Introduction

Fall '13 TOC

 

In this issue, besides the other fine writing we have included, you will find a moving piece by the Reverend Doctor Donald Matthews regarding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. Most Americans are aware of the incident: the provocative stalking of a young man walking home from a convenience store, the lethal outcome of the brandishing of a firearm by a self-appointed vigilante, the not-guilty verdict announced on a Sunday when national activity, particularly the news cycle, is at its nadir.

While I'm not an attorney, it appears to me that one effective tactic in a court case is to change the conversation, make it about something else. The Trayvon Martin shooting became, not about a young man being profiled, but about gun ownership and Floridas's stand your ground statute.

Recently, I attended a meeting when the Martin Luther King holiday was being discussed. Something special, a colleague suggested, ought to be done this year. My suggestion would be for MLK day to be an opportunity to honor, not only Doctor King, but some of the lesser-sung figures who put themselves in the line of fire, just as King himself did.

Who comes to mind?

Certainly Bayard Rustin who, while not the face of the March on Washington (King surely was) along with A. Philip Randolph, was the one who conceived, organized and implemented that groundbreaking event. As early as 1945, Rustin served on the "Free India Committee." It was he who stressed that non-violent tactics and the passive resistance embraced by Mohandas Gandhi against the British government should be adopted by the American Civil Rights movement.

And Robert Moses who, in his twenties, living and working in New York City, saw a picture of students sitting-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The determination on the faces of the protesting students stirred something in him. The Greensboro photograph was the genesis of Moses setting out for Mississippi. Without plans or support, his premise was that Mississippi was the most impenetrable of the Southern states in regard to racial tolerance.

In Cleveland, Mississippi, he met Amzie Moore, a service station owner and part-time janitor, who had compiled some intriguing statistics. Only 5% of Mississippi's half-million Blacks were registered to vote. Only 25% of those registered did vote. In the region that qualified as the Delta, 67% of the population was Black, but only 3% were registered, comprising the state's highest percentage of Blacks and lowest percentage of voters.

Moses and Moore conceived a strategy. They would keep away from places like Jackson, where the White stronghold was fierce, and organize in the Delta. In Bolivar and Sunflower Counties, they would convince local Blacks to overcome their fear and accompany them to the registrar's office. They would embrace non-violence.

That 1964 campaign came to be known as "Freedom Summer."

And then there is Claudette Colvin, a Montgomery, Alabama teen-ager, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus. This is not to diminish the contribution of Rosa Parks, but she was not the first. After Claudette Colvin's spur-of-the-moment defiance, she became pregnant. Being fifteen and unmarried, she was not a figure upon whom to build a successful boycott.

History isn't neat and tidy. And although this Martin Luther King day, the schools and post offices will be closed in every American city, each of whom invariably has a Martin Luther King Boulevard, let's look deeper and cast the net wider. Even revere the names of some others who struggled and should also be remembered. Bayard Rustin Boulevard... Robert Moses Parkway... Claudette Colvin Avenue.

Junior Burke
Executive Editor

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