Thursday, August 21, 2008

Movement underway to restore Bryant Store and Meat Market

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports a movement is underway to restore the Bryant Store and Meat Market building, the place where the incident occurred that led to the brutal murder of Emmett Till:

By Jerry Mitchell

A push is under way to preserve a crumbling symbol of where the civil rights movement began.

Decades of neglect have almost destroyed the Bryant Grocery and Meat Market in Money, but few have forgotten the events during the summer of 1955 that started in the Leflore County store with a wolf-whistle and ended with the slaying of an African-American teenager from Chicago named Emmett Till.

"This was the Alamo, not just for blacks, but for everybody," said Greenwood insurance agent Billy Walker, who is raising money in hopes of buying the building, restoring it and turning it into a museum.

Walker said the Tribble family of Greenwood, who owns the property, asked him not to reveal the purchase price, but he acknowledged it's in the six figures.

That a 61-year-old white businessman from the Mississippi Delta should take on such a project is the latest evidence of the expanding effort to preserve key sites from the civil rights movement across Mississippi and the United States.

Charles Reagan Wilson, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, compared what's happening now to what happened several decades after the Civil War when veterans and others moved to preserve battlefields and historical memories.

Now soldiers from the movement for racial equality are joining with others to preserve these civil rights battlefields, said Charles Cobb Jr., a veteran of the struggle. "People who are in movements don't think about them until decades later."

Many civil rights sites are being lost because little effort has been made to preserve them, said Leslie Burl McLemore, a movement veteran and professor of political science at Jackson State University.

In Clarksdale, the drugstore run by longtime Mississippi NAACP President Aaron Henry, which served as a regular meeting place for those in the movement, is now just a vacant lot, McLemore said. "They should at least have a marker."

A fire gutted Henry's historic home, McLemore said. "Nothing has been done to restore it or board it up."

Many of Jackson's historic sites are crumbling, he said. "We have people coming here from all over the world, and they're coming to a place that looks like it's dying. It's unfair to people who fought the struggle."

Change had to take place for people to recognize those in the movement as heroes, Cobb said. "It's hard for me to see (Mississippi Gov.) Ross Barnett arguing for the preservation of civil rights sites."

In January, Cobb released On the Road to the Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail, which details 400 historic sites from the movement.

While some cities have had civil rights museums for years, smaller communities are beginning to wake up and document their past, he said, including St. Augustine, Fla., where the movement was met by the Ku Klux Klan and violence.

Selma, Ala., recognized the possibility of capitalizing on its past about a decade after Bloody Sunday, he said. "I can see a light bulb going off, 'Well, if we're going to have Civil War sites, why not have civil rights sites?' "

Diane Nash to receive National Freedom Award

Diane Nash, one of the heroes of the civil rights movement, will receive the National Freedom Award Oct. 20:

In April 1960 Nash helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in 1961, she took over responsibility for the Freedom Rides from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. Nash also designed the strategy used by the SNCC in the Selma, Alabama "Right to Vote" campaign, and was an important organizer for the 1963 campaign in Birmingham. She spent 30 days in a South Carolina jail after protesting segregation in Rock Hill in February 1961. President John F. Kennedy, appointed her to a national committee that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Civil rights photo exhibit opens at Atlanta museum

An exhibition of civil rights era photos opened today at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, according to an article in Art Daily.

On view in Atlanta through October 5, 2008, "Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968" is organized by Julian Cox, Curator of Photography at the High Museum of Art. This exhibition is supported by Sandra Anderson Baccus, The Atlanta Foundation, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Toyota, American Express, Turner Broadcasting and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue and will travel to Washington, D.C. in November 2008, with additional venues to be announced.

"The photographs featured in 'Road to Freedom' have strong connections to Atlanta and the city's role as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement," said Michael E. Shapiro, the High's Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director. "The High is committed to organizing exhibitions that are relevant to our community and representative of our unique role as the Southeast's premiere art museum. Thanks to the generosity of several Atlanta benefactors, the High is now home to one of the nation's most important collections of Civil Rights–era photography, and we're delighted to share these photographs with the world through this compelling exhibition."

Covering the twelve-year period between the Rosa Parks case in 1955–1956 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968, "Road to Freedom" will follow key events such as the Freedom Rides of 1961, the Birmingham hosings of 1963 and the Selma–Montgomery March of 1965. The exhibition will feature work by nearly fifty photographers, with recognized names such as Bob Adelman, Morton Broffman, Bruce Davidson, Doris Derby, James Karales, Builder Levy, Steve Schapiro, and Ernest Withers. Also included will be the work of press photographers and amateurs who made stirring visual documents of marches, demonstrations and public gatherings out of a conviction for the social changes that the movement represented. Key images will include Bob Adelman's "Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham," 1963; Morton Broffman's "Dr. King and Coretta Scott King Leading Marchers, Montgomery, Alabama," 1965; Bill Eppridge's "Chaney Family as they depart for the Funeral of James Chaney, Philadelphia, Mississippi," 1964; and Builder Levy's "I Am a Man/Union Justice Now, Memphis, Tennessee," 1968.

(Photo: Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, lead marchers in Montgomery, Ala. in 1965. Photo by Morton Broffman)

Friday, April 4, 2008

King's last crusade remembered

Miami Herald

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Forty years later, they are old men, many with bent backs and ginger steps. And they are taciturn, strangers to an era of confession, getting in touch with your feelings.
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Photos: 1968 sanitation strike

Video: Memphis sanitation workers

Tell Us: Where were you at the time of the MLK assassination?

Interactive: Defining a dream

So if you ask them what it was like, being a black man and a sanitation worker in this city in the 1950s and '60s, they will say simply that it was "tough" or it was "bad." And it will take some pushing for them to tell how you had to root through people's back yards, collecting their tree limbs and dead cats and chicken bones, because there was no such thing as a garbage can placed out by the curb. Or about white bosses who carried guns and called you "boy" and worked you 10, 12, 14 hours a day but only paid you for eight, at as little as $1.27 an hour. Or about how it was when the metal tubs you toted on your head rusted through and the garbage leaked.

"I come home on the bus," says Elmore Nickelberry, 76, who is still working. '[People] couldn't sit next to me. They say, 'You stink.' Most of the time, I'd get way in the back. Most of the time, I'd walk home."

This is a story about the Memphis sanitation workers' strike of 1968, how black men who were, in their words, treated like "beasts," like "animals," like the garbage they collected, decided enough, no more. It is a story about how a demand for higher wages and better working conditions soon turned into a demand for something more.

And it is a story about Martin Luther King's last campaign – the one that took his life, 40 years ago Friday.

A trying time

The great civil rights leader was besieged from all directions that season. Estranged from the White House for his stand against the war in Vietnam. Ridiculed by young blacks who thought him out of touch with the new militancy of guns and separatism. Tormented from within by depression, fatigue and a haunting presentiment of his own death.

That presentiment entered a sermon he preached in February. "Every now and then," Dr. King said quietly, "I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral." And then he told them how he wanted it to go. The person who delivered his eulogy was not to talk too long, was not to mention where Dr. King went to school, was not to bring up his Nobel Peace Prize.

"I'd like for somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others!" His voice was like a clap of summer thunder.

Because he saw death coming. In Memphis, it had already come.

Sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker had climbed into the back of one of the old garbage trucks to get out of the rain. But as the vehicle rumbled along, the hydraulic ram that compacted the trash started up on its own. Mr. Cole and Mr. Walker were crushed. Just like garbage.

The men had complained for years about that truck in particular, about raggedy, malfunctioning old trucks in general. The city never listened.

"They felt a garbage man wasn't nothing," says Mr. Nickelberry. "And they figured they could treat us any way they wanted to treat us. ... Make you feel bad, 'cause you know you wasn't no garbage. You supposed to been a man."

It was, finally, one indignity too many.

