Unless you lived through the 1970s, it seems impossible to understand it at all. Drug delirium, groovy fashion, religious cults, mega corporations, glitzy glam, hard rock, global unrest—from our 2018 perspective, the seventies are often remembered as a bizarre blur of bohemianism and disco. With Pick Up the Pieces, John Corbett transports us back in time to this thrillingly tumultuous era through a playful exploration of its music. Song by song, album by album, he draws our imaginations back into one of the wildest decades in history.
Excerpted from: Anthony Cook, The Ghosts of 1964: Race, Reagan, and the Neo-conservative Backlash to the Civil Rights Movement, 6 Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review 81 (2015) (Footnotes) (Full Document)
“American slavery was “officially” buried by our nation’s ratification of the 13 14 and 15 amendments to the constitution. But the ghosts of slavery soon inhabited new forms — political, economic, and cultural — intent on returning Blacks to a position of abject servitude and subordination. Jim Crow segregation embodied slavery’s spirit of White supremacy, allowing it to live on in a different form. The civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century was but another attempt to exorcise from American life the demonic spirit of slavery that had so horrifically deformed American institutions and culture. But by 1980 it was clear, yet again, that notwithstanding the “official” death and burial of old Jim Crow — a death certified by the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights, 1965 Voting Rights, and 1968 Fair Housing Acts — the past lived on. The ghosts of American slavery and its mutant offspring, Jim Crow, roamed the land of the free and haunted the home of the brave in search of new cultural, political, and economic practices to possess and infest. American slavery was “officially” buried by our nation’s ratification of the 13 14 and 15 amendments to the constitution. But the ghosts of slavery soon inhabited new forms — political, economic, and cultural — intent on returning Blacks to a position of abject servitude and subordination. Jim Crow segregation embodied slavery’s spirit of White supremacy, allowing it to live on in a different form. The civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century was but another attempt to exorcise from American life the demonic spirit of slavery that had so horrifically deformed American institutions and culture. But by 1980 it was clear, yet again, that notwithstanding the “official” death and burial of old Jim Crow — a death certified by the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights, 1965 Voting Rights, and 1968 Fair Housing Acts — the past lived on. The ghosts of American slavery and its mutant offspring, Jim Crow, roamed the land of the free and haunted the home of the brave in search of new cultural, political, and economic practices to possess and infest. ”
Hidden Herstory: The Leesburg Stockade Girls
I never fully realized the monumental role that massive numbers of children played in civil rights protests. Law enforcement arrested and jailed children by the thousands for days, and sometimes months, and their involvement helped to enable one of the greatest legal and social assaults on racism in the 20th century—the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Leesburg Stockade Girls are an incredible example of these courageous, young freedom fighters.You may ask, “Who were the Leesburg Stockade Girls?” In July of 1963 in Americus, Georgia, fifteen girls were jailed for challenging segregation laws. Ages 12 to 15, these girls had marched from Friendship Baptist Church to the Martin Theater on Forsyth Street. Instead of forming a line to enter from the back alley as was customary, the marchers attempted to purchase tickets at the front entrance. Law enforcement soon arrived and viciously attacked and arrested the girls. Never formally charged, they were jailed in squalid conditions for forty-five days in the Leesburg Stockade, a Civil War era structure situated in the back woods of Leesburg, Georgia. Only twenty miles away, parents had no knowledge of where authorities were holding their children. Nor were parents aware of their inhumane treatment.
A month into their confinement, Danny Lyon, a twenty-one year old photographer for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), learned of the girls’ whereabouts and sneaked onto the stockade grounds to take pictures of the girls through barred windows. After SNCC published the photos in its newspaper The Student Voice, African American newspapers across the country printed the story, and the girls’ ordeal soon gained national attention.
Leesburg, Georgia. Arrested for Demonstrating in Americus, Teenage Girls Are Kept in a Stockade in the Countryside, © Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
On August 28, 1963, as Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC, these children sat in their cell bolstering their courage with freedom songs in solidarity with the thousands of marchers listening to Dr. King’s indelible speech on the National Mall. Soon after the March on Washington, during the same week of the bombing of the five little girls at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963, law enforcement released the Leesburg Stockade Girls and returned them to their families.
