The Melting Pot

“A Ideologia responsável pelo movimento em favor dos direitos civis desenvolveu-se no princípio do século, quando o pensamento liberal era dominado pela ideia de “mistura” (melting pot). O termo veio da peça de Israel Zangwill, “The Melting Pot”, que alcançou enorme repercursão, estreando-se na Broadway um ano antes da fundação da N.A.A.C.P.”

Charles Silberman em ”Crise em Preto e Branco”, Dom Quixote, Lisboa, 1976

“America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming… Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians – into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.”

Excerto da Peça “The Melting Pot” de Israel Zangwill

A Campanha de Birmingham

Não havia, no país inteiro, lugar que se comparasse com Birmingham. A maior cidade industrial do Sul, Birmingham tinha-se tornado, nos anos trinta, um símbolo de violência sangrenta quando os sindicatos tinham tentado organizar-se. Era uma comunidade onde os direitos humanos tinham sido espezinhados durante tanto tempo que o medo e a opressão tinham no ar que se respirava a mesma espessura que o fumo das chaminés das fábricas. Os interesses financeiros confundiam-se com uma estrutura de poder que alastrava por todo o Sul e tinha ramificações no Norte. Não podia haver palco melhor para uma acção directa e não-violenta.

A alma do movimento

Parte das concentrações era os cânticos de liberdade. Em certo sentido, os cânticos de liberdade são a alma do movimento. São mais do que meras entoações de frases inteligentes destinadas a animar uma campanha; são tão antigos como a história dos Negros na América. São adaptações de canções que os escravos cantavam – canções de dor, gritos de júbilo, incitamentos ao combate, hinos do nosso movimento. Muita gente se lhes refere à batida e ao ritmo, mas para nós, membros do movimento, são as palavras o que mais nos inspira. ”

“We Shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday” – hino adoptado pelo movemento.

Ao fim dos três primeiros dias de ocupação de cafetarias, tinha havido trinta e sete detenções. no sábado, 6 de Abril de 1963, pesámos à fase seguinte da nossa cruzada com uma marcha sobre a Câmara Municipal. (…) Entretanto, com o número de voluntários a aumentar de dia para dia, íamos conseguindo lançar campanhas contra uma série de outros objectivos: ocupação de igrejas, de joelhos; acções de ocupação da biblioteca pública; uma marcha sobre a sede administrativa do condado assinalando o início duma operação de recenseamento eleitoral. E enquanto isto as prisões iam-se enchendo, lenta mas continuamente.

Quando íamos a chegar à baixa, Connor deu ordens aos seus homens para que nos prendessem (…)

Durante mais de vinte e quatro horas mantiveram-me incomunicável, numa solitária. ninguém estava autorizado a visitar-me, nem mesmo os meus advogados. Foram as horas mais longas, frustrantes e revoltantes que alguma vez viv. Sem contactos de nenhuma espécie, senti-me dominado pela preocupação. Como estaria a correr o movimento? Onde iria Fred e os outros dirigentes arranjar dinheiro para libertar os manifestantes? Que iria acontecer ao moral da comunidade negra?

No dia seguinte, quando Clarence Jones chegou, nem tive tempo de lhe dizer do prazer que tinha em vê-lo antes que ele pronunciasse meia dúzia de palavras que me tiraram de cima do coração um peso enorme:

“Harry Belafonte conseguiu angariar cinquenta mim dólares para o pagamento de fianças. Esse dinheiro está disponível desde já. E ele manda dizer que consegue arranjar mais se for preciso.”

CARSON, Clayborne. Eu tenho um sonho – A Autobiografia de Martin Luther King. Lisboa, 2006

The Freedom Riders

In 1961, the Freedom Riders, a brave group of men and women, black and white, young and old, boarded buses, trains and planes headed for the deep South to test the 1960 Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation in all interstate public facilities.

The first Freedom Riders were members of the Nashville Student Group, a local group of students who had successfully desegregated the lunch counters and movie theaters in that city. Emboldened by their victory, the Freedom Riders decided to introduce their strategies of non-violence throughout the South in order to directly challenge the region’s Jim Crow laws.