At a mass meeting 10 days later, years of accumulated anger exploded. Hundreds of men, represented by no union and taking no formal vote, decided: Enough. The next day, 930 of 1,100 sanitation workers, 214 of 230 sewer and drainage workers, did not show up for work. The final act of the civil rights movement had begun.

No one knew it at the time.

Mayor and mayhem

At the time, it was just a strike, just the workers against the city – the latter represented by its newly elected mayor, a stubbornly intransigent cuss named Henry Loeb who drew a line in the sand early on and refused to budge, even when his advisers advised him to, even when budging seemed a matter of plain common sense.

So instead of moving toward settlement, the strike only grew. It drew in national union leaders trying to help the men win recognition. Then came preachers, local activists, high school kids, college students. It also attracted a militant youth group, the Invaders.

It was an unwieldy coalition of egos and agendas, answerable to no one authority. And on Feb. 23, the strike exploded into violence.

Sanitation workers were holding one of their daily marches when police appeared, brandishing rifles and using their vehicles to force the marchers back toward the sidewalk. Cars brushed dangerously close. The Rev. James Lawson told the marchers he was leading: "They're trying to provoke us. Keep going."

Then, say the workers (the point is still disputed, 40 years later), a police car ran over the foot of a female marcher. And parked there. And the men had had enough. "They picked that car up," says Joe Warren, an 86-year-old retired sanitation worker, "and turned it over on its side. That's when all hell broke a loose."

Out came the night sticks. The violence was indiscriminate: women, old men, ministers, not resisting, just standing there, didn't matter.

"Them white police was mean with those sticks," says Mr. Warren. "They hit you with those sticks; they juke you with those sticks." Some men fought back with their protest signs.

Words that bind

Soon after, a new slogan appeared on the signs the black men carried. Four words, but they were provocative. Four words, but in that time and place, they were incendiary. Four words, but they managed to encapsulate at long last something black men had never quite been able to get America to understand.

Four words.

I AM A Man.

"When you been overseas fighting," says Mr. Nickelberry, who served in Korea, "... look like you should be treated as a man. But they always call you a boy: 'Come here, boy. Do this here, boy. Do that there, boy. Come in the office, boy.' You just come from a war zone and be treated, not as a soldier, not as a man, just a boy. It's real hard."

What had been a strike was now fully something more.

Dr. King came to town in March, invited by Mr. Lawson. He was supposed to give one speech, rally the workers, and then leave. Memphis would be just a quick diversion from planning for the Poor People's campaign, through which he intended to lay the concerns of the American underclass – black, white, brown – before its government. But the diversion became a priority.

Because as he stood before that crowd in Mason Temple, it lifted him, brought him up from the valley of the shadow, buoyed him every time they talked back to him, shouting "Amen!"

Dr. King was in his glory. He told them it was a crime for the citizens of a wealthy nation to subsist on starvation wages. He told them America would go to hell for failing its humblest citizens. He told them to stand together.

And then he told them what he had not meant to tell them, what came to him unplanned in that moment of inspiration and heat. They should "escalate the struggle." They should mobilize a work stoppage. Not only the sanitation men – but the teachers, the students, the clerks, the clerics, the maids, the mechanics.

They should shut Memphis down.

A march was set. And Dr. King, having floated the idea, had little choice but to lead it.

Memphis became poisonous and chaotic. There was garbage in the streets, sit-ins at City Hall, mass arrests. High school students picketed. Rocks were thrown through the windows of businesses owned by the mayor. There were trash fires. Gunfire.

Sanitation worker Ben Jones, 71, says, "I would tell my wife, when I leave home, 'I might be back, and I might not.' Just lettin' her know, don't keep your hopes up."

You had to accept the reality of your own death, they say. Make your peace with it. "I didn't care," says Mr. Warren. "And don't care now." His voice breaks, and tears fall. "We worked hard," he gasps. "Some hard times."

The march was a disaster. Unlike demonstrators in the early days of the struggle, these had not been drilled in the discipline and tactics of nonviolent protest. They were excited and unruly.

The march stepped off with Dr. King and his ministerial allies in the lead, flanked by sanitation workers. But young people soon elbowed their way to the front. And then, from behind, came the sound of shattering glass.

Members of the Invaders had taken bricks and pipes to storefront windows, screaming, "Black power!"

The nation's premiere pacifist found himself at the head of a mob. He would not, he said, lead a violent march. Fearful for his safety, his men swept him away.

Behind them, police gassed and clubbed looters and bystanders alike. A lone police officer surrounded by a menacing black mob was rescued by two black women in a car. An apparently unarmed black boy was fatally shot at close range by police.

Finally, National Guardsmen sealed off the black neighborhoods.

The media response was scathing. Dr. King, they said, had stirred up trouble and then run away. Even those sympathetic to Dr. King said the violence had damaged his credibility. And so he had to return, to lead a new march, to prove that nonviolence was still a viable tool of social change. "Either the movement lives or dies in Memphis," he said.

Dr. King's return

On April 3, he returned to a city under storm watch. The skies were menacing, the winds punishing. Exhausted, Dr. King begged off speaking at the rally planned for that night and sent Mr. Abernathy in his place. He settled down to bed.

But Mr. Abernathy called. The hall was packed. The people wanted him, would accept no one else. So Dr. King dressed and went out into the storm. He spoke to them without notes as the wind howled and the rain drummed down.

There was a valedictory quality to it, as Dr. King recounted the triumphs and tragedies of the 13-year civil rights movement. He linked the sanitation workers' plight to that of the beaten and robbed man in the Bible who is rescued by the Good Samaritan.

Then, the presentiment touched him, and he spoke, one last time, of his own death.

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life," he said. "Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen" – singing the word – "the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land."

A spirit of defiance seemed to seize him now, and he roared in the face of his own demise. "So I'm happy tonight," he cried. "I'm not worried about anything! I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

It came the very next evening. Standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, bantering with his men in the parking lot below, Martin Luther King was shot to death by a sniper.

And we lost, says historian Michael K. Honey, the one man who was able to speak to rabbis and working men and preachers and militants alike, "to communicate across almost all the barriers and boundaries of the 1960s."

"I was shocked," says Mr. Nickelberry. "I was mad. It hurt me. Even hurt me now, just to think about it and talk about it."

The strike was settled April 16. The city recognized the union. The workers got a raise of 10 cents an hour, with another nickel in five months. The city agreed to make promotions on the basis of seniority and competence – not race.

And 40 years later, you arrive in an era where a black man is running for president and, for all myriad issues of race and identity with which he is forced to grapple, he is not required to prove himself a man. The men who helped make that possible are aged and dying and largely forgotten. And feeling, some of them say, cheated.

They say the union they won is not strong and receives little support from younger workers. The job benefits aren't great, either. Ben Jones says he's still working at 71 because he needs to pay off his house; when he retires, his only income will be from Social Security. Sanitation workers have no pension.

Nor did racism disappear. "Some of 'em still call you boy," says Elmore Nickelberry. "In some of 'ems eyes, you ain't nothin' but a boy. Still a boy."

But there is, he says, a difference: You don't have to take it anymore. "I tell 'em: 'I'm 76 years old. I'm old enough for your daddy. I ain't no boy. I am a man.' "

Jesse Jackson: I can still hear the gunshot

In an article in today's Chicago Sun-Times, Rev. Jesse Jackson recalls the assassination of Martin Luther King, which occurred 40 years ago today:

Chicago Sun-Times
April 4, 2008

It was 40 years ago this evening, but the memory still makes his voice crack with pain.

Sometimes, the Rev. Jesse Jackson says, he can even hear the gunshot ring out.

"I said 'Doc,' and as I said 'Doc,' the bullet hit -- POW!" Jackson said of the April 4, 1968, assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.

"I hear it sometimes, and I see him lying there. . . . It was a gruesome scene. It was happening so fast. I hear Ralph [Abernathy] saying, 'Get back. Get back. This is my dearest friend.' "

In 1968, Jackson was a 26-year-old aide to King and was among King's inner circle who went to Memphis to rally for striking sanitation workers.