Their story was part of the broader Civil Rights effort that engaged children in a variety of nonviolent, direct actions. In Alabama, for example, thousands of youth participated in the 1963 Children’s Crusade, a controversial liberation tactic initiated by James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After careful deliberation about the merit of involving children in street protests and allowing them to be jailed, Dr. King decided that their participation would revive the waning desegregation campaign and would appeal to the moral conscience of the nation.
On May 2, 1963, in response to an invitation from Dr. King, roughly a thousand students—elementary through high school—gathered enthusiastically at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and joined a civil rights march throughout the streets of Birmingham. By day’s end, law enforcement had jailed over 600 children.
Alabama Fire Department Aims High-Pressure Water Hoses at Civil Rights Demonstrators, © Charles Moore, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The next day the number of children doubled. However, the training classes provided by SCLC leaders could not have prepared the children for the violence they would encounter. The Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor directed the use of fire hoses and attack dogs on the children, and people in America and around the world witnessed this brutality. Authorities arrested nearly 2,000 children—one as young as four years old. These protests continued throughout the first week of May, with over 5,000 children being jailed.
Within days, SCLC and local officials reached an agreement, in which the city agreed to repeal the segregation ordinance and release all jailed protestors. Ultimately, the activism of thousands of African American children in 1963, including the Leesburg Stockade Girls, provided the momentum for the March on Washington and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year.
The history of children’s Civil Rights activism continues to be important to tell. The Leesburg Stockade Girls realize this importance, and they are documenting their story. In 2015, as the keynote speaker at a commemorative event for the Leesburg Stockade Girls at Georgia Southwestern State University, I engaged with ten of the surviving women, who shared recollections about the day of their arrest. Remarkably, these women still possess a collective spirit of resistance to social injustice, and they are beginning to embrace their place in history.
As we reflect on their story and the broader history of youth activism, let us consider: How might children today play an equally significant role in promoting racial equality in the United States?
Written by Tulani Salahu-Din, Museum Specialist, National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Source: The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
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We Shall Overcome: Ava DuVernay on Making ‘Selma’
The groundbreaking director talks about downplaying LBJ, honoring MLK’s legacy and why you should always have Oprah on your film sets
| January 5, 2015
As a filmmaker, you put the film out there, and you just want it to be okay,” says director Ava DuVernay. “You don’t want to let people down; you don’t want to embarrass yourself.” She’s done much better than that with Selma, a dramatization of the 1965 protests in Alabama led by Martin Luther King, Jr.; the movie, considered to be a leading Oscar contender, has already received four Golden Globe nominations. Peter Travers said in his rave review in Rolling Stone that DuVernay “blows the dust off history to find its beating heart.”
DuVernay, 42 years old, grew up in Compton, but spent summers in Alabama. A film publicist before she shifted careers to directing, she had actually signed up to do publicity for an earlier version of Selma. The screenplay had bounced around for over five years, attached to directors such as Lee Daniels. “It was looked at as an unmakeable movie,” says executive producer Paul Garnes. But British actor David Oyelowo — who had appeared in DuVernay’s Sundance award-winner Middle of Nowhere — very much wanted to play King, and unbeknownst to DuVernay, was lobbying for her with an international team of producers. Despite a resumé that was limited to two microbudget features, a half-dozen documentaries, and an episode of Scandal, she got the job, and a $20 million budget.
Our conversation with DuVernay in a vegan Mexican restaurant in Hollywood happened three days before Joseph A. Califano, Jr., a former Lyndon B. Johnson aide, wrote a Washington Post op-ed complaining not only that Selma gave Johnson (played by Tom Wilkinson) short shrift, but that the president had come up with the idea for the protests himself. As it happens, earlier versions of the script focused on the relationship between King and the commander-in-chief, and how their joint efforts led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She discussed why she had chosen to place less emphasis on Johnson, her casting philosophy and why it helps to have Oprah on your film set.
Let’s talk about reducing LBJ’s role in the events you depict in the film.
Every filmmaker imbues a movie with their own point of view. The script was the LBJ/King thing, but originally, it was much more slanted to Johnson. I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie; I was interested in making a movie centered on the people of Selma. You have to bring in some context for what it was like to live in the racial terrorism that was going on in the deep south at that time. The four little girls have to be there, and then you have to bring in the women. So I started adding women.
