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..
Tags: African Americans, bayard rustin, black, civil rights activists, current-events, dr martin luther king jr, European Americans, March on Washington, Martin Luther King, Prejudice, President Obama, Supreme Court, white
America this week recognized and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Much attention has been paid to the March and the speech. Unfortunately, most people do not know what either the March or the speech was about. They believe they know, but their responses to two questions will reveal the extent of their knowledge. The first question is how much progress has been made over these past 50 years? The second question is how would Dr. King react to the present day reality? The answers to these questions are not set in stone, but will vary depending on a variety of conditions relative to the responders—things like ethnicity, age, social status, education, politics etc.
In response to the first question regarding the progress made during the last 50 years, we must first set the perimeters relative to the March. The organizers proclaimed the objective of the March was to focus Washington of the problem of jobs and freedom for poor and working-class Americans in general, and African Americans specifically, since they were the ones most directly affected. The March was seen by many European Americans as a gathering of minority protesters, especially African Americans to try and get Washington to listen to their complaints; some thought of the March as a nuisance and waste of time.
Many of the African Americans saw the March as an opportunity for all people, especially minorities to show Washington that they were united in the desire for better jobs, wages and freedoms in general. They believed that power and strength would be reflected in the large number of March participants to the degree that Washington could not ignore them. So, after years of planning by the civil rights activists and other American citizens, the March envisioned by A. Phillip Randolph, and orchestrated by Bayard Rustin, took place.
Today, when society looks back 50 years to measure the progress made relative to jobs and freedom, the response must be not very much progress has been made. Poor and working-class Americans are still experiencing the same problems that Dr. King and other leaders outlined in the speeches. The average wage is actually lower than the medium wages 50 years ago when inflation is figured in the assessment. Many citizens are unemployed and must depend on the government for help. Many citizens must work two and three jobs just to try to meet some of their financial obligations. The cost of education and housing has put many Americans in precarious positions that threaten their ability to move forward. But the most important occurrence affecting the poor, the working class, and the ethnic population is the changes in the voting laws of a number of states. The changes made by states like Texas and North Carolina would result in disenfranchising many of the Americans by denying them the vote. So, the answer to the progress question reflects a lack of progress having been made since 1963 relative to jobs and minority freedoms.
The answer to the second question regarding how Dr. King would react to the present-day reality would be anger. He would be angry and disappointed for a number of reasons. Too many African Americans saw the March as a moment and not the beginning of a movement, so much time has been wasted in addressing the needs of the people and not creating solutions for those problems. Much more should have been accomplished regarding all aspects of American life. The people who knew Dr. King knew him to be a non-violent militant; he believed in direct non-violent confrontation. That is why the March on Washington was deliberately a peaceful march.
One major mistake made by the media, the African Americans and the European Americans who knew what the March and speech were all about, did not set the record straight regarding both. Many European Americans then as now think of the “I have a dream” speech as a statement of celebration, an expression of all the progress the African Americans had made to that point. So, the March was seen as a celebration of all the good things that had happened to that point. The problem with that thinking is that it was wrong. The March on Washington as well as Dr. King’s speech was elements of protest, not praise. The fact that African Americans and European Americans who had worked so hard to bring these phenomena together did not increase their efforts to have the problems of jobs and freedom resolved represent the disappointment.
Many Americans today still see the March and the speeches as evidence of progress because they continue to embrace the theme of “I have a dream.” They do not realize that the only reason Dr. King spoke of the dream was because he could not experience the reality, a reality that had been promised by America in its democratic creed of “Life, liberty, and freedom for all.” When we revisit the objectives of the March and speeches we realize that very little have changed regarding the expressions of liberty and freedoms for all because the concept and attitude of many American regarding America are still grounded in the idea of a “white America.” Too many Americans still see America as a “white” society and as long as they can wield the power to keep it that way, they will.
America has been changing since it began, but the changes have been so gradual that some people did not realize that changes were taking place. The eye-opening experience for many of these people was the election of Barack Obama as President. The anger, hatred, bias, frustration and violence directed towards President Obama are not, for all intent and purposes, for Obama personally. All these things are expressions of fear and losing that President Obama represents to their view of America. Many European Americans fear losing the power to create the perception of America and the privileges that has historically been associated with a “white” identity. Unfortunately, that perspective does not fit with the democratic philosophy that was set in motion at this country’s beginning. Unless and until America changes its founding creed, society will continue to move in a democratic direction regardless of the set-backs and slowness.