King, standing on the balcony outside Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, had just kidded Jackson about not wearing a tie as they prepared to attend a dinner.

"Doc, the prerequisite for eating is an appetite, not a tie," Jackson said from the courtyard below. "He said 'You are crazy.' And we laughed. And we laughed."

The night before, King had given his famous "Mountaintop" speech, telling a crowd in Memphis: "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

James Earl Ray's rifle shot the next evening, in hindsight, made those words chilling, prophetic. His bullet killed King -- and lit a fuse that exploded around the nation. The race riots that followed scarred the country, with the devastation still felt today, including on Chicago's West Side, which was set afire and looted.

The Chicago riots lasted for eight days, leaving 11 dead, 500 injured, 3,000 arrested and 162 buildings destroyed.

Jackson, now 66, is in Memphis today to lay a wreath at the old Lorraine Motel, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Some Civil Rights leaders, he said, never returned to Memphis after the bullet was fired, instead internalizing their pain and fears to keep King's dream alive. "I just kind of sucked it up, and we all just keep running on to Washington to do our job," Jackson said. "We determined to not let one bullet kill the movement. That was our determination."

But with the passage of years, Jackson says he thinks about that day more and more.

"We were, you know, stunned. I heard someone say, 'Get low! Get low!' Because whoever shot, if they had sprayed the shots, could have got a number of us in the courtyard. I remember running towards the steps and up the steps. You see a picture of us pointing? Andy Young, Billy Kyles and myself? Because police are coming towards us with drawn guns. We're saying, 'The bullet came from that-a-way, that-a-way.' That's what we were saying.

"The next picture is us over him, bleeding so profusely. I remember Rev. Kyles went and got a blanket to put over his body because it was kind of cool, if I recall, around 6 o'clock in the afternoon. And then Rev. Abernathy came out of the room and said, 'Get back. Get back. This is my dearest friend. Martin, Martin.' But he was really dead then. But Rev. Abernathy was talking to him.

"So I got up and went and called Mrs. [Coretta Scott] King, because they had the phone by his bed. I said, 'Mrs. King, Dr. King just got shot. I think it was in the shoulder.' I really couldn't say what I saw. 'I think it was in the shoulder, but I think you should come over here.'

"She said, 'I will.' I'm sure within a few minutes she got the real word that he had been killed. ... It was too painful. I just couldn't say that. I just couldn't say that he had been killed. I mean, they hadn't pronounced him dead, but it was obvious to me when the bullet had hit his neck. . . . Clearly, it was a direct hit.

"And, oh boy, Lord have mercy," Jackson said, his voice cracking. "I'm pained to talk about it. It hurts now, it still hurts. He was 39 years old."

Over the years, Jackson has faced questions over how close he was to King after the shooting, and how his sweater became stained with King's blood. Photos later surfaced that appeared to show Jackson close enough for the blood to stain.

Abernathy, King's deputy in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, died in 1990. Other witnesses are still alive, though, including Young,, who went on to become Atlanta's mayor, and Kyles, who in a 1990 sermon said he long struggled with why he was chosen to witness such a tragedy.

"I was there to be a witness, and my witness has to be true," Kyles said. "Martin Luther King Jr. didn't die in some foolish, untoward way. He didn't overdose. He wasn't shot by a jealous lover. He died helping garbage workers. The fruits of his labor are with us now. A man with a Ph.D. degree, of all the things he could have been, he chose to use his gifts and his talents 'for the least of these.' "

Jackson believes King would find joy in parts of today's America, including the diversity of the current presidential campaign. But he would also be distressed about the war in Iraq and "the present policies of jobs and investment out, and drugs and guns in. Taxes up, services down. First-class jails, second-class schools."

Still, Jackson believes things have improved since April 4, 1968.

"What we do know is that his death re-energized our struggle," Jackson said. "Many who were falling asleep at the wheel up until that time came alive again. Some in the form of riots. Some in the form of politics.

"But 40 years after his death, we are a different America today. We are more detoxified. More relations. More black, white and brown going to school. In the workplace. We've grown accustomed to the ideas of the new America -- black, white and brown play ball together, go to class together, run for politics together.

"All this is the aftermath of the seeds that he planted."

(Photo: Jesse Jackson (left) stands with Martin Luther King Jr. (center) and SCLC aide Ralph Abernathy on the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 3, 1968. King was shot dead on the balcony the next day on April 4, 1968. Associated Press)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The murder of Emmett Till

(Nichole Yeoman is a student in Mr. Randy Turner's eighth grade communication arts class at South Middle School during the 2007-2008 school year.)
"Emmett Till was an African American fourteen-year-old who was brutally murdered on August 28,1955." When I heard this statement, it caught my attention one hundred percent. It made me angry and sad when I heard the rest of Emmett Till’s short life story. I couldn’t believe how people were so barbaric and cruel to other humans. I couldn’t imagine going through the pain Emmett went through just for something simple as saying two words to a person!

Emmett Till lived in Chicago, Illinois. When Emmett was only a small child, his father, Louis Till and mother, Mamie Till, separated in 1942. His mother raised Emmett mainly. After not spending a lot of time with his father, Emmett’s dad got drafted off to the army for the war in 1943. While in the army, Louis was convicted and put to death for raping two Italian women and killing a third.

The year of 1955, Emmett was 14 years old. For the summer, he was sent to stay at a family member’s house. Money, Mississippi, was where he stayed. Emmett was used to the unwanted segregation in Chicago, but in Mississippi it was a different story.
-The Lynching of Emmett Till by Christopher Metress

When he arrived, Emmett made some new African American friends. We all know that when you are a teenager that having a boyfriend or girlfriend is what is "cool" in most places. When making new friends, we all get nervous and want to show off to fit in. This is the situation Emmett Till was put in. Emmett just happened to have a picture of one of his friends back home in Chicago in his back pocket while on the conversation of having white friends. To show Emmett hangs with them ,too, he pulled it out and showed his new friends. While they were walking with the picture, they just happened to walk by a white woman working in a store across the street. As most teenagers do, Emmett fell into their peer pressure. They had dared him to go talk to the woman. He walked in the store, bought some candy, then while leaving he looked back and said "Bye baby" to the woman. Knowing the boys might get caught and get in trouble they then ran away from the store. After they calmed down, Emmett probably felt pretty confident that he "fit in" now.

Days went on and the boys didn’t even think about what happened, until a few days later. Emmett was at his uncle, Mose Wright’s cabin. Emmett was sound asleep when Mose led Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam to Emmett. Mose, just begging them to just whip Emmett, was threatened to keep quiet, or else they would kill him. Later that night, Mamie was told of her sons kidnapping. Doing as any loving mother would do, she called police, newspaper companies, and friends.

As days and nights of worrying went on, the third day they found Emmett Till, murdered, weighed down by a seventy-five pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire! The police could not tell who Emmett was until they found his dad’s ring engraved with his initials. His face was unbearable with one eye gouged out of the socket, a bullet in his head, and bruises all over his body. I cannot imagine all the pain he went through as they abused him until he died.
-The Emmett Till Book by M. Susan Orr-Klopher

When his body was shipped back to Chicago, his mother decided to have an open casket at the funeral. She wanted to let people know what he had to go through. She was glad that Roy and J.W. had already been arrested for the kidnapping, but she was worried that they were going to get away with the murder after the trials came around. In the beginning blacks and whites were disgusted and amazed of what happened to him, yet no white lawyers would take Emmett's case.

They had much trouble finding witnesses who would testify against J.W. and Roy. Being the good hearted man he was, Mose Wright finally stepped forward and became the witness they needed. Then after being asked who kidnapped his nephew, he truthfully pointed to Milam and Bryant. Though he encouraged many other African Americans to testify against the two men, their courage didn't help much when it ended. It turned around with an ending line from John C. Whitten, their defense attorney. There, the two murderers were found "not guilty" on September 23rd. As awful as it is, they never went to jail again, for the killing of Emmett Till.

