Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro is a much needed lesson in our history

The following post was written about eight years ago, but seems even more relevant today as there are too many who do not want the bad part of our US history taught. This is not a new phenomenon, as a key part of our history is to mask these ugly truths. I am in my sixties, but I never read or heard about what happened in Tulsa, OK and Wilmington, NC until the the last few years. Names like Emmitt Till and Rosa Parks, must be remembered just like those of Martin Luther King and John Lewis.

Yesterday, I had some free time in the Greensboro, North Carolina area and decided to revisit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Why Greensboro? For those of you are old enough to remember or know your history, the museum incorporates and builds off the actual Woolworth’s lunch counter where four African-Americans started a movement of non-violent sit-ins. The story of this daily sit-in helped bring about change along with many other efforts. Our tour guide whose mother used to bring her to Woolworth’s to shop, said the operative word they had to overcome was “separatism.”

In an attempt to protect the whites from the significant misconceptions about African-American citizens, “separate, but equal” laws were passed to allow discrimination to continue under the guise of the law. These Jim Crow laws, as they were called, came about to show that society need not have to integrate to give rights to its African-American citizens. The ugly truth is separatism was not very equal and continued to put down and discriminate against African-Americans in perceived legal and moral ways. There were some whites who spoke out before the overt discrimination became more apparent, but we had far too many leaders in business, government and faith communities who perpetuated this maltreatment.

The list of examples in the museum of discrimination and the fight to alleviate it are significant in number and impact. It makes you feel ashamed, disillusioned and angry that our fellow citizens were treated this way. The bombings, the lynchings, and the beatings are well documented and illustrated. The separate, but very unequal, train station terminals where whites had bigger waiting rooms, restrooms and easements are eye-opening. The separate, but unequal restrooms in stores, where our guide said her mother would tell her to go at home before they went to the store, are indicative. Sitting in the back of the bus, yielding your seat to white person and even the leather straps for standers in the back of the bus versus cushioned straps in the front showed the lack of equality. The Coke machine with two sides, one for whites at 5 cents with the opposite side for African-Americans at 10 cents is separate and very unequal. The voter laws that made it so very difficult for an African-American to register and vote were definitely not equal. And, so on and so on.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) pushed through the Civil Rights Act in the United States. The next year he followed up with the Voters Rights Act. These key pieces of legislation changed the long term and horrible course of inequality America was on. Forced busing to allow for fair and equal education was passed in 1970 sixteen years following the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. LBJ helped change the future in response to the efforts of many from Martin Luther King to John Lewis to Rosa Parks. It was critical that LBJ, a white southerner working with a coalition across political parties was able to shame leaders into doing something for America.

We are much further along than before, but our work is not done. We each need to be mindful of our biases and prejudices we have to various groups of people. We need to be active to voice our concerns over recent state actions by conservatively led states (ironically and sadly like the one in NC) to limit the voting rights of people who are primarily African-American, under the disguise of doing something against voter fraud. Rampant voter fraud has been proven not to exist, even as recently as last week with touted data in an attempt to show it does. Some of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional and others are being sued for such as of the time of this post. Make no mistake, these laws are designed to suppress voters who tend not to vote with the conservative side of the ledger. This is masked cheating, which is straight out of Jim Crow book.

What makes this further disturbing is our Supreme Court ruled that parts of the Voters Rights Act are no longer needed. This is one of several decisions made by this court which puzzle and frustrate me. What country do they live in? I see or hear examples of discrimination almost every day. It often is masked with code words or followed by words like “but, I am not a racist.” It would surprise these folks to learn most food stamp recipients are white. Even Congressman Paul Ryan parlayed that misconception in some of recent speeches and interviews. The bottom line is it should not matter, as poverty knows no color. I use this as an example of unstated racism in America. It is those people who are in need of aid, so it is OK to cut benefits.

There are Civil Rights museums in several cities. Please frequent them with your children and friends. If you’re near Greensboro, please stop by and tour this well crafted museum. I was pleased to see two bus loads of school children of all stripes leaving the museum when I arrived. This stuff really did happen and discrimination still exists today. Use these occasions as opportunities to discuss what is happening today with others. Per the play and movie “South Pacific” bigotry has to be carefully taught. The converse of this is also true. Let’s carefully teach that discrimination is not right.

