show=article&Tid=3015

Indeed, the struggle goes on, across the world, often reflecting and remembering Birmingham.

15. April 2013 06:46
by Tammi Sharpe
4 Comments

Protesting

15. April 2013 06:46 by Tammi Sharpe | 4 Comments

 

Protesting

While pictures provide a glimpse into the experience of the protesters, the below excerpts from individual protesters allow one to gain a closer look at the different experiences.  These are quotes from individuals who were youth in 1963.  Some discuss some of the logistical aspects of protesting providing insights into how the principles of non-violence were upheld.  Others describe in detail their emotions—fears and excitement— and how they overcame intimidation.  Many were arrested and a few describe in vivid detail what if felt like to have a fire hose directed at you.  

Bernard Johnson:  Western Olin High

[W]e left the church and we had to go to our destination by route of alley ways. …After we traveled probably two and a half blocks we were in the middle of the alley way.  The police entered one end of the alley and blocked us off and the fire truck came through the other end.  The fire truck came with the pressure of the fire hoses….There was probably 12 of us.  We were in between buildings in the alley way so there was basically nowhere to run or escape.  The fire hose had so much pressure, at the time I suppose I weighed 130 pounds or so.  The pressure actually lifts you off the ground if you’re close enough to it.  I was thrust from the ground and I imagine I went up at least 5 feet and came down on a wrought iron fence, the fence that had the spears and when I came down I was caught in the crotch on the fence.  At this time the police had turned the dogs loose up the alley and the dog is coming up to where I am on this fence and they have this man eating look, these police dogs.  So, this was in back of a funeral home that this fence was attached and that was the only opening that was throughout this alley.  Fortunate enough I was hung but ripped my pants from the fence and [I] fell on the other side of the fence from where the dog was.  That was how I managed to escape. 

Donald Hauser:  Freshman, Parker High School

[I]t was really nice.  It was exciting for a fourteen year old; it was really something.  We marched all the way down Eight Ave and the crowd got bigger as we went down the Avenue.  We came straight down  and when we got to the back of the church at Sixteenth Street we made a right and then a left and came into the front and it was a humongous crowd already…We went into the church and sat all that day singing.

Rallis Jones Jr.:  Sophomore, Carver High School

[At the church] we had a briefing…We were told what was to be expected.  They explained to us that the march was a non-violent demonstration.  If anybody had any type of weapons at that time to bring them forward…We had pocket knives and stuff like that….[T]hey took up all the pocket knives and they told us that we were probably going to jail….It was exciting but scary, because we knew that the policemen were outside.  Inside the church it was a good feeling, because we felt safe….It was good to be participating.  I felt a part of the Movement.  I was sort of caught up in it.  Especially when hearing all these leaders speak to us, motivating us and telling us how we didn’t have to worry about anything.

We were assigned different groups and some of us were given signs and we had a leader leading us toward town…..We were walking down on the sidewalk by the park.  As a matter of fact, we didn’t get far before we were arrested.  We left the church and started walking toward the park, the paddy wagons pulled up and the policemen were there.     

John Henry Lee:  Freshman, Immaculata High School

I remember people like Andy Young and James Bevill and so forth…They told us how we were to march and what to respond.  They anticipated things that the police would do.  We were instructed “When you are holding your signs and everything, they’ll come and try to scare you and snatch your sign and try to intimidate you.  So you just let it go and defeat that purpose."  They anticipated that and some other things about how we were supposed to orderly proceed in the march. 

We left that church and they [the police] didn’t anticipate us coming from that direction.  This was a new tactic, I guess.  So we made a pretty good distance because they didn’t know where we were coming from.  People were coming from different directions….At some point they [the police] discovered that we were coming from this way and then they came and stopped our line and lined us up in front of some store and started to arrest my group.  

Floretta Scruggs Tyson:  Sophomore, Ullman High School

I was kind of nervous…because I really didn’t think I was going to jail but I was getting prepared to [be arrested]….[I]n the Movement they were teaching us the non-violent act and what to do in case we went to jail….I took things out of the house like underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste in case I went to jail…..So my friends and I went on to the church and when we got there it was a bunch of other people there and we had already been assigned to what we were going to do.  So we got in our little groups…they were still teaching us, telling us what to do in case something should happen.  So we listened and then it was time to march.  Well, we got maybe about a half a block from the church and we were arrested.  There were a lot of paddy wagons out. 

Miriam McClendon:  Sophomore,  Wenonah High School

 

When we go to Kelly Ingram Park we were split up in different groups and each group had an assigned area.  My group’s assigned area was the Atlantic Mills Thrift Store…..[At the store] [w]e had out our little signs and we formed our little circle and we started marching and singing…..[The store manager] immediately called the police….[and we were all arrested.] 

Aldridge Willis:  Junior,  Fairfield High School

We had come to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to get formal instructions as to how to conduct ourselves.  From listening to people we were not to fight back or strike back but we were to offer ourselves up to prayer and for song services…..

 

I witnessed these fire hoses.  They were so powerful and when they turned them up into the trees those fire hoses would just cut limbs like an invisible hand.  They just cut limbs, knocked down trees like an invisible hand. ….  [Then someone threw a bottle] at the fireman that was spraying the water upon the demonstrators and hit the fireman upon the head.  Then the fireman turned the hoses on us…we were cut down.  My body was picked up…because of the force of the water my legs were knocked out from underneath me.  I fell to the ground…  [P]eople [were] running and screaming and so forth.   

Willie Eatman:  Parker High School

When we got to the church the first thing they ask you is to register because your name needs to be on a register.  If you did go to jail or get hurt, that way you can be accounted for.  I tell the people that I was with to go ahead and sign in and once we get inside the church then they’d have a group of people over here for carrying signs, and a group of people for marching, a group of people going to different parts of the city for different things.  For instance, one day they gave me a sign to go down to the city hall, me and another guy.  They didn’t want but two people.…

So we had to take a sign and put it up on our car and walk down like there was nothing going on even though the police was sitting out in front of city hall and they kept on looking at us.  And one of them asked.  ‘What do y’all niggers think you’re doing?’  We didn’t say anything, we just kept on walking real slow in front of the building.  Then another man said, ‘They’re lost. Those niggers don’t know what’s going on.’  About the time we got middle ways to the steps…I thought they were going to shoot me…because they reached for their guns.  I got the sign out and I ran off to the City Hall shouting “We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome….” They grabbed me, threw me down and carried me back…and put me in a cell for a minute.  Then they said ‘He’s underage.’  So they couldn’t hold me.  They told me Nigger, you go home, you go home.  I mean go home. We catch you again.  We gonna lock you up.’  So I turned around and walked right back down to the church and grabbed another sign.    

We’d leave the church, we’d line up in front of the church and we’d go down Sixth Avenue and then down Nineteenth Street.  Then we’d turn and come back down Fourth Avenue….