Black Children: The Faces of the Civil Rights Movement

The Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine

Emmett Till; 16th Street Baptist Church Victims: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson; Little Rock Nine: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas,Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo Beals; Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis . . .

2013 marks the 50th year since the historic March on Washington, and as I reflect on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, I cannot help but be disillusioned by current events in this nation surrounding the rights of black people.

In August, I was dismayed by the Supreme Court’s decisions surrounding Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. Their response to both cases reflect a nation postured to reverse the slow gains that the Civil Rights Movement had already achieved. As disillusioned as I was about those cases, nothing seemed more demonstrative of the reversal of this country’s progress toward treating black people as human, than the violence that black children have experienced in recent years.

Black children are no strangers to being victims of racial violence. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), for example, were but children when they were brutally beaten by slave masters, raped by them, and/or witnessed some heinous act of violence committed toward someone they loved. They represent the many children enslaved who were victims of violence and/or painfully watched someone they loved become victims of violence.

Once emancipated, black children continued to be witnesses to and victims of violence throughout much of the twentieth century. Malcolm X, for example, often recounted the death of his father. Earl Little was brutally beaten and placed on railroad tracks to be run over by a trolley car when Malcolm X was only six years old. Earl Little, an ardent supporter of Marcus Garvey, was vocal about racial oppression and was targeted by white supremacists and attacked by them for audaciously speaking out against racial violence. Prior to his assassination, he and his family barely escaped their burning home set afire by white supremacists. Earl Little’s murder, coupled with the fact that the insurance company refused to pay his family the life insurance that he purchased for himself, created a situation in which Malcolm X’s family spiraled into poverty. These are the circumstances–a violent racist America–that gave birth to a child who became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Also known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, and Malcolm X).

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Malcolm X, though not around to see what happened to his father, was affected by the violence nonetheless. This violence made a significant impact on a young boy’s life, especially after his father’s death created such a degree of anxiety for his mother that she was eventually committed to a mental hospital. Whether they were victimized directly or whether they witnessed racial violence, this is the violent America that was a reality for black children.

My mother often tells a story in which she was a young girl in the 1940s, riding in the car with her parents and her mother’s cousin. They were travelling on Rt. 301 in Upper Marlboro, MD and they noticed two black sailors being brutally beaten on the side of the road by a couple of white men. My grandfather got out of the car and began to fight the white men off of the black sailors. My grandmother and her cousin helped by pelting the white men with rocks. All the while, my mother sat in the back seat of the car in fear of what would happen should other white people–particularly police officers–arrive on the scene. Had other whites arrived, what followed could have been catastrophic, and my mother was well aware of the consequences.

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

Black children were not only victims of white violence against black people as witnesses, but they also directly received the wrath of white supremacy by being the target of their violence. From Emmett Till, who was killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman to the four little girls who died as a result of the 16th Street Baptist Church, black children were the casualties of a war against black people. They were brave and they were s/heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, who deserve to stand equally as prominent for their valor as other players of black liberation movements.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

What became quite evident very recently, as we watched the court case on the tragic death of Trayvon Martin unfold in the media, is that despite a history that makes clear that blacks have been victims of white violence, the American judicial system refuses to see us as such. (See post on Trayvon Martin, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race and Victimization”). What disturbs me most is that we cannot even identify children as being victims of violence, and they are generally the group that is afforded the protection of any civilized society. America wept, and rightfully so, for Newtown, but could not weep for Trayvon Martin because the state of Florida successfully vilified him. Many accepted the notion of Martin as a perpetrator of a crime and not a victim.

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis was murdered in FL for playing his music too loud. The shooter claimed he saw a gun (which did not exist) and he stood his ground by shooting.

As we commemorate milestones in black history and struggle through our present day injustices, we must consider the children who have died and continue to die for Civil and Human Rights. In fact, we must honor their memory.

May we continue to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin. May we continue to honor the memory of Jordan Davis. May we continue to honor the memory of countless others who die each day because America refuses to imagine them as victims of crime. They are the most recent children who are victims of white supremacist ideologies that refuse to acknowledge us as human.

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Black Children: The Faces of the Civil Rights Movement

The Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine

Emmett Till; 16th Street Baptist Church Victims: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson; Little Rock Nine: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas,Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo Beals; Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis . . .

2013 marks the 50th year since the historic March on Washington, and as I reflect on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, I cannot help but be disillusioned by current events in this nation surrounding the rights of black people.

In August, I was dismayed by the Supreme Court’s decisions surrounding Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. Their response to both cases reflect a nation postured to reverse the slow gains that the Civil Rights Movement had already achieved. As disillusioned as I was about those cases, nothing seemed more demonstrative of the reversal of this country’s progress toward treating black people as human, than the violence that black children have experienced in recent years.

