Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

Dr. King remembered

January 18, 2019

I was a white boy growing up in the deep south.

In my life, 1951 . . .  a vivid memory stands out: the remembrance of this brave man:

MLKing

. . . his life, his work, his service to mankind, his leadership in the perilous project of fulfilling our Creator’s call to

. . . bring good news to the afflicted, . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to prisoners . . . (Isaiah 61:1)

In my lifetime, I can think of no other American who demonstrated greater courage than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He persisted tirelessly in the sacred call to blaze a trail of opportunity for oppressed people. He persevered in the face of certain death, as he fully understood the vengeful opposition of other men–white and black–who  ultimately took him down.

The name assigned to him at birth, King, was appropriate, as he went on to conduct the life of a true leader, a born leader, an orator, an organizer who truly fulfilled  the declaration of our nation’s founding principles:

 We find these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,  that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In my lifetime, I can recall no other person who more deserves annual remembrance during a national holiday. Although he had his faults, his own sins as we all do,  he was a man of whom this world was not worthy.  In this world, he helped God and fellowman to “make a way where there is no way.” He blazed a trail toward that “equal” status mentioned by Mr. Jefferson and the Continental Congress when they composed our Declaration back in 1776.

I looking forward to meeting Dr. King in heaven, or whatever you call it. Many years ago, I wrote this song about him and an ancient leader named Moses:

Mountaintop

Advertisements

Change is Gonna Come

October 19, 2018

Some wise person said a fish wouldn’t know (s)he was out of water until it actually happened. When the angler yanked the critter up the into air, the fish would immediately know that something had gone terribly wrong.

I think our situation in modern life is a little bit like that. In our present media-engulfed life, we humans are so totally immersed in electronic media that we would feel disoriented and panicky if we were suddenly jerked out of it—like a fish out of water.

Some might even suffer withdrawals.

Nowadays some social critics among us complain about the dumming-down effects of twitter and facebook, and all that other blahblah googlifief also-ran flimflam that’s floating around in the datafied air of 2018.

Back in the day, during the adolescent phases of my baby boomer generation, people romanticized about the fact that we were the first generation to get raised up with a tv in the living room and therefore a boob-tube mindset. Whoopdee doo that we had pop-culture and instant gratification on the brain instead of the traditional 1-2-3 and a-b-c worldview of previous generations. No wonder we fantasized that we could change the world. We were walking around in the first-ever TV-generated dream world.

Actually, some of us did change the world. Those guys who were mastering their calculus and fortran instead of doping up—they managed to hatch out a totally electronic data tsunami that has since commandeered our attention and maximized our compulsive fascination with constant entertainment distractions and rampant twitt-faced narcissism.

Along with some real information, of course. There’s always both bad and good in any changes that are gonna come.

A  generation before us in the timeline, it was another set of emergent media wonders that were transforming the world of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Our parents’ generation also grew up with a revolutionary media box in the living room and the dashboard—radio. They had Roosevelt’s fireside chats, Glenn Miller, Amos n’ Andy,  and Orson Wells’ terribly realistic radio depiction of us being invaded by extraterrestrial aliens.

But radio was no TV. Radio was about hearing. TV was like a whole new, artificial world of hearing AND seeing.

The rate of change, accelerating in the TV age, has exponentially accelerated and intensified with the coming of the electr(on)ic internet, 21st-century version.

A few years ago, I undertook a writing project to express some of the angst of the boomer generation that I grew up in.

Because I had graduated from high school and then entered college in 1969, my novel, King of Soul,  turned out to be mainly about the elephant-in-the-room issue of my g -generation’s historical  era—the Vietnam war.

But that war was far from being the only issue that we Americans had to deal with.

LittleRock

In struggling to depict—and even to somehow reconcile—the great divide between them that went and us who did not go to Vietnam, I embarked on a research project to learn how the Vietnam war had started and how it escalated to become such an overarching generational crisis. My g-generation was torn apart because of what all took place over there as a result of our tragic illusion.  We thought we could, with our high-tech way of doing things, show a country of undeveloped farmers how to expel the communists.

We learned a very hard lesson. It was tragic, what happened.

While the world had worked a certain way during the Big War, when we ran the Nazis back into their holes, something had sure as hell changed by the 1960’s.

