21. August 2014 09:21
by Tammi Sharpe
2 Comments

Another Crossroads?

21. August 2014 09:21 by Tammi Sharpe | 2 Comments

 

My road trips in search of historic sites related to the American Civil War and Civil Rights Movement have taken me in a number of directions.  One of the most confounding was a visit to a “Faithful Slave” Monument built in 1895; its mere existence stunned me to the point that I had to sit down and call home to talk it through.  I just could not imagine how even in 1895, someone could have not seen such a monument as anything but utterly demeaning.  So, what does the fact that this monument still stands in pristine condition say about where we are today in “race relations” in the United States? 

As the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri scream out, we are not in a post-racial America.  We can look at all the remaining gaps that allow for discrimination within the cycle of our justice system from the police to the prisons despite passage of key civil rights legislation.  These gaps merit attention, but I’m not sure that this will lead us to a colorblind justice system without a corresponding close examination of our American psyche. 

In 1895 America was at a crossroads.  Debates over Jim Crow were in their early phases. Freedmen in the 30 years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been regulated to subordinates in American society throughout the country.  Lawful segregation had not yet become the norm, and African-Americans (except Mississippi) exercised their right to vote.  However, within a decade Jim Crow was law in the South, and de-facto segregation took hold in the rest of the country.  Rather than moving in a constructive direction towards freedom for former slaves, and equality and liberty for all Americans, many of our ancestors, including mine, chose to pursue a new form of racial oppression. 

This separation of the races soon became accepted as natural.  As I’m learning from oral history interviewees with those who once opposed integration, segregation structures and practices were a part of social conditioning.  For my first interviewee, Mr. Andrews, in the Oral History Project Reconciling with the Past:  The Legacy of Segregation, the structures of segregation were foremost in his memory.  Drawing on a song in the South Pacific musical, he stated: “You’ve got to be Carefully Taught.” While Mr. Andrews’ experience is his own, he describes a rather typical Southern society that sent a very clear message to its children: “Blacks and whites, we were not supposed to socially mingle.”  He elaborated: “They went to their own restaurants.  We went to ours.  You weren’t suppose to drink from the same water fountain as a black person.  I remember going to the train station in Tuskegee to take the train to Washington.  We had a black waiting room, [or as known then a] ‘colored’ waiting room, and a white waiting room.  You couldn’t sit together in a train station.  I remember going to the doctor’s office.  The blacks waited to see the doctor in a different room than where I sat.”

The memories of Mrs. Evelyn Ray Dauphin, who sat for an interview last month, revealed how insidiously the system secured its existence.  Like Mr. Andrews, as a child she saw the institution of segregation as a matter of fact:   “Other than being glad that I was white instead of black, I don’t have too many memories of racial instance because it wasn’t something that we thought about.  It was just, that was the way things were.”  She makes this last point clear in her remembrance of a childhood playmate, Katy-Lou.  Katy-Lou was the daughter of the black sharecropper family who worked on the Ray farm.

“The little girl, Katy-Lou would come and play.  It was just she and I playing while our mothers worked.  We played in a little shed….  We enjoyed each other’s company, I guess.  I don’t really know if she enjoyed it or not.  But I did.  She was my only playmate… There was no conflict between us…because I was always in charge.  We never argued like our other friends later because, [pause] it wasn’t like let’s play together: you do something like you want to do, and I’ll do something like I want to do.  I got to do what I wanted to do and she just did it.”  

Such memories suggest that segregation practices and white supremacy were like air:  even young children—too young to go to school yet—adapted white supremacy into their play, just as we instinctively know to breathe.    

In listening to these interviewees, I’ve thought back on a warning offered by Lillian Smith in the 1940s.  She described segregation as “spiritual lynching,” and she focused on the harmful effects of segregation on both whites and blacks.  In the interviews, I am finding specific examples of the harm Smith enumerated for whites:  “No white child, under the segregation pattern, can be free of arrogance and hardness of heart, and blindness to human need."* 

Mrs. Dauphin is an example of how profound this “hardness of heart” can be.  Listening to her memories, I felt as if she was still in disbelief, and frustrated with herself for how long it took her to believe in race equality.  As she exclaimed: “Finally, it took that long for me to get to that point.  This was [in the] ‘80s.”  In trying to understand why it took so long, I’ve taken note that she never recounted a traumatic event with a black person.  In fact, her contact with African-Americans was extremely limited.  The most contact she described was as a child with her playmate Katy-Lou, who epitomizes a benign contact.  As she noted early in the interview, “It was just that was the way things were.”  Near the end of the interview she commented, “I don’t believe that I ever hated.”  Yet, it took her decades to overcome the messages of white supremacy that she absorbed in her childhood.    