This is a dramatization of the events. But what’s important for me as a student of this time in history is to not deify what the president did. Johnson has been hailed as a hero of that time, and he was, but we’re talking about a reluctant hero. He was cajoled and pushed, he was protective of a legacy — he was not doing things out of the goodness of his heart. Does it make it any worse or any better? I don’t think so. History is history and he did do it eventually. But there was some process to it that was important to show.
Many presidents couldn’t have done it.
Absolutely. Or wouldn’t have even if they could.
I thought Tim Roth’s performance as George Wallace was very nuanced, when it would have been easy to play him as Snidely Whiplash.
I wanted to try to make everyone as human as possible. That trap that I see so many non-black filmmakers do with black characters, where everything is surface and stereotypical…I didn’t want to be the black filmmaker that does that with the white characters. Tim has talked about every actor has to love the character that they’re playing in some way, and in the time that we’re talking about, there’s not a lot to love in Wallace if you believe in justice and dignity. But he found a videotape or an article of his son talking about him, and so he was able to tap into the father doing what he thought was right.
I WASN’T INTERESTED IN MAKING A WHITE-SAVIOR MOVIE; I WAS INTERESTED IN MAKING A MOVIE CENTERED ON THE PEOPLE OF SELMA.
Whether it was Roth or Tom Wilkinson — or Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Root and Alessandro Nivola — all these characters represented a real diversity of thought about this issue from the white perspective, from the dominant culture. I wanted to create an array of folks who all thought about it in a different way because white thought wasn’t a monolith at that time, just as black thought wasn’t a monolith.
What was your philosophy when you were casting?
To work with people who fascinate me. Oprah being in the cast allowed me to have flexibility because she is such a big name. Her fame and her power created space for me to be able to hire Stephan James, a 19-year-old from Canada, for John Lewis instead of the hot young guy who was just in The Fast and the Furious,or whatever. I was able to pick and choose cool people.
What was it like having Oprah on the set?
Her first day of shooting was the day that Maya Angelou died. I had just driven up to the set in Marietta when I got a call on my cell phone from Andrew Young, the real Andrew Young: “Sister Maya has passed on.” And all I could think of was Oprah was on her way to the set. I immediately called her and said don’t come, we’ll do it another day. Tight schedule, a 32-day shoot, not a lot of room to move things around — but we’ll figure it out. She said, “No, I can do this, it’s okay.” She had the same trailer as everyone else. I spoke with her briefly, and I should’ve stayed, but I had to go out back to the set: I had 200 extras out there. So I called Tyler Perry, he sneaked onto the set, they had their moment, and she came out ready to go. I’m grateful to him; most people see us as very different filmmakers, but in that moment we were united around Oprah.
How did your old job as a publicist prepare you to do this?
To make a film?
As opposed to eating guacamole, yes.
[Laughs] Just being able to talk to people. I used to coordinate and develop and execute really big campaigns for studios with a lot of moving parts. But the main thing is just articulating what’s in your head, which we overestimate that people can do — how do you get that out in a way that’s clear and un-muddled with the intention of producing a result?
What was the hardest scene to shoot, emotionally?
When Jimmy Lee Jackson was murdered in the cafe. At that time there was no Mike Brown murder, there was no Eric Garner murder — but there were so many others that are just ambient. It’s part of the atmosphere as a black person growing up in this country: You know that’s it’s happening somewhere on that very day. And a month later Mike Brown was killed. [Cinematographer] Bradford Young, [editor] Spencer Averick, and I, we designed that scene in a really specific way. It was really important that we have all that stuff worked out in advance because I knew it was going to be a rough, emotional day. This wasn’t a day for improvisation.
King’s tactics imply that his supporters are going to have to get hurt: Nonviolence doesn’t work unless the other side overreacts.
Being passive doesn’t mean sitting there and getting hit for the sake of getting hit. And it wasn’t all faith-based, either. There were some very practical reasons why it was used. You talk to most people about King now and they only know “I Have a Dream,” and that he believed in peace and then he died. Really? That’swhat he’s been reduced to? And we’ve allowed it to happen. And if there is anything that Selma does, it reinvigorates the narrative around him to be more full-bodied and more truthful about what his tactics were.