The old tactics of massive military push against jungle guerrillas did not work.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the kids didn’t wanna have to go over there and do Lyndon’s dirty work.

The anti-war movement’s seemingly sudden organizational strength in 1967 was no mere happenstance. Those activists who devised a widespread effective resistance against the war had learned the hard facts of life from a previous protest movement—the Civil Rights movement.

It took a while for the anti-war movement to get its act together. But when they finally did, it was because of a hard lesson that had been learned by black folks down in dixie.

In the Freedom Summer of 1964, a widespread collection of honky activist youth suddenly showed up down in the Segregated South to help the black folk get organized for voting and organizing real societal change. There in the historical shadow of the old defeated, slave-slappin’ South, wide-eyed yankee students got a fierce reality check. Their rose-colored glasses were left broken on the blood-stained grounds of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, when they saw what violence and oppression the racist Establishment was inflicting on people of color.

Right here in Amerika, it was. Land of the free? and home of the brave!

A wake-up call it was. Based on what them wide-eyed college kids from up Nawth encountered when they got down here, they got a severe reality check. Stopping the war in Vietnam  would be no walk in the park. There was bad shit going down right here in the good ole USA, just like in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

If the peaceniks wanted to get us out of Vietnam, they would have to get organized, and maybe even pick up some heavier-duty tactics . . . civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, there were a few blacks who were doing alright. Sam Cooke was one of them.

During the early 1960’s, Sam was a very successful singer-songwriter. Most of his tunes were soulishly romantic and swingy. He had a knack of finding the best in everything he wrote about. With an admirable optimism that shone forth in all his song-work, Sam managed somehow to spread good will and positive attitude everywhere he went, in spite of all the tough changes that were going down.

Some may have thought Sam to be an uncle tom, because he didn’t get angry.

But Sam Cooke—even though he celebrated optimism and good attitude—was no uncle tom.

He was not a “house nigga.”

Here’s a song that expresses Sam’s feeling about the societal changes that he felt needed to happen in the USA in the mid-1960’s.  After his death in 1964, this composition was released posthumously on the B-side of a single record called Shake, and also on an album by the same name.

Here’s the tune, A Change Is Gonna Come:

     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4

And here’s my version:

    Sam’s Change Is Gonna Come

As we geezers have seen in our lifetime, change did indeed come.

But some things will remain the same.

Here’s a truth that always remains: Change is gonna come, like it or not.

When it does, may the change be with you, and . . . may you be with the change, if it is good.

If it’s not good, go listen to some of Sam’s old hit songs and get an attitude adjustment. Maybe you can learn to deal with it as he did—with a good attitude.

King of Soul

MLK

January 16, 2017

MLKDream

 

Martin Luther King Jr, like any other man or woman ever born under the sun, had his faults. But he was a great American leader. His example and sacrificial life inspires us all to act in love, non-violence, and good works.

Dr. King’s love and caring for his fellow-man was carved out of his faithful dedication to the message of peace and atonement as laid out by Jesus Christ. His vision for the freedom of all men and women was clarified and communicated in the revelatory legacy of Moses.

Glass half-Full

Alabama. How ’bout you?

November 19, 2016

Alabama.

Alabama sticks in my mind, going way back.

To get from Louisiana to Georgia, you have to drive through that Sweet Home state of Alabama, the state where folks drive around with a license plate that says: Stars fell on . . .

Alabama, whatever that means.

I’ll tell you what it means. it means crucible.

It means the place where America’s deepest hopes and deepest fears about building a great nation and living out the ideal of all men and women being created equal by Creator God, the place where all those deepest hopes and deepest fears clashed in the thoroughfares of history on a highway between Selma and Montgomery,

and on the steps of the state capitol when President Kennedy sent soldiers in to compel George Wallace to do his job and allow the black folks of Sweet Home to vote and to go to school and to University.

And then later, years later, George Wallace issued a public apology for his former racist bullshit way of doing things. And I remember this video I saw online just a year or two or three ago of Wallace sitting in a wheelchair, his daughter by his side, telling the black folk and all of us, all the people of America, that he was sorry.

I mean I saw this, so to speak, with my own eyes, (online.) It all happened in my lifetime.

This George Wallace who was speaking in my hometown, back in the day, 1968, when he went to the Louisiana legislature and spoke there and he said if they’d send him to Washington he’d take all their suitcases from all them bureaucrats in Washington and throw them suitcases in the Potomac River, and when he said that all the Louisianans who filled that legislative chamber laughed.

