Freedom Summer Project – those who braved Mississippi burning (a reprise)

The following post is a reprise of one I wrote in the summer of 2014. I felt the story needed a new telling during Black History Month.

Fifty years ago this summer, over 700 students from across the country, joined in the Civil Rights battle in Mississippi, where African-Americans had been demonstratively and, at times, violently denied their basic civil rights, especially the right to vote. These students joined together with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNNC) under the guidance of Bob Moses, who had been slowly organizing SNNC since 1960. These students, were predominantly white, but included all races and ethnic groups.

The fact that many were white helped bring further attention to the ongoing tragedy going on Mississippi, perpetuated by those in power as the young students lived within the African-American community, taught through Freedom Schools young students about African-American history, literature and rights, items that had been absent from their curriculum. The Freedom Summer project can be viewed up close with an excellent documentary being shown on the PBS American Experience. A link is provided below.* I would encourage you to watch the two-hour film as it can tell a story that requires footages of violence, overt racism, and brave people who spoke up, like Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rita Schwerner and countless others.

Hamer is the face of the effort as evidenced by her speaking passionately in front of the 1964 Democratic Convention committee about how she was arrested, beaten, and tormented when she and others tried to register vote. Schwerner is the widow of one the three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, who along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were abducted and killed by the KKK who came to abet the efforts of those in power in Mississippi. The widow rightfully pointed out the fact that two of the abducted (at the time) were white, was the only reason people in America started paying attention. She noted it is a shame that many African-Americans had died or were injured merely trying to exercise their right as citizens. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, less than 7% of African-Americans in Mississippi were allowed to register due to ostracization, intimidation, and complex constitutional literacy tests.

Since I cannot begin to do justice to this subject, I encourage you to watch the documentary. It will make you ashamed that this could happen in America, while at the same time making you applaud the magnificent courage of all involved, especially those African-Americans who had lived and would continue to live in this Apartheid like state once the freedom summer students went home. Yet, it took the deaths of these three young folks to galvanize and empower people.

It also took the organization of a more representative Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of whites and blacks that went to the national convention to unseat the representatives sent by the state party, who were all white. Since morality was on their side, they almost succeeded, but they ran into the politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, who used his power to squelch the effort for a greater good – he could not help in matters if he did not get elected and he saw this as a means to interfere with that mission, no matter how noble the cause. LBJ accomplished great things for African-Americans, but politics is an ugly thing to watch up close and he looks manipulative in the process.

While their efforts fell short at the convention, their efforts were huge contributors to the passage of the Voting Rights Act the next year. But, one of the young folks who went to the Freedom Schools and is now a PhD., noted that learning about their African-American culture and civil rights that had been denied them, may have been the greatest achievement. I applaud their efforts and bravery. We still have a way to go and are seeing some battles having to be refought with several states passing restrictive Voter ID Laws. Three states have had their new laws ruled unconstitutional, while others are in court now. Yet, just because our President is multi-racial does not mean we are there yet. So, let’s keep in mind the battles these brave folks fought and not let their civil rights be stepped on again, no matter how cleverly masked those efforts.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

Saturday sense and sensibilities

It is going to be another hot one today, maybe too hot for “Saturday in the Park,” which was my first title. Instead, allow me to borrow from Jane Austen to summarizing a few sense and sensibilities.

The president has denied calling fallen soldiers “losers and suckers,” even though it has been corroborated by four news agencies, including Fox News. A few additional reasons to believe the comments were made are his on-the-record comments about Senator John McCain only being a hero because he was captured, plus calling him a “loser” and not wanting to lower flags to half-staff when he died. He took on a Gold Star family who had the temerity to criticize him. And, his favorite name calling word for critics is “losers.” Apparently, he has used such expressions on more than one occasion, saying soldiers who fought in Vietnam were “suckers” per a Fox News report. I guess he is forgetting that “draft” thing and how he avoided going.

PBS Newshour had an excellent report on the Australia, UK and Switzerland response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have each handled it better than the US, with the UK having to wait some on its Prime Minister’s initial cavalier attitude to change (until he was infected). The keys are telling folks the truth, leaders not doubting the science, and central management of the problem. Having national healthcare, helped as it took the issue off the table who will pay for things. Sadly, the US crossed 187,000 COVID-19 deaths yesterday. Trump gets good marks for funding the vaccine research and this new simplified testing release, but overall his mishandling and misinformation has contributed to our poor results. Too many Americans do not take this seriously enough, starting with the president.