Mrs. Dauphin intentionally faced her conditioning and notions of white supremacy.  But has a similar effort occurred at a community, state or national level for the American psyche?  Racism was cultivated in the 1600’s to justify the enslavement of fellow humans.  Political support for slavery entailed social conditioning, which taught that the black “race” was innately inferior and it was in their best interest to be enslaved.  This fed notions of the benevolence of slavery. The inherent contradictions of the founding of the United States − freedom, liberty and equality for all men − with slavery and segregation signal how carefully taught Americans have been for centuries.   With all the racial incidents that have preceded Ferguson, can we finally see ourselves at a crossroads?   Are we courageous enough to face a longstanding history of racial oppression by carefully examining remaining remnants of racial social conditioning in American society, such as pristine “Faithful Slave” Monuments?      

 

 

*    Gladney, M. R. How Am I to be Heard?  Letters of Lillian Smith.  Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

 

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.

20. February 2013 11:33
by Tammi Sharpe
0 Comments

Democracy, Freedom, Civic Duty, Equality

20. February 2013 11:33 by Tammi Sharpe | 0 Comments

To access the website: http://bcri.org/index.html 

A unique component to the 1963 protests in Birmingham was the engagement of young people.  It became known as the Children’s March and enabled the Civil Rights Movement to fulfill one of Ghandi’s goals for non-violent protests--to fill the jails.  In May 1963 thousands were arrested resulting in the city having to identify makeshift detention centers.  A key ingredient of the success was the participation of young people.  Some, including Malcolm X, were critical of the youth’s engagement, primarily for fear for their safety.  Valid concerns, particularly as dogs were unleashed and fire hoses were brought to bear down on the protesters.  

But as best articulated by these young Foot Soldiers, you can gain an appreciation for their right to participate as well as their right to freedom of expression.  Their explanations provide some valuable insights on the meanings of democracy, freedom, civic duties and equality. 

Robert Simpson:  Junior at Ullman High School

We didn’t know as far as what is freedom or voting or things like that.  They [members of the movement] would come and talk to us.  Most parents would tell their children, ‘Get in the house, you don’t need to hear this.’  But, with us being young kids, naturally, we were interested, curious anyway.  So, what we starting doing was just slipping off at night, going over to the church where these meetings were going on and people were talking to us, telling about the things that we were entitled to, which we had no idea about until they started talking to us.  These younger kids were more receptive to hearing what these people had to say than the older people, in the beginning.  My mother was one of those who very definitely was not or had no interesting in begin part of the Movement at that time….But, then, after she saw that…I was caught up in it…, and she couldn’t stop me.  Before I knew it, she was right there with me. 

[….]

It was like a fever that swept through Birmingham with the younger people and a lot of the older people too.  We all got caught up in this Movement.  We knew what we had been facing and we knew…what we could not do.  My aunt, I can remember she wanted to vote.  She was like in her 50s and she couldn’t vote.  She would go down…to try to take that literacy test…but they would always come up with some old trick question or something to keep her from registering to vote.  It was very few Blacks who got a chance to vote….Wherein if it was a White person…all they…did was sign on the dotted line.  But, it was all just a Black and White thing.  And, like I said, these things had been going on, but the Movement came along….[and provided the needed] leadership.  I think Dr. King coming along when he did was the greatest thing that ever happened to America.  It helped to erase a lot of things that had been going on since slavery. 

Deborah Hill:  Senior at Western Olin

As a young child I remember both my parents having to take a test to vote.  I remember them discussing having to pay poll taxes and it was like I felt that it was so unfair that you had to take a test as a citizen of this country in order to have the right to vote; this was something that I refused that I would have to do and when the movement came along about civil rights and equal rights for all Americans.  I felt that this was something that I was going to be a part of.  This was just another aspect in my life that I was going to be part about:  bringing about positive change within the Birmingham system.  