Are you religious yourself?
No, not religious. But I love God.
Can you talk about the aesthetics of violence of Selma? When the church blows up and kills those four little girls, it’s harrowing, but it’s also filmed in a beautiful way. How do those two things work together?
I don’t know if my intention was to make it beautiful. How do you film four little girls being blown apart? There’s a way to do it with a certain reverence and respect for who they were. That’s why it was important for me that you hear their voices before it happens.
There’s a sinking feeling in that scene — I counted five little girls, so I was hoping maybe it wasn’t going to happen.
There were five girls and one lived. And I put in a boy, to misdirect you on purpose. The violence throughout the film follows the same pattern. I resisted the idea of just it being a physical blow. That spectacle has been done: All we do in this industry is blow people up. But how does the hit feel and what does the face do after? What happens to that broken body and what happens to the people that have to tend to that broken body? It’s important to have the morgue scene after Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death, to show the mother and slow down on her face, to slow down the girls, to slow down Annie Lee Cooper when the men put their hands on her and take her down. It was about having a reverence for that was the idea behind it instead of, say, making it beautiful. You’re saying: This is worth taking a closer look at. Everybody stop and pay your respects to this.
Can you pinpoint a moment of joy that happened while you were making this movie?
So many things come to mind, but there was a day that we were filming in Richie Jean Jackson’s house, doing that scene when they all walk into the kitchen. We’re at this house in Atlanta, we had shut down the street. That was the day that Tim Roth and Giovanni Ribisi were coming for their hair and makeup tests. They have to come to see me, ’cause I can’t get away. So they come to the set, and I thought, “Look at all my guys, they’re all together — the White House guys, Wallace, the black guys.” Those characters never cross, right? The chance to see them all together was so fun. Then a black SUV starts coming up the street, going around cones. Our assistant directors and our production assistants are running down, saying, don’t go, they’re shooting. The door opens and out comes Oprah. She’s not supposed to be there; we thought she wasn’t even in the state that day! She starts walking towards me and I just run up to her and give her a big old hug. It was like a house party in the street.
How was it having people like the actual Andrew Young on the set?
So cool. And it easily could not have been if they were grouchy curmudgeons. But there’s still a spark about them. These are our greatest minds, our greatest radicals. Time has not done them in. If you look John Lewis in the eye and he’s talkin’ to you about something, you’re like “Uh huh, let’s go do it!” When I sat down with them, I was really clear that we weren’t asking for anybody’s permission.
But this [film] is not called “King”; this is Selma. This was as much the story about the band of brothers and sisters that were around him as it was King’s story. There haven’t been great pains taken to show that he was a leader among leaders — all of them could’ve probably done it. Why him? He could talk the best. He was an orator who was able to synthesize all these ideas in a way that spoke to the masses and also that spoke to people in power. But they were there and they were the masterminds behind it. I tried to show the strategy, the tactics, the arguments. That’s how history is made, not by consensus, but by people freakin’ battling it out, right? That’s how change happens.
The Important Role of Armed Resistance in the Black Civil Rights Movement
Photo Credit: Atomazul / Shutterstock.com
David Goodman Photo: The Andrew Goodman Foundation
Fifty years ago, on June 21, 1964, my older brother, Andrew Goodman, was murdered near Philadelphia, Miss. He and his colleagues Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were ambushed by more than a dozen members of the Ku Klux Klan, including the county’s deputy sheriff. They were taken to an unmarked dirt road and shot, one by one.
Their bodies weren’t discovered for 44 days, a mystery and a tragedy that continues to elicit raw emotions even a half-century later.It happened on the first day of Freedom Summer, an effort by the black leadership to flood Mississippi with northern college students who would help register African-American voters.At the time, barely 7 percent of Mississippi’s black residents were registered to vote. In eight of the 13 mostly black counties in the state, not a single African American had ever voted.
A century after the Civil War, they remained disenfranchised — citizens without a voice. It was more than segregation; it was subjugation. Something had to be done.The 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project was a bold initiative. Given the widespread hatred of “outside agitators,” it was an act of remarkable bravery by all who participated.As the late Maya Angelou wrote in the foreword to My Mantelpiece, the recently published posthumous memoir of my mother, Carolyn Goodman, “Those three young men represent 300,000 young men and women who dared, who had the courage to go to the lion’s den and try to scrub the lion’s teeth.