Here is a link to the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum. http://sitinmovement.org/

Here is a link to information on the Greensboro sit-ins. Greensboro sit-ins – Wikipedia

37 thoughts on “Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro is a much needed lesson in our history

  1. There’s a new word in town to describe separating and segregating people based on the colour of their skin but it sounds so much nicer: affinity.

    So we have the best and brightest at world ranked universities like Harvard and Princeton and Yale implementing ‘affinity’ graduation ceremonies, ‘affinity’ student residences, ‘affinity’ classrooms, ‘affinity’ safe spaces, ‘affinity’ events, and so one. Why, it’s all about anti-racism, donchaknow, and it’s a gift that just keeps on dividing people. But it is so virtuous, donchaknow.

    • Tildeb, as you note, dividing people for whatever reason only perpetuates division. On the flip side, very slowly since Loving v Virginia was decided 9 to 0 by SCOTUS in the 1960s, we have seen an uptick in inter-racial and inter-ethnic marriages. I see that as huge positive step forward. Thanks for your comment. Keith

      • Yes, I came across stats showing the percentage of Americans against interracial marriage and gay rights for the late 50s/early 60s compared to 2017(?) and it was a complete reversal across all categories, meaning that not only did 96% of people against become for interracial marriage, but that Republicans who were against (back in the day) were just as much subject to the reversal to now be in favour as Democrats who also reversed in similar ways. I mention this because we had a societal change WITHOUT needing to overthrow the ‘system’. In other words, our ‘system’ of institutions and government IS capable of real and lasting and significant progress in matters like legal bigotry and discrimination.

        This is really, Really, REALLY important to understand because it DEMONSTRATES the ‘system’ of liberal democracy can and does change significantly over time. This could NOT happen if the system was fundamentally bigoted, discriminatory, racist. It changes because the fundamental institutions are responsive to the will of the people and ‘systemically discriminatory, systemically bigoted, systemically racist. That;s who these percentages have flipped over time because our institutions are a trajectory, an arc, of real and lasting progress.

        This understanding reveals the error we are making by assuming the defined problem is correct, that we are living in a systemically racist and bigoted state that requires systemic solutions. No. It. Does. Not. This is the WRONG solution to racism and one that demonstrably focuses on the colour of one’s skin rather than the quality of the character of real human being it supposedly is ‘helping’ by making systemic changes.

      • Tildeb, thanks for your comment. SCOTUS was ahead of the country on this, but made a necessary statement. Progress has been made, but we have also some of the same challenges. I disagree with the conclusion there is not systemic racism in our country. Who I admire most are those valued public servants who know what their oath means and do their darnedest to make the system work for all of us. It falls on those who are loyal to their responsibilities to shine lights on those who bring their racism to the job. Being a police officer is a hard job and many do it well, but mistakes of judgment get made that we must learn from. Yet, there is a contagion that are bad apples and, they need to be identified, educated or let go if they cannot change. That is what this old fart believes. Keith

      • Keith, if it were systemic, these individuals would not have been able to make the difference they did because the system would have prevented it.

        There is racism and it is a real thing. But just because some people are racists and are in positions of power does mean the fundamental institutions themselves are systemically racist. (Some pedophile priests in positions of power within the Church doesn’t mean the Church itself is systemically pedophiliac!)

        But the problem now is that we ARE changing our institutions and ARE changing laws to make racial considerations (and enforced speech and enforced quotas in the name of equity) paramount… under the Orwellian notion that it is ‘anti-racist’ to make everything about race. This is a Big Lie of no less a concern than Trump’s claim of a rigged election and perhaps even far more pernicious in the long run. (But let’s also realize that institutionalizing racial concerns and teaching young people how to promote CRT – Critical Race Theory – is the main source of fuel for Republican support today and into the midterms and the next election.)

