Author Archives: Richard

About Richard

Godaime Raikage. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Rod's brother. #AnaBlacktivism

Lessons From #Selma50: #3 From White Sign to White Mind

Many know the story of Nashville, Tennessee as the country music hall of fame. Musicians from Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash and many others have walked down those streets. The recognition that the city has been given because of its role in the development of country music has even resulted in a popular television show with its namesake. However, there is also a different history in Nashville that exists alongside this narrative that we already know. It also played a crucial role in the development of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950’s and prominent leaders during the movement such as: James Lawson, C.T. Vivian, Diane Nash, James Bevel, and Congressman John Lewis. Furthermore, it is home the the most comprehensive Civil Right library in the country. Nashville is also home to the first health center that trained African Americans called the MeHarry medical college. So why has Nashville’s rich history during the Civil Right Movement and beyond been overlooked. Again I turn to lessons that I learned from conversation with various members of the community. Kwame Lillard, a civil rights veteran reasoned that this was because of the insufficiencies that resulted from the movement. Chief among those was the transition from eradicating the white signs [legislation] to eradicating the white mind [white supremacist ideology, practices].

 

So what exactly is the transition from white signs to white minds? It begins with the assumption that racism is actually an oligarchical beast. It is both individualistic as well as institutional. Both aspects can be mutually reinforcing. One cannot be eradicated without eliminating the other. White signs in a very literal sense are the policies enacted under Jim Crow that systematically disenfranchised African Americans and many other minorities from the political process and public accommodations. White signs describes segregated schools, buses, lunch counters, housing, employment opportunities, and every other form of explicit representation in which “Whites Only” is the written law. White signs was the major battleground in which the civil rights struggle took place. When the Nashville Five refused to move when the sought to integrate lunch counters in the South they had effectively waged war against the white signs. When these same individual continued to execute CORE’s plan of testing the federal law via Boynton v. Virginia 1960 which mandated integrated transportation facilities they were once again attacking white signs. During the  famed March on Washington in 1963 John Lewis and others gave speeches that were pivotal putting pressure on the U.S. government to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both the speeches and the ensuing legislations were aimed at ending white sign. What had yet to be addressed was white supremacist logic itself.

 

White minds, according to Lillard, are the dominant ideologies created by the fog of white supremacy that continues to disenfranchise African Americans in society today. He noted that one of the shortcomings of the activism from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s is that it did not go far enough. Indeed activists were effective in the ability to force America to deliver on its promises of equality in the areas of voting rights and public accommodations it did nothing to attack the ideologies and cognitive notions that allowed a racial hierarchy to permeate every aspect of society including the government. He compares the struggle for civil rights to warfare tactics. When the Allied Forces invaded Normandy in what would be the largest seaborne invasion in history, they did not stop once all of the troops had landed there. They aimed for and achieved a total and decisive victory over the Germany. Movement leaders got to Normandy ( equal access to public accommodations, and voting rights) but did not go for the total annihilation of a system. They did not confront the mindsets that made so many uncomfortable. Underlying ideologies remained the same and could be repackaged in various forms. To state simply the Civil Rights Movement did not confront the heart of white supremacy.

 

So what would we be necessary to finish what was started by Kwame Lillard and so many more during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s? One solution is to recognize that white supremacy is not just a question of civil rights; it questions the very fabric of what it means to be human. As Lillard expresses it is a transition from advocating for civil rights to advocating human rights. Human rights should not be simplified as to not recognizing the various racial disparities that affect black and brown bodies for a more general concern for humanity. Rather it recognizes the racialized nature of laws, norms, and various institutional structures. However, it goes beyond recognition of those structure and deals with issues of how to help oppressed and marginalized groups reclaim their human dignity and respect.

 

An example of this is with voter disenfranchisement laws throughout the country. Several states including my home state of Kentucky have laws that do not restore voting rights to citizen upon return from incarceration. In the state of Kentucky alone there are over a quarter million citizens who are denied their right to vote because they have a criminal conviction on their record. This measure of institutionalized racism has had a particular severe effect on the African American community in the state. Over ⅕ of the state’s African American population cannot vote because of these restrictions. Activist such as Jordan Mazurek and Greg Capillo have worked with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network to end this particular injustice. In a recent legislative session they petitioned for the Kentucky state senate to hear House Bill 70, which would offer reform to the current system in the state. In doing so they have found a way to transition to the struggle against the white mind. There are various other examples of how to move from  as Lillard suggests attacking white signs to white mind, however, it is imperative that we realize the struggle for human rights and equality is never over.

Photo description: ([Black] man drinking at ‘Colored’ water cooler in streetcar terminal, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma” ca. July 1939), found on Flickr. original photographer unknown.

Lessons from #Selma50: #2 Bloody Sunday

Selma, Alabama has garnered much attention recently for various reasons. The film combined with the 50th anniversary that commemorated ” Bloody Sunday,” has facilitated the visitation of many visitors including President Barack Obama on Saturday. Sunday March 8th a remarkable moment of solidarity occurred when people from across the country united to renew protest for social justice for many different causes including voter rights restrictions, police brutality, immigration policy, and continued economic injustices throughout the country. It is hard to say what the lasting impact will be of this event. However, given the magnitude of the event it is certainly worth pausing on for reflection. In particular what has shaped my perspective on this monumental event were two conversations that I had with citizens who lived in Alabama during the movement.