“When 20-year-old Andy asked my parents for permission to volunteer in Mississippi, their urge to protect their son was trumped by the understanding that he was a spiritual reflection of themselves and their willingness to take action. His death devastated my family, but the brazenness of the act also shocked the nation.
Sadly, it was largely because two of the three victims were white.In fact, as officials searched through the forests and swamps of Mississippi, they discovered many black lynching victims who simply had been ignored because their tragic fate had become commonplace. So the case, which inspired the movie Mississippi Burning, lit a fire for the cause. It is no coincidence that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed the following year.Yet here we go again. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of that landmark piece of legislation, and immediately a number of states moved to implement laws that would essentially reduce voter turnout among minority groups. Dubious claims of voter fraud are being used to once again disenfranchise a portion of the population.In 1964, black would-be voters were turned away by intimidation and poll tests. Now, voter ID requirements and limited voting hours will disproportionately turn away, or inconvenience, low-income and minority voters. It is a more sophisticated and insidious form of voter suppression.Something has to be done.
After Andy’s death, my mother devoted the rest of her life to ensuring that he did not die in vain. She formed The Andrew Goodman Foundation, celebrated youth activists, and worked tirelessly for voting rights and human rights she was even arrested during a protest at age 83.As the estimable Rep. John Lewis put it, “She got in trouble. … It was necessary trouble. And she inspired many of us to continue to get in trouble.”But 50 years after Freedom Summer, we once again need to cause some trouble. The tragedy of the “Mississippi Burning” murders became a travesty of justice when only a handful of the perpetrators were convicted on federal charges, none spending more than a half-dozen years in prison because the state wouldn’t pursue a murder prosecution.It wasn’t until 41 years later that the ringleader of the group was convicted of three counts of manslaughter. My 89-year-old mother testified at the trial, a trial that happened because a few determined folks, inside and outside of Mississippi, wouldn’t let it go.
So we cannot let this new movement — these cynical and sinister attempts to disenfranchise Americans — go. If it takes an act of “outside agitation,” so be it. If it requires courage, we can summon it. If it means replacing cynicism with optimism and apathy with action, we can accomplish it. After all, there is a tiny hamlet right next to Philadelphia, Miss.
It is a town called Hope.David Goodman is The Andrew Goodman Foundation president.
-Activist, Leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement-
“Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness — justice.”
“Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community?” (1967), p. 109
“If a city has a 30 percent Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30 percent of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.”
Interview in Playboy magazine, (1968)
-First President of Nigeria-
“There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route. And so most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity.”
“My Odyssey: An Autobiography,” (1970)
“I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.
I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.”
”Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience” (2003) by Henry Louis Gates and Kwame Anthony Appiah, p. 299
-Global Leader in the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism Movements-
“We are living in a world that is scientifically arranged in which everything done by those who control it is done through system; proper arrangement, proper organization, are among some of the organized methods used to control the world. The weaker peoples before were the Chinese, the East Indians and the Negroes. The Chinese have organized national resistance; the East Indians have also organized national resistance. Therefore, only the Negro who is exposed to the most ruthless exploitation, and is left to be exploited in the future. What will become of the Negro in another five hundred years if he does not organize now to develop and to protect himself? The answer is that he will be exterminated for the purpose of making room for the other races that will be strong enough to hold their own against the opposition of all and sundry.”
“It is unfortunate that we should find ourselves at this time the only disorganized group. Others have had the advantage of organization for centuries, so what seems to them unnecessary, from a racial point of view, becomes necessary to us, who have had to labor all along under the disadvantage of being scattered without a racial aim or purpose.”
“The traitor of other races is generally confined to the mediocre or irresponsible individual, but, unfortunately, the traitors among the Negro race are generally to be found among the men with the highest place in education and society, the fellows who call themselves leaders.”