Eloise Staples:  Freshman at Parker High School

I couldn’t understand why when we walked from the car downtown if we wanted a Krystal hamburger we had to stand outside the window and order a 10 cent hamburger…there were seats inside.  I couldn’t understand, it didn’t matter that it was….I just couldn’t understand it.  My dime was as good as his dime.  Why couldn’t I just go inside and purchase what I wanted?

[...]

[Y]ou knew your place so to speak… [S]o it really didn’t bother you until the subconscious became the conscious as far as why not and I started asking questions.

Miriam McClendon:  Sophomore at Wenonah High School

My mother went to a mass meeting and I wanted to go and she took me.  And, sitting in the audience and listening to Dr. King touched on that mysterious “something” inside me and I knew that they were addressing the race question….I started going to the youth meeting and just became totally engrossed. 

Bernard Johnson:  Senior at Western Olin High

[I]n recent times I have heard various opinions about that [children being misled by adults] and the opinions range from the movement was at a stall and the scheme was to bring in children and play off the sympathy of the children being abused.  I only know of a couple of incidents where the children were around.  Everyone I was around we were pretty much high school age….I didn’t consider myself as being a child…We had a cause and if the understanding of that cause was truly understood then you would not hear one of the people that partake with the situation have any regrets about the situation….[Y]ou would leave there [from a demonstration] with that hope and that hope would be something similar to a willingness to march to hell for.

Dorothy Cotton- Key member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and one of the youth trainers on non-violence  

 [A former foot soldier who was a] youngster at the time, [said it well].  [H]e said ‘I got involved as a teenager because I had to.  I got involved because I would have felt, and did feel so left out of what was happening until I got involved.’….[P]eople got caught up in the dynamics and actually the spirit of it, and also the justness of the cause and understood and felt that something is happening here and I am going to miss out on something important if I don’t get involved. 

[….]

It was exciting to see children get turned on to this notion that we have a democracy and it is not right that a segment of the population should be excluded from the mainstream of life.   

 

5. February 2013 10:36
by Tammi Sharpe
1 Comments

"Hour of Freedom"

5. February 2013 10:36 by Tammi Sharpe | 1 Comments

 Click here to see the entire speech in Reverend Shuttlesworth's handwriting FS_Freedom scan.pdf (1.10 mb)

In 1958 at the 131st Emancipation Celebration in Canada, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth gave a speech arguing that the “hour of freedom” had now arrived for African-Americans.  Fifty years later, his words transport us back in time to an era, nearly one hundred years after slavery had ended, but for African-Americans an era that continued to be defined by discrimination and fear.  You can hear his anguish at being denied freedom and the fervor with which he desired it. 

Reverend Shuttlesworth’s speech reflects the time in which he gave it.  He appealed to the audience’s intellect and morality arguing that freedom has a price but emphasizing the importance of a non-violent struggle.  As one denied basic freedoms he compared the ideologies of Communism and Democracy arguing that Democracy’s survival depended on guarantees of freedom for all citizens.  He pointed out the irony of man’s intellectual capacities to advance technologically while, remaining unable to overcome prejudices.  Unlike other speeches of Reverend Shuttlesworth this speech could not be delivered today, but as we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, his words remind us of the value of freedom and the long struggle to obtain it in the United States.    

[…]

[R]eaffirming once again my conviction that this is the Hour of freedom, and that whenever men and women of goodwill meet upon whatever occasion they meet, the chief ingredient of life to them and for them is freedom, justice, equality, humanitarianism and fair play. 

The Hour of freedom for all mankind is upon us, however much some men may misread history, misjudge the present and misinterpret the future.  All around the world, from the Artic regions of the North to the Tropics of the south, from the bushes and backwoods of Africa to the Isles of the Seas, men seem to have sensed the importance and possibilities of this hour, and their feet march with rhythmic tramp as they move to the cherished goal of freedom.  Nothing can stop this march to freedom.  It appears that the God of this universe has intervened in men’s affairs to teach them that there is but one race – the human race; and that of one blood.  He hath made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.  I call it a divine struggle for the…[exaltation] of the human race. 