After the trial, the Bryant’s store went out of business from all the African Americans boycotting it, which they earned every bit of it. Since they were not making any money from their shop that closed down, they decided to take interviews for $4,000. In the interviews they confessed they did murder the 14-year-old, Emmett Till. But neither of the killers went to jail because constitutional protection against double jeopardy meant they could not be taken to jail for the murder. The attorneys for Milam and Bryant were in the room when they gave their interviews.

This whole entire story makes me sick to my stomach knowing that two men that killed a 14 year old didn’t go to jail even when they did confess. I will never know how humans could be so brutal over such a little incident. Words are so little, yet people can turn them into murders. None of it makes any sense to me at all.

March on Washington recalled


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Those powerful words are what changed our country. As Martin Luther King Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, during the March on Washington, in Washington D.C, on August 28, 1963, those are the words he spoke.

At eight o’clock on that Wednesday morning, there were only fifty people standing on the monument grounds. It looked as if the march would not be as big as planned. People from all over the nation arrived by plane, train, bus, car and even foot. By the end of the day there was about a quarter of a million people who attended the march. People of many races marched through the District of Columbia that day, even white people. It was said that a quarter of the people there, were white.

The March on Washington took a lot of thought and planning, it was huge. It is still known today as the biggest protest. Many organizations helped put the march together. Each organization had their own ideas and plan on what would happen that day. The “Big Six” were as follows: James Farmer, of the Congress of Racial Equality, also knows as CORE; Martin Luther King Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also known as SCLC; John Lewis, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also known as SNCC; A. Phillip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, also known as NAACP; and Whitney Young Jr., of the National Urban Legend. With all these people helping, even the president; John F. Kennedy, had doubts about the march. But once it was final, he was confident and even spoke at the march.

This event was filled with many things to do. With musical performances by Marian Anderson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Josh White. There were also many speeches. Every one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders gave speeches. James Farmer was in person in Louisiana at the time and had his speech read by Floyd McKissick. There were also many other speakers. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religious leaders; and labor leader Walter Reuther. Among these speakers, there was one female, Josephine Baker. She introduced several “Negro Fighters for Freedom,” even Rosa Parks.

Out of all of these speeches, two of them really moved people. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech:

“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This monumentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

Also, John Lewis’s speech, The Militant:

“The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery. The non-violent revolution is saying, ‘We will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting for hundreds of years. We will not wait for the President, the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us a victory.’ To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait’, we must say that, ‘Patience is a dirty and nasty word’. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually, we want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.”

As these words are spoken, tears are rolling down cheeks in the audience. The United States is starting to make a change in the way people are treated.

The March on Washington has really, truly changed the United States of America. If you sit and think about it, over the past two hundred years, our country has gone from torturing African Americans, whipping them, killing them, making them serve for us, giving up their seats on the bus, so a white man could sit down, making two dollars an hour, when a white man with the same job makes more than twice as much and now, they’re just like us. It’s not right. I don’t understand how a human being could torture another like that just because they’re black. What the “Big Six” did had to take some major courage. They were imprisoned many times, but kept going, day after day, until the African Americans were finally free. “I have a dream”. Those words had to have a major impact on the people standing at the Lincoln Memorial that day. What would you do? If I was there, I would have realized that this was a start of a revolution. It’s a day that will never be forgotten, August 28, 1963, along with an amazing man that will always remain in the history of the United States. Martin Luther King Jr., Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and everyone in the audience joining hands and singing to words to the old Negro spiritual:

“Free at last! Free At last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Selma march remembered

Today's Los Angeles Times features an article about people in Selma remembering the march 43 years ago:

The Rev. Frederick D. Reese was in a packed church, reading Scripture to the bruised and battered congregants, when the phone rang in the pastor's study.

It was the evening of March 7, 1965 -- "Bloody Sunday" in Selma. Most of the 600 civil-rights marchers who had been attacked by Alabama state troopers that afternoon had retreated to hear Reese at the Brown Chapel AME Church, home of the movement in Selma. When Reese picked up the phone, the voice on the other end said, "I understand you had a little trouble down there." It was a fellow preacher, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., calling from Atlanta.

"Dr. King, that's a huge understatement," Reese remembers replying. He now chuckles as he tells the story, but back in those dark days of the mid-'60s, there was nothing funny about it.

"The state troopers had billy clubs in both hands. They literally went down the line, toppling the marchers over as if you were toppling bowling pins in a bowling alley," the pastor, now 79, remembers in an interview.

King told Reese he was mobilizing ministers from around the country to make their way to Selma. They did, along with thousands of other people. What followed two weeks later was a turning point in black America's struggle for equality: the voting-rights march from the Brown Chapel AME Church to the state Capitol, 50 miles away in Montgomery. Reese was in the front row of marchers, next to King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fingerprint expert who played key role in Medgar Evers assasination investigation dead at 88

Today's Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger has a feature on Ralph Hargrove Sr., a Jackson police fingerprint expert who died at age 88:

But the people of Jackson - and the people of Mississippi - should remember Ralph Hargrove Sr. for one simple fact - he was a white cop who did his duty in trying to bring a white racist to justice for the murder of a black civil rights leader in 1963.

Doing so wasn't easy and wasn't popular, but it was right. People who knew him said Hargrove was nobody's big-bellied, tobacco-chewing stereotype of a Southern lawman. They said he was a stand-up guy with courage and a conscience.

W.C. "Dub" Shoemaker, now a retired newspaper publisher in Kosciusko, reminded me this week of Hargrove's quiet courage. In 1963, Shoemaker was a reporter covering the police beat and civil rights stories for The Jackson Daily News in those difficult days.

One of the stories that Shoemaker covered was the assassination of NAACP Field Director Medgar Evers in his Jackson home on the night of June 12, 1963.

Shoemaker recalled how then-JPD Capt. Hargrove and Detective John Chamblee dutifully, doggedly worked the Evers crime scene looking for evidence.

Chamblee and Hargrove's investigation led them to discover a 1918 .3 0/06 Enfield rifle with a Goldenhawk six-power telescopic sight hidden in a clump of honeysuckle vines across Guynes Street from the Evers home.

From the scope of that Enfield rifle, Hargrove was eventually able to lift a "fresh" index fingerprint. The print was eventually matched in the FBI lab in Washington to the military records of Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist and erstwhile fertilizer salesman.

Hargrove's evidence led to unsuccessful 1964 prosecutions of Beckwith that ended in mistrials. But in 1994, new evidence emerged that resulted in a third trial of Beckwith.

This time, Beckwith was convicted of Evers' murder and would spend the rest of his life in a Mississippi prison. He died in 2001 at the age of 80.

At the time of Beckwith's conviction, prosecutors praised Hargrove, saying that the judicial process was indebted to people like Hargrove, who in retirement had kept the negatives of most of the pictures used as evidence in the first trial and again cooperated.

A lot of dominoes had to fall for Beckwith to ultimately pay for his crimes. But without this honest cop's diligence, the key link to Beckwith might have been lost to intolerance and indifference.

Rest well, Capt. Hargrove.

Minniejean Brown Trickey recalls Little Rock Nine

The only member of the Little Rock Nine who did not make it through the 1957-58 school year at Central High School relived her memories of that year in an interview in the March 22 Carleton University newspaper, the Charlatan, in Canada:

“I was 15 and I didn’t know that it was going to be historical. Fifty years later, I find out that it was pivotal American history that really, probably, brought about major change. So, wow, what an honour to be a part of that,” she says.

The nine students tried to enter the school, which was theoretically desegregated after a U.S. Supreme Court decision stated segregated schools were unconstitutional. The students, however, were stopped.

“As we approached the front of the school, soldiers in the Arkansas National Guard closed ranks, standing shoulder to shoulder to block the entrance of the black children and standing aside for the entrance of the white children,” Trickey recalls.

What happened that day was publicized around the world and the black students were dubbed the Little Rock Nine.

“The path to desegregation was raucous and violent, supported by armed soldiers, in plain view for the world to see,” says Trickey.