But such hyperbole was not a rhetorical stunt unknown to the folks of the bayou state, many of whom in that room that day could still remember what Huey Long had said back in the day,  1930’s.

‘Course we all know it didn’t amount to a hill of beans. Dick Nixon went to the white house that year instead the Alabama governor. Hubert Humphrey was the one who lost big time that year because Wallace peeled off a bunch of them riled-up southerners from the Democrats.

I mean, Hubert got a raw deal in Chicago, but we can’t be crying in our beer forever. He was a nice guy. God bless him, Hubert. May he rest in peace; and, for that matter, may Richard Nixon rest in peace.

We all have our faults.

All of this has happened in my lifetime, y’all, which wasn’t so long ago and it’s still happening today.

We have seen serious changes during these 65 years. I’m not making this up.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MhOZt5-Jl8

Maybe I’m just dreaming it, but if I am just dreaming it, well shut my mouth.

But as I was sayin’–I’m talking’ ’bout Alabama now–the place where all of our darkest southern closets got blasted open, oftentimes on nataional TV, to reveal them skeletons in them closets, them skeletons of racism that most Alabamans have now left in the dust of history but every now and then someone drags them old skeletons out of them closets.

Dogs sicced on freedom riders, four martyred girls in 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham.

But I’m here to tell you this blood was not shed in vain. The blood of the martyrs is the seeds of. . .

So these days, November 2016, y’all can rant in the streets all you want to, but I’m here to tell you that this new Attorney General appointee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, him about whom the Dems are so upset, while they be trying to affix the R-word to Senator Jeff’s reputation just because he be from Alabama, and yet I see on Resurgent this morning these photos of Jeff Sessions holding hands with Rep. John Lewis

   http://theresurgent.com/seriously-trump-the-pictures-of-jeff-sessions-they-dont-want-you-to-see/   

as they were commemorating the stand taken back in the day, 1965, when Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, young John Lewis and many others who, being with them all together of one accord and holding hands, marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge while trying to walk from Selma to Montgomery but then them Alabama troopers sent out by the old Wallace, not the later-repentent Wallace, stopped them civil rights marchers on the bridge and beat the hell out ’em.

   http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/selma-montgomery-march/videos/bloody-sunday   

But I’m here to tell you this blood was not shed in vain. The blood of the martyrs is the seeds of. . .

As the poet said, and still says, the times they are a-changin’.

And so they did, and they still are.

Hence, just a year ago as I was cleaning a laundry room at work and listening on the radio to John Lewis’ account of that infamous Bloody Sunday event, as he was recalling it to Terri Gross or Diane Rehm or some other radio luminary, and I remember what Rep. Lewis said about being beat up and it was some bad shit going down but they lived to tell about it and ultimately they prevailed all the way to the steps of the Alabama state capitol and beyond, and Dr. King spoke and it really stuck with me.

So now in November 2016 I’m seeing this jpg of Sessions and Lewis holding hands on the Edmund Pettus bridge and

this has all happened in my lifetime, y’all.

Please don’t tell me it was a dream. Let me have my dream. I have the dream, all God’s children, remember, wait for it . . . don’t you have a dream?

I mean, this all happened in my lifetime y’all.

Alabama, please ya’ll don’t forget this excruciated crucible of our great American dream, where the blood of saints and sinners was shed for the liberty of us all. If you ever go there, remember you’ll be treading on holy ground, ground made holy by the shedding of the blood of the Lamb,

   http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/birmingham-church-bombing   

but that was before the stars fell on Alabama. Now people there have seen the light, or at least I hope they have. I’m willing to give them a little grace, and some space, to cross our next bridge.

How ’bout you?

Glass half-Full

That Southern thang and BB King

May 17, 2015

Oh but when I was growin up

in Jackson

Nigras was somethin different then.

Ole fellas black as coal said Mistuh and Miz

but they were humble like the kind of person

God would favor, if

He was here, which I don’t think he is here but maybe

he was at one time.

