photo here of Bill Moore
April 23, 1963 · Attalla, Alabama
William Lewis Moore, a postman from Baltimore, was shot and killed during a one-man march against segregation. Moore had planned to deliver a letter to the governor of Mississippi urging an end to intolerance.
(from the Southern Poverty Law Center's roster of Civil Rights martyrs- there is a memorial across the street from their office)
If I assign myself the role of artist, I look back on our action of pouring blood on draft files on October 27th, 1967 to protest the Vietnam war and the "underground" and prison that followed as fabulous sources of drama and intensity ... like a journey to Oz. As activist, our action was simply what we called it (we weren't the ones that coined the phrase), a move "from dissent to resistance," a phrasing also used at the mass demonstration against the Vietnam war one week earlier at the Pentagon on October 21st.
I talk w my mate, Cathy about her formation as an activist- it is the question most asked of me-why did you do this- what caused you to do it, or, what made you do it? The times, she says- my mother's sense of injustice, about rich and poor- my Uncle as a teacher was a big influence.
Yes, I say but most around us did not go the same direction- it is almost unexplainable. People ask the great composers where their ideas come from- Beethoven and Rachmaninoff commented on it- but as to we activists? I know I go into it at length somewhere else in these writings- I should find that discussion- of my "hairball" of motives. As I grew older I wondered myself what made people in general become sincere peace activists.
Hopefully, you will understand a little by reading the following. Certainly, the anger, the sense of drama, the imagination
.sometimes, it just immodestly occurs to me that we had juice- there was something in me that made me a little more vibrant, searching. Cath, my io- intimate other- is that way too- but we me a large part of it is anger- with her- shes just super smart. Father Berrigan definitely had juice
.a certain je ne sais quoi. One of the SDS leaders of the period, Rennie Davis -one of the Chicago 7-, has said: overnight you had freedom marches, anti-war protests
.it was suddenly there (not so suddenly, in my des opinion (I can see the antecedents)- its one of the things that has fascinated me this whole time: what is it that ignites that kind of curiosity and passion for life and suddenly not needing approval from anyone else
it almost takes on a mystical quality, to me, I mean, we want so much to root these things in the social conditions; and not to say social conditions dont create protest but there was something else happening here
you almost feel like its more on a metaphysical level; it just does not root itself in political institutions or any easy explanation
what was the energy underneath all of that? Thats really still the mystery of the Sixties. Lets just call it the juice. A reviewer of the Godard film Masculine/Feminine whom I hear in 2005 makes the point that he portrays the sheer boredom of youth- the banality of it. But that wasnt my youth- I hesitate to say our youth- for many my generation were bored and listless slackers too, as are youth always. But many of us were not!
The motives that took me to the blood pouring are a hair ball- to list several items: influence of civil rights movement, of Phil as a father figure, rebellion against my own father, a real Holden Caulfield sense of being able to sniff out bull sh t and the phony and expose it, dating especially from Mt. Hermon, - anger in general, rebellion against Mt. Hermon, romantic desire to do something exceptional, wanting to have something to write about, boredom with teaching at Boys Latin, the murder of Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman in Mississipppi, love of guerilla theatre a la the yippees, free floating anger since birth (because it took me so long to come out?- 14 hours?!?). Salinger became so tired of it he retired to Cornish, N.H. and, apparently- an eastern philosophy- and it's a shame he hadn't turned his dismay into activism, He'd simply "had enough".
As time passes my memory makes a necklace of my peace movement past, stringing the dates together like so many beads. But time happens to you like the string itself without any pearls or polished gems.
Father Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest, myself, sort of a "poet", an alleged poet, and Tom Lewis, an artist, were veterans of the civil rights movement who had become more and more deeply involved in anti‑war work. We were members of a Baltimore peace group, the Interfaith Peace Mission. The fourth member of our group, which came to be dubbed the "Baltimore 4" was a United Church of Christ minister, the Reverend James Mengel.
We attended the mass Pentagon rally the week before our blood pouring, proud to be planning our own action and buoyed up by the spectacle of the crowd and the socializing. We had become more and more angry about the war, escalating our opposition to it with a variety of civil rights style tactics: sit‑ins, road blocks, marches, as well as draft counseling, etc.