It was not until two weeks later, after President Dwight W. Eisenhower ordered the National Guard to implement desegregation, that the students returned to school.

Trickey described how the black students were sandwiched between guards and a mob of white people screaming obscenities and death threats.

“The Little Rock desegregation crisis was a pivotal event in United States history which spread to the world, and it had an important twist. That history was made by 14 and 15-year-olds,” she says. “We were not special. We were just kids and we wanted something that was inherently evil to change.”

South Middle School eighth grader receives letter from civil rights pioneer

One of the highlights of this year's third quarter civil rights research project in Mr. Randy Turner's eighth grade communication arts class was when Raycee Thompson received a letter from Carl Holmes, one of the attorneys who helped conduct the research that helped the NAACP present the winning case in the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

Raycee wrote a letter to Carl Holmes, whom she had met briefly two years ago at an event in South Dakota.

"I received a reply letter from Carl Holmes. He was one of the attorneys who helped to do research for the Brown v. Board of Education case. The sad thing is he has bladder cancer, but he still decided to reply.

"In the letter, he answered my questions over the case. He told me that he researched the question, "Is the 14th Amendment being obstructed by school segregation?" He did the research because he felt it was the right thing to do and by doing the research he was treated differently; with more respect from his friends. He said initially he did have some doubts about winning the case, but he knew it would workout. The one thing I thought was the most important from this letter is the lesson Mr. Holmes thought teens should know:

"The roadblocks of hate and injustice can be set aside by serious study, hard work, and unflagging determination."

The content of the letter is printed below:

Dear Raycee:

We got your letter and unfortunately, Carl Holmes is in the hospital right now. He has bladder cancer. I took your letter to him and he dictated the following answers:

1. Did you believe the case had a chance of winning with a white Supreme Court making the decision?

Initially, I did not.

2. What kind of information did you research for the NAACP?

What evidence is there that the Congress which enacted, and the state legislators which ratified the 14th Amendment, understood or did not understand, contemplated or did not contemplate, that it would eventually abolish segregation in the public schools. This question, propounded by the Supreme Court, is the one that I worked on the summer of 1953.

3. When schools first began to desegregate, did you have any second thoughts?

No, because it was the beginning of change, even though I knew there would be problems.

4. Did people treat you differently because you volunteered to help research information for the case?

Yes. My friends thought it was a good thing to do, and in time as the significance of the decision achieved national attention, they were proud of my efforts.

5.How did the segregated schools affect you when you were younger and in school?

Not at all. I went to schools in New York City where there was no segregation by law.

6. Why did you volunteer to do research for the NAACP?

Because I felt it was the right thing to do at the time- I had just graduated from law school.

7.Recently, Sen. Ernie Chambers from Omaha, Nebraska, suggested that the schools be segregated again. How did it feel to hear an important African-American leader make such a suggestion?

I was greatly disheartened and I totally disagree with San. Chambers.

8. What do you feel is the most important lesson today's youth can learn from your generation's struggle?

The roadblocks of hate and injustice can be set aside by serious study, hard work and unflagging determination.

9. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Thank you, Raycee, for your lovely letter and may you succeed in all future endeavors.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Birmingham Church Bombing: the murders that shocked the nation

(Nathan Stripling is an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at South Middle School during the 2007-2008 school year.)

“The Sept. 15, 1963, bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was one of the most abhorrent crimes of the civil rights movement.” It all started out on a nice day, the early morning of September 15, 1963. It seemed as if it was going to be a peaceful day, but it was not as they intended it. Ku Klux Klan member Robert Edward Chambliss stood just a few blocks away from the church. “He had been seen earlier getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box right under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which later, obviously turned out to be a bomb.” On this morning, four innocent young girls were in the middle of changing into their church robes in the basement of the church. Eleven year old Denise McNair, and fourteen year olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were the girls that were killed. ( Twenty other people were also injured along with those four girls. (World Book Encyclopedia, page 87, copyright 1987)
The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church had served as an important part of the African-American community and was used as a meeting place during the civil rights movement. It was also used for mass rallies and Martin Luther King Jr. was among the many leaders who spoke at these events. “It had also been the headquarters for several desegregation protests.” ( (World Book Encyclopedia, page 87, copyright 1987)
“When the church was bombed, it was a sign of the hostility that the segregationists had against the civil rights struggle.” Even though the bomb was a big surprise to most, many bomb threats had been made in the past. But, this time, no threat was made. A hole was blown in the east side of the church. It shattered many windows, along with walls, and doors. “Even the air was filled with a thick cloud of dust and soot, and as community members dug through the debris in search of survivors, they discovered the bodies of the four girls.”(
There was so much grief between the African-American community and white strangers that heard of the tragic incident. “At the funeral of three of the girls, Martin Luther King gave the eulogy, which was witnessed by 8,000 mourners, both white and black.”(
“The FBI led the initial investigation into the bombing.” “According to a 1965 FBI memorandum to director J. Edgar Hoover, it was determined that Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash, and Thomas E. Blanton Jr. had planted the bomb at the church.” “Based on the investigation, the Birmingham FBI office recommended prosecuting the suspects.” “Hoover, however, blocked their prosecution by rejecting the recommendation that the federal receive the testimony that identified the suspects. By 1968, charges had not yet been filed against the suspects. Therefore, the FBI decided to close the case. (
But, in 1971, Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley decided to reopen the case for further investigation. “On November 18, 1977, Robert Chambliss was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.” “The case was once again reopened in 1988 and in July 1997, after the FBI received a tip.” “Herman Frank Cash was still one of the prime suspects, but before a case could be established against him, he died in 1994.” (
“On May 17, 2000, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were charged with the murder of the four girls.” “Blanton was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison on May 1, 2001.” “For the jurors who convicted him, the 1964 taped conversations that the FBI secretly recorded, weighed heavily on their decision.” “The tapes had remained secret until 1997, when the case was reopened. In one recorded conversation that took place between Blanton and his wife, Blanton told her that he was at the Klan meeting where both the bombing was planned and where the bomb was first made.” “In another recorded conversation, Blanton spoke about the bombing to an FBI informant while driving in a car.” “For the jurors, the taped conversations provided enough evidence to convict Thomas Blanton Jr. of murder.” (
Bobby Frank Cherry also had a trial, but it was postponed after the judge had ruled that he was mentally unstable to assist his attorney. After the judge ruled he was ready to assist his attorney, and was competent to stand trial, he was found guilty of four counts of murder. On May 22, 2002, he was sentenced to life in prison. “For the family and friends of the four murdered girls, the conviction of Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry was a very long awaited victory. It was great for them to see those two crooks put behind bars for the rest of their lives. (
On the dreadful day of the bombing, a white man was seen getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which turned out to be a bomb. “Soon afterwards, at 10:22 a.m., the bomb exploded, killing Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. One source says 20 were injured, but the other says that 23 people were injured. Either way, this was a horrible crime that never should have been committed in the first place.
( (
Robert Chambliss, who was tried and had been sentenced to life in prison in November 1977, died in an Alabama prison on October 29, 1985. (
“On May 17, 2000, the FBI announced that the Sixteenth Street Church bombing had been carried out by the Ku Klux Klan splinter group, the Cahaba Boys.” “It was claimed that four men, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry had been responsible for the crime. Herman Cash was dead but Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were arrested, but only Thomas Blanton Jr. has been since tried and convicted with the murder of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. (
Robert Chambliss died in jail before the police got him to fully confess to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, along with the murder of the four girls. Bobby Frank Cherry died in prison in 2004. “One of the prosecutors in the case, Robert Posey, said Cherry has worn the crime like a badge of honor.” (

Violence in Birmingham: Church bombing kills four

(Sarah Phillips is an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's eighth grade communication arts class at South Middle School during the 2007-2008 school year.)

September 15, 1963 10:25 AM.: A dynamite bomb exploded in the basement of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This happened because Martin Luther King Jr. was to speak at the church that night. Many times before antiracial protests had been held at this very church.