Whereas

those ole white fellas, really more pink than

white, or even red-faced, beneath them bald heads and glasses

with black frames, walkin ’round like

they own the place,

which I guess they did, yeah they did down there in

Miss’ippi at that time

but they a-feared, like deer in the headlights, when President

Kennedy

or maybe it was Johnson sent troops down hea’h

to teach Wallace a thing or two ’bout

integration,

and they said the whole damn thang go back to the War and

all that conflummucks when Sherman march to the sea

through Giawga

and such n such an’ so forth.

But what I remember was that delta, flat as

the day is long, and hot as blue blazes and

them shotgun shacks where the Nigras lived,

so different and dilapidated compared to, you know,

where us white folk lived.

Latah on I heard ’bout Medgar Evers and

the night he got shot in his own front yard

in Jackson cuz

he be tryin de git them Nigras registered

to vote, and his last spoken words were at

New Jerusalem Baptist Church,

like Moses or Jesus.

But hell, I was just a snotty-nose white kid out

on the edge of town.

I mean I had no clue ’bout what be goin’ on,

what groundswell of civil rights was buildin up and then

all them smart college kids from up Nawth come down

in ’63 or maybe it was ’64. But three of ’em never

got back home again,

leastwise not alive.

Now I say three, mighta been more.

Damn shame.

Meanwhile this man BB King

was doin his bluesy thang

out there in that hot delta, maybe sittin’ on

a bale of cotton or sump’n like dat.

But thinkin’ back on it now– he musta gone to Memphis

or maybe even Chicago by then.

And I say I say yesterday I heard him on the radio talkin’

to Terri,

even though he died two days ago, an’ he shonuf was a

well spoken Negro,

yes he was,

helluva lot better human specimen than Ross Barnett, that ole fart.

Now Ole BB could shonuf now sing de blues

‘nuf to make a white man cry,

and so I guess if somethin’ like BB King could come outa

the great state uh Miss’ippi, this southern thang

can’t be all bad,

what all happened then

back in the day.

But its all gone now,

witherin’ like a magnolia blossom

on the ground.

Still, yet what a sound

when ole BB King came around,

nuf to make a white man cry,

in the sweet by and bye.

No pain, no gain,

that’s what I say.

 

Glass half-Full

Walking into Maelstrom, 1969

January 3, 2015

I graduated from high school in May of 1969. Then I left home and went to college. What a change that was. There was a lot going on at the university.

I think most kids who leave home at the tender age of 17 find out that there’s a whole ‘nother world going on out there, and it seems quite different from what they grew up in. It’s exciting, like turning over a new leaf, or starting a new chapter of life.

Now that I’m past sixty, I’ve gained some perspective that I didn’t have then. And since reading and doing historical research are pursuits I enjoy, I’ve decided to study that decade in which I lived as a teenager–the 1960’s.

I have a feeling I’m not the only boomer who is doing this, which is why the stuff of my research will eventually be written as a novel, my fourth. It is named King of Soul.

Back in September ’68, when my senior year in high school had just begun, I addressed our student body as the incoming President of the Student Council. I remember telling them something about there was a lot going on out there in the world, and that our generation seemed to be discontented. But we, as responsible young adults at a Catholic high school, could certainly change the world by acting reasonably and playing by the rules. The students rewarded my innocent positivism with a standing ovation at the end.

About a year later, when I was a freshman at LSU, I began to see (although not necessarily understand) that my well-received idea of playing by the rules was not so simple as I had presented it.

There was, indeed, a lot going on in in 1969, and a lot of that change was being propelled by kids, not much older than I, who were working against the system with organized resistance, rather than “playing by rules.” There was an authentic reason for this.

The Vietnam War.

One of the things that happened to me while I was discovering all this angst and protest in my g-generation was the draft lottery. My number came up 349, so I didn’t have to worry about being drafted. I would be able to stay in school without being called to go fight the Viet Cong.

Nevertheless, all that ’60’s stuff was not just about the war. There was something happening here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5M_Ttstbgs

Among the war-protesters, there was a wide array of strategies being implemented to end the war–everything from pacifist Episcopalians, to SDS “bring the war home” agitators, to outright Weatherman revolutionaries.

In the research I am now doing, here is something I have come to understand clearly:

The seeds of antiwar, anti-establishment resistance tactics were sown into the American experience during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s-60’s.

Oppression breeds Resistance, which leads to Tactics.

You know what I’m talking about–Little Rock Schools, Rosa on the bus, Dr. King’s courageous, nonviolent leadership, Selma, Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-in, voter registrations in the deep South, etc. It was mostly black folks getting organized.