Black children are no strangers to being victims of racial violence. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), for example, were but children when they were brutally beaten by slave masters, raped by them, and/or witnessed some heinous act of violence committed toward someone they loved. They represent the many children enslaved who were victims of violence and/or painfully watched someone they loved become victims of violence.

Once emancipated, black children continued to be witnesses to and victims of violence throughout much of the twentieth century. Malcolm X, for example, often recounted the death of his father. Earl Little was brutally beaten and placed on railroad tracks to be run over by a trolley car when Malcolm X was only six years old. Earl Little, an ardent supporter of Marcus Garvey, was vocal about racial oppression and was targeted by white supremacists and attacked by them for audaciously speaking out against racial violence. Prior to his assassination, he and his family barely escaped their burning home set afire by white supremacists. Earl Little’s murder, coupled with the fact that the insurance company refused to pay his family the life insurance that he purchased for himself, created a situation in which Malcolm X’s family spiraled into poverty. These are the circumstances–a violent racist America–that gave birth to a child who became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Also known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, and Malcolm X).

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Malcolm X, though not around to see what happened to his father, was affected by the violence nonetheless. This violence made a significant impact on a young boy’s life, especially after his father’s death created such a degree of anxiety for his mother that she was eventually committed to a mental hospital. Whether they were victimized directly or whether they witnessed racial violence, this is the violent America that was a reality for black children.

My mother often tells a story in which she was a young girl in the 1940s, riding in the car with her parents and her mother’s cousin. They were travelling on Rt. 301 in Upper Marlboro, MD and they noticed two black sailors being brutally beaten on the side of the road by a couple of white men. My grandfather got out of the car and began to fight the white men off of the black sailors. My grandmother and her cousin helped by pelting the white men with rocks. All the while, my mother sat in the back seat of the car in fear of what would happen should other white people–particularly police officers–arrive on the scene. Had other whites arrived, what followed could have been catastrophic, and my mother was well aware of the consequences.

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

Black children were not only victims of white violence against black people as witnesses, but they also directly received the wrath of white supremacy by being the target of their violence. From Emmett Till, who was killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman to the four little girls who died as a result of the 16th Street Baptist Church, black children were the casualties of a war against black people. They were brave and they were s/heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, who deserve to stand equally as prominent for their valor as other players of black liberation movements.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

What became quite evident very recently, as we watched the court case on the tragic death of Trayvon Martin unfold in the media, is that despite a history that makes clear that blacks have been victims of white violence, the American judicial system refuses to see us as such. (See post on Trayvon Martin, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race and Victimization”). What disturbs me most is that we cannot even identify children as being victims of violence, and they are generally the group that is afforded the protection of any civilized society. America wept, and rightfully so, for Newtown, but could not weep for Trayvon Martin because the state of Florida successfully vilified him. Many accepted the notion of Martin as a perpetrator of a crime and not a victim.

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis was murdered in FL for playing his music too loud. The shooter claimed he saw a gun (which did not exist) and he stood his ground by shooting.

As we commemorate milestones in black history and struggle through our present day injustices, we must consider the children who have died and continue to die for Civil and Human Rights. In fact, we must honor their memory.

May we continue to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin. May we continue to honor the memory of Jordan Davis. May we continue to honor the memory of countless others who die each day because America refuses to imagine them as victims of crime. They are the most recent children who are victims of white supremacist ideologies that refuse to acknowledge us as human.

“Tell them about the Dream, Martin,” Or, Carrying a Heavy Load

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And, then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or, crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or, does it explode?

–“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

1963 March On Washington

1963 March On Washington

On August 28, 2013, our country will celebrate 50 years since the historic March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

The contents of that speech was not what Dr. King originally planned to discuss. Just after he spoke on the issues in his prepared text, singer Mahalia Jackson yelled, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Scholars believe that Mahalia Jackson prompted Dr. King’s extemporaneous speech on his dream for a better America.

As I reflect on his “dream” for this 50 year celebration, I cannot help but consider it in the context of this tough summer we had in civil rights.

Arguably one of the most significant accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement is the Voting Rights Act and this summer, parts of its provisions were overturned. Immediately after the decision was made, the State of Texas put into action new voting districts that diminish the power of black voters.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”–Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

In addition to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there was another keynote speaker the day of the march, and he was a 23 year old powerhouse named John Lewis.

In 1963, John Lewis was the President of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and had such a  powerful voice that he was invited to speak alongside Dr. King. I think about John Lewis often, nowadays, as I reflect on the current state of race relations and civil rights, and I wonder how painful it must have been for him to witness significant parts of voters rights revoked.

This past Saturday, there was a march that commemorated the one 50 years before, and it established the need to address the current social and political needs of African Americans. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), who 50 years before spoke to a crowd about their inalienable rights as citizens of the United States, reaffirmed the need for blacks to stay vigilant in their fight for civil rights. He also made clear that he would not “stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”

Where are we today in actualizing Dr. King’s dream? Has his dream been deferred?

