Category Archives: Selma & Civil Rights

A Tale of Two Bridges: Selma, 1965. Del Rio 2021.

Del Rio,Texas, September 2021. A U. S. Border Patrol agent snatches a Haitian refugee. Planeloads of such refugees, crowded under a nearby bridge, are being deported to Haiti. Their Caribbean homeland has been rocked by the assassination of the president, a major destructive earthquake, and generations of corruption and poverty.
March 1965: An Alabama state trooper stands over the body of civil rights activist Mrs. Amelia Boynton, who had been knocked unconscious during an attack on marchers demanding equal voting rights for Black Americans.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, being crossed by marchers, including the late John Lewis, who was also beaten in the 1965 attack.
2021: The Del Rio Ciudad