ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Twelve days after Greensboro, forty students, including John Lewis,
future chairman of SNCC, sat-in at Woolworth’s in Nashville, during
a snowstorm. On February 27th, seventy-six people sat-in in Nashville.
Books on Carmichael and Black Power
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[Students Sit-In in Greensboro]
from A Prophetic Minority (1966)
By Jack Newfield
There is nothing so powerful in all the world as an idea whose time has come. –Victor Hugo
What defines the radical possibilities, today as yesterday, is not a style of thought, or an intellectual trend. it is people in movement.
Day-to-day life for the Southern Negro in the winter of 1960 was little different than it had been the year before, or five years before.
The pace of public-school desegregation was still proceeding at 1 percent per year, which meant that full compliance with brown v. Board of education would be achieved, “with all deliberate speed,” by 2054. there were still more than forty counties in the South where not a single Negro was registered to vote, and more than twenty counties where white registration exceeded 100 percent. Negroes were still denied the right to use the same lunch counters, motels, theaters, and public toilets as whites.
The White Citizens’ Councils, founded in Mississippi in1954, were growing rapidly. the lynchings of Emmett Till and Mack Charles Parker were still unsolved. Negro cotton-choppers were still paid three dollars a day in the Mississippi delta. Negro youth unemployment in cities like Birmingham and Atlanta was as high as 30 percent.
The 381-day Montgomery bus boycott; the federally enforced integration of Little Rock’s Central High; the eviction of Negro tenant farmers in Fayette County, Tennessee, for trying to vote were simply a prologue to the epic drama about to unfold.
What happened in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1st, went unreported in The New York Times the next day, but it had the effect of the Boston Tea Party. It was the single spark that was to ignite the conscience of white America and the hope of black America.
The four freshmen from a Jim crow college who sat-in that day in Greensboro’s downtown F.W. Woolworth could hardly sense the historic significance of their deed. No one, not John Kennedy, then starting his bid for the Presidency, not Martin Luther King, then a Moses without a movement, not George Wallace, then running for governor of Alabama, could know that a simple plea for a cup of coffee would set into motion a chain of events whose final meaning, six years later, is still shrouded beyond the rim of history.
On Sunday night, January 31st, four freshmen at all-Negro North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, in Greensboro, relaxed in a dorm in Scott Hall, discussing the problem. Ezell Blair, Jr., chairman of the Student Committee for Justice, was one of them. the other three were David Richmond, seventeen, of Greensboro; Franklin McCain, eighteen, of Washington, D.C.; and Joseph McNeill, seventeen, of Wilmington, North Carolina.
The quartet, according to Blair, “spent a lot of time discussing the segregated situations we were exposed to. . . . It just didn’t seem right that we would have to walk two miles to town, buy notebook paper and toothpaste in a national chain store, and then not be able to get a bite to eat and a cup of coffee at the counter.”
On Sunday night the same dehumanizing experiences were being recited again when Joe McNeill exclaimed, “well, we’ve talked about it long enough. let’s do something.”
The four decided to “do something” the next day. They told no one of their decision.
At about 4;45 p.m. on February 1st, the four freshmen entered the F.W. Woolworth Company store on North Elm street in the heart of the city. each of them purchased a tube of toothpaste and then sat down at the lunch counter.
A Negro woman working in the kitchen rushed over tot hem and said, “You know you’re not supposed to be in here.” Later the woman called the four “ignorant” and a “disgrace to their race.”
The students requested four cups of coffee from the white waitress.
“I’m sorry but we don’t serve colored here,” she informed them politely.
Franklin McCain responded, “I beg your pardon, but you just served me at the counter two feet away. Why is it that you serve me at that counter, and deny me at another? Why not stop serving me at all the counters?”
A few minutes later the manager of the store told the youths, “I’m sorry but we can’t serve you because it is not the local custom.”
The four young Negroes remained at the counter, coffeeless, until 5;30 p.m., when the store closed.
The next day, Tuesday, February 2nd, sixteen other North Carolina A and T undergraduates joined the four pioneers at the lunch counter. they were all denied service, and returned on Wednesday, fifty strong, including Negro high-school students from Dudley High and a few white co-eds from Women’s College in Greensboro.
By Friday, February 5th, the integrated group had grown so large that some of them sat-in at an S.H. Kress store, one block away. they, too, were refused service. On Friday, a large group of white high-school toughs in black leather jackets, carrying Confederate flags, began to heckle the students.
The confrontation was repeated on Saturday afternoon, when several hundred students, many carrying Bibles and all well dressed, sat-in and were surrounded by taunting white teen-agers.
At about 3 p.m. the management of Woolworth received a bomb threat, and the tense police used that as the pretext for emptying the store of both demonstrators and hecklers.
The students then marched to the Kress store. The manager met them in the doorway and shouted, “this store is closed, as of now.”
The students cheered, feeling they had won a victory. “It’s all over,” they shouted. But it had really just began. An idea’s time had come.
The next week there were spontaneous sit-in demonstrations in many parts of North Carolina–Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, High Point, Salisbury, and Concord. By Wednesday, February 10th, the movement had spilled over the border into Rock Hill and Orangeburg, in South Carolina. In Rock Hill a Negro boy was knocked off a stool by a white teenager, and ammonia was hurled through the door of a drugstore, bringing tears to the eyes of the students.