But I get ahead of myself. It was the murders of civil rights activists Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney several years earlier in Mississippi in 1964 that had moved me to join the civil rights movement full time, quitting a job teaching at the Boys Latin private school in Baltimore. I wanted to participate in my generation's history making. Youngsters made the same decision more than a hundred years before as the civil war loomed (of course the sacrifices of that generation‑ at Wilderness, Manassas, at Shiloh, at Brandy Station, far outweighed mine). Imagine sacrificing your life if you were a confederate for the wrong cause! After seeing the great English movie in 2011, "The Four Feathers"- about cowardice and valor in war (in this case the imperialist British war to retake the Sudan)- I can see how old men might embellish old "war stories" in their old age- and I might say- we wished to exhibit the same valor as young soldiers- only for a different cause- the cause of non-violence.
Teaching was boring but also difficult, in that even at Boy's Latin- an upper class school, discipline problems took up too much concentration; I remembered the creative "beatnik" friends I'd made at Oberlin College where I majored in English Literature between 1958 and 1962. I'd seen Joan Baez back in the kitchen at the co-op at Oberlin, I think she had a red flower in her hair. I guessed I could find such people again in "the movement". I needed them; I needed the romance, I needed some action, I needed to do something Joan Baez might accompany in my mind with her floating soprano. There was no way I was going to piddle out my days in these classrooms so similar to the ones I'd experienced myself at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, where I'd attended prep school from 1954 to 1958. We never heard about the civil rights struggle abirthing in Alabama while at Mt. Hermon but in '56 the Supreme Court declared the Montgomery, Alabama bus segregation unconstitutional and somewhere during this period a young Martin Luther King was preaching about liberation from the "long night of oppression". Something was in the air. Sleepy little Baltimore was somewhat jolted when protestors sought to integrate Gwynn Oaks the amusement park in 1963. Todd Gittlin, author of The Sixties, Years of Hope, Days of Rage, was there as was Tom Lewis of the Baltimore four and he remarks, "It was official: I was in the movement". He felt the same way I did.
I was coaching a lacrosse team at Boys' Latin prep school when the news broke of Kennedy's assassination. It wasn't long after that I took the plunge into something more exciting than teaching.
It was 1964 and I knew where I could find some excitement‑ CORE, the Congress on Racial Equality. CORE in Baltimore had started back in (more on origins). In '64 I went to Atlantic City to urge that the Mississippi Freedom Party be allowed to represent the state- I met Louise at a CORE meeting- I held such part time jobs as Welfare Case verifyler and librarian at the Milton Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins and later worked as an organiser for Catholic Chairites getting the churches involved in forums on the latest political issues (in other words joining church and state!). Freedom Summer was slowly "tipping over" the power structure in Mississippi (wording is Bruce Watson's- author of the eye opening book Freedom Summer). While Martin Luther King was perfecting mass marches and demos and jail-ins- not always effective- SNCC was perfecting grass roots organizing. The white students- some from Oberlin- who came to Mississippi for Freedom Summer would have to turn over the burden of organising to the locals- the "nitty gritty" so to speak. Atlantic City showed us the futility of working within the system.
I had stopped the teaching and had moved out of the parental nest and down into the city. A friend in the civil rights movement, Hal Smith, let me stay in his house on 25th Street. He was turning a basement into a memorial to a previous tenant, Bill Moore, a martyr to the civil rights movement. Moore had been a postman in Baltimore and went to the deep South on a one man walk to protest segregation, truly a suicidal mission. He walked roads in Alabama wearing a placard that read "Black and White, Eat at Joe's". He was shot and killed. Hal hoped to make the basement into a combination civil rights reading room and museum. Photo here?
I began attending CORE meetings, finding new gurus and "father figures", notably the colorful Baltimorean/North Carolinian CORE leader, Walter Carter. (I didn't know it at the time of course, but I would have one more "father figure" to apprentice under‑ Phil Berrigan and "mother figure", my wife Louise whom I met at a CORE meeting‑ before I became my own father and had my own son). Perhaps I should also count Jay Worrall, founder of Offender Aid and Restoration, but by the time I got to Jay (1977), I was basically my own man.
