Tag Archives: Civil Rights Movement

Subversive Historian – 08/28/09

The March on Washington

Back in the day on August 28th, 1963, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Black union leader A Phillip Randolph first proposed the idea for a mass convergence on the nation’s capital. With organizational help from various civil rights groups, the planned demonstration faced disagreements from parties involved as to its stated objective. Some groups wanted to focus on black poverty while others wanted to show public support for the Kennedy administration’s proposed civil rights legislation. When the march finally took place, John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee had to tone down the criticisms he levied against President Kennedy. The demonstration would later culminate on the steps of the Lincoln memorial with Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream,” speech.

The following year, the Civil Rights Act would be passed into law due in part to that massive show of support for the civil rights movement during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Subversive Historian – 05/20/09

Freedom Riders Attacked

Back in the day on May 20th, 1961, civil rights activists known as “freedom riders” were attacked by a white mob upon arriving in Birmingham, Alabama. Reviving the Congress of Racial Equality’s 1947 “journey of reconciliation,” the “freedom rides” were conceived in 1961 with the newly elected President John F. Kennedy in office. Leaving on bus from Washington D.C. on May 4th, black and white riders planned to arrive in New Orleans on May 17th challenging segregation all along the way but were halted by two instances of mob violence. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee took up the rides as they headed for Montgomery, Alabama. By that time, Attorney General Robert Kennedy pressured the state’s governor to protect the riders, however, when the civil rights activists arrived in the city they were attacked as the guarantee of safety cynically gave way to another violent white mob.

Though the Freedom Riders never made it to New Orleans by bus, their courageous example shines as activists who were down to ‘ride for the cause.’

Justice Denied for Luis Ramirez

{Emmett Till/Luis Ramirez: Justice Denied Then and Now}

It’s interesting that in the “Age of Obama,” Sonia Sotomayor is a prominent candidate being considered for the Supreme Court in the wake of Justice Souter’s recent announced decision to retire. Of course, if chosen, she would be the first Latina to serve in the highest court in the land. Nevertheless, even if that is to take place, there was a grim reminder last week as to the institutionalization of racism in the justice system that still persists.

Two of four white teenagers involved in the fatal beating of a Mexican man named Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania last summer were acquitted of the most serious charges in the case by an all white jury. Nineteen year old Derrick Donchak and 17 year old Brandon Piekarsky were cleared of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and ethnic intimidation in Ramirez’s death. (Where were the charges that were even more serious than those to begin with?)

Even with the history of all white juries (if I am ever before one, can I consider that ethnic intimidation?) this decision to acquit two of the teenagers still comes with  shock. In the case, the two could not even be convicted of the said ethnic intimidation charge even though racial epithets flew as furiously as the kicks and punches. A friend trying to aid the convulsing Ramirez on the floor was given the following warning by his assailants: “Tell your fucking Mexican friends to get the fuck out of Shenandoah, or you’ll be fucking laying next to him.” If that isn’t reminiscent of the historical use of racist violence by whites to expel African-Americans in establishing sundown towns, I don’t know what is!

What hope then, is there for any Mexican in the community of Shenandoah to think that the justice system offers them any modicum of protection against racist acts of violence? The hospital photo of Luis Ramirez’s  badly beaten face served as a reminder to the disfigured face of Emmett Till, the young African-American boy whose violent murder in 1955 by racists in the South touched off the modern Civil Rights Movement. The main suspects in that horrendous crime were acquitted as well even though they would later confess as free men for $4,000.

The justice system didn’t work for the family of Emmett Till then, and it isn’t working for the family of Luis Ramirez now. The only questions left are up to us now. Will this brutality go unchecked? Or will it be a flashpoint to demand that Mexicans be viewed as the sentient human beings that they are in a resurgent Civil Rights Movement for all people? Let us hope for the further civilization of this society sadly still plagued with injustice that the latter prevails.

Subversive Historian – 04/16/09

“Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Back in the day on April 16th, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. composed his masterful “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The civil rights leader had been imprisoned following his anti-segregation “Birmingham Campaign,” in Alabama that breached a court injunction disallowing such demonstrations in the city. Because King’s campaign practiced civil disobedience and came after a recent election that displaced the notorious Eugene “Bull” Connor, a group of eight white clergymen wrote a critical statement titled “A Call for Unity.” King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” refuted their claims of the Civil Rights Movement’s supposed extremism in defending its use of direct action, and willingness to break unjust laws.

With an eloquence informed by the spirit of justice, King concluded his response to the white clergymen by writing, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities.”

Subversive Historian – 03/30/09

The Fifteenth Amendment

Back in the day on March 30th, 1870 the 15th amendment was added to the constitution of the United States. Coming in the post-Civil War era, the last of the “reconstruction amendments” attempted to federalize enfranchisement for black males. Three versions of the 15th amendment were debated in Congress before final ratification. The agreed upon version was moderate as it simply prohibited states from denying the vote on the basis of race, color or having been enslaved previously. Radical Republicans in Congress had foreseen the coming of Jim Crow in advocating for a version that went further in terms of prohibiting states from imposing property, literacy or birth restrictions on the vote. Of course, since that version was not accepted, the South was able to effectively thwart the 15th amendment by turning to infamous mechanisms such as violence, poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses.

It would be nearly a century later, when an emergent Civil Rights Movement demanded that the Voting Rights Act be legislated so that the 15th Amendment could be fully and effectively be implemented.

John Hope Franklin: A True Subversive Historian

John Hope Franklin, the most preeminent and pioneering scholar of African-American history, died Wednesday at the age of 94. As a historian, Franklin’s long life bore witness to many of the most important moments in the history of race relations in the United States. The grandson of a slave, he was born and raised in Rentiesville, Oklahoma where his father’s law office was burned down during the horrific Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. Franklin’s experiences of race hatred informed his studies at the historically black Fisk University. In 1947 he authored “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” which is still heralded today as the authoritative text on the subject.

Not content in merely chronicling black history, Franklin continued to actively participate in helping make it as his scholarly work bolstered arguments against segregation in the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v Board of Education. During the Civil Rights Movement, Franklin participated in the 1965 march for voting rights. Throughout his career, Franklin broke down numerous race barriers by becoming the first African-American department chair at Brooklyn College in addition to being the first African-American president of the American Historical Society.

He, of course, lived long enough to see the election of President Barack Obama, a moment he described as “one of the most historic moments, if not the most historic moment, in this history of this country.” With Obama holding the highest office, it’s especially important to look back at the history Franklin has charted. In the above video,  he speaks about the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 that was the only coup d’etat in the history of the U.S. The riot was instigated, in part, because racist whites couldn’t stand the idea of blacks holding office in the South.