Despite my understanding of the significance of this event I did not take very many pictures while in Selma. However, one picture that I did take was of two older ladies with whom I had conversed. Both were active leaders during the Movement years in Selma. They actually insisted that I take a picture not only of them but of their signs as well. Both women held signs that said: ” Justice is blind in Selma- Unfair treatment of citizens in Selma, Alabama by certain persons in high places. We need help in Selma, Alabama.” Before I left after taking the picture she told me to share the pictures with others because after the everyone who came from the rally left they would still be left in Alabama. This made me reflect on two aspects of my visit to Selma. First, I reflected on what it must have been like to have been in Selma fifty years prior. The environments would have obviously been vastly different, tension would have been high and officer may not have been so friendly. However, the spirit of unity between various groups united to stand for a cause remained reminiscent. Although the threat of putting one’s life endanger was gone I still had the sense that important work could be accomplished by the March. However, the two women’s remarks combined with their signs were a very subtle reminder that no work would completely solely through a march.Although it was a great gesture, it would not cause social change by itself. There remains much work to be done. As I left the city I was reminded that I was only a guest there, and that there are actual residents who still face injustice in Selma. Part of this reality is the systemic inequality that many residents still face today. I was reminded that after leaving Selma I need to do whatever it is that I can to help those ladies and what they represent. Even if I do not specifically act on their behalf I was reminded that it is my responsibility as an activist to fight for social changes that is beneficial to all of the “Selmas”, from Ferguson, Missouri to Green Bay, Wisconsin, of the world. Through continually fighting to end injustices I take up the call to “Help Selma.”

The next reflection on my time in Selma is admittedly partially influenced by my time conversing with Civil Rights activist in Jackson, Mississippi as well. While in Selma the first man that I spoke with explained that he was a teenager when the March happened. Nevertheless, he was very much involved in the movement. Infact, he explained that because many teacher who chose to be involved in the movement were fired, schools frequently just dismissed student. The students were subsequently rounded up by officers and held in captivity for a period of time. He somehow managed to avoid this. One of the most interesting stories he told me was about the history of many of the building that were in Selma. According to him many of the businesses in the area that we were in were owned by the Jewish community. The communities frequently employed African Americans at a time when many could not find work in Selma. He describe the cooperative relationship between African Americans and Jews as essential economic vitality of the Selma community. He even explains how during his teenage years he worked for a Jewish families furniture store. This story stressed to me the importance of interracial alliances in the struggle for equality. In Jackson this point was reiterated by freedom ride, Hezekiah Watkins. Watkins described the everyday circumstances during his involvement with the COFO organization (a coalition between SNCC, CORE, SCLC, and the NAACP). He stated that what is often overlooked is the way that would mean white Americans were involved in the Movement. Particularly, he noted how some were directly involved.

selmaferg1

Those who were directly involved could potentially face many of the hardships that African Americans faced for their involvement. As a result some decided not to put their life on the line directly. However, this did not mean they were not involved. As an example he pointed to the many instances where white Americans would drive by the headquarters of COFO and leave envelopes of money outside their doors without ever wanting to be identified. This money was crucial towards funding the various initiatives that organizations like COFO hoped to accomplish. There point here though is not to explain the ways in which white Americans were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Rather, it is to use a specific historical example to elucidate the point that the struggle for equality is an interracial struggle. It does not fall on any one specific race or ethnic group. Perhaps another activist has stated this best: “I believe that my freedom is very much entangled with the freedom of every other man and that if another man is not free I am not free.” I believe the same can be said about the struggle for equality today. The need for interracial alliances highlights this point.

Needless to say there were many more lessons that I learned from a visit to Selma, Alabama (For example, TCU’s beating of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl was witnessed by many). Ha ha! Couldn’t help it! However, the two that I will not soon forget are that the struggle for freedom and equality does not end with a march, and the necessary cooperation by many across racial ethnic and even class boundaries to participate.

Lessons from #Selma50: #1 Medgar Evers and organization #TCUCRBT

This past weekend marked the 50th Anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama by Martin Luther King and others. To commemorate this I have traveled with 18 other students and faculty on Texas Christian University Civil Rights Bus Tour. We made our way through the Mississippi Delta on a path to Selma. Other destinations for the trip include Nashville, Tennessee and Cleveland, Mississippi. While in Jackson, Mississippi we visited several historical sites including Jackson State University, the home of Medgar Evers, and a museum dedicated to Civil Right Movement activities that  had previously been a  school with famous alumni such as Richard Wright. Perhaps one of the most intriguing attractions was the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) headquarters. As we toured the building and its surrounding area I made note of the many quotes that were displaced throughout the building.