      • Thanks for your detailed comments. I would argue the orchestrated cover up of pedophile priests is systemic. The systemic racism did not miraculously get erased when LBJ’s signed his two laws. Bank lending officers still circled in an “o” in the loan application to indicate race. Predatory lenders still take advantage of people of color. All people have biases and bigotries. Full stop. So, to believe that groups of people are not biased and bigoted because of systems designed to prevent is just a bridge too far for me.

        It is more than race, I recognize that, but sadly racism continues to exist and we all must do our darnedest to call it out when we see it. As for the Republicans, they have latched onto CRT as a wedge issue as the party is adrift. Whitewashing history is a part of our US history. Many don’t know that 1/4 of the US Senate and 100 + members of the House were influenced by the KKK in the 1920s and 1930s per Jon Meacham. Keith

  2. In a recent conversation with a neighbour, I spoke of our need to understand the issues. He said: “Aren’t you afraid of what will happen if whites become a minority?” I was stunned. You are right; we need to keep educating ourselves.

    • VJ, your neighbor hit the proverbial nail on the head. Former Republican strategist Steve Schmitt said this whole move toward restricting civil rights, restricting voting rights, limiting immigration and promoting the great white way is due to whites becoming a plurality in the future. It is another reason an autocrat like Putin has some fans in the MAGA base, since he has a largely white country.

      VJ, I truly wish I was making this up. When I first heard Schmitt say this, he was a guest on “Real time with Bill Maher.” He noted this evolved out of a demographic forecast sanctioned by the Koch Brothers in the late 1990s. In short, if the GOP cannot recruit more voters, then the solution is to become more autocratic than we are to retain power.

      The answer to your neighbor is “well I guess you need to learn how to get along with people.” Keith

  3. This, my friend, is an EXCELLENT post! You make very valid points and I share all your concerns, perhaps even a few extras since I live in a predominantly Black neighborhood and hear the concerns of my neighbors on a daily basis, have seen the racism up close and personal. Unfortunately, today one of our two political parties seems intent on spreading discontent and lies, on taking us BACK to the Jim Crow era, and some whites are so under-educated as to believe their rhetoric. This has to stop, but it is going to require the efforts of us ALL, for President Biden and the Democratic Party cannot do it alone. It is We the People who must pitch in and make a difference.

      • I did read VJ’s comments and yours, and I really wanted to knock her neighbor upside the head with my heavy duty iron skillet! But, I figure his head is so hard he’d crack my skillet, and then what would I make cornbread in? Sigh. People are stupid sometimes. More and more, the stupid, bigoted ones seem to be the voice of the nation.

      • Jill, here is what I cannot figure out. If someone felt that other groups were going to become larger, would he or she not want to try to get along better than the converse? The former president can create fear, but he cannot hold back the tide of demographics. And, if he wants to introduce more of an Apartheid model, well we know how that turned out. Keith

      • That, my friend, is the difference between those of us who think, and those who operate solely on emotion. And, as long as Fox ‘News’ and the fear-mongering politicians can keep feeding their minds this drivel, nothing can change. How awful it would be for us to follow the model of Apartheid … I could no longer live here.

  4. As Lyndon Johnson embarked upon the Great Society, little did he know he was about to lose the entire U.S. South as a voting bloc for the Democrats. People can be pushed aways, but when you try to hogtie them and drag them through the muck of rapid change, they tend to squirm around a bit, dontcha know.

    — Catxman

    http://www.catxman.wordpress.com

    • Catxman, thanks for your comment. From what I have gleaned from several sources, including historian Jon Meacham’s “Soul of America,” LBJ knew what the risks were but pushed for change nonetheless. But, you are right about when you push for change it does get folks riled up. SCOTUS got a lot of negative feedback on its Loving v Virginia decision which was ahead of the curve on interracial marriage, but it help change America. Keith

  5. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    I did not plan on an extra post today (actually, I rarely plan them, they just happen) but when I read Keith’s post, it was far too valuable not to share. He makes some points in this post that we ALL need to think about and keep in our minds. And … he tells about the Civil Right’s Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina — a place I would truly love to visit someday. Thank you, Keith!

      • I would absolutely LOVE that! I had hoped to get to meet you and your wife a few years ago, but that didn’t work out, so maybe sometime soon!