For this they were well prepared as they were trained in the discipline of non-violence by no less a figure than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself. King’s brilliant leadership during the Montgomery Bus Boycott had brought an end to that city’s policies of segregation on its local bus line and catapulted the young Reverend to international fame. Also, Reverend James Lawson, whose studies of Mahatma Gandhi in India so impressed Dr. King that he urged the elder Reverend to leave immediately for Nashville to teach the message of non-violence to the Nashville Student Group.

Undaunted by the beatings. the Freedom Riders continued on their journey until Mother’s Day, May, 14th, 1961 when they were met by an angry mob (dressed in their Sunday finest as if they’d just come from church) in Anniston, Alabama. Due to the ferocity of the mob, the bus decided not to stop at the station and it quickly left, already wounded by the mob who had slashed the bus’s tires at the station. A few miles outside of Anniston the tires began to deflate and the bus was forced to pull over. As the bus driver fled in glee, a mob of men who had been following the bus got out of their cars and surrounded the stricken bus. From somewhere in the crowd a firebomb was thrown inside the bus and exploded. As the Freedom Riders tried to escape the smoke and flames they found they could not as the exit doors were blocked by the surging mob. Just then one of the gas tanks exploded on the bus and the mob rushed back allowing the Freedom Riders to push the doors open and escape. As they exited the burning bus, the Freedom Riders rushed outside still choking from the thick smoke and were beaten by the waiting vigilantes. As lead pipes and baseball bats were swung, only an onboard undercover agent prevented the Freedom Riders from being lynched that day as he fired his gun into the air. Later that same day the Freedom Riders were beaten a second time as they arrived in Birmingham, Alabama.

Five months after the first Freedom Rides left on their historic ride the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in conjunction with the US Attorney General Robert Kennedy issued a tough new Federal order banning segregation at all interstate public facilities based on “race, color or creed.” The law became effective on November 1st, 1961.

 

http://www.freedomridersfoundation.org/id16.html

Daisy Bates and The Little Rock Nine

September 25, 1957, became a historic day in the Nation when nine courageous children risked their lives to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Confronted by a hostile crowd and escorted by the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne, they shouldered the burden of integrating a then segregated public school system. Although the Supreme Court’s Landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education struck down racial segregation in public schools, it was the courageous actions of these nine young champions of school integration that tested the strength of that decision.  Their actions not only mobilized a Nation to insure that access to a quality education was granted to all Americans, but they helped to define the civil rights movement.  They became known as the Little Rock Nine.

Daisy Bates and her husband were important figures in the Little Rock Integration Crisis. Bates guided and advised the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, when they attempted to enroll at Little Rock Central High School, a previously all white school, in 1957.

“Mrs. Bates was the person for the moment,” says Annie Abrams, a friend of Daisy Bates who was one of many black residents active at the time of the crisis. “Daisy Bates was the poster child of black resistance. She was a quarterback, the coach. We were the players,” says Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine, the group of students who integrated Central High School. “She was conditioned to know that the civil rights movement was moving forward,” Sybil Jordan Hampton, one of the first African American students to graduate from Central High, says.

It was unusual, in an era when black leaders were almost always men, for a black woman to take a leading role — especially in a drama that was playing out on the national stage.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14563865

Little Rock Nine

Daisy Bates protesting

Little Rock integration protest

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer

The example of Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer shows that “pro-life” does not mean acting as if life begins at conception and ends at birth. During the 1960s and ’70s, this indomitably nonviolent African-American sharecropper from the Mississippi Delta was a moving spirit of the civil rights and women’s movements. She often asserted: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Hamer was best known for her activism with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. For this work, she suffered the loss of her job, an arrest and severe beating, and firebombings and sniper attacks on her home. None of this spurred her to violence or revenge. Nor did it dissuade her from doing what a lifetime of oppression told her must be done.

Hamer was the youngest of 20 children. No matter how hard her family worked at sharecropping, the white-ruled culture in the Mississippi Delta sabotaged their efforts to make ends meet. She grew up mainly on a diet of greens and flour gravy. Though a brilliant student, she had to quit school in sixth grade to pick cotton with the rest of the family.