Medgar Evers had fought in the Great War, in Europe. He was a hero, like all them Americans and others who had run the Nazis into the ground back in ’45. But when Medgar got back to Mississippi (where I was in the 1950’s a clueless white kid living in suburban Jackson), he got on a bus to ride back to his hometown, and the driver told this war hero– who had risked his life for our freedom– to go the the back of the bus!

Say what?

Medgar, being a man of peace, a Christian–well, he got through that humiliating incident–but he quietly went about his bid’ness. But he got to thinking he might try to help his people make some changes (and he was playing by the rules) so he started working with the NAACP to get black folks registered to vote in his home state.

But in June, 1963, brother Medgar was shot dead, near midnight, in his own front yard.

Now that–along with all the other injustices being brought into the light of day– got the attention of a lot of Americans.

So some of us honkys started to see the light and get involved.

The next year, 1964, saw a flood of white folks headed from up Nawth, going down South, to help black folks get organized and register. The whole movement was called the Mississippi Freedom Summer. It was a great event in American history, except for when Andrew Freedman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner got murdered.

During that sweltering summer in Mississippi, the seeds of American antiwar, antiestablishment resistance were sown. White kids from Boston, Philly, Santa Monica and Sausalito and everywhere in between went down south to help black folks.

And the black folks taught ’em how its done–civil disobedience to resist injustice, in the streets of America.

There were hundreds of white kids who went. To name just one: Mario Savio, who went down South to do civil rights work, then returned to his home in California. Later that fall, 1964 he climbed on top of a car so he could be heard while making a speech about a local issue to his fellow protesters.

And the Free Speech Movement was born in Berkeley.

Now, go back to the future–the year I was telling you about when I started this piece–1969:

While the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley was still rattling the ivys at colleges all across the nation, including the campus at LSU were I was a clueless freshman . . .

The administrators of the University of California at Berkeley had bought a vacant lot very close to campus. It was, according to David Obst, in his book, Too Good To Be Forgotten, a “three-acre field the school had bought a couple of years before.”

http://www.amazon.com/Too-Good-To-Be-Forgotten/dp/0471295388

David writes:

“In mid-April a number of street people decided the field would make a groovy park. They decided to reclaim the land from the university and give it back to the people. All this was to be done under the doctrine of squatters’s rights.

For the next few weeks, hundreds of students and street people, folks who wouldn’t work if their parents or employers begged or paid them, worked for free at the park. They transformed the mud-splattered field into a grass-covered park by bringing together a weird collection of sod, shrub, and seedlings. A grove of apple trees was planted and and a brick walkway was laid. Swings and a sandbox for kids were put up; there was even a fishpond, and a . . .’revolutionary cornfield.’ “

Now, I, reading this, thought that was a pretty productive, creative way to make good use of a vacant lot.

But of course the Berkeley admins didn’t think so, so the chancellor called Governor Reagan, who called in the National Guard, and things got ugly, kind of like, you know, Selma, or you know–but this was a bunch of white kids.

By ‘n by, I later came to appreciate Ronald Reagan, when he was President. But this was not one of his shining moments.

Which gets to my point: there are two sides to every story. Confusion is the order of the day when you’re a freshman.

When I walked into the college maelstrom of 1969, I was entering a storm of controversies. . . with both sides right and both sides wrong. How was I to make sense of it all?

As I later learned from Scriptures: “There is not one right, no, not one.”

The long, collegial tradition of free thought and orderly discourse was being challenged from both sides–left and right–during those  tempestuous days.  On the left, the “Movement” was being split. A huge rift was tearing the violent-prone revolutionaries apart from the “play by the rules” nonviolent protesters.

David Horowitz, years ahead of me, had been, along with David Obst (quoted above) in the very thick of the antiwar, antiestablishment resistance during those days. But later, in the 1970’s, he changed his tune and his political affiliations. In his book, Radical Son, Horowitz wrote:

http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Son-A-Generational-Odyssey/dp/0684840057

“Although the Panther vanguard was isolated and small . . .its leaders were able to rob and kill without incurring the penalty of the law. They were able to do so, because the Left made the Panthers a law unto themselves. The same way the Left had made Stalin a law unto himself. The same way the Left makes Fidel Castro and the Sandinista comandates laws unto themselves.”