Louise was my flower girl. She bore an uncanny resemblance to the girl draped in flowers in Botticelli's great painting of Venus- the woman to the side with the long thin nose. I always thought of Louise as "sandy"- that word stuck in my mind. She was sexy. I had dreamt of meeting someone and then I did. In relation to us, I also often thought of the Michel Legrand song, "What are you doing for the rest of your life" , although, alas, for the best, our relationship was not to last. It certainly was intense in the 900 block of Charles St. over the Bier Stube!
CORE - which is where I met Louise- provided opportunities for accomplishment and grist for the writing mill. I advanced to the status of vice‑chairman of the Baltimore chapter and wrote and produced a booklet which was a combination of text and photos (by Carl X) called the "Soul Book" describing CORE and the ghetto conditions CORE was protesting in Baltimore. I drew courage from the inspired poetry, singing and imagery of the movement. With all the energy of youth it was even possible to find beauty in the shattering heat and poverty of the inner city, in the gray, humid light that fell on worn brick colors late afternoons and the gritty green of the slum growing weed tree, the ailanthus.
The civil rights movement was an incubator for the development of exciting new techniques of non‑violent direct action and civil disobedience. One Saturday meeting we decided that a small group would test racist practices in apartment rentals and risk arrest to dramatize the issue of segregated housing. A Mr. Myerberg who built apartments in the inner city (and crammed Negroes, as they were called then, into them) also developed segregated suburban apartment complexes. We went in three cars to the Baltimore suburb of Reisterstown to one of his apartment complexes called Chartley. There we joined forces with Fred Nass, a white member of our housing subcommittee. Fred, with his wife and kids, would test availability of apartments for whites; then Walter Carter, a black who was Housing Committee chairman would ask about renting an apartment. If they turned Walter down we would begin a "sit in" protest demonstration. Other CORE members came with us to set up a picket line and begin marching outside if needed. The police had been informed. We brought walkie‑talkies for communication. There was to be no obvious connection for the rental agent between Fred and Walter.
Its not so much that blacks would want to live at Chartley- but theyd be damned if they werent going to have the right to say, No!
Fred went into the rental office and the agent told him there were two apartments vacant. Then we came in with Walter. The agent introduced Fred: "Mr Carter, this is Mr. Nass." Walt must have been nervous for he replied, "O yes, Fred Nass." The agent didn't catch the slip and went on to tell Walt that Fred had bought the last apartment. The agent then went outside with Fred and gave him a confidential nudge. According to plan, Fred told the agent he would reconsider when Walt asked Fred (as if he didn't know him) if he (the "kind gentleman") would give up the apartment. "I can't let you sign the lease. I can't give you an application," the agent told Walt, even though he had just mentioned six possible apartments to Fred.
"What's your policy on selling to Negroes?" Walt asked. The agent replied that he'd never done it, refusing to give us any policy. We were wondering whether our fellow COREmate Jim Divers had ruined things by noisily moving around upstairs supposedly "looking the apartment over" because he'd left his walkie‑talkie on. We could hear CORE organizer Herb Callender (who was on the outside) coming in loud and clear through the walkie‑talkie from his position outside, "Freedom one to Freedom two, over."
"It looks clear cut, wouldn't you say?" Walter asked and Fred agreed. Then Walter told the agent, "We're from CORE and we're sitting here 'til we get a policy statement and the same treatment as our white brothers." We were glad things were going according to plan.
The evening brought more pickets, blankets, food, curious onlookers and police, but no response from Myerberg. It looked like he was going to wait us out. But we were ready. "If Conrad and Cooper (who had just returned from space) can orbit for eight days," said Walter, "we can outlast them ...an inner space orbit." Herb, a bona fide "outside agitator", a CORE leader who had come down from headquarters in New York, dressed all in field hand denims like movement organizers in the South, led the pickets outside. He told us that we would need a continual picket in this neighborhood to publicize the sit‑in and to protect us from any mob. "The police might look the other way," he warned. But our excitement was not to come from the onlookers, who were Marylanders, after all, not the more dangerous Mississippians or Alabamians.
We waited through the next morning, groggy from a night's rest on the floor. Some of the tired picketers came in and stretched out on the floor to get some rest. At about noon a representative of the Maryland Interracial Committee came out to mediate. Myerberg's attorney was also on hand offering various ploys to get us out of the sample apartment. We were beginning to draw unwelcome publicity for his boss. First he offered to meet us on a Wednesday, then a Monday, then immediately...anywhere but in the model apartment. He still refused to give any policy statement. So, it's obviously segregated, we happily concluded.