In 1961 she met the same fate as many women of color: A white doctor forcibly sterilized her. She and her husband Perry “Pap” Hamer had wanted to conceive children, although they had suffered two stillbirths and were already raising two little girls whose parents could not care for them. Hamer’s outrage over this violation propelled her into activism.

For Hamer, “all people” unequivocally included unborn children. Unlike many other feminists, she asserted that abortion was “genocide” and “legal murder.” If poor black children were not aborted but instead were given “a chance, they might grow up to be Fannie Lou Hamer, or something else.” She lamented abortion in the same breath as the casualties of Vietnam and the murders of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, the Kennedy brothers, and Jo Etha Collier.

The words and deeds of Fannie Lou Hamer powerfully remind us today that our customary pitting of the unborn against the already born is a false and lethal dichotomy. In her memory, let us do whatever we can to heal it.

by Mary Krane Derr

“Nobody’s Free Till Everybody’s Free”: The Consistently Nonviolent Activism of Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer (1917 – 1977), Reprinted from The American Feminist, Spring 1999

Tommie Smith

1968: Black athletes make silent protest

Two black American athletes have made history at the Mexico Olympics by staging a silent protest against racial discrimination.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medallists in the 200m, stood with their heads bowed and a black-gloved hand raised as the American National Anthem played during the victory ceremony. The pair both wore black socks and no shoes and Smith wore a black scarf around his neck. They were demonstrating against continuing racial discrimination of black people in the United States. As they left the podium at the end of the ceremony they were booed by many in the crowd.

At a press conference after the event Tommie Smith, who holds seven world records, said: “If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say ‘a Negro’. We are black and we are proud of being black.

“Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

Smith said he had raised his right fist to represent black power in America, while Carlos raised his left fist to represent black unity. Together they formed an arch of unity and power. He said the black scarf represented black pride and the black socks with no shoes stood for black poverty in racist America.

“It is very discouraging to be in a team with white athletes. On the track you are Tommie Smith, the fastest man in the world, but once you are in the dressing rooms you are nothing more than a dirty Negro.”  – Tommie Smith

“We wanted the world to know that in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Central Los Angeles, Chicago, that people were still walking back and forth in poverty without even the necessary clothes to live. The beads were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage. We were trying to wake the country up and wake the world up to.” – John Carlos

Olympic Games in Mexico City, 1968

 

Medgar Evers

The Legacy of Medgar Evers

Forty years ago this week, Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers was gunned down outside his home in Jackson. It took 31 years for Evers’ killer to be brought to justice — but in that time, the state has changed a great deal. Once the leader in the number of lynchings in America, today Mississippi leads in the number of elected black officials.

It’s part of Medgar Evers’ legacy — paid for in blood — and stamped on the lives of Mississippians, from the state capital in Jackson to the cornfields of Newton County where Medgar Evers grew up.

A few miles away in the town of Decatur — just a few streets over from the courthouse where Medgar Evers was turned away from trying to register to vote in 1946 — Louise Johnson walks down the street where Evers’ family once lived. It’s now called Medgar Evers Drive.

“(Evers) told us one day, he said we’re gonna vote,” Johnson says. “There’s gonna come a day where they’re gonna ask for our vote. Well, we couldn’t see it in that day and time — but it happened, and it’s happening.”

Evers’ assassination was a flash point for activism in the black community. During his funeral procession in Jackson, thousands marched in the streets shouting, “After Medgar, No More Fear.”

In 1969, Evers’ brother Charles was the first black man elected mayor in Mississippi. “Medgar and I said many years ago, if we ever end the violent racism in this state, it’ll be the greatest state in the world to live,” he tells Peeples. “And now, Medgar, I know you’re gone, but I’m telling you, son, it’s come to pass.”

Medgar Evers

Melanie Peeples – 40 Years After Civil Rights Leader’s Death, a Changed Mississippi

James Meredith

1962: Mississippi race riots over first black student

Two people have been killed and at least 75 injured in rioting at the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford. Hundreds of extra troops have been brought in to join Federal forces already stationed in the nearby town of Oxford as the violence spread to its streets. The protesters are angry at the admission of James Meredith, a black American, to the university. Rioting erupted last night as President Kennedy addressed the nation in a televised broadcast urging a peaceful settlement to the dispute over racial segregation.