 

One of the quotes that was particularly striking came from Bob Moses. He states: ” When you are in Mississippi the rest of America does not seem real. When you are in the rest of America, Mississippi. does not seem real.” This quote exemplifies the unique place that Mississippi has in the Civil Right Movement. In one sense it is completely different from every movement that preceded it. Cultural particularities that existed in Mississippi did not exist anywhere else. COFO research Precious stated that the methods used in Alabama would not work in Mississippi. Indeed throughout the movement’s history the freedom workers resorted to many tactics that addressed the systematic disenfranchisement caused by Jim Crow. The Freedom Movement during the Summer of 1963 acted as just one example of what made the civil rights movement unique in Mississippi. Perhaps one of the more famous yet often overlooked aspect of the freedom movement was the formation of COFO in 1961. COFO combined workers from SNCC, NAACP, CORE, and the SCLC to facilitate change and end segregation in the state of Mississippi. Admittedly it was not a perfect relationship and leaders often came into conflict with one another on a variety of issues. However, they realized that they were more effective if they were united than if they were divided. Their joints efforts were essential in facilitating change that would lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

 

Perhaps, the greatest accomplishment was their ability to unite and mobilize citizens within the local communities. They registered voters and ultimately helped African American gain political power in their own communities. Another note on the uniqueness of Mississippi’s freedom struggle is that it often served as a modern day Africa according to a COFO researcher. It  was plentiful in resources because by the early 1960’s SNCC had a well established presence in the state. Medgar Evers had began to engage the people of as the field secretary for the NAACP. When James Bevel and the SCLC began to make their presence know in the state it had already become a battleground for the next phase of the movement. Members from all four groups knew that Mississippi could be used as the next location for the freedom struggle. In fact this was largely how COFO formed. However, COFO lasted only four years and many of the member of the organization left after 1965 to continue the movement in other locations. Activist Hezekiah Watkins has commented on one of his many perceptions of the movement in Miss. Watkins is noted for being the youngest freedom rider at age thirteen. He noted that many activist including freedom riders were pivotal in the fight for equality, however, he also noted that many of the participants who were not from Mississippi left after they accomplished their goals. They did not have to face members in the community who may have thought that the freedom riders were trouble makers or causing trouble. He also noted that when the outsiders left it was up to him and other member of the communities to deal with the repercussions of their resistance to Jim Crow, as well as to continue the fight on various fronts in the state.

crm mural2
The Freedom Movement in Mississippi was also very similar to other movements during the period as well. The reliance on grass root organizations was reminiscent of much of the work that SNCC had accomplished throughout the country. Bob Moses one of the leaders of COFO believed that community organization was essential to the success of the movement. Moses believed that community organization was actually a big word for talking to the people. Moses first became involved with the movement after seeing the sit-ins in New York. He saw the students and believed they looked the way he felt. He was extremely concerned with empowering the people to gain political power for themselves. This led to one of his major disagreements with MLK and ultimately led to their separation. King was far more concerned with public perception of the movement than Moses. Moses was greatly influenced by his  friendship with Ella Baker. Moses and COFO incorporated group centered leadership. They specifically focused on education programming and voter registrations as a means to empower the local citizens. It was the belief that the individual had the ability to create changed that bared striking similarity to other freedom struggles throughout the United States. Hezekiah Watkins reflected on this point as well. A major aspect missing from the Civil Right Movement today is the absence of grassroots organizations involved in politics. He strongly believes that African Americans in local communities need to be more involved in municipal elections. In essence they need to regain political control over their cities. A major issue with this is that there are not enough African American legislatures at the local level. However, he also firmly believes that having African Americans in political offices is more nuanced than their mere presence. Many who are elected do not actively work toward benefiting their communities and only appeal to them during times of election. Voters are uninformed and are not active. Thus, their only opportunity to advocate for change occurs once every four years. This means that it is imperative in the ongoing struggle for freedom to continually be informed and active.

 

So what can be taken away from the legacy of COFO and the it leaders place in history. For starters the organization provides a blueprint for activism today in one sense. Although I did not reflect on the entirety  of Hezekiah Watkins story from his conversation it was easy to sense his frustration with  the activism post- Freedom Movement. The complexities that modern human rights struggles face in some ways could not have been imagined during the height of the  Freedom Movement in Mississippi. Despite this the imaginative potential to change the world existed in an organization like COFO. That same potential resides within all of us today. It is this potential that allows people with various concerns to unite and advocate for justice in its many forms. Watkins andy many others emphasized the need to shift the focus on activism away from Civil Right to Human Rights. It is only through coalitions intentionally communicating with each other effectively that will help to create this transition. It is important to keep in mind that much COFO each organization does not necessarily have to agree with each other on every issue. Rather, each groups can agree upon as specific end goal of achieving human rights for all to create lasting systemic change.

richard notes COFO hq

Photo Descriptions: #1 (Featured photo: mural of bus tour on a wall, painting of protestors holding signs) #2 (second photo: Photo of marchers on Sunday, lots of fog, signs ranging from concerns about voter i.d. laws to police brutality)

#3 (third photo: photo of author of post, taking notes in Medgar Evers home, found on the TCU Civil Rights Bus Tour facebook page)