“Message to the people: The Course of African Philosophy,” (1986)
“Twice as Good”
If you are a Black person over the age of 55, being told that in order to be successful, over and over again that you have to be “twice as good” was a mantra that came from parents, church, school. You inherently understood this message. It lived with you most of the time in study and other endeavors, as you entered a new world brought on my the civil rights movement. In many ways, the message translated into “twice as good and twice as right”. Overachievement and a lifetime of seeking perfection. Never letting up, always winning. Always running as hard as you can to beat the odds and avoid failure.
The mantra popped up in a recent episode of the ABC series, “Scandal” in a scene with Olivia Pope, the main character who is a “political crisis fixer” and her Father, Rowan, a powerful Washington insider. In this scene, he reiterates what we were all told, you have to be “twice as good to get half of what they have”. We were told this, even when our parents had no idea of what the really had. They did know, however, how far they were willing to go to keep it for themselves and from us.
I watched it with great interest, seeing yet again the damage that we inflict on our children in our quest to prove that being Black deserves respect, and that we are worthy. In the quest to prepare our children, foster their survival, prepare them for the duality and inequities, and on-slaughter . . . just what are we to do as parents?
The “brown-eyes” parents in the Jane Elliott exercises have no idea the corner in which Black parents have to paint their children to meet the challenges of race discrimination and the realities of an endless battle against white privilege in order to win.
For many Blacks, the “twice as good” worked. I wonder often at what price ?
‘When Affirmative Action Was White’: Uncivil Rights
The 1964 Civil Rights Act struck down the South’s segregation laws, outlawed employment discrimination and forbade discrimination in federal programs. For black Americans living in the South, the voting rights law finally secured the right to the ballot. And President Johnson initiated a sweeping new government policy called affirmative action. Its purpose was to overcome at least some of the accumulated human damage caused by 350 years of slavery and Jim Crow, and to ensure further progress toward equality.
Benefiting from that ”shining moment” in the 1960’s, a black middle class has prospered and grown rapidly. Yet millions of African-Americans remain mired in poverty in a nation bitterly divided over whether special help to minorities should continue. Affirmative action programs have long been under siege, vigorously attacked in Congress and the federal courts and criticized for ”discriminating” against the white majority. With conservatives dominating the federal government, civil rights groups and other liberal organizations have waged a mostly defensive battle to protect the gains of the 1960’s. Fresh ideas and effective leadership to advance the American ideals of equality and social justice have been in short supply.
Ira Katznelson, the Ruggles professor of political science and history at Columbia University, enters this fray with a provocative new book, ”When Affirmative Action Was White,” which seeks to provide a broader historical justification for continuing affirmative action programs. Katznelson’s principal focus is on the monumental social programs of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Harry Truman’s Fair Deal in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He contends that those programs not only discriminated against blacks, but actually contributed to widening the gap between white and black Americans — judged in terms of educational achievement, quality of jobs and housing, and attainment of higher income. Arguing for the necessity of affirmative action today, Katznelson contends that policy makers and the judiciary previously failed to consider just how unfairly blacks had been treated by the federal government in the 30 years before the civil rights revolution of the 1960’s.
This history has been told before, but Katznelson offers a penetrating new analysis, supported by vivid examples and statistics. He examines closely how the federal government discriminated against black citizens as it created and administered the sweeping social programs that provided the vital framework for a vibrant and secure American middle class. Considered revolutionary at the time, the new legislation included the Social Security system, unemployment compensation, the minimum wage, protection of the right of workers to join labor unions and the G.I. Bill of Rights.
Even though blacks benefited to a degree from many of these programs, Katznelson shows how and why they received far less assistance than whites did. He documents the political process by which powerful Southern Congressional barons shaped the programs in discriminatory ways — as their price for supporting them. (A black newspaper editorial criticized Roosevelt for excluding from the minimum wage law the black women who worked long hours for $4.50 a week at the resort the president frequented in Warm Springs, Ga.)
At the time, most blacks in the labor force were employed in agriculture or as domestic household workers. Members of Congress from the Deep South demanded that those occupations be excluded from the minimum wage, Social Security, unemployment insurance and workmen’s compensation. When labor unions scored initial victories in organizing poor factory workers in the South after World War II, the Southern Congressional leaders spearheaded legislation to cripple those efforts. The Southerners’ principal objective, Katznelson contends, was to safeguard the racist economic and social order known as the Southern ”way of life.”