Four girls were killed in the explosion, Denise McNair, age 12, Cynthia Wesley, age 14, Carol Robertson, age 13, and Addie Mae Collins, age 11. Addie Mae’s sister, Sarah Collins, was age 15. She survived the explosion but was left blind by this event. When the Pastor went back in to “survey” the damage, he didn’t notice the girls because where they were in the most severally damaged part of the church. They were not discovered until the construction crew started to clear away the ruble. (The Birmingham Church Bombing By Stephen Currie the Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This event lead to more violence in Birmingham. “Outrage at the bombing and the grief that followed resulted in violence across Birmingham. By the end of the day, two more African-American youths had been killed. Sixteen-year-old Johnnie Robinson was shot and killed by police after throwing stones at cars with white people inside. Two white teenage boys riding on a motor scooter shot 13-year-old Virgil Ware, who was on a bike with his brother.” (
This event marked a turning point of the civil-rights movement. It helped gain supporters for the passing of laws that protects civil rights of Americans. “The attack was intended to instill fear among African Americans who had been demonstrating for an end to segregation and to disrupt court-ordered integration of public schools. Instead, the bombing caused public outrage and helped build support for civil rights legislation by the Kennedy Administration.” ( bombing)

When the bomb exploded, it was like the shot heard round the world. It was a slap in the face for many people, especially for the black citizens of Birmingham. The citizens were alarmed that an assault of such degree would happen to their church down the street. A racial insult of this magnitude changed the lives of many people and the world. (The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr.)

It is as if Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton Jr., and Robert Edward Chambliss, members of the Ku Klux Klan, did not care that they took the lives of four girls, but let’s hope they probably think about what they did every day. There are some sick people in this world and each one keeps getting sicker by the day.
When I think about the Birmingham church bombing, the first thing that comes to mind is fire and the looks on the mothers’ faces when they learned about their daughters deaths. The second thing that comes to mind is injustice, it took them thirty years to prosecute these men, and Bobby Frank Cherry was the only one to go to jail. The little girls died and they do not even get the men that killed them to pay for what they did. If that is not injustice then I do not know what is. And their mothers knowing their daughters killers are still out there, not knowing if they will devastate another town, and more mothers, but not just mothers next time, maybe whole cities or more than one city dozens of other cities just waiting for their death in the little church down the street. (

”I am serving four life sentences for a crime I did not commit.” Bobby Frank Cherry. The Irony of this situation is injustice. Booby Frank Cherry claimes he is unjustly prosecuted He claimes to be a prisoner of war in the state of Alabama when in all actuality he started a war himself. Was He unjustly accused or is he lying through his teeth? When you do something wrong you need to own up to it, if I ever saw that Bobby Frank Cherry I would have one thing to say what if it was you or your daughter? IF something this devastating happened to you would want the person brought to justice. You would not want the criminal to walk free on the streets but behind bars paying for what he did, not just to your daughter but you and your city. (

Can you even imagine it? Your whole world would come crashing down in front of you. Is it fair, of course it is never fair, nobody disserves that, it does not matter how much you hate them. “These children unoffending, innocent, and beautiful-were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.” By Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the funeral service of three of the girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, and Cynthia Diane Wesley, that died in the bombing. (

If Joplin was bombed like the church or The Twin Towers, I am not sure what would happen, but what I know would happen is chaos, pure chaos. A healthy dose of chaos is probably good for you but not like Birmingham or The Twin Towers, too much of that kind of chaos will make you sick. But, it can also bring out hope, because of what we see happen to the world, during attacks on humanity. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve... you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love." (

March on Washington changed America

(Ty Warden is an eighth grade student in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at South Middle School during the 2007-2008 school year.)

On August 28, 1963, two hundred fifty thousand people gathered in Washington D.C to attend the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This was the second time the march had been scheduled, and it would not be canceled. Many civil rights organizations helped plan the march. The “big six” were among these.

The “big six” consists of the six most important civil rights leaders. The "Big Six" organizers were John Lewis, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); James Farmer, of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE);Martin Luther King Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Roy Wilkins, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP); A. Phillip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; and Whitney Young, Jr., of the National Urban League. Lots of people were at the march. People probably thought they were bored but there was like lots of stuff to do. There was people who played music, like, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary; Josh White and like lots more. There were some people that didn’t want the march to happen, like Malcolm X, and John F. Kennedy, and the Ku Klux Klan. When President Kennedy heard the march was going on for sure, he thought it was okay, but hoped for the best.

The best speeches were John Lewis and Martin Luther King. They are still two of the best in history today. John Lewis said “The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery. The nonviolent revolution is saying, "We will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting hundreds of years. We will not wait for the President, nor the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands, and create a great source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us victory." For those who have said, "Be patient and wait!" we must say, "Patience is a dirty and nasty word." We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually, we want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.”

A lot of the people thought that there would be a lot of fighting and mad people there but there wasn’t. The two thousand nine hundred police officers that had been scheduled to work the march were not needed. This was going to be a civil protest.

Many things were meant to be mentioned at the march, including the following, (according to .S. New & World Report- September 9, 1963.) Passage of "meaningful" civil-rights legislation at this session of Congress- no filibusting, Immediate elimination of all racial segregation in public schools throughout the nation, A big program of public works to provide jobs for all the nations’ unemployed, including job training and a placement program, A federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring workmen- either public or private, $2-an-hour minimum wage, across the board, nationwide, Withholding of federal funds from programs in which discrimination exists, Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment, reducing congressional representation of states where citizens are disenfranchised, A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include currently-excluded employment areas, Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.
Many of the speakers spoke, and were hoping to persuade every one to “step up their civil rights activates.” However, when martin Luther king jr. started to talk, everything changed. (

He stood up there and said “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” Later in the speech he mentioned “This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” He ended the speech with “And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last Thank God Almighty, we are free at last. (

The March on Washington was the largest political gathering to this date. The police were so worried of a riot that the army and national guard were put on high alert, locals were given riot control training, police dogs were banned, and paratroopers were put on alert as well. To ensure a peaceful day, liquor sale was banned for the day, shops closed, and even a baseball game postponed. But what actually happened that day was more of peace than riot, at least the true outcome was. The men and women that participated that day were some of the greatest heroes of the civil rights movement because of the courage and message that they got across to the American public.

The True Story of the Mississippi Murders

(Sarah Kessler is a student in Mr. Randy Turner's eighth grade communication arts class at South Middle School during the 2007-2008 school year.)


It was a hot, summer’s night, and in the darkness, you could hear voices chanting, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if you’d stayed where you belonged, you wouldn’t be here with us.”

Terrified, three men stood, listening to the chant, waiting to die. As the Ku Klux Klan finished their chant, they raised their guns and fired. The men dropped to the ground, dead.

As terrible as this sounds, a scene similar to this actually did take place on June 21, 1964. (Huie 134-139)

The Murder Story

It was 1964 and three college students, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, had arrived in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to participate in Freedom Summer. This event was a program in the Southern states to register blacks to vote. Many of the volunteers in this campaign were college students from the North. Among these volunteers were Schwerner and Goodman. Their companion, Chaney, was a local Mississippian who joined them in their civil rights work.


As the trio was heading to Meridian, Mississippi, in their car to investigate a church bombing, they were arrested by Cecil Price, a police officer and suspected member of the KKK. The reason given for their jailing was that they were driving over the speed limit. (Ball 37.)

While the civil rights workers were being held in prison, Michael (known as Mickey to his friends,) requested a phone call. Their guard refused to let him make his call. Price then informed his fellow Klansman, Edgar Killen that he had captured and imprisoned the men.

Around ten o’clock, Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman were released from the jail, only to be ambushed by other KKK members. After a high-speed car chase, the young men were captured by Ku Klux Klan members.


Nobody but certain members of the KKK know exactly what happened that night in Mississippi, but we do know that the three victims were shot to death. Chaney was also beaten, most likely because of his race. Forty four days after the murders, the bodies of these courageous men were found, buried by a nearby farm in an earthen dam. The burnt remnants of the trio’s car were also found.

Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner are remembered in history for their bravery and their dedicated work in the civil rights movement. They may be gone, but their names and their work remain. This is the story of the Mississippi Murders.


Killen’s Trial

At the time of the murder, no one was tried for murder. Now, 41 years after the fateful night when Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were brutally murdered, Edgar Ray Killen finally was before a jury, charged with manslaughter.

Killen, known as “Preacher” in the community where he lived, was taken to court when he was 80 years old. He was confined to a wheelchair, due to a recent logging accident when he was employed as a sawmill operator. (

Killen was accused of being the leader of a group of white supremacists who captured and killed three civil rights workers in the summer of 1964. (

In 2005, Killen was placed in front of Judge Marcus Gordon in court. This judge said that he had “taken into consideration that there are three lives in this case and that the three lives should be absolutely respected.” Killen was sentenced to three 20-year terms in prison, one for each murder victim.

Even though this man was tried 41 years late for the murders he committed, it’s better late than never. Justice finally was served in Mississippi. (

About the Victims

James Chaney

James Chaney was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on May 30, 1943. His mother’s name was Fannie Lee Chaney, and his father’s, Ben Chaney. He was the oldest in a family of 5 children. His father left him, his siblings, and his mother when Chaney was in his teen years. In 1953, James was suspended from the colored school when he refused to take of the NAACP button he was wearing. He was expelled about a year later for fighting in school.

Chaney’s asthma prevented him from joining the army, but he led on to work with his father as a plasterer. When James was 20 years old, he and his father had a fight which resulted in him joining the CORE organization (Congress of Racial Equality).

In 1964, when Chaney was 21 years old, CORE took part of Freedom Summer. He was partnered with Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner to register black Mississippians to vote. The KKK heard of the trio’s mission and murdered them on June 21, 1964. (

Michael Schwerner

Michael Schwerner, known as “Mickey” to his friends, was born on November 6, 1939 in New York City. He started college at Michigan State University in hopes of becoming a veterinarian. Schwerner then decided to switch his major to sociology and transferred to Cornell University.

When Michael was 24, he was hired as a field worker in the CORE organization. He and his new wife, Rita, then went to Mississippi as volunteers for Freedom Summer.

Schwerner was soon to be known as “Goatee” to KKK members and he became one of the most hated civil rights workers. Because of the KKK’s hatred of him, Michael and his coworkers, Chaney and Goodman, were all shot to death on June 21, 1964. (

Andrew Goodman

Andrew Goodman was born to Robert and Carolyn Goodman on November 23, 1943. He grew up in New York, New York with two brothers. Goodman transferred to Queens College after spending a year sudying at the University of Wisconsin. His original plans were to earn a degree in drama, but he changed his mind and studied anthropology.

Andrew had been an activist since the early age of 15, and when his application to Freedom Summer was accepted, he immediately headed down to Mississippi.

When Goodman reached Mississippi, he met up with “Mickey” and started their civil rights work to register blacks to vote. They were also accompanied by James Chaney. Sadly, Andrew Goodman only lived to be 20 years old, for he and his comrades were killed by the Ku Klux Klan shortly after they had begun their work in Mississippi.




Ball, Howard. Murder in Mississippi, 2004.

Huie, William. Civil Rights, 2000.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Recent Obama/Clinton debate topic revives interest in Civil Rights Act of 1964

The recent blowup between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over who was primarily responsible for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. or Lyndon B. Johnson, has sparked an interest in the act, including an insightful article from AlterNet:

The act had its legislative origins in a June 11, 1963 speech that President John Kennedy delivered on national television after Justice Department officials, aided by federal marshals, forced Alabama Governor George Wallace to stand aside while two black students were admitted to the previously segregated University of Alabama. "If an American, because his skin is dark … cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?" Kennedy asked the country.

But Kennedy's speech, which was followed hours later by the murder of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Jackson, did not guarantee a speedy passage of civil rights legislation. A coalition of southern Democrats and conservative Republicans stood in the way and the best that Kennedy could do before his November 22 assassination was to get his civil rights bill voted out of committee.

It fell to President Lyndon Johnson to get Kennedy's civil rights legislation enacted. Soon after taking office, Johnson made his intentions clear. "We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights," he told a joint session of Congress on November 27. "It is time now to write the next chapter and to write it in books of law." At this same time, Martin Luther King was playing a crucial role in shaping public opinion. His April 16 "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and his August 28 speech "I Have a Dream" galvanized millions of Americans who in the past had remained passive when support for civil rights was needed.

Still, it was not until 1964 that Kennedy's civil rights bill got through Congress. On February 10, the House passed the bill by a vote of 290 to 130 and on June 19, in the wake of a record-breaking 75-day filibuster, which took up 534 hours, the Senate passed its version of the civil rights bill by a 73 to 27 margin. Now Lyndon Johnson began pressuring Congress to reach agreement on a bill that he could sign by July 4.

At this moment, Johnson benefited not only from the civil rights coalition led by Martin Luther King but from the grassroots work of Bob Moses, then a young organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who had been active in Mississippi since 1961. At a November 1963 SNCC meeting, Moses had proposed a 1964 "Summer Project" in Mississippi that would make extensive use of college students, getting them to teach in freedom schools and carry out voter registration drives. A black-white coalition, Moses believed, would engage the whole country. But no sooner had the Summer Project begun when three of its participants -- Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman -- disappeared on June 21 near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Their disappearance (their bodies would later be found buried in an earthen dam) could not be ignored by America. Television cameras and the print media descended on Mississippi while state officials acted as if nothing of importance had happened. "They could be in Cuba," joked Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson.

It was the worst response that the diehard segregationists of the Deep South could have made. The influence of Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson, and John Kennedy, along with years of demonstrations and sit-ins, had created a political tide that reached its peak with the disappearance of the three men. On July 2, two days ahead of schedule, Congress, under heavy public pressure, agreed to the civil rights bill that Johnson wanted. Five hours later in a White House signing ceremony timed to coincide with the evening news, the president addressed the nation.

"One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom," Johnson told the nation. "Now our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders." The analogy was unmistakable. The president was comparing the work of the Founding Fathers with that of the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King, who was present at the White House signing ceremony, also had no doubts about the significance of the day or about Lyndon Johnson's role in making the civil rights bill law. "It was a great moment," King declared, "something like the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln."

Today, we cannot know exactly what Johnson and King, two coalition builders, would say about the efforts to portray them as civil rights rivals. But it is hard to imagine that both would not have seen comparisons that pit them against each other as inimical to the civil rights movement they believed in. As King observed of the struggle for racial justice in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail": "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

Emmett Till case still being examined 53 years later

Though 53 years have passed, scholars are still looking into the brutal murder of teenager Emmett Till, according to an article in the Commercial Appeal of Columbus, Mississippi:

Truth is in the eye of the beholder.

But whose truth will you believe?

Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of Emmett Till, the black teen from Chicago, Ill., who was brutally slain in Money in 1955, said in a memoir, what mattered then was the color of the person telling the supposed truth.

A white lie was widely accepted over a black truth.

Perhaps, at the time of Till's murder - when he was beaten, tortured, murdered and thrown into a river - it was true.

Or perhaps it's the first public version of the “truth” we are inclined to believe.

In 1956, there were many theories on how and why Till was murdered.

But journalist William Bradford Huie introduced a new twist to the story - the confession of the two brothers accused of the murder.

‘Approved Killing'

“The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” ran in LOOK Magazine, introduced by the words, “Disclosed here is the true account of the slaying in Mississippi of a Negro youth named Emmett Till.”

Killers' confession

It was the truth according to J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant; both men had been found not guilty - by an all-white, all-male jury - of the murder in September of the previous year, just a month after Till's death.

Huie's truth, which introduced three new elements, according to Chris Metress, author of “The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative,” has thrived through the decades.