Then the hammering began! Burly men were covering the back of the apartment with sheets of plywood. They came in and tore out our only toilet. They attached a hose to the only water tank. We got a little nervous. "Maybe they're gonna flood us out," Walt speculated as they brought the hose in. But for some reason they drained the tank. Did they think we were drinking it?
The crowd of pickets and onlookers was growing. A lumber truck pulled up in front of the apartment and a carpenter made measurements as if to block up the front windows. We had stocked up with food for the long haul: jugs of water, gallons of peanut butter, loads of crackers, grapes, bananas, candy, even bags as replacement for the toilet.
But the end was near. Myerberg called the police in and had us charged with trespassing. They led us out to a paddy wagon and took us to the nearest station where we waited for processing. We chatted with the very agent who'd sworn out the warrants. Somehow the conversation drifted onto reincarnation and the agent allowed that he wanted to come back rich. "But let me come back a man, one honest and angry man!" Walt rejoined. We signed a prisoner's meal ticket and the jailer took our belts (so we wouldn't hang ourselves I suppose) and then took us into the lockup. Walt regaled us with imitations of civil rights leaders; we chatted with a Mr. Smallwood who was awaiting trial for assault and battery and listened to the jailer kidding our friend Ray as he took his fingerprints. Soon they transferred us to a magistrate. We asked for a jury trial and I requested that the word "wantonly" be stricken from the trespassing charges ("He's a poet," Walt explained). We were quickly processed out on bond.
Some persons with baseball bats at the exit alarmed us but it turned out they were softball players who had disturbed the peace. Walt remarked of Herb Callender, "He looks so young ... so young ... and you know why? He's paid his dues, suffered, but is the freer inside for it." It was the kind of thing Walt would say.
Violent events further South made our struggle seem quite tame. We were emboldened to continue by the freedom riders and comforted and supported by the huge demonstrations in D.C. we joined knowing they would go into the history books, like the march on Washington in August of 1963 when Dr. King said he had a dream. I went. Kings amplified voice drifted up the mall towards the capitol, even more bell like than usual (this added for poetic effect).
Inspiring music accompanied my civil rights involvement, accompanying the beads on the memory string, songs like "O Freedom" or "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round". We sang as we sat with joined hands in a circle in the middle of Calvert Street to block traffic in protest of the segregated high rise Horizon House (where some 40 years later in 2003 I would deliver Sunpapers to apartments) ; we sang amidst thundering congregations in black churches. All my life any time the going got rough, "Ain't gonna let nobody, turn me 'round, turn me 'round, 'turn me 'round; keep on awalkin, keep on atalkin, walkin down to freedom land" might pop into my head. Later, all I had to do was fill in appropriate new lyrics as we had in the movement days, i.e. "ain't gonna let my divorce, or ain't gonna let obsessive compulsive behavior" etc. In one interview before his death, CORE leader James Farmer, talks about the Freedom Riders singing in the Jackson, Mississippi jail- driving the jailers crazy. There is a wonderful cd with "Sweet Honey in the Rock" and Berneice Reagon where you can hear these songs.
I kept trying to turn the civil rights grist into poetry. Although drawn to it, the role of movement organizer was not an easy one for me. My field of expertise according to my college degree was English literature. I'd left Boy's Latin to get out from the front of the classroom, that so public, performing position. I had trained for a couple of months for the Peace Corps at Georgetown and would have gone to Ethiopia but dropped out and spent about a year living with my folks in vague anticipation of a writing career. I had always scoffed at Dad when he had said he thought I'd make a good monk, but there was a side of me that truly loved the contemplative (or was it just a lazy, scared side?). Staying at home was no answer. I left choosing teaching because I had to make my own way in the world and I was familiar with it. Then I joined the civil rights movement for adventure and belief without much thought of pay. Was I competing with Dad, to beat him at his own game of public achievement (he was a beloved teacher with a flair for the dramatic, imitating camel whinnies and so on to spice up his Bible classes. Pop was probably talking about himself as the contemplative. He liked performing no better than I!