On the good news side, 1.4 million people went back to work in August, lowering the unemployment rate to 8.4%. Economists are pleased, but cautious as the number includes 238,000 temporary Census workers and the numbers are expected to fall off again. One economist from Grant Thornton noted, the unemployment rate is actually closer to 10%. And, many economists worry about that cavalier COVID-19 attitude above, where some think reopening things means returning to normal. It does not.

Finally, we saw two visits to Kenosha by the presidential candidates. One stood in front of a burnt building, while the other visited with the victim, his family and community. The latter sat down with members of the community and listened. As Jonathan Capeheart and David Brooks said in the weekly review on PBS Newshour, one candidate’s visit was political, while the other was presidential. The presidential one was done by the one who is not president. Brooks noted it is good that Biden is condemning violence and looting saying they are not protesting. That needs to be said, as protecting people, their homes and their businesses is important, as well. It is not an either/ or paradigm as the president points out. We need better and fair policing that supports all in the community.

Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind – a few thoughts

With all due respect to “Ruby Tuesday” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” I chose this song title for my random Tuesday thoughts. “Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind” has the right melancholy feel.

Starting with the last part of the title “Gone with the Wind,” it reminds me that the entertainment world has finally figured out the famous movie and book are racist and poor renditions of the events surrounding the Civil War. We actually discussed this misrepresentation by the movie and book in my World Literature class in 1977. But, propaganda about the war has been around since white slaveowners got poor whites to fight for a more righteous cause of states’ rights than the real one to let them keep slaves.

Remember how states’ rights were cited by the president for delegating his responsibility to fight COVID-19. Yet, states’ rights are less important if he must flex his law and order muscles. Both the Kenosha mayor and Wisconsin governor asked the president not to come to Kenosha as he would not help calm the situation. Well, he is coming to get his photo shoot, but he should not be surprised if he is not well-received. Uniting people is not the mission of this president as noted by General James Mattis, his former Secretary of Defense.

The president’s actions and words concern me on so many levels. One is his fanning the flames of racial unrest to win an election. He offers it is not his doing, but he is the one walking around with a gasoline can. All lives and Blue lives, of course, matter, but those mantras denigrate the message of Black Lives Matters. What this white washing misdirection does is ignores that too many Americans do not feel Black lives matter or that Blacks are overstating their strife. And, the president is catering to these groups with his divisive rhetoric and gasoline.

The vast majority of BLM protests are peaceful and civil. They are also well attended by multiple racial groups. But, the smaller few need to cease the violence. It devalues the message. Violence also feeds directly into the hands of the president who looks for wedge issues. In three and half years, many have become weary of this me, me, me focus of the president who cares more about his perception than solving problems. These things are happening on his watch and he is making things worse, not better.

On the Blue side, the police must better police themselves. They need to weed out any bad actors and recognize, address and train-to-minimize bad actions. A former FBI domestic terrorism expert said she shared with the Justice Department that a few police officers are sympathetic with white nationalists. But, the police union and management must stop doing what the Catholic Church did for decades and ignore bad apples. They do spoil the impression of the whole bunch. Just like only a few priests were pedophiles, only a few police are overly racist.

Fixing problems requires leaders to acknowledge them. And, understand them. As I noted earlier, using problems to be a wedge issue to win does not solve the problems. It makes them worse.

Let’s follow the example John Lewis lived

The following is necessarily short, as my local newspaper was kind enough to print it in its “Letters to the Editor” section this morning.

Watching the memorial service for Congressman John Lewis, I noticed the words kind, caring and courageous were used often. A staff member noted he was a great boss with several people working with him for over 10 years (a few over 20).

Lewis embodied the words spoken about him. Civil and nonviolent protest will be his lasting legacy. His example is followed by a significant majority who participate in the multiracial Black Lives Matter protests.

Those few who choose violence may make the news, but they dilute the message. Steadfast resolve is a much greater weapon. It galvanizes people.

Let’s honor Lewis for the person he was and how he conducted himself. Black lives do matter.