In his story, which was compiled from a series of interviews with Milam and Bryant, Huie wrote Till had a picture of a white girl in his wallet bragging she was his girlfriend, Till was dared by cousins to ask Carolyn Bryant, Roy Bryant's wife, for a date and Till was killed for his defiance when asked by the brothers to deny he had a white girlfriend.

Metress, a Stamford University English professor, called this account the “dare-defiance narrative” as he spoke to an audience of about 60 people Thursday night during the second installment of a lecture series at the Columbus Public Library as part of the Emmett Till Traveling Exhibit.

‘Needed to be killed'

“Milam and Bryant's confession served to do two things - one, to make Emmett Till look like he needed to be killed by sexualizing him and all that,” he said. “And two, to cover the tracks of the other men involved.”

There were at least two other white men involved, Metress theorized, along with the three black men employed by Bryant, who were taken along to help in the killing and to clean up.

Most no longer accept the defiance aspect, said Metress, but the photo and the dare have become facts in the minds of many.

Till's own cousin, Curtis Jones, was filmed on the 1986 documentary “Eyes on the Prize” saying Till was dared to go into the store. Jones, said Metress, was not even in Mississippi at the time; he'd gotten the story from Huie.

In John Edgar Wideman's 1997 narrative, “The Killing of Black Boys,” he depicts Till as a magician, entertaining his friends, pulling the photo of a white girl from his wallet and then going into the store to perform his next act, asking a white woman on a date and then wolf whistling at her.

Five years later, Till's mother would introduce a fictional play to the world recreating the tragedy. In the play, noted Metress, Till again is said to have had a picture of a white woman in his wallet. Wallets in those days came with photos of movie stars in them, Till-Mobley maintained. And the play said he was, indeed, dared by cousins to talk to Carolyn Bryant.

Those two aspects of Huie's stories have remained mainstays in today's study of the case.

(Photo: Mamie Bradley at the funeral of her son, Emmett Till, in 1955

Rev. James Orange, leader of Selma March, dead at 65

Another legend of the civil rights movement, Rev. James Orange, died this week at age 65. Orange played a key role in the Selma March, which led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

Orange joined the movement in 1957 and was tapped by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1965 to help organize in Alabama. Orange's arrest and incarceration that year triggered a night-time demonstration in which young Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by an Alabama state trooper.

Jackson's death was the catalyst for the Selma-to-Montgomery march that ended in Bloody Sunday and, eventually, passage of the federal Voting Rights Act.

A songster with a baritone voice that let all know he meant business, Orange could silence a Birmingham bar when King or the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy Sr., King's top aide, needed to be heard. King called Orange the movement's Ground Crew Leader.

"He was the kind of person who did the work and never took credit. But that didn't bother him," eulogized sister Marion Easley of Birmingham. "He's in heaven now, and guess what he's doing? He's organizing a march. And, oh, what a march!"

Orange organized, marched, got beaten and was jailed in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, Illinois and beyond. Yet he returned to the front lines with his non-violent beliefs intact.

With the movement succeeding, and dwindling, Orange took his organizational talents to the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Later, he served as a special representative of the AFL-CIO.

"He helped untold thousands of families walk through the doorway of opportunity," said Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO's international secretary-treasurer.

Orange, though, never lost his civil-justice bones.

Starting in 1995, he organized the annual King Day march in Atlanta. In 2000, bullhorn in hand, he descended upon the Florida state Capitol to fight affirmative-action rollbacks. Orange even took his organizational talents to South Africa to rally alongside Nelson Mandela.

Civil rights icon Johnnie Carr dead at 97

Johnnie Carr, who joined childhood friend Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and succeeded Martin Luther King as chairman of the Montgomery Improvement Association, died this week at age 97:

"Johnnie Carr is one of the three major icons of the Civil Rights Movement: Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Johnnie Carr," said Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "I think ultimately, when the final history books are written, she'll be one of the few people remembered for that terrific movement."

As the Improvement Association's president, Carr helped lead several initiatives to improve race relations and conditions for blacks. She was involved in a lawsuit to desegregate Montgomery schools, with her then-13-year-old son, Arlam, the named plaintiff.

"She hadn't been sick up until she had the stroke," Arlam Carr said Saturday. "It was such a massive stroke that she never was able to recover from it. She was still very active — going around and speaking — but it was just one of those things."

She played a prominent role in 2005 on the 50th anniversary of Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat, speaking to thousands of schoolchildren who marched to the Capitol.

"Look back, but march forward," Carr urged the huge crowd of young people.

She also traveled to memorial services in Washington, where her eulogy of Parks was "really the most dynamic" moment, recalled Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"There were many people who spoke who were much better known ... but she carried the day," said Bond, who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Just days before her stroke, Carr participated in King Day ceremonies in Montgomery, speaking after a parade. Admirers marveled at her energy and commitment into her 90s.

"She was always an encourager and not a divider," Mayor Bobby Bright told the Montgomery Advertiser. "She was just a loving person. She was truly the mother figure that we all so desperately needed in Montgomery during a very trying period of our history."

In a statement, Gov. Bob Riley said Carr was a "remarkable woman and will be deeply missed."

She was a true inspiration, Riley said, and "leaves behind a lasting legacy of pride, determination, and perseverance."

Friday, February 15, 2008

John Lewis reflects on the legacy of Martin Luther King

Original Freedom Rider and current Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, reflects on the legacy of Martin Luther King in an article in the current issue of Teaching Tolerance:

We have come a great distance in this nation since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The African-American middle class has grown. African Americans, women, and other minorities are in positions of leadership today that they could never have aspired to 40 years ago. In the 2008 election season, an African-American man is a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for president; so is a woman. In 1968, just these ideas would have been seen as highly unlikely, even dangerous.
There are more African-American elected officials today than we would have ever dreamed possible in 1968. Then, there were fewer than 50 black elected officials in the 11 Southern states of the Confederacy. Today there are over 8,000 all across the country, and Mississippi has more than any other state. Our whole society has been captivated by African-American megastars, like Oprah Winfrey, who dominate the cultural dialogue, influence stock trades, and lead by example as philanthropists and
humanitarians. On the other hand, there are still millions of black people in this country, and people of color across the globe, who are left out and left behind. There are still people who cannot afford to see doctors. We are still spending too many of our resources on war, instead of meeting basic human needs.
In 1968, this nation was engulfed in violence. Violence is accepted by too many in our society today as a means to silence opposition and difference. A culture of violence has sprung up among us that is gnawing at the soul of our society, a culture which justifies brutality, torture and cruelty. In 1968, we could not avoid the signs of overt racism and hatred in our daily lives. Forty years later, we are still reckoning with those same symbols of hate, whether through a noose hung on a tree in Jena, La., or on a professor's door at Columbia University.
In my estimation, the greatest speech Dr. King ever made was delivered at Riverside Baptist Church in New York City on April 4, 1967. I was there in the audience when he began by saying, "A time comes when silence is betrayal. … Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in times of war." He was speaking then about the war in Vietnam. Forty years later, the fundamental assertions made in his speech apply to the war in Iraq today.
"A true revolution of values," he continued, "will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. … A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth … and say, ‘This is not just.' … A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.' … True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
In 2008, we are still rediscovering the true meaning of our democracy. Democracy is not a state. It is not some high plateau that we struggle to reach so we can finally
settle down to rest. Democracy is an act. It is an act that requires participation, organization and dedication to the highest principles. It is an act, and a series of actions that require us to continuously verify our commitment to civil rights and social justice at every challenge. Above all, Martin Luther King, Jr. led by example and demonstrated this devotion with his life and his sacrifice. "Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of night," he said, "have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak."
In the final analysis, we cannot deny that 40 years later, the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. still has not been realized. We still have not reached the Promised Land that he described the night before he was killed in Memphis, Tenn. Are we closer to building the Beloved Community?
Are we closer to building a society based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being? Yes, we are closer, but we still have a great distance we must travel before we build a Beloved Community, a nation and a world society at peace with itself.