Sotto voice, I asked myself the stock questions, why wasn't I taking my place in society along with my Mt. Hermon classmates? Why wasn't I pursuing money like other Americans. (Of course, little did I know it, they were also doing odd and rebellious things.) Why wasn't I meeting my father's expectations? What were my father's expectations? the youth's gnawing inner questions. Even more nagging was the realization that I'd only be young once, and that this was the time to take some risks in order to discover myself. If not, I could go straight to the grave without ever having lived! Someone else might make all my decisions for me! I would have to dare to become myself and, like one of Dad's favorite heroes, T. E. Lawrence, become more of an adventurer.
What I didn't realize was that the mystical father/mentors, the Walter Carters (who died while I was in prison?), the Phil Berrigans would not always be there to guide me, and if I wished to be truly alive I would have to continue adventuring and keep on creating myself. In later years I sometimes thought with relief that I had taken my big chances early on and could now sit back and relax (in my job at the Baltimore City Jail), cruising into old age with a paying job, no longer a part of any special movement struggle. Activists became rarer and rarer through the seventies, eighties, and nineties it seemed. Or maybe these decades lacked turmoil like the Vietnam War to bring out the activism in ordinary persons like myself. My adventures became white water rafting or fighting with neighbors over a barking dog. Having exited real prison, I joined up with society, got a paying job with which to support myself thus entering another sort of prison, literally and figuratively. But, since I knew myself better because of my own prison experiences, my job in the rat race was at least my own choice.
Adult life was not going to be a freebie, it later dawned on me. Where did I ever get the impression that it would be? No one was going to pay me to just be myself. I just hadn't given these issues much thought. And none of the excellent schools I'd attended or gurus with whom I`d associated, nor my own father, had given me any advice about these decisions which we all face. Pathetic. I often jokingly thought that Dad had only taught me two things: how to drive and that it's a good idea to put paper down on toilet seats in dirty bathrooms. I came to realize that Dad had taught me quite a lot of things in an unstated way. Dad was a minister and many of his and Mom`s religious ideas had rubbed off, as had other ways of doing things, no doubt..
Barbara Mills has written an interesting book about the period- focusing in on our lawyer for most of the civil rights arrests- Fred Weisgal- quite the character. In the book And Justice for All, she wrote about some of the same actions I wrote about plus actions I had completely forgotten. We were fighting for Open Occupancy- black and white together, it was 1966. Barbara went on to write another book- on the history of the civil rights movement in Maryland, entitled, Got My Mind Set on Freedom. She used several of the photos I had in my Soul Book, taken by Carl X Harden.
Fred became involved in the anti war cases after a demonstration that happened on March 28th. Mostly student demonstrators picked an Army Recruiting Center on Greenmount Avenue- among them one of my friends to this day (and a member of SPARK)- Dave Harding. The students were from Johns Hopkins and were members of S.D.S.- the Students for a Democratic Society. They were jailed but Dave received an added charge of Malicious Destruction of Property. Supposedly, as Barbara points out, he had used a key to scratch on the painted cell wall, Cops are against people and two other words, unstated, described as obscene. Dave told me some 36 years later that these words were Fu k the Pigs. He had passed his keys to a next door cell but the cops figured out what happened and sent the keys out to analyze for paint residue. In court, a somewhat sympathetic judge asked the police: You never charged before for writing on the wall. This was funny to all concerned- but Dave was still fined. He later worked for U-JOIN - a community organizing venture similar to CORE - then went on into SPARK and knew my friend Cath before I met her- my true life partner and official I.O.- Intimate Other. Dave (nom de guerre Edward) is still a dear friend (2004).
Barbara Mills also remained an activist, while living in Baltimore and after, and for a while had even been on the Board of the organization I had started in 1976- Offender Aid and Restoration (O.A.R.).
Some 25 years after it was written, I read Lou Goldberg's 300 page dissertation on Target City CORE which he had written for a doctorate at Johns Hopkins. I had remarked to Lou that Target City CORE had not lived up to its promises. It was a noble effort that failed. CORE had decided to emphasize the economic problems of the ghetto and de-emphasize the old style demonstrations against segregated facilities. The reasoning was, why integrate a high rise apartment if most blacks couldn't afford to live there in the first place?