The sit-ins next swept into Hampton, Richmond, and Portsmouth, in Virginia. the first arrests came on February 12th in Raleigh, North Carolina, where forty-three students, including several whites, were jailed on charges of trespassing.
Twelve days after Greensboro, forty students, including John Lewis, future chairman of SNCC, sat-in at Woolworth’s in Nashville, during a snowstorm. On February 27th, seventy-six people sat-in in Nashville. Lighted cigarettes were jabbed at the necks of several girls by segregationist hecklers. A white student from Vanderbilt University was dragged off his stool and pummeled. Paul LePrad, a Negro student at Fisk University, was pulled from his stool by a white adult and punched in the mouth. he got up and climbed back on his stool. By the end of the day all seventy-six had been jailed.
In Orangeburg, South Carolina, students at Claffin College and nearby South Carolina State held a series of workshops and seminars in nonviolence. On March 14th in Orangeburg, lunch counters were reopened after a month’s closing, and seven hundred students marched nonviolently downtown. Police met them with tear-gas bombs and fire hoses. Dozens were knocked off their feet and slammed against walls by high-pressure hoses that tore the bark off tree stumps.
More than 500 were arrested, and 350 of them were locked into an eight-feet-high chicken coop because the jails were full. The next day The New York Times carried a front-page picture of the 350 huddling in the chicken-coop stockade, in subfreezing temperatures–singing “God Bless America.”
By the first anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in, the NAACP reported it had paid for the legal defense of seventeen hundred demonstrators during the intervening year. According to Howard Zinn, in The New Abolitionists , more than 50,000 people participated in some kind of civil rights protest in the twelve months after Greensboro, and “over 3600 demonstrators spent time in jail.”
It is impossible to overestimate the impact of those first, hardly noticed sit-ins. Harold Flemming, who was director of the Southern Regional Council in 1960, said recently, “Just as the Supreme Court decision was the legal turning point, the sit-ins were the psychological turning point in race relations in the South.”
Ralph McGill, the beacon of Atlanta liberalism, did not at first support the sit-in movement. But a few years later, in his book, The South and the Southerner, he wrote
The sit-ins were, without question, productive of the most change. . . . No argument in a court of law could have dramatized the immorality and irrationality of such a custom as did the sit-in. . . . The sit-ins reached far out into the back country. They inspired adult men and women, fathers, mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, to support the young students in the cities. Not even the Supreme Court decision on schools in 1954 had done this. . . .
The sit-in technique was not invented in Greensboro. the Gandhi-influenced Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had used it successfully in Chicago, in 1942, and again in St. Louis, in 1949.
Greensboro was not a particularly backward city in terms of race relations. its public schools desegregated voluntarily in 1955, and both daily newspapers were to come out against lunch-counter segregationist after the sit-ins began.
It all seemed to be the caprice of history that the spontaneous sit-in on February 1st in Greensboro should give off sparks that showered the South, igniting local protests in sixty-five communities in twelve states within six weeks. Perhaps the Greensboro sit-in was merely the catalyst that needed to be added to the existing chemicals of the 1954 school desegregation decision, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the emerging nations of Africa, in order to liberate the damned-up rivers of idealism, energy, and courage that cascaded through the South those first weeks of 1960.
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 Redike
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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 John Lewis
The Civil Rights Movement gave rise to the protest culture we know today, and the experiences of leaders like Congressman Lewis have never been more relevant. Now, more than ever, this nation needs a strong and moral voice to guide an engaged population through visionary change. Congressman John Lewis was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. He was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and played a key role in the struggle to end segregation. Despite more than forty arrests, physical attacks, and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. He is the author of his autobiography, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of a Movement, and is the recipient of numerous awards from national and international institutions, including the Lincoln Medal; the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Lifetime Achievement Award (the only one of its kind ever awarded); the NAACP Spingarn Medal; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, among many others.
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By C. Fraser Smith
Though he lived throughout much of the Southand even worked his way into parts of the North for a timeJim Crow was conceived and buried in Maryland. From Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s infamous decision in the Dred Scott case to Thurgood Marshall’s eloquent and effective work on Brown v. Board of Education, the battle for black equality is very much the story of Free State women and men. Here, Baltimore Sun columnist C. Fraser Smith recounts that tale through the stories, words, and deeds of famous, infamous, and little-known Marylanders. He traces the roots of Jim Crow laws from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson and describes the parallel and opposite early efforts of those who struggled to establish freedom and basic rights for African Americans.
Following the historical trail of evidence, Smith relates latter-day examples of Maryland residents who trod those same steps, from the thrice-failed attempt to deny black people the vote in the early twentieth century to nascent demonstrations for open access to lunch counters, movie theaters, stores, golf courses, and other public and private institutionsstruggles that occurred decades before the now-celebrated historical figures strode onto the national civil rights scene.
Smith’s lively account includes the grand themes and the state’s major players in the movementFrederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Lillie May Jackson, among others.and also tells the story of the struggle via several of Maryland’s important but relatively unknown men and womensuch as Gloria Richardson, John Prentiss Poe, William L. “Little Willie” Adams, and Walter Sondheimwho prepared Jim Crow’s grave and waited for the nation to deliver the body.Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008
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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 26 May 2012