ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Racist Power & Terror in Southwest Mississippi (1960)
from A Prophetic Minority (1966)
Books by Jack Newfield
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Books by Stokely Carmichael
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By Jack Newfield
I’m going back out before the rain starts a-falling;
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest
where the people are many and their hands are all empty
where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
where the executioner’s face is always well forgotten
where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
where black is the color, where none is the number
When you’re in Mississippi, the rest of America doesn’t seem real. And when you’re in the rest of America, Mississippi doesn’t seem real.
In the mythology of the movement, Amite County is a synonym for the Ninth Circle of Hell.
It was to impoverished, remote Amite County, in southwest Mississippi, that SNCC’s Bob Parris came in august of 1961 to attempt SNCC’s pilot project in voter registration. Beaten twice and jailed thrice, Parris left for the state capital in Jackson after four melancholy months.
It was in Amite that Herbert Lee, a fifty-two-year-old father of nine children, was murdered by E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi state legislature.
It was in Amite that farmer Louis Allen, a witness to lee’s slaying, was shotgunned to death in his home, after he had spoken to the Justice Department about the Lee murder.
It was Amite that saw not a single white volunteer during the 1964 Summer Project because of its legacy of lawlessness.
It was Amite that until July of 1965 had only one registered Negro voter in the whole country, despite a Negro population majority of 55 percent.
It is Amite that twelve years after Brown v. Board of education does not have a single classroom desegregated, two years after the 1964 civil rights act does not have a single public facility desegregated, and a year after the 1965 act does not have a federal voting registrar.
It is Amite that has never experienced a civil-rights march, a sit-in, or even a picket line.
It is rural, red-clayed Amite that the movement has bled itself dry trying to break the century-old trap of terror, poverty, and fear.
* * *
Amite is about eighty miles south of Jackson on the Louisiana border. Its county seat is the hamlet of Liberty, population 652.
More than half of the total population of the county is Negro, but only 40 percent of the 13,000 eligible voters are Negro. Because of the hopeless cycle of poverty, many Negroes escape to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Chicago while still in their teens. Sociologists have estimated that Negro Emigration from Mississippi is 40 percent. Amite is becoming a place for the very old and the very young.
Although many Negroes in Amite own their own farms, most of them are marginal. Attendance at all-Negro Central High each autumn falls below 50 percent because so many children are required to chop cane and pick cotton on the farms. While this makes the farmer less vulnerable to economic reprisals, it does led to frequent acts of physical violence.
More than 90 percent of the Negro homes have no heating system or indoor toilet. Only a few have telephones. Almost all rely on hand-dug wells for water. Food must be purchased in Liberty, where Negroes are still beaten up on the street on whim, and where no white has ever stood trial for violence against a Negro.
The sheriff of Amite is six feet, five inch Daniel Jones. His father, Brian Jones, is the Klan leader in the county.
Amite does not have a white, business-oriented middle class that has made Greenville, in the delta, an oasis of decency, or a merchant class that finally, in 1965, helped halt the reign of terror in nearby McComb. It was Hodding Carter’s Greenville Delta-Democrat Times, and later, Oliver Emmerich’s McComb Enterprise-Journal, that spread the message of compliance and moderation. the only newspaper in Amite is a racist sheet called the Liberty Herald.
Amite seems outside the flow of history, a backward enclave insulated from the passage of time. it has not only missed the civil rights movement, but the Industrial Revolution as well. There are no factories, no shopping centers, no unions in the county. The longed-for educated, civilized white moderate isn’t in hiding; he doesn’t exist in Amite.
This chapter is an attempt to chronicle the descent of three young Dantes into this one particular hell. this trio of pioneers did not abandon hope, but brought hope to this Ninth Circle.
* * *
Liberty is one of the oldest towns in Mississippi, its founding dating back to 1805. Among the earliest settlers in Amite were the poor whites–the “peckerwoods”–who were pushed out of the area around Natchez by the cotton-plantation-owning class of aristocrats. As the South moved toward the Civil war, great tensions developed between the rural peckerwoods of Amite and the affluent, genteel planters of Natchez. When the war began, the residents of Natchez voted to remain in the Union, while the poor whites of Amite chose secession.