Katznelson reserves his harshest criticism for the unfair application of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, a series of programs that poured $95 billion into expanding opportunity for soldiers returning from World War II. Over all, the G.I. Bill was a dramatic success, helping 16 million veterans attend college, receive job training, start businesses and purchase their first homes. Half a century later, President Clinton praised the G.I. Bill as ”the best deal ever made by Uncle Sam,” and said it ”helped to unleash a prosperity never before known.”
But Katznelson demonstrates that African-American veterans received significantly less help from the G.I. Bill than their white counterparts. ”Written under Southern auspices,” he reports, ”the law was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow.” He cites one 1940’s study that concluded it was ”as though the G.I. Bill had been earmarked ‘For White Veterans Only.’ ” Southern Congressional leaders made certain that the programs were directed not by Washington but by local white officials, businessmen, bankers and college administrators who would honor past practices. As a result, thousands of black veterans in the South — and the North as well — were denied housing and business loans, as well as admission to whites-only colleges and universities. They were also excluded from job-training programs for careers in promising new fields like radio and electrical work, commercial photography and mechanics. Instead, most African-Americans were channeled toward traditional, low-paying ”black jobs” and small black colleges, which were pitifully underfinanced and ill equipped to meet the needs of a surging enrollment of returning soldiers.
The statistics on disparate treatment are staggering. By October 1946, 6,500 former soldiers had been placed in nonfarm jobs by the employment service in Mississippi; 86 percent of the skilled and semiskilled jobs were filled by whites, 92 percent of the unskilled ones by blacks. In New York and northern New Jersey, ”fewer than 100 of the 67,000 mortgages insured by the G.I. Bill supported home purchases by nonwhites.” Discrimination continued as well in elite Northern colleges. The University of Pennsylvania, along with Columbia the least discriminatory of the Ivy League colleges, enrolled only 46 black students in its student body of 9,000 in 1946. The traditional black colleges did not have places for an estimated 70,000 black veterans in 1947. At the same time, white universities were doubling their enrollments and prospering with the infusion of public and private funds, and of students with their G.I. benefits.
Katznelson argues that the case for affirmative action today is made more effectively by citing concrete history rather than through general exhortations. Studying the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society and the civil rights movements of the 1960’s could not be more relevant at a time when the administration seems determined to weaken many of the federal programs that for decades have not just sustained the nation’s minorities but built its solid middle class. Whether or not Katznelson’s study directly influences the affirmative action debate, it serves an important purpose. With key parts of the Voting Rights Act set to expire in 2007 and other civil rights protections subject to change, we must understand a continuing reality: the insidious and recurrent racial bias in the history of American public life.
“I Fear I May Have Integrated My People Into a Burning House” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Harry Belafonte speaks on last conversation between him and MLK.
Midway through the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. realized that the struggle for integration would ultimately become a struggle for economic rights. I remember the last time we were together, at my home, shortly before he was murdered. He seemed quite agitated and preoccupied, and I asked him what the problem was. “I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply,” he said. “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.”
That statement took me aback. It was the last thing I would have expected to hear, considering the nature of our struggle, and I asked him what he meant. “I’m afraid that America may be losing what moral vision she may have had,” he answered. “And I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears at the soul of this nation.”
“I fear, I am integrating my people into a burning house.”
~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
Dr. King said the above statement to Harry Belafonte in a conversation they had before his death. Belafonte startled at the statement said to him “What should we do?” Dr. King told him that we “Become the firemen, Let us not stand by and let the house burn.”
On the flip side of that, you have a speech by Malcolm X. It was entitled “The House Negro and the Field Negro.” He spoke about how the House Negro loved the Master more than he loved himself. And that if the Masters house caught on fire, the House Negro would try to put the fire out. On the other hand you have the Field Negro. The Field Negro hated the master and despised his very existence. If the Master’s house were to catch on fire, the Field Negro would pray for a strong wind to come along.
Here you have two black thoughts that are on opposite sides of the spectrum. The feelings are as true today as they were when both these statements were proclaimed in the mid 60’s.
What are your thoughts on this?
How can one fight for something they don’t believe in?
Why would someone fight for something they believe will ultimately destroy the people they are supposedly fighting for?