      • Jill, we have not given up on our trip north. But, please reach out if you are coming down. There is a cool hotel in Greensboro called the O’Henry. It is named after the author who lived there. Keith

      • I hope some day you will come up this way! And yes, we will definitely let you know when/if we can make it down there. It’s near the top of my bucket list! That hotel sounds fascinating … assuming, that is, that the price isn’t too high.

  6. A thoroughly incisive and intelligent post Keith.
    Firstly back to that paradox of a man LBJ. When he signed that historical bill he said in his signature drawl ‘There goes the South’. He was man enough and pragmatist enough to know this was legislation which was vital if the USA was to remain the USA, while adding to his complexities that all folk should be equal.
    I apologise for bringing the History issue into this yet again but as I have mentioned to Jill earlier on Racism as a feature in a society in as old as History and as Wide as the world. A blight and a sin upon the Human Race that we all have to be very, very careful of, lest our outrage morphs into it (It is rather salutary how Racism can sub-divide amongst groups you might think are ‘the same’).
    It is noteworthy that The Right once the domain of ‘plain speaking’ (ie the right to be abusive) has now started to adopt all manner of phrases and words which would have made a communist administrator proud. We have ‘Politically Correct’ (which is getting old), ‘Cancel Culture’ and ‘CRT’ (used as the Communists would have used ‘Revisionism’) to name but a few. Pravda editorial staff would have recognised these.
    If there was anything that Trump did which was arguably positive, though naturally not by intent was to set alarm bells ringing amongst the moderate, tolerant ‘Whites’ that the Threat and Exclusivity which African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Jews and many other groups have had to live with for decade after decade was now coming to their doors too.
    The challenges are manifold and weighty.

    • Roger, you always add value when you share things from your historical lens. My former party has tended to be better than the Democrats at marketing. They hammer home themes that change the conversation around what they are saying, even when it lacks merit. Example is an orchestrated effort was made to use the less offensive term climate change than global warming. Which term do we use today? Back in 2012, the term “failed stimulus” was used, but even Democrats used that term when it was not true – per six econometric firms, the stimulus was accretive to the economy. So, this CRT label is more of the same. In our country, the data backs up that Dems have a better story to tell on job creation, economic growth and stock market performance, but the Republicans make people believe the opposite is true. That is what I mean by lousy marketing. Keith

      • Thank you Keith.
        ‘Lousy marketing’ is an ideal term for the situation. The Republicans are telling their base just what they want to hear and they in turn raise the required ‘ruckus’.
        In counterpoint this didn’t work in the UK; the Labour Party under Corbyn preached to the converted and they would dutifully raise a ruckus. However what Labour failed to do was ‘seize the narrative’ in the media in general, so it always came across as a party of turbulence and decrying the middle ground of the voter base.
        With a larger more commercially generated nation such as the USA the Republicans can count on a sufficient share of the media to avoid this happening and thus at least seize a sizeable chunk of the narrative.
        On the other hand in the struggle for the Heart & Soul gaining traction in the middle ground is essential as this is the area which favours stability, something the Republicans are currently not demonstrating. When analysed, at ‘street’ level they appear to be using a diluted version of tactics similar to Ernst Rohm’s SA wing of the Nazi party or Mao’s Red Guard.
        It is hoped this will continue tot or start to worry the big contributors to Party Funds, as we discussed some weeks ago.
        Meanwhile Biden does appear to have the best approach in the circumstances and try to appear as ‘The Safe Pair of Hands’.
        If this fails there will be a drift to combative approach and folk on the liberal / democrat side would seek out a more ‘robust’ strategy, seeing anything else as appeasement. At such a stage many variable arise.
        One thing is certain though the true patriots to the principal of the USA as a format are the Democrats and sympathisers, whereas the Republicans are nothing more than one large interest group with a dangerous wing which care nothing for the term ‘USA’- very close to separatists using terror. At the risk of repeating myself more American politicians should read unbiased accounts of the history of Ulster between 1960 and 2010 to see what happens when the lid flies off.
        Best wishes & take care.
        Roger

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