After the Civil war, Amite was over 60 percent Negro, there were Negro sheriffs and a powerful Republican Party organization. But after the historic Compromise of 1876 ended reconstruction, the pattern of Negro disenfranchisement came to Amite, as it did to all of the South. Negroes were lynched, driven off land they owned, beaten, and their right to vote taken away. most Negroes who own their own land in Amite today do so only because one of their ancestors fought for it with guns or fists. Most of the Amite Negroes, however, fled to the rich soil of the delta, where cheap labor was needed to clear the swamps for the future plantations.
The diminution of Negro power in the county has continued all through the twentieth century. the only Negro resistance to this trend came during the 1930s when several of Huey Long’s Share the Wealth leagues sprang up in the area, but they were violently suppressed. the remote rurality and the backward poverty of Amite have been the laws of the vise that has bled the Amite Negro since Reconstruction.
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Robert Parris Moses grew up in a housing project on the edge of Harlem. But somehow he was not swallowed up by the squalor and violence of the ghetto like so many of his contemporaries. Instead, gifted with a philosophical and poetic mind, he went downtown at age thirteen, as a result of high grades on a competitive examination, to virtually all-white, academically superior, Stuyvesant High School. There Parris not only compiled outstanding grades, but was captain of Stuyvesant’s championship basketball quintet, and vice-president of his graduating class.
Parris then went, on a scholarship, to predominantly white Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where again he excelled in both scholarship and sports. It was at Hamilton that a French instructor introduced him to the writings of Albert Camus, whose melancholy morality was to make a lasting impact on his thinking. Almost a decade later, addressing volunteers at Oxford, Ohio, for the Mississippi Summer Project, Parris compared racism to Camus’ plague, and the volunteers to the sanitary squads.
From Hamilton, Parris went on to graduate school at Harvard, and received a master’s degree in philosophy in 1957. Afterward Parris began to teach math at one of New York City’s elite private schools–Horace Mann, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Nothing in his first twenty-four years–spent increasingly in the white world–seemed to indicate that Parris was destined to become a myth-shrouded legend to thousands of young radicals, and to have his picture hang in sharecropper shack in the delta next to Abraham Lincoln’s and John F. Kennedy’s.
Folk singer Bob Cohen, who lived with Parris in Manhattan from September of 1960 until he left for Amite in July of 1961, remembers him as “extraordinarily quiet, abstract . . . really involved with his students and reading a lot–Bertrand Russell and Camus in French. . . . Yet I always had the sense he was very busy in his head all the time.”
Cohen met Parris at the Maine Folk Dance Camp in June of 1960, and recalls, “One of the few times I can remember Bob’s face really lit up was when he was folk dancing. He loved it. I remember sometimes we would be coming home late from a party or something, and if Bob had had a good time, he would start dancing down Amsterdam Avenue. he could be very free and gay then.”
Cohen, who named his first child after his roommate, says, “Bob hardly ever talked about going back South after his trip in June of 1960. . . . The only hint I got of the deep feeling he had about going back South was that he would sit for hours and listen to a record of Odetta singing, ‘I’m Going Back to the Red Clay Country’.”
Nineteen hundred and sixty-one, when Parris went back to the red clay of Amite and Pike counties, marked the first time a SNCC worker tried to live in and become part of a community. It was the first time SNCC engaged in voter registration. It was probably the most creative and heroic single act anyone in the New Left has attempted. Certainly much of the subsequent history of the New left has flowed from the existential act of Parris disappearing alone into the most violent and desolate section of Mississippi.
As a consequence of that deed and his own selfless personality, Parris occupies a legendary niche in the New left. He has been compared to Danilo Dolci, Hesse’s Siddhartha, and Prince Kropotkin. Perhaps the reverential feeling about this shy, often sad prophet was best expressed by Dick Gregory when he introduced Parris to the mammoth Berkeley teach-in in may of 1965 with these words:
I refused to do my act a few minutes ago because it was too light. Now it’s dark enough, but I looked over my shoulder and found some light that I must get rid of first. this is a young man who has done more for my life without even knowing it to make me commit my life for right over wrong. Thank goodness I happened to be in the right place at the right time when he was speaking in his own little way.