US marshals, military police and National Guardsmen used teargas to take on rioters armed with rocks, lead pipes, petrol bombs and in some instances rifles and shotguns. More than 100 people were arrested during the night. One US marshal was shot in the neck and critically wounded. Cars and television trucks were smashed and burned and journalists and cameramen were beaten, as rioters turned on the media.

Mr Meredith remained under guard inside the campus in a university dormitory during the fighting. He was then escorted to his first class – a seminar on American colonial history – through a crowd of several hundred jeering students. Rioting has continued in the town of Oxford with further arrests made and more troops flown in.

Many students harassed Meredith during his two semesters on campus. Though the majority of students accepted Meredith’s presence, according to first person accounts chronicled in Nadine Cohodas’s book The Band Played Dixie, students living in Meredith’s dorm bounced basketballs on the floor just above his room through all hours of the night. When Meredith walked into the cafeteria for meals, the students eating would all turn their backs. If Meredith sat at a table with other students, all of whom were white, the students would immediately get up and go to another table.

He led a civil rights march, the March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi in 1966 and was wounded by sniper Aubrey James Norvell on June 6. This photograph of Meredith after being shot won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in 1967.

A novice photographer for AP, Jim Thornell was on the scene for the voter registration march and he took two rolls of pictures. Minutes passed before an ambulance reached Meredith, who lay in the road alone, shouting “Isn’t anyone going to help me?”  The photo (and the event itself) was a flash point in the American civil rights movement. It united and galvanized the scattered civil rights movement.

 

James Meredith Shot

BBC, 1962: Mississippi race riots over first black student

Herbert Lee

By mid 1961, the Civil Rights Movement was reaching Mississippi with the arrival of Freedom Rides. As these volunteers moved through the South, challenging segregated bus seating, restaurants, and restrooms in the cities, another murder occurred outside of the Delta in the small town of Liberty.

Farmer Herbert Lee, 52, was shot and killed by E.H. Hurst, a white member of the Mississippi Legislature, on September 25, 1961 in Liberty. Lee was a father of nine children. Hurst was never charged with the crime, and black witnesses were pressured by the sheriff and others to testify that Lee tried to hit Hurst with a tire tool. They testified as ordered and Hurst was acquitted in an Amite County trial held in a room full of armed white man, the same day as the killing. Hurst never spent a night in jail.

by Susan Orr-Klopfer

Herbert Lee

Excerpt from “Where Rebels Roost, Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited”

Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman

In Mississippi, in the 1960s, when segregation was king, racism the status quo, and bigotry the law, it was young people who rose up and challenged the system. In racially segregated and economically depressed Neshoba County, Mississippi, it was the local black youth and northern volunteers who challenged racism and led the fight for freedom and justice. Because of the sacrifices made by many people, most of the obvious signs of racism and bigotry have been eliminated. Because of the brutal beatings suffered by demonstrators at the hands of segregationists, public facilities have been desegregated.

To achieve the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many marched, demonstrated, and suffered brutal beatings. And some died. For three who died, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, we still continue the struggle for justice.

The Commission was composed of some of the most powerful figures in the state, including the governor, the state attorney general, the president of the state senate, and the speaker of the state house of representatives. Other members included state supreme court judges, senators, and members of the state house of representatives. The relationship between the Commission and these high ranking state officials provided additional legitimacy to the organization.

There was an unofficial relationship between the Commission and the Klan. Members of the Citizens’ Council were also Klansmen, and the more influential the Citizens’ Council member, the more influence he had with the Klan.

James Chaney was my brother. He and Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were committed to the belief that this country and its constitutional privileges are guarantees that all of us-regardless of color, sex, or religion-have a right to participate in our great demo-cratic process and we all have a right to be treated fairly under the law. It is time that we dedicate ourselves and make a firm commitment to the success of the struggle and the preservation of our liberties by securing justice now so that future generations will not have to live in fear.

By Ben Chaney

Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman: The Struggle for Justice – Human Rights Magazine, Spring 2000