Where Are We Now?

One of my colleagues and I were talking about The Butler and the issue of Black on Black crime. My colleague said she walked out of the movie because she could not tolerate being face to face with the pain of the Civil Rights Movement. The turning point for her was when the Black girl was spit on during the Woolworth sit in.

Although Black people (and all people) should demand equal treatment from society, we are often cruel and unjust to each other. Black on Black violence dominates many neighborhoods, the value of education in many communities has depreciated, and our youth idolize those who portray us as being hoes, bitches, dope dealers, and gangsters while those who are trying to succeed in legal and socially acceptable means are considered lame.

The struggles during the Civil Rights Movement were not done in vain, but many of our youth have failed to pick up the torch of empowerment. How do we get our society back on track when we so many seem to have fallen astray is a question I often ponder. During the Civil Rights struggles, protests were not impromptu occurrences. In many instances, they were planned for weeks or even months before any action was taken. Leaders of organizations such as the NAACP, CORE, and SLCL attempted negotiations with business owners and government officials before picketing. Their negotiations were usually accompanied by a list of demands. If the white business owners agreed to meet the demands of the Black community, the boycott would be called off. If business owners failed to agree to all the demands, the black community was prepared to go forth with their plans to protest. Often, they met daily on matters such as who would go to jail (if necessary) and acquired bail money before their feet hit the pavement.

In September of 1962, the National Jackson Youth Council along with the Tougaloo College Chapter of the NAACP began planning a boycott of the businesses on Capital Street in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. Their plan was to start the boycott during the Christmas shopping season in an attempt to hit store owners where it would be felt the most- in their pocketbooks. They were prepared to boycott the stores for as long as possible until the following demands were met:

(1)  personnel were hired and promoted based on their personnel merit without regard to race, color, or creed

(2)  to end segregated drinking foundations, segregated restrooms, and segregated seating

(3)  service to customers be done on a first-come, first-served basis

(4)  the use of courtesy titles such as “Miss,” “Mrs.” “and “Mr” with regard to ALL people

Their boycotts were successful in organizing the Black community and supporters of integration. For months, the business owners and local government refused to budge.

Woolworth Sitin  Jackson, MS May 28, 1963

Woolworth Sit-in (Jackson, MS)
May 28, 1963

Regardless of how violent their oppressors were, the protestors maintained their peaceful position and strategized to legally initiate change.

If we were to strategize a method to bring social change and ethical awareness back to communities in need, what would be our demands? Which factions within our community would we deem to be most important to change first?

    • Would we direct our demonstrations towards BET, MTV, and VH1 whose daily line-up of shows and videos display our young people in degrading ways?
    • Would we revamp the education system an in effort to help our students and parents understand the true benefits of a degree?
      • Would we demand Black history courses become integrated into the curriculum as early as elementary so that our children will have a true sense of self?
    • Would we fight for the funds to provide more job training for the Black community?
    • Would we promote mental health services for our communities to help citizens deal with the overwhelming issues of dysfunctional relationships, rape, child abandonment, fatherless families, drug abuse, and victims of crimes?

Would it make a difference?

Click here to view a copy of the letter that was sent to white business owners as they continued their efforts for equality.
Source (for the letter and photo): Hunter Bear (John Salter, Jr., former professor of Tougaloo College and Former Advisor to the Tougaloo College NAACP Chapter). www.hunterbear.org
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The Butler and the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

This past weekend, I took my mom to watch The Butler. I planned to see it but hadn’t decided if I was going to watch it at the movies or wait for the DVD. A close friend of mine, who is aware of my interest in learning more about the Black Struggle, had seen the movie and suggested that I didn’t wait to view it. I’m glad I took his advice.

I had seen very few previews of the movie and didn’t know it was so deeply interwoven with the Civil Rights Movement.

Photograph of the Freedom Rider Bus that was headed to Alabama. Photo source- Alabama Department of Archives and History

Photograph of the Freedom Rider Bus that was headed to Alabama. Photo source- Alabama Department of Archives and History

The scenes where the Klan ambushed the Freedom Riders’ bus made my blood turn hot with anger as it ran through my body. I unconsciously became stiff and my hands clenched the armrests of my chair. My knees locked up. I was paralyzed by shock and anger. However, my emotional response was based off the knowledge I gained from reading about the Civil Rights Movement and the things my parents have told me. If I was this angry, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of emotions my mom might be experiencing since she lived through the actual events. Both of my parents grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They experienced segregation, the struggles of integration, black oppression, and the Klan personally.

During the drive home, I asked my mom if she remembered the events that were shown in the movie. She said, “Like it was yesterday.” She instantly began to tell me about her experiences going with her mom to the doctor. She said the doctor’s office was at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and there was a back door for Blacks to enter. The office had a black waiting room and a white waiting room. She said she easily remembered the white water fountains that were side-by-side with the black water fountains. She told me about her recollections of the Woolworth sit-ins and the segregated buses, parks, and restaurants.

Segregated water fountains.