Many times I listened to him when he though I was asleep in jail; many times I overheard him in the sharecropping fields of Mississippi. I’d like to postpone my act for another few minutes and bring to the stand a man who to me and to many people, will stand up among the greatest human beings who have ever walked the face of the earth. I don’t have to say any more. I would like to present to you a man–Bob Parris
The series of events that propelled Parris into the Ninth Circle of Amite began during the simmer of 1960. It was then that Parris, while traveling through Mississippi trying to recruit Negro students to attend SNCC’s October founding conference, met Amzie Moore, the indomitable leader of the NACCP chapter in Cleveland, Mississippi. In the course of several conversations Moore convinced the twenty-five-year-old SNCC field secretary he should quit his teaching job and return tot he delta the following summer to begin a voter-registration campaign. Parris agreed, and in November the popular Negro magazine, Jet, printed a short item describing the projected venture.
Amite County’s NAACP founder and leader, E.W. Steptoe, saw the Jet item, and along with Pike County leader C.C. Bryant, wrote a letter to Parris in New York, suggesting he change his plans and try to organize a project in southwest Mississippi. At that point only 38 of 9,000 Pike county Negroes were registered to vote, and one of 5,500 in Amite was eligible to vote, according to Civil Rights Commission figures.
Parris, who was encountering unexpected difficulty in finding a church willing to house a voter-registration school in the delta, agreed to come to the Amite-Pike region.
Civil-rights workers had not even tried to enter Mississippi until 1952. According to Elizabeth Sutherland, in her Letters from Mississippi, the “first ‘agitator’ was shot and killed, the second was shot and run out of the state.” Next came Bob Parris in July, of 1961, without a grand scheme, lacking any concrete experience in voter registration.
On August 7th the SNCC Pike County voter-registration school opened up in a hamlet called Burglundtown in a two-story structure, which included a grocery store below and a Masonic meeting hall above. The only teacher was Parris, and the student body consisted of about 20 Negroes, half of them too young to vote.
After the first class four persons went tot he registrar’s office in nearby magnolia, the county seat, and three of them registered without incident. Three Negroes went down on August 9th, and two registered successfully. The next night one of the Pike County Negroes who had attempted to register was shot at by a white farmer. The next day only two people showed up at the voter-registration school.
Parris then went into Amite, living on Steptoe’s farm. On August 15th, he accompanied an old farmer named Ernest Isaac and two middle-aged women, Bertha Lee Hughes and Matilda Schoby, tot he courthouse in Liberty. The trio managed to fill out a form, but not to take the test. As they were driving out of Liberty, toward McComb, their car was flagged down by a highway patrolman, who told Isaac, the driver, to get out and come into the police car.
Isaac quickly complied, but Parris also got out of the car and asked the officer why. He was pushed and ordered back into the car. At that point the patrolman arrested Parris for “impeding an officer in the discharge of his duties.” Taken to McComb, Parris was fined fifty dollars, and for the first of man times saw the inside of a Mississippi jail, as he spent two days in prison, fasting, rather than pay the fine.
On the Monday, August 28th, Parris started a voter-registration class at Mt. Pilgrim Church, the first in the history of Amite County. The next day he went with Reverend Alfred Knox and Curtis Dawson to the courthouse in Liberty to try to register. A block from the courthouse they were met by Billy Jack Caston, a cousin of the sheriff and the son-in-law of state representative E.H. Hurst.
Without saying a word, Caston walked up to Parris and knocked him down with a punch to the temple. He then proceeded to pummel Parris for several minutes with punches to the head and ribs. Parris just sat in the street trying to protect himself as best he could in the traditional nonviolent position, his head between his knees and his arms shielding his face. Reverend Knox tried to pull Caston off his victim, but white bystanders ordered him not to intervene.
