Paul R. Lehman, Freedom Summer after 50 years– the beast still lives.June 26, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Racism, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, democracy, DNA, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, Human Genome, liberty, President Obama, skin color, skin complexion, UNESCO, voting rights act | 2 Comments
Tags: African American, African Americans, biogtry, black, Chaney, Civil Rights, Civil Rights workers, Confronting Myths, ethnicity, European Americans, Freedom Summer, Goodman, Mississippi, Prejudice, President Obama, Schwerner, slavery, white
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a summer when thousands of young Americans of African and European decent descended on the South to help African American citizens register to vote. One of the painful reminders of that summer is the death of three young Americans—two of European ancestry, one of African ancestry. These three young civil rights workers, Michael Henry Schwerner, James Earl Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were killed by a group of Klansmen in Neshoba County Mississippi. They were killed because they recognized the gross injustice in America—preventing African Americans the right to vote—and wanted to help in rectifying that problem.
Many Americans understand and appreciate the ultimate sacrifice these three young men made for their country; however, one question continues to hang over the occasion of the deaths—why? The beast of hatred, fear, anger, and prejudice still lingers in society regarding the African American and his presence in society. What is it about African Americans that would cause other Americans to murder three young men who only wanted to help America live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all?
Whether we accepted it or not, the very beast that led to the murder of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman is still alive and well in America today. We must ask the question of those who would do harm to Americans who are working to correct injustices, what good does the violence and killing do to relieve the angry, hatred, and fear? The fear was so great in those Klansmen that they killed these three men before they were able to begin work. We must surmise that the threat of exercising their right to vote would give the African American an opportunity to participate in their government. For bigots, and others, any involvement in decision-making by African Americans would be too much. Why?
Before, during, and after the Civil War, the culture of the South was based on European Americans depending on African Americans for their livelihood. Without African American slaves, and subsequently, freed African Americans, the South would not have existed to any appreciable degree because the people of color represented the workforce. African Americans represented the life-blood of the southern economy, but more importantly, they represented the only thing that gave the European Americans social value. With the help of the governments, national and state, laws and practices were created and enforced to keep the African American in a position of servitude to European Americans.
In addition to the physical restrictions placed on the African Americans, social conditions based on myths were created that separated the African Americans from the European Americans. The concept of biological races was introduced into American society prior to slavery that led the European American to believe that he belonged to a superior biological race. In his book The Descent of Man, (1871), Charles Darwin expressed the belief that the human races, regardless of the obvious differences in appearance, were not different enough to be considered separate species. His comments on the human races were ignored. Later, others would concur with Darwin, but with more specificity noting that all human beings belong to the same species. UNESCO has continued to make that pronouncement since 1945, and the recent Human Genome study verified the fact that all human beings belong to the same species. Despite the evidence to the contrary, the power and prestige that accompanied the belief in white supremacy was too much to consider loosing or giving up.
More than anger and hatred is the element of fear that continues to feed the beast that fights against social, democratic progress. When the fear of loosing the belief of ethnic superiority is so great that people strike out violently against the threat of change in that direction, then we realize just how serious it is. Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were not killed for personal reasons; their killers did not know them. They were killed for what they represented—social change. For the bigot and others any change that brought the African American closer to 1st class citizenship represented a threat to the status of the European American. So, any effort towards social change in behalf of the African Americans wherever it occurred, north, east, west and south, had to be met with serious force and resistance.
The problem with the bigots is complex in that while they fear the change that social progress means for African Americans, they do not want to lose the physical presence of the African Americans. Without the African Americans to point to as being inferior, the bigots would have no reference on which to base their sense of superiority. If no African Americans were around the bigots, they would have little or no social value except that which comes from wealth, property, or position. Without African Americans, the bigots would have no need to feel proud of their skin complexion, because they would not have another color with which to compare; so, they need African Americans, but only want to accept them on a level that underscores the sense of supremacy, pride, and power they derive from seeing themselves as different.
Fifty years ago thousand of young Americans, African American and European American, joined forces to combat the injustice they saw in America. One wonders where those voices are today. We recognize the efforts of the beast to appear in plain sight as in the numerous cases involving President Obama and the many states trying to restrict voter’s rights. The President’s critics are not fighting against him personally, but what he represents. Yes, some of his critics attack him personally, but that action is just for them to try and underscore their illusion of their superiority and his supposed inferiority. Regardless of the bigots’ efforts, social progress continues. What the bigots and those fighting against social progress do not realize is that their bigotry and hatred is a self-made prison that keeps them from enjoying freedom. They are so obsessed with fighting against all signs of social progress that it keeps them from enjoying the freedoms and privileges they have.
Freedom summer was an effort by young Americans to try and create a society that would mirror the ideals that the society said it embraced. The beast of anger, hatred, fear, and bigotry that they encountered is still alive in America. What we Americans have confronting us can best be described by picturing two hungry elements inside of us that represent good and evil or a man and a beast, respectively. We must realize that the one we feed is the one that will grow..