When CORE along with the rest of the civil rights movement began to emphasize black power (1966), many whites left. I moved over to the peace movement. It wasn't hard to do: the spirit, the elan, the creativity were the same. These were good years to be young, with plenty of outlet for anger. Our generation was making a name for itself that history might recognize, we immodestly thought (as had many other generations). I became a draft counselor for the American Friends Service Committee. My own draft status? I had applied for and received a 1-A-O Conscientious Objector status- that would put me to Vietnam as a medic's helper. Later, while in prison, my draft board changed it, as an insult- to 4-F - unfit for service.
Friend Barbara Mills second ground breaking book on civil rights activism and colored peoples, negro/black/African American (in that order of wording) struggle in Maryland- Keep on Walking with My Mind Set on Freedom comes out in Jan. of 2003. She tells me that she had tried to get Johns Hopkins Press to publish it but that an editor at the Sun, C. Frazier Smith, was also (supposedly) doing a book on the same subject that they planned to publish. Barbara concentrates on the 60s and Baltimores part in the story. The great writer on the civil rights movement- Taylor Branch, at the time of this writing (2004) lives in Baltimore.
I am struck by parts of the story Barbara told that I have forgotten about. I came to realize that a lot of difficult behind the scenes work was done to which I, at the time, paid no attention- like the writing of press releases, the sending of letters to Mayor McKeldin, various landlords and realtors like Victor Frenkil Samuel Gorn and the Meyerbergs- activity without which nothing would have resulted. At pr. 550, Barbara describes certain actions of mine and I have to ask her did she have the wrong person? Surely I would remember doing this in a courtroom setting? But it was me and I do not remember it at all. I had forgotten the rift between the local C.O.R.E. and Target City C.O.R.E., to which latter I gravitated and with which I worked. Barbaras segments on my first grand mentor, Walter Carter are indispensable.
Friend Bill OConnor tells me I was in and out of a fog half the time then, maybe hes right. Do I have the selective memory because I was not attracted to the more soldierly, risky, glamorous stuff
.like getting arrested? I preferred to retreat into passivity? My brain had not really morphed into an adult form.
Anyway, Barbara has done her homework. She had also served for a spell on the Board of my organization, Offender Aid and Restoration, and, then and at the time of C.O.R.E., I thought of her as a very bright but abrasive and annoying person. She suffered no fools. She had a great sense of humor which saved her. And now, having provided me with some new understanding of self, having used some of my writing and the photos I have by Carl X (some how she found out that his last name was Harden), she is definitely MY FRIEND.
Taylor Branch was to me THE historian of the movement and he lived right here in Baltimore. His three books on Martin Luther King were masterful and I was happy to be able to talk with him by telephone. His book on Clinton came out in 2009. In August of 2004, I came across a book that spoke in the same voice as mine: Blood Done Wrote My Name by Tim Tyson- a history of the movement in North Carolina- centering on a murder that occurred when Tim was 10 in Oxford, N.C.
Tims book makes clear how much those willing to use violence helped we non violent protestors - like the Deacons for Self Defense. A class mate of mine at Oberlin- Jon Weintraub- had the following experience:
In 1965, I was in grad school at Wesleyan University in physical organic chemistry:). I led a group of undergrads from Wesleyan to the Montgomery March, and we were housed at Tuskegee University. We went to Montgomery to meet the march from Selma. Most returned to campus early. I drove some Tuskegee students in my car with CT tags from Montgomery back to Tuskegee later in the evening. I stopped at a gas station outside of Montgomery and asked for $5 of gas and was refused because of the Negro students [1960s name] in my car. I told the attendant I would leave $5 on top of the pump and pump my own gas. Meanwhile, he went to the office and got on the phone. I left the station, got on route 80, and headed out toward Tuskegee. This was the same night [March 25 I believe] that Viola Liuzzo was killed going on route 80 in the opposite direction toward Selma. After driving for a while, a car pulled up to me on the driver's side and pointed a shotgun and pistol at my car; I hit the gas and sped ahead. This happened a second time, and I floored the gas. Then, after a bit, I noticed in my rear view mirror that their car had been knocked off the road by another car. We were all quite shaken up and scared but drove back to see what happened. It turned out that the Deacons for Defense and Justice [the precursor of the Black Panthers] were the folks that knocked the car off the road, and to whom I probably owe my life that night. We got back to Tuskegee that night safely but shaken.