Knox and Dawson never made it to the courthouse. Instead they picked up the semiconscious Parris and drove him to Steptoe’s farm. Steptoe later recalled, “I didn’t recognize Bob at first he was so bloody. I just took off his tee-shirt and wrong out the blood like it had just been washed.” Then Steptoe drove Parris to a Negro doctor in McComb, who took eight stitches in his scalp.
The next day Amite experienced another first: Parris filed assault and battery charges against Caston, the first time in that area a Negro had challenged the right of a white man to beat him up at will. The warrant was made out by the county district attorney after the county judge refused.
The trial was held in the Liberty courthouse on August 31st. More than 100 whites, many of them openly armed, jammed the courtroom for the spectacle. While on the stand, Parris was asked by Caston’s attorney whether he had participated in riots the year before in Japan or San Francisco. After his testimony Parris–the plaintiff–was told by the sheriff he had better leave the courthouse because he could not guarantee his safety. So before the trial ended in Caston’s acquittal, Parris was given a police escort to the Pike County line.
* * *
Meanwhile, two other crucial events were happening during the month of August. One was a SNCC staff meeting at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. At that meeting the fledgling organization was divided into two camps, one favoring direct action on the order of the sit-ins and the freedom rides, and the other suggesting the innovation of voter registration. Hints from the Kennedy Administration that it would look favorably on voter-registration activities, plus financial support from the New World and other foundations, strengthened the voter-registration group in SNCC. After prolonged debate, SNCC decided to adopt “an all-out revolutionary program encompassing both mass direct action and voter registration drives.”
The second thing to happen during August was the gradual emergence from jail in Jackson of the first group of freedom riders. Four of these freedom riders, Reggie Robinson of Baltimore, John hardy of Nashville, Travis Britt of New York, and MacArthur Cotton of Jackson, were to join Parris before the month was over. Also, direct-action partisans like Marion Barry came to McComb during August and sparked a series of sit-ins and protest marches.
fifteen-year-old McComb high-school, Brenda Travis, and five friends sat-in and were arrested. her companions were sentenced to eight months for “breach of the peace,” and Brenda was turned over to juvenile authorities and sentenced to one year in the state school for delinquents. Later, more than 100 of Brenda’s classmates at Burgland High School marched through McComb to protest her severe sentence and expulsion from school. They were all arrested as they knelt praying at the steps of the city hall.
More violence in Liberty.
On September 5th, Parris and Travis Britt accompanied four Negroes to the courthouse. In this pamphlet, Revolution in Mississippi, Tom Hayden recorded Britt’s terse description of the events that followed:
There was a clerk directly across the hall who came rushing out while we were waiting, and ordered us to leave the hallway. He said he didn’t want a bunch of people congregating in the hallway. So we left and walked around the building to the courthouse, near the registrar’s window. By the time we reached the back of the building a group of white men had filed into the hall. . . .
They were talking belligerently. Finally one of the white men came to the end of the hall as if looking for someone. He asked us if we knew Mr. Brown. We said no. He said, you boys must not be from around here. We said he was correct.
This conversation was interrupted by another white man who approached Bob Moses (Parris) and started preaching to him: how he should be ashamed of coming down here from New York stirring up trouble, causing poor innocent people to lose their homes and jobs, and how he (Bob) was lower than dirt on the ground for doing such things, and how he should get down on his knees and ask God forgiveness for every sin in his lifetime.
Bob asked him why the people should lose their homes just because they wanted to register to vote. The white gentleman did not answer the question, but continued to preach. He said that the Negro men were raping the white women up North, and that he wouldn’t allow such a thing to start down here in Mississippi. . . .
At this point Bob turned away and sat on the stoop of the courthouse porch, and the man talking to him took a squatting position. Nobody was saying anything. I reached into my pocket and took out a cigarette. A tall white man, about middle-aged, wearing a khaki shirt and pants stepped up to me and asked, “Boy, what’s your business?” at which point I knew I was in trouble.
The clerk from the hallway came to the backdoor leading to the courthouse with a smile on his face and called to the white man, “Wait a minute, wait a minute!” At this point the white man, who they called Bryant, hit me on my right eye. Then I saw this clerk motion his head as if to call the rest of the whites.