Is it not strange then that after centuries of wars, of studies, and of knowledge, that the greatest bar to human progress and happiness is the color bar?  How ridiculous it is that men have learned from science how to send men over 100 miles up to orbit at nearly 18,000 miles per hour, but have not heard from the Bible to let men walk 10 blocks on earth at less than one mile per hour, without finding discrimination, segregation and in-humanitarianism?

We meet today as free men, as citizens of the two greatest democratic countries on earth.  Yet we meet to gain unity in our struggle for freedom.  We read in your brochure that a valiant Queen whipped out slavery with a stroke of a pen 132 years ago, but true freedom for all subjects of the Commonwealth without discrimination is not a reality today.  America, with its beautiful and sacred Constitution is finding it difficult at this moment to guarantee to all its citizens the same rights and privileges.  Democracy is on trial around the world, and you and I today are on the witness stand, testifying on its behalf.  Communism seeks to prove by the very faults and inequalities of our system that democracy will not work.  

This is a battle for men’s minds.  Both Russia and the Democratic countries can shoot rockets over the seas with accuracy; can send men into outer space and bring them back again; can photograph the moon and shoot at the sun.  The war is over moral and ethical practices now more than scientific or technological advances.  Which system can guarantee that all men must act like brothers, and none can be masters?  Which can ensure that a man’s color or origin of birth will not be a continuing obstacle throughout his life?  And which can guarantee the most benefits with the less friction?  The greatest good for the greatest number?

We believe in Democracy and that Democracy can best supply the answers for a confused mankind.  This is why we must contend for freedom now.  Time is short!  This is a glorious hour for it is a dangerous and challenging hour in man’s history.  The Negro’s great contribution to Society will be to prove in the 20th century that Love is the greatest force in the universe, that freedom is worth fighting for – even if some must die for it; and that there are those today who believe that spiritual weapons of faith, hope, and love with perseverance, will overcome the evil which has lasted for generations. 

I stand before you today as an American, one proud of my country despite its faults.  I come from one of the darkest spots on the North American continent – Birmingham, Alabama.  This is the spot where over 40 bombings have occurred in 10 years, where mobs in the past have roamed with impunity, where the police in the past have been noted for brutality, where the Police Commissioner has been quoted as saying “Damn the laws, down here we make our own laws.” 

In B’ham I have been in several mobs, and have been nearly killed three times at the hands of bombers or mobsters.  Here is a place where it seems that justice has declared a holiday; and today I am involved in more than 30 cases either civil or criminal ranging from the lowest inferior courts to the U.S. Supreme Court.   

With three other Negro Ministers, I have been sued for over 3 million dollars, and have lost a car and other valuables.  All of the five other members of my family and I have developed tensions and nevous conditions as a result of the day and night strains of 6 years fighting for freedom.  Like many others, we know what its like to await the sickening blast of bombs in the night, the howl of the mobs, on the commands of some officers who forget that they are servants and not masters. 

Out of it all we have learned that suffering for a just cause brings redemption, and that love with non-violent persistence will make even your enemy respect you. 

And so the Southern Negros have learned the key to racial progress. We have decided that now is the time; and that if now is not the time, there’ll never be another time like now.  We want freedom now, not tomorrow.  We have carried on in such manner that Federal Marshalls became the answer for southern mobsters, and the Justice Department became a prosecutor of law agencies which refused to do their duty.  

In our quest for freedom now, we have decided to fill the jails if necessary, and to transform them from dungeons to meeting places for God’s freedom loving children.  This is why I have been in jail over 20 times, and this is why Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy are in jail in Albany, GA today.  We have learned that freedom is so needful.  Now that we preachers are willing to preach on Sunday, walk picket lines on Monday, and go to jail on Tuesday. 

This is [our] prayer in its fullest sense, and this is prayerful action.  Thus the sit-ins and the Freedom Rides were not wild-eyed schemes for publicity.  Neither were they dupes or persons misled by other men.  They were men, like prophets of old, or the Apostles of the early Christian days, read to say to the Nero’s and the Ceasar’s, “We ought to obey God rather than man.”  They were, and they are, men and women young and old- who are willing to lay their brain and bodies before the mobs or the police, as living sacrifices……

Speech delivered by Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Windsor, Canada, 1958