Mary Kings book Freedom Song was also especially moving to me. I had dated Mary, ONCE, back in the 60s. Id say we didnt have much chemistry. How were we even introduced? Hers one of the best, most thoughtful books on the Civil Rights Movement- love her quotes from one of her friends, one of my favorite poets- Jane Stembridge. Jane had attended the same school as my Dad- Union Theological Seminary. To me, she is the best poet of the movement. Karl Fleming has also written a great book on the period- Son of the Rough South.
The civil rights movement, which after all, had been going on all the time anyway- shaped my generation, shaped the peace movement and the feminist movement and the green movement. All these movements seemed to die away in the 80s and 90s and with the next generations
.what went wrong? Was this a century occurrence, a blip, a fluke, a cyclical thing? No, it was the shoulders on which the next revolutionaries (which we were not) could stand, it had not been in vain, despite the Republican and retrograde, capitalist, years to come. Marge Piercy had described it well in her novel on the French revolution- City of Light.
In his masterful book Tim Tyson states: "Most of the white people who appear in film footage of civil rights marches were brave followers of Leon Trotsky or radical Catholic sisters, saintly kooks of one description or another"- and these were exactly the directions my life would take, saintly or not. When I consider the happenings in Tim's North Carolina town of Oxford, as described in this book- which. along with Taylor Branch's 3 books on M L King is the most important civil rights account since To Kill a Mockingbird - I realize how sheltered was my uprbringing in the college town of Davidson, N.C. True Tim only realized what really happened researching his book- not at the time it had happened.
Tim on Eddie McCoy: one of the black leaders in Oxford at the time and after- McCoy ia dismissive of "outside agitators" when it comes to civil rights advances. He claims, "I didn't need that." (meaning the persons who came down from the north to help start a movement). No? Did blacks fight back as hard before the Freedom Riders? Why diss allies? Sounds like swagger to me- boastful, unneeded comments. Sure, it's foolish to extol the successes of the movement to non violent civil disobediance when it was such events as the torching of tocacco and lumber warehouses in Oxford and the boycotts of white owned businesses that moved the whites along- yet and still.........as in the labor movement, militant destruction of property contributed a lot to the movement.
One of the black Viet vets that Tyson quotes says of Ben Chavis- a militant black organizer) that he "didn't know sh t! We didn't give a damn about his Martin Luther King bullsh t," Tyson writes, "the nation has comforted itself by sanitizing the civil rights movement, commemorating it as a civic celebration that no one ever opposed."
Given my proclivity to non-violence- I am interested where one of Tim's characters gives his .38 special pistol as much weight as non violent civil disobediance. There is also a wonderful account of the Lumbee Indians breaking up a Klan rally with rifel fire- the Klan's wife driving their car into a swamp in her panic and the Indians helping her out. One thing that southerners understand, apparently- all too readily. Guns and firepower.
Me, I'll take a civil war vintage Sharp's rifle- the kind my ole buddy John Brown liberated at Harper's Ferry. Either that or a lever action Winchester. Just kidding (but my dad did know guns and I shot em a plenty in my youth) (the smell of bluing oil you will never forget).
Note that Robert Teel's son (son of the acquitted murderer and himself a suspect- I gather he is arguing self defense- eg- Marrow came at them w a knife) has a web site trying to "set the record straight" and calling Tim a "race hustler". Tell me issues don't still exist in the Carolinas and the rest of the right wing south- land of the Repubublican's "southern strategy". America has yet to come to grips with the race issue. It occurs to me that Oxford, NC owes reparations- that this case should be re opened- as should many in the south. White racists who have gotten away w stuff should be brought to justice. Towns like Oxford should pay reparations; southern states should. One gets the feeling reading Teel's shabby, ignorant web site that he fears something coming- would that it would- like a call from the Justice Department. Maybe he sniffs the, hears the hounds of justice baying (at least in his red necked brain)? He obviously knows what happens but doesn't reveal it on his web site- if it wasn't him? who was it?.
See the documentary on the Freedom Riders that came out in 2010. Also the must to read- Hands on the Freedom Plow- by women who worked w SNCC and NAG in the Freedom Summer and in the deep south- accounts of speeding at 125 mph to avoid whites in cars brandishing rifles, and stints in jail and the singing- always the singing- compared to them we were ants.
also ref here- black panthers in baltimore, book by ?- House of Prayer # 2