They came and all circled around me, and this fellow that was called Bryant hit me on my jaw and then on my chin. Then he slammed me down; instead of falling I stumbled onto the courthouse lawn. The crowd (about 15, I think) followed, making comments. He was holding me so tight around the collar, I put my hands on my collar to ease the choking.
This set off a reaction of punches from this fellow they called Bryant; I counted fifteen; he just kept hitting and shouting, “Why don’t you hit me, nigger?” I was beaten into a semi-consciousness state. My vision was blurred by the punch to the eye. I heard Bob yell to cover my head to avoid further blows to me face. . . .
Bob took me by the arm and took me to the street, walking cautiously to avoid any further kicks or blows. The Negro fellow that had been taking the registration test gave up in the excitement, and we saw him in his truck. . . .
This incident, in the heart of the hell Bob Parris says isn’t real unless you’re there, went unreported in the national press. this was still three years before the Summer Project, and such beatings administered to blacks were so commonplace as not to fit the definition of news. Such beatings, however, turned out to have considerable news content in 1964, when the bloodied recipients were white students from “good families” in the North. In 1961 the blood of Parris and Britt was invisible.
The beating had its desired effect. Attendance at meetings and voter-registration classes dwindled to almost nothing. The small group of SNCC workers walked the back roads from dawn to dusk in a vain search for Negroes willing to try to register in Liberty. “But the farmers were no longer willing to go down,” Parris later recalled, “and for the rest of the month of September we just had a rough time.”
Amite’s unchecked, legally sanctioned violence became murder on September 25th, when Hubert Lee was shot to death in front of the Liberty cotton gin by E.H. Hurst.
The day before, Parris had met with Steptoe and John Doar of the Justice Department at Steptoe’s farm. Steptoe had told Doar that Hurst, whose land is adjacent to his, had publicly threatened to kill him and Herbert Lee. Lee had attended voter-registration classes and had volunteered a few days before to attempt to register in Liberty, the first individual to do so since the beating of Britt.
Lee was shot once in the brain by Hurst’s .38 caliber revolver. It happened about noon in front of a dozen witnesses, including several Negroes. Lee, wearing his farmer’s overalls and field boots, was sitting in the cab of his pick-up truck, and fell out into the gutter when he was shot. For two hours his body lay in a pool of blond, uncovered and swarmed over by insects. Finally, a coroner from McComb came and picked it up. That same afternoon a coroner’s jury in Liberty met, and ruled that lee was killed in self-defense.
Parris felt responsible for Lee’s death, just as three years later he was to feel himself responsible for the deaths of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. For the next three nights, from sundown till almost sunup, he walked and rode through the mist-shrouded rolling hills of Amite, knocking on strange doors, seeking the three Negro witnesses. Fighting off exhaustion, waking up families that had to get up at 5 a.m., Parris finally found the Negro farmers who had witnessed the slaying.
But none was willing to tell a grand jury the truth. instead they told Parris that the sheriff and deputy sheriff had warned them to tell everyone that Lee, who was about five feet four, had tried to hit Hurst, who is six feet three, with a tire iron.
One of the three witnesses was a farmer named Louis Allen. Late in October a federal grand jury convened to consider an indictment of Hurst. it was then that Allen drove to McComb to inform Parris he had changed his mind, and would tell the truth about Lee’s death if he was guaranteed federal protection.
Parris called the Justice Department in Washington but was told it was “impossible” to provide Allen with protection. So Allen testified tot he federal jury that Hurst had killed Lee in self-protection. Six months later a deputy sheriff told Allen he knew he had contacted the Justice Department, and he broke Allen’s jaw with a flashlight. On January 31, 1964, Allen was found dead on his front porch as a result of three shotgun blasts.