Segregated water fountains. Source: Progressivesouthbend.org

Because the South was segregated during her upbringing, my mother told me it was important to her that her children got the opportunity to go to the King Edward Hotel. This hotel, located in downtown Jackson, was a bustling whites only establishment. When the federal government demanded an end to segregation and required businesses to serve patrons of all colors, the owner of the hotel said he would shut the place down before he would allow a Black person in. He did just that. In 1967, the doors of the hotel were closed. For over 40 years, the King Edward Hotel became an eye sore that nagged of times filled with racial hatred and discrimination. In 2007, a group of investors began working to refurbish the hotel. Two years later, it reopened. In celebration of my thirtieth birthday, my mom took my aunt and me there.

The abandoned and remodeled King Edward Hotel.

The abandoned and remodeled King Edward Hotel.

On the drive home from the movies, my mom said while taking us to that hotel may have seemed like a small gesture, it meant a lot to her. It symbolized overcoming a great obstacle. It symbolized changed times and a new Mississippi.

Click here to read more about the Freedom Riders.

To view photographs and articles from the Civil Rights Movement, visit the Mississippi Department of Archives’ Digital Archives, and click on Sovereignity Commission Online. For example, conduct a Photograph Search by typing in Freedom Riders in the search box. You surly will find a wealth of interesting information.

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Voting Day: No Picket Lines, No Scare Tactics

Vote

(image from the Freedom Summer of 1964)

Today is voting day for the primary elections. Because I am reading Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by John Dittmer, I have a totally new outlook on the voting process. Since I’ve started reading the book, I keep thinking about the unbelievable sacrifices it vividly describes.

During the 1940s-1960s, a number of tactics were used to keep Blacks away from the polls. Although the literacy rates among Blacks were low during these times, they were forced to interpret part of the Constitution during the registration process. Around the state, hundreds took their turn at the interpretation, but only a few individuals would pass. The criteria for passing were determined by the person giving the test on that particular day. Unfortunately, those in charge had no intention of granting Blacks the opportunity to register to vote. This was made clear by the shot guns, attack dogs, and police cars that often greeted registrants at the doors of the county courthouse.

I also thought about Freedom Days in towns like Canton and Hattiesburg. These days were set aside for Blacks to collectively attempt to register. Because of the level of discrimination, these attempts often led to picketing and drew national attention.

I reminisced on the many churches, houses, and businesses that were saturated with bullets or bombed. The owners of these places were targeted because they offered work space to voter registration organizers (such as COFO, NAACP, SCLC or SNCC). When the bombings did not deter the organizers, they were targeted as they drove through the towns. The descriptions of the brutal attacks as men were dragged out of their cars, assaulted, hung, or shot would bring tears to your eyes.

I remembered the story of fifteen year old June Johnson who was beaten because she took part in a desegregation attempt during the ride back from the SCLC citizenship school (designed to help organizers with voter registration efforts). Her account is detailed in the book.

 “…Then the four of them- the Sheriff, the Chief of Police, the State Trooper, and the white man that had brought Mrs. (Fannie Lou) Hamer in- threw me on the floor and beat me. After they finished stomping me, they said, “Get up, nigger.” I raised my head and the white man hit me in the back of the head with a club wrapped in black leather. Then they made me get up. My dress was torn off and my slip was coming off. Blood was streaming down the back of my head and my dress was all bloody.”

Lawmen hoped it would dissuade her and others like her from participating in future movements. They were wrong.

I could not forget the Freedom Summer of 1964. White college students from the north came to Mississippi by the hundreds to help social and civil justice emerge. The youngsters viewed videos that were used to orientate them to Mississippi life. The clothing and political views seen in the video were so far removed from the everyday experiences of white suburbia, that in their naiveness, the students laughed. Their actions offended CORE organizers. Although the Mississippi dialect and fashion seemed comical to them, our struggles were less than humorous.

I’m only half way through the book, with about 300 more pages to go. Yet, the stories of these Mississippians has changed me. The only question I have is: “Why weren’t these historically accounts ever mentioned in my history classes, even in Mississippi history which each student was required to take?” Although most Mississippians would rather not boast about the state’s past, sharing these historical accounts with the next generation ensures that such liberties as free education and the right to vote aren’t taken for granted.

To learn more about the struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi consider:

Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by John Dittmer

Documents, editorials, and hear recorded accounts of the Civil Rights Movement.

To view a sample of what Black Mississippians had to complete to register to vote, click Mississippi voter registration form 1955. Definitely check out page 2.

The Civil Rights Digital Library’s Freedom Summer documents.

Photographs of the Freedom Summer of 1964.

Image source: The Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website 

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Sleep Now…Pay Later

I will admit it. While I was in middle and high school, I thought history classes were the most boring thing God ever created. I passed the classes with A’s (because I couldn’t bring home anything less than that on my report card), but I definitely slept through a good chunk of those classes. The history classes I stayed awake for were filled with recall, read alouds, and were torturous as I sat through them.books march 19 2013

At the time, it was not obvious to me that I simply had teachers who left me uninspired. Their lessons lacked that “Je ne sais quoi” and influenced my lack of interest in history. At that time, I thought I really didn’t need to know much about history.

Now, as an adult, I long to know more about history. I wish I had picked the minds of my teachers a little more. And so…because I slept then…I have paid for it now. It is evident in this huge stack of books I have ordered within the past few months as my curiosity about the civil rights movement, the history of my state, and an understanding of global conflicts grows stronger.

I think this stack of books should definitely last me until the Christmas holidays, if I stick to a strict reading regime.

Want to know what I ordered? Just click on the Reading Queue tab.

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