“. . .the best intentions can lead to the worst ends. I had believed in the Left because of the good it had promised; I had learned to judge it by the evil it had done.”

Such is the electrifying commotion of ideologies and tactics that I walked into while starting college in 1969. And I am still trying to figure it all out–who is right, who is wrong.

More about all this later. Film at 11. Book in, probably, about three years.

Glass half-Full 

“Death of a King”, Tavis’ book

November 16, 2014

If ever a man lived who actually wrestled the demons of his era, Dr. Martin Luther King was that man.

Tavis Smiley makes that point absolutely clear in his new book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year.

Dr. King’s steadfast espousal of non-violence, having been firmly founded in his biblical faith, was a burden he bore with dignity his entire working life. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer had earlier called “the cost of discipleship” is a very high price for any Christian disciple to pay, especially one who accepts a mission on the front lines of a never-ending battle. The battle that Dr. King chose to fight–for dignity and wellness among his people, and indeed, among all people–was but one 1950’s-’60’s phase of very long war struggle against injustice and poverty. It is a righteous war that has extended back into the times of Old Testament prophets such as Amos, Moses and Isaiah.

While reading Tavis’ account of Dr. King’s last 365 days, I am convinced that the man stood forthrightly in the line of prophetic anointing that stretched back to those prophets of long ago, especially Amos, and including the Messiah himself, Jesus.

There are some among my Christian brethren who question Dr. King’s authenticity in the high calling of the Christian gospel. Their objections gather around accusations that he was a troublemaker, an upstart, an adulterous sinner, all of which is probably true.

But this  Christian agrees with Dr. King, and with our greatest Book, which teaches that we are all sinners.

We are all sinners on this bus, whether it’s a bus to Montgomery, Birmingham, Atlanta, Washington, wherever. A bus to hell itself can be turned around by the power of a man’s faith.

In the unique case of Dr. King–that one man’s exemplary faith,even sin-tainted as it was– was a rock upon which millions have clung for stability since those heady, raucous days of the 1960’s.

Including the honky who writes this review.

In fact (and Tavis’ book makes this absolutely clear) Dr. King’s unyielding stand on Christian non-violence is the main attribute of that leader’s fortitude that set him apart from most of his comrades during those cataclysmic days of 1967-68.

The preacher’s insistence on non-violent civil disobedience instead of violent confrontation compelled him along a lonely course of isolation, with periods of self-doubt and blatant rejection on all fronts friend and foe.

Those other luminaries who labored with Dr. King during that time–Stokely, Rap, Adam Clayton, and many others, including men in his own SCLC camp, Jesse, Ralph, Stanley–those other movers and shakers, who marked Martin as an Uncle Tom whose relevance was being eclipsed by bloodier strategies– wanted to leave the preacher in the dust.

Which he ultimately was, as we all will be, in the dust.

I haven’t even finished reading Tavis’ book yet. But I just had to let you know. . . there was a man–he lived during my lifetime– whose

 “radical love ethos at the heart of Christianity–is not to change with the times but, through the force of his constant conviction, to change the times.”

Thank you, Dr. King. Your life has been, always will be, an inspiration to me. I look forward to hearing directly from you when we are all together as God’s children, black and white, in that place he has prepared for us.

And also, from this white boy to you, Tavis Smiley: thank you for this timely illumination of Dr. King’s work among us. In spite of all the turbid waters that have passed beneath the bridges of our times, we are still a divided nation. We could stand to revisit the vision of peace that was manifested, not so long ago, in the life and work of this one man’s faithful legacy.

my song about him: Mountaintop

Glass half-Full

Jackson Mississippi 1963

April 20, 2014

 

In 1954, I was three years old. In that year, my parents moved from Louisiana to Jackson Mississippi. Our family of four, soon to be six souls, stayed in Jackson until I was in the sixth grade, 1962. Then we moved back to Louisiana.

All around us at that time the world was changing big time. I was, of course, clueless, being just a kid. Living in a humble, GI-bill enabled suburb, l and my whitey neighborhood playmates were quite insulated from the maelstrom of civil rights-fueled social change that was gathering momentum in Jackson and in the whole state of Mississippi and the South, and later the North.

I was in a Catholic school; it was nice enough, and I had some good friends there. Although the US Supreme Court decision,  Brown v. Board of Education, had established a legal  path toward school desegregation in 1954, I never saw a black classmate until I was in junior high school in Baton Rouge a few years later.