What do you think about Dr. King’s Dream? What has disturbed you or what (if anything) has this country done right?

Is Affirmative Action Fighting for Its Life?

Remix!!!

2 Dope Sistahs

Gavel

Two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court decided on the Abigail Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin case, and it shocked many of us watching. Actually, “decided” is, perhaps, an inaccurate term. Rather than making a decision that the use of race in the University of Texas’s diversity-initiative based admissions policy is justified or not justified, the Supreme Court punted the case back down to the lower courts, arguing that the lower courts did not sufficiently analyze the case against an earlier decided case, Grutter v. Bollinger.

The decision reads, “Because the Fifth circuit did not hold the University to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in Grutter and the Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, its decision affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgement to the University was incorrect. Pp. 5-13.”

All of this was murky for me and so…

View original post 705 more words

Is Affirmative Action Fighting for Its Life?

Gavel

Two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court decided on the Abigail Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin case, and it shocked many of us watching. Actually, “decided” is, perhaps, an inaccurate term. Rather than making a decision that the use of race in the University of Texas’s diversity-initiative based admissions policy is justified or not justified, the Supreme Court punted the case back down to the lower courts, arguing that the lower courts did not sufficiently analyze the case against an earlier decided case, Grutter v. Bollinger.

The decision reads, “Because the Fifth circuit did not hold the University to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in Grutter and the Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, its decision affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgement to the University was incorrect. Pp. 5-13.”

All of this was murky for me and so, I decided to call a good friend, Dr. Sekou Franklin, Civil Rights and Voting Rights activist, community activist, and Associate Professor of Political Science.

Da Hype 1: Thanks for speaking with me on this topic, Dr. Franklin. I know the Voting Rights case more specifically addresses your area of expertise, but I am curious to know your thoughts on Fisher v. The University of Texas and the Supreme Court’s decision to punt it back down to the lower courts.

Dr. Sekou Franklin: Basically, Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin is the third major Supreme Court decision that deals specifically with Affirmative Action in higher education. The first two were in 2003 and the Supreme Court combined the cases, so people often speak of them as one case: the Grutter case from the University of Michigan.

A little background: The University of Texas has an admissions policy where they typically accept students across the board of research standards. Then, they reserve a few spots [for students] where they take race in consideration, along with other factors. The Fisher case was actually brought by a young woman whose attorney has a history litigating cases that are against Voters’ Rights. That is the connection between the [two cases]. There is a famous redistricting case in the mid-nineties that effectively attacked what’s called majority-minority districts, or districts that are drawn to fairly represent African Americans called Bush v. Vera. And, that attorney essentially has strong linkages to that case and he also has a strong linkage to the Shelby County [Voters’ Rights] case.

Da Hype 1: I did not know that. So, he was invested in both the Fisher case and the Voting Rights case?

Dr. Franklin: Yes, he was invested in them both. And, he will probably be the major link between other cases that try to eliminate diversity-based programs.

So, the Supreme Court remanded the Fisher case back to the lower courts, and in doing that, they confirmed that race in admissions is an important consideration. This is the same statement made in the 2003 Grutter case that I mentioned earlier, and in the Bakke case in 1978. In all of these cases–the Fisher case, the Grutter case, and the Bakke case–the Supreme Court effectively said that diversity-based programs, or what we call Affirmative Action are all important factors. However, and the big “however” as it is related to the Fisher case, is that the lower courts, when accepting that diversity is an important factor, must offer a really good rationale (what is called a strict standard) or reason for using race in an admissions process.

I see the court case as a double-edged sword: Given that it is a conservative court, [and] until we can mobilize in a more effective way, it might be the best option that we can hope for.  It still allows for some mobilization in support of Affirmative Action that can take place because it’s going to come back again, more or less.

The most damaging part [of this decision] is, from my perspective, Clarence Thomas’ opinion, because he likened Affirmative Action to slavery and used words like “racial engineering.” I think that is the most damaging part of the decision.balance

Da Hype 1: What was most astonishing to me about the Fisher case is that it ever made it to the Supreme Court in the first place. From my understanding, Abigail Fisher was not that strong of a student and that was why I was surprised that it made it all the way to the Supreme Court. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Franklin: Even in the Bakke case in 1978, he wasn’t that great of a student. They don’t involve the best students, they just involve someone who has a really strong financial backing.

Overall, I think the decision is not good for Civil Rights, but I don’t think it is catastrophic because the courts are so conservative and it can bide some time, particularly for young people to try to mobilize behind diversity–based programs.

*Editor’s Note: This is Part I of a two Part discussion. Please come back next week to read about what Dr. Franklin has to say about the Voters’ Right decision.