Tag Archives: civil rights

Best Quote of the Week – August 23, 2019

“For the first time in history, we were able to have Presidential candidates treat us equally.”

O.J. Semans, executive director of Four Directions, a voting rights group that organized a seminar at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa, for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to address Native American concerns.

Leave a comment

Filed under News

Civil Righting

the-constitution

Back in 2002, my then-roommate, Tom,* and I got into a discussion about racial and gender equality.  I stated that all of the various civil rights movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, starting with the abolitionist movement, were necessary to instigate change and make America live up to its declaration as a truly free and inclusive nation.  Tom merely shook his head no in a condescending fashion and said, “Nah,” later adding that eventually people would have “come around” and realize discrimination was wrong.

I looked at him like the fool he was and asked him if he sincerely believed that.  He said he did.  I then recounted the story of my father’s return from Korea in the mid-1950s.  He had been drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to the front lines in the midst of the Korean War.  Among the many friends he made were a large contingent of Black soldiers.  By then, the U.S. armed forces had been forcibly integrated, so a mix of ethnic groups comprised all the various military units.  My father didn’t serve his full two-year stint, as the war ended sooner than most anyone had expected.  He and several of his fellow soldiers arrived in Seattle via ship and then boarded a train to head to their various home cities.  My father was confused when his Black team mates started walking away from.  He called out to them, asking where they were going.  One told him they were headed towards the rear caboose – where Black people had to sit.  As he watched his friends, his brothers-in-arms, saunter down the platform, my father said to himself, “Oh yea, we’re back in America – land of the free.”

Tom just sort of looked at me, not knowing what to say.  He conceded it was wrong, even then, to force Blacks to sit at the back of a bus or a train.  But, he snapped out of his brief foray into actual reasoning and reiterated that eventually White people would have realized how unfair that was.  In other words, we didn’t bus strikes or protests of any kind.  People should have just waited around, hoping for the better.

No one should have to wait for justice and fairness.  Nobody should be straddled to the rocks of oppression and brutality – hoping, praying and begging for those in positions of power and influence to see the light.  Disenfranchised groups in the U.S. had waited for centuries to be treated with dignity and respect and to be given an equal chance to succeed.

I told someone else around the same time as my conversation with Tom that the 1960s exploded with anger and rage because patience had finally run out.  They’d done everything that had been asked of them: they served in the military; they worked hard; they cleaned homes and streets; they obeyed the laws (no matter how discriminatory they were); they tried as best to keep to themselves – everything.  And, they still weren’t given a fair chance.  Blacks still had to sit at the back of the bus; women still had to change their last names when they got married and still had to have children; Indians still had to live in squalor on reservations; gays and lesbians still had to suppress their true identities.

And so, by the 1960s, everything just sort of erupted at once.  If change didn’t come through peace and hard work, then it had to be forced.  America was compelled to fulfill its proclamation as a nation of freedom and opportunity.  It no longer had a choice in the matter.  The time had come to change – whether some folks liked it or not.

It was curious to hear Tom speak of racial and gender equality and inequality.  He was a mix of German and Cherokee; from a small, nondescript community in far northeast Texas.  We discussed the plight of Indigenous Americans more than once.  He felt that Indians could have fought back against European encroachers because they also had men.  I noted that Europeans had two primary advantages: guns and horses.  Moreover, they’d adopted both gunpowder and horse-riding skills from the Chinese.  Tom wasn’t moved.  And, I told him he now had the distinction of falling into two unique groups: those who aren’t educated about a subject and those who don’t want to be educated.  That’s actually a rarity, but one that persists even now; in this second decade of the 21st century with a biracial U.S. president and a shrinking White majority.

Attitudes really are hard to change.

*Name changed.

4 Comments

Filed under Essays

World Human Rights Day 2013

Mandela

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

– Nelson Mandela

World Human Rights Day

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

 

Image courtesy Brendan Lochrie.

Leave a comment

Filed under News

“March on Washington” at 50

the-constitution

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the “March on Washington,” a seminal event in modern civil rights history – one that changed the cultural direction of this nation.  Officially titled the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” its initial impact surprised even its organizers.  In a time before cell phones and personal computers, word of the event spread quickly and attracted more than 200,000 people to the U.S. capital as a steamy summer neared its end.  Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was the highlight of the march and remains its signature hallmark.  But, it was more than a showcase for King; it was about a movement and a people – the American people.  It was a call for the U.S. to uphold its constitutional values that all citizens are created equal.  People will forever debate its merits.  But, there’s no doubt it became a critical force in moving this nation forward; a real catalyst for positive change and opportunity.

The fight actually continues in relentless calls for economic and social justice.  Battles like this are never won so easily.

tumblr_m9hpp2tZNU1qbz9meo1_500

Official program.

Photos from the event.

Top image courtesy of United Liberty.

2 Comments

Filed under History

In Remembrance – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929 – 1968

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-9365086-2-402

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.

Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.

Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leave a comment

Filed under News

Dreaming into Reality

Today marks the 45th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s seminal “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech, which he gave in Memphis, Tennessee.  It is one of the most significant orations of the 20th century; an impromptu talk King gave at the last minute.  He had just arrived in Memphis to lend spiritual support to Black garbage collectors who had gone on strike.  He was tired and simply wanted to retire for the evening.  But, a crowd had gathered at the Mason Temple in Memphis, eagerly anticipating his arrival.  King’s associates finally convinced him to speak to them.  He would be dead less than twenty-four hours later.

I grew up reading about King, but never thought much of him until long after his birth was memorialized into a federal holiday.  He, of course, didn’t live to see goals of a truly integrated society come to fruition.  But, his spirit lives and thrives well in the hearts of anyone who has ever fought for social justice.

Leave a comment

Filed under History

In Remembrance – Martin Luther King, Jr.

dr-martin-luther-king-jr-w-james-taylor

Today marks the 83rd anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most important political and social figures of the 20th century.  King was born Michael Luther King, Jr., in Atlanta, Georgia.  He later changed his name to Martin and started a successful career as a pastor with Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

King is most closely associated with the modern civil rights movement, but that was a task with no easy beginning and a blatantly violent end.  In 1957, as Southern Negroes began to clamor for more freedom and equality, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed primarily to provide leadership for fledgling civil rights activities.  King adapted Christian ideals to the structure of the SCLC and followed the mantra of India’s Mahatma Gandhi who preached non-violent and peaceful resistance to achieve equality.

Before King could convince White Americans that entrenched racism was morally and constitutionally wrong, however, he had to convince Black Americans – especially Black Southerners – to brave uncharted territory.  It seems almost ludicrous now, but King had to rally Black Americans to rise up and protest against the institutional bigotry that ruled their lives.  They had maintained a tremulous existence for decades; one they obviously didn’t like, but a life they generally felt powerless to do anything about.  There were no anti-discrimination laws to protect someone against the White male aristocracy that ruled America with an iron fist.  Women and non-White men had to be prompted to risk everything to demand the nation hold true to its constitutional values of freedom and justice.

From 1957 until his death, King traveled over 6 million miles and spoke over 2,500 times against social injustices towards Black Americans.  Other groups, such as Hispanics and Native Americans, took their queues for action from King.  His 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was seminal to the Black civil rights movement.  It won him the Nobel Peace Prize; making him the youngest man ever to be awarded that honor.

I guess it was destiny that he would not live to see much of his dreams come to fruition.  He was gunned down on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, while doing what he did best – speaking out against discrimination and oppression.

His memory still lives, though – vibrant and strong.  The battle for justice and human dignity continues.

Image courtesy W. James Taylor.

Leave a comment

Filed under History