Tormented by the shadows of guilt, Parris has tried to make Herbert Lee a symbol for all the hundreds of Mississippi Negroes who have been lawlessly murdered by whites. Whenever he spoke in the North in 1962 or 1963 he would talk about Herbert Lee, and soon thousands of young people knew of this one murder out of many. Lee was also memorialized in a song, “Never Turn Back,” written in 1963 by Bertha Gober, a wide-eyed teenager from Albany, Georgia. For a while the song, a dirge sung at a workers in Mississippi. Its final verse goes:
Never Turn Back
By Bertha Gober
We have hung our heads and cried
Cried for those like Lee who died
Died for you and died for me
Died for the cause of equality
No, we’ll never turn back
No, we’ll never turn back
Until we’ve all been freed
And we have equality
And we have equality
The murder of Lee broke the back of whatever had been stirring in Amite. few Negroes were willing to be seen talking to Parris or to the other “freedom riders,” as they were called by both Negroes and whites. The tiny flicker of hope from Parris’ candle went out, and Amite’s Negroes were left to curse the darkness.
A month later Parris went to jail for two months in Pike County for leading a march of 118 high-school students to the McComb city hall. From the magnolia jail he smuggled out a note tot he SNCC office in Atlanta. The last few paragraphs illuminate Parris’ speculative and poetic turn of mind.
Later on, Hollis [Hollis Watkins, now a member of SNCC’s executive committee] will lead out with a clear tenor into a freedom song. Talbert and Lewis will supply jokes, and McDew [Chuck McDew, then SNCC’s chairman] will discourse on the history of the black man and the Jew. McDew–a black by birth and a jew by choice, and a revolutionary by necessity–has taken on the deep loves and the deep hates which America, and the world, reserve for those who dare to stand in a strong sun and cast a sharp shadow.
In the words of Judge Brumfield, who sentenced us, we are ‘cold calculators” who design to disrupt the racial harmony (harmonious since 1619) of McComb into racial strife and rioting; we, he said, are the leaders who are causing young children to be led like sheep to the pen and be slaughtered (in a legal manner).
“Robert,” he was addressing me, “haven’t some of the people from your school been able to go down and register without violence here in Pike Country?” I thought to myself that Southerners are most exposed when they boast. . . .
This is Mississippi, in the middle of the iceberg. Hollis is leading off with his tenor, “Michael row the boat ashore, Alleluia; Christian brothers don’t be slow, Alleluia; Mississippi’s next to go, Alleluia.” This is a tremor in the middle of the iceberg–from a stone that the builders rejected.
In January Parris left southwest Mississippi, melancholy and depressed, to begin a pilgrimage that was to lead to the Mississippi Summer project, the Freedom Democratic Party, and a 100 percent rise in Negro registration in the state by the end of 1965 (25,000 to 50,000).
But for three years Amite was to remain that base of the iceberg most submerged beneath the ocean of terror. Nobody tried to register in Liberty after the murder of Herbert Lee. No SNCC project was attempted in the county. No summer volunteer was sent into the hills and woods of Amite. For three years a pattern of life incomprehensible to an outsider endured without assault. Negroes were beaten and killed. Whites, a minority of the county, continued to make every political and economic decision. No word was written about the iceberg, and the tiny crack Parris had made froze over. . . .
Source: Jack Newfield. A Prophetic Minority. New York: The New American Library, 1966
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* * * * *
Arson and Cold Grace,
or How I Yearn to Burn Baby, Burn
By Worth Long
We have found you out, four face Americas, we have found you out.
We have found you out, false faced farmers, we have found you out.
The sparks of suspicion are melting your waters
And waters cant drown them, the fires are burning
And firemen cant calm them with falsely appeasing
And preachers cant pray with hopes for deceiving
Nor leaders deliver a lecture on losing
Nor teachers inform them the chosen are choosing
For now is the fire and fires wont answer
To logical reason and hopefully seeming
Hot flames must devour the kneeling and feeling
And torture the masters whose idiot pleading
Get lost in the echoes of dancing and bleeding.
We have found you out, four faced farmers, we have found you out.
We have found you out, four faced America, we have found you out.
Source: To Free a Generation: The Dialectics of Liberation, edited by David Cooper. London: Collier Books, 1969.