My first impressions of black folk in Jackson came mostly through our maid, Aleen. She was a very nice lady. Many an afternoon, my sister and I would accompany my mother as she drove Aleen home from her day-job at our home. Aleen’s home was what we would politely call the “other side of town,” although it wasn’t really in town, but seemed to me to be out in the country somewhere nearby. The vivid image in my child’s mind was of a dirt road lined by houses that I later learned are called “shotgun shacks.”

In 2011, Dreamworks released a movie about what was developing in Jackson at that time. You’ve probably seen it: The Help. It is an excellent film, based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett and it absolutely confirms all my juvenile impressions and memories of Jackson in the 1950s. But of course, as I said before, being a kid I had no idea of what was really going on behind all that docile southern comfort status quo.

Recently, I have decided to write a fictional historiography about growing up in the South during that time, and about how being a born-n-bred southerner interfaced with what the rest of our country was becoming. This novel, my fourth, is tentatively named King of Soul. (Preview: I am not “the King.”) The book being written  follows the novel Smoke, which I have just published.

I do a lot of historical research. Learning about history is what propels me as a writer. I turn the research into fiction that, I feel represents a certain time period or zeitgeist. Finally I am doing one now on the actual time and place of my growing up.

My daughter Katie, who nobly attempts to be my editor, tells me that my protagonist’s depth suffers in the midst of all my fictionalized history. She is of course correct in this critique. Certainly I will learn the lesson of satisfactory protagonist development in this next project, instead of obsessing with making the history itself the main character.

To begin research I have picked up several books at the Belk library, Appalachian State University, here in Boone NC where I live, where Pat and I have raised our three grown young’uns. This researching will be my modus operandi. Before King of Soul is finished in a few years, I probably will have consulted with a hundred or more sources from that library, as well as our local Watauga County library.

The Kindle, and Wikipedia, and real historians posting online, and so forth are also major components of my publishing projects.

To get into the King of Soul, I am reading, among other things, Michael Vinson Williams’ opus of history research, Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr, and also A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC, by Cheryl Lynn Greenberg.

So, by doing, I am finally getting the back-story of what was really going on while I was growing up in Jackson Mississippi in the 1950s and Baton Rouge Louisiana in the 1960s.

I graduated from high school in 1969. What does that tell ya? Should be a fascinating period to reflect upon.

All of this to say: at the present moment I am here to share with you three of the most interesting historical facts I have learned in preparation to writing the fictional historiography.

1. From Williams’ book on Medgar Evers: When Medgar returned to the USA after soldiering to defending our country and Europe in 1946, he had to “go to the back of the bus.”! What kind of a welcome was that for a man who had survived D-Day and World War II in Europe? Mr. Evers went on to do very persistent, determined work in voter registrations in Mississippi in the ’50s and ’60s, and became a great leader in the civil rights movement before he was shot down in the dark of night by a white supremacist in his own front yard in Jackson in 1963. That was just a few months before they got Kennedy.

2. From Greenburg’s book on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC):  Through volunteering in the civil rights movement in the South, empathetic activists from other areas of the country learned how it’s done. For instance: after working with the blacks down south, Mario Savio took his SNCC experience back to Berkeley, where he lead the Free Speech Movement that soon initiated protest against the Vietnam war. Also, after working with blacks down south, Tom Hayden returned to Michigan and authored, with his SDS comrades, the Port Huron Statement which was the beginning of Students for a Democratic Society.

3.What I am seeing now about the time period is this: As the civil rights movement gathered steam in the mid-’60s, a rift developed between the moderates (such as Medgar Evers, the NAACP, Dr. King, SCLC, John Lewis, Julian Bond, etc.) and the radicals (such as Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, SNCC, Panthers, Malcolm X, etc.) This parting of ways is similar to what happened among the anti-Fascists and also among  the anti-Communists in Europe of the 1930s, a subject of my new novel, Smoke. The peaceful v. violent disagreement is also, I believe, indicative of protest movements generally, such as the two biggies: the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. Probably the next revolution, too, whatever becomes of that.

As for me, the kid growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, well. . . shut my mouth, I’m a child of the South. But I’m a commencin’ to write about it. Thank ye for your time.

Glass half-Full