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By Stokely Carmichael
Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael(June 29, 1941 – November 15, 1998), also known as Kwame Ture, was a Trinidadian-American black activist active in the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. He rose to prominence first as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “Snick”) and later as the “Honorary Prime Minister” of the Black Panther Party. Initially an integrationist, Carmichael later became affiliated with black nationalist and Pan-Africanist movements. He popularized the term “Black Power.” In 1965, working as an SNCC activist in Lowndes County, Alabama, Carmichael helped to increase the number of registered black voters from 70 to 2,60 300 more than the number of registered white voters.
Black residents and voters organized and widely supported the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, a party that had the black panther as its mascot, over the white dominated local Democratic Party, whose mascot was a white rooster. Although black residents and voters outnumber whites in Lowndes, they lost the county wide election of 1965. Carmichael became chairman of SNCC later in 1966, taking over from John Lewis. A few weeks after Carmichael took office, James Meredith was attacked with a shotgun during his solitary “March Against Fear”. Carmichael joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Floyd McKissick, Cleveland Sellers, and others to continue Meredith’s march. He was arrested once again during the march and, upon his release, he gave his first “Black Power” speech, using the phrase to urge black pride and socio-economic independence:
“It is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.” While Black Power was not a new concept, Carmichael’s speech brought it into the spotlight and it became a rallying cry for young African Americans across the country. According to Stokely Carmichael : “Black Power meant black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs [rather than relying on established parties]. Heavily influenced by the work of Frantz Fanon and his landmark book Wretched of the Earth, along with others such as Malcolm X, under Carmichael’s leadership SNCC gradually became more radical and focused on Black Power as its core goal and ideology. This became most evident during the controversial Atlanta Project in 1966.
SNCC, under the local leadership of Bill Ware, engaged in a voter drive to promote the candidacy of Julian Bond for the Georgia State Legislature in an Atlanta district. However, unlike previous SNCC activitieslike the 1961 Freedom Rides or the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Ware excluded Northern white SNCC members from the drive. Initially, Carmichael opposed this move and voted it down, but he eventually changed his mind. When, at the urging of the Atlanta Project, the issue of whites in SNCC came up for a vote, Carmichael ultimately sided with those calling for the expulsion of whites, reportedly to encourage whites to begin organizing poor white southern communities while SNCC would continue to focus on promoting African American self reliance through Black Power. Carmichael saw nonviolence as a tactic as opposed to a principle, which separated him from moderate civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.. Carmichael became critical of civil rights leaders who simply called for the integration of African Americans into existing institutions of the middle class mainstream.
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Fannie Lou Hamer (born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917 March 14, 1977) was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity. Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist of civil rights. . . .
On August 23, 1962, Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a sermon in Ruleville, Mississippi and followed it with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote. . . . Hamer was the first volunteer. She later said, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scaredbut what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it seemed they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”
On August 31, she traveled on a rented bus with other attendees of Bevel’s sermon to Indianola, Mississippi to register. In what would become a signature trait of Hamer’s activist career, she began singing Christian hymns, such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “This Little Light of Mine,” to the group in order to bolster their resolve. . . . Bob Moses . .. dispatched Charles McLaurin . . . to find “the lady who sings the hymns”. McLaurin found and recruited Hamer. . . . On June 9, 1963, Hamer was on her way back from Charleston, South Carolina with other activists from a literacy workshop. Stopping in Winona, Mississippi, the group was arrested on a false charge and jailed. Once in jail, Hamer and her colleagues were beaten savagely by the police, almost to the point of death.
Released on June 12, she needed more than a month to recover. . . Hamer was invited, along with the rest of the MFDP [Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] officers, to address the Convention’s Credentials Committee. She recounted the problems she had encountered in registration, and the ordeal of the jail in Winona, and, near tears, concluded: “All of this is on account we want to register to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beingsin America?”
Senator Hubert Humphrey (who was campaigning for the Vice-Presidential nomination), [along with] Walter Mondale, and Walter Reuther, as well as J. Edgar Hoover . . . suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP two non-voting seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer, invoking her Christian beliefs, sharply rebuked him:
“Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people’s lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”
Future negotiations were conducted without Hamer, and the compromise was modified such that the Convention would select the two delegates to be seated, for fear the MFDP would appoint Hamer. In the end, the MFDP rejected the compromise, but had changed the debate to the point that the Democratic Party adopted a clause which demanded equality of representation from their states’ delegations in 1968.Wikipedia
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By Mukoma wa Ngugi
Her womb pressed against the desert to bear the parasite
that eats her insides like termites drill into dry wood.
He is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord.
She dies sighing, child son at last. He couldn’t have known,
instinct told him – always raise your arm in defense of your
own -Strike! Strike until they are all dead! Egg shells
in your hands milk bottle held between your toes,
you have been anointed twice, you strong enough to kill
at birth and survive. You will want to name the world
after yourself but you will have no name- a collage of dead
roots, tongues and other things. You will point your sword
to the center of the earth, duel the world to split into perfect
mirrors after your imperfect mutations but you will be
too weak having latched your self onto too many streams
straddling too many continents, pulling patches of a self
as one does fruits from an from an orchard, building a home
of planks with many faces. How does one look into a mirror
with a face that washes clean every rainy season?
He has an identity for every occasion – here he is Lenin
there Jesus and yesterday Marx – inflexible truths inherited
without roots. To be nothing to remain nothing, to kill
at birth – such love can only drink from our wrists. We
storming from our past to Jo’Burg eating wisdom of others
building homes made of our grandparent’s bones. We
gathering momentum that eats out of our earth, We standing
pens and bullets hurled at you, your enemies. Comrade, there
are many ways to die. A dog dies never having known
why it lived but a free death belongs to a life lived in roots,
roots not afraid of growing where they stand, roots tapped all over
the earth. Comrade, for a tree to grow, it must first own its earth.
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By Marcus Rediker
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Wild Women Dont Have the Blues
By Ida Cox
I hear these women raving ’bout their monkey men About their fighting husbands and their no good friends These poor women sit around all day and moan Wondering why their wandering papas don’t come home But wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have the blues. Now when you’ve got a man, don’t ever be on the square ‘Cause if you do he’ll have a woman everywhere I never was known to treat no one man right I keep ’em working hard both day and night because wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues. I’ve got a disposition and a way of my own When my man starts kicking I let him find another home I get full of good liquor, walk the streets all night Go home and put my man out if he don’t act right Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues You never get nothing by being an angel child You better change your ways and get real wild I wanna tell you something, I wouldn’t tell you no lie Wild women are the only kind that ever get by Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues. Born Ida Prather,25 February 1896 in Toccoa, Habersham County, Georgia, United States. Died 10 November 1967 (aged 71) Genres Jazz, Blues Instruments Vocalist.
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Dr Asa Hilliard III speaks on the assault of academia on Africans writing and accounting for their own history.
Dr Hilliard is A teacher, psychologist, and historian.
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By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to acceptor at least endurethe universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the books first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.
The Bodys Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.
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By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King’s birthday ended up becoming a national holiday (“The Last Holiday because America can’t afford to have another national holiday”), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.
Gil uses Lennon’s violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King’s assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. Jamie Byng, Guardian
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By Andrew B. Lewis
With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship, historian Lewis (Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table) revisits the ragtag band of young men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient with what they considered the overly cautious and accommodating pace of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., the black college students and their white allies, inspired by Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins, voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and protest marches. Despite early successes, the movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded by the militant Black Power movement.
The highly readable history follows the later careers of the principal leaders. Some, like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, became bitter and disillusioned. Others, including Marion Barry, Julian Bond and John Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from protest to politics, assuming positions of leadership within the very institutions they had challenged. According to the author, No organization contributed more to the civil rights movement than SNCC, and with his eloquent book, he offers a deserved tribute.Publishers Weekly
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By Michelle Alexander
The mass incarceration of people of color through the War on Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites. Most people seem to imagine that the drug warwhich has swept millions of poor people of color behind barshas been aimed at rooting out drug kingpins or violent drug offenders. Nothing could be further from the truth. This war has been focused overwhelmingly on low-level drug offenses, like marijuana possessionthe very crimes that happen with equal frequency in middle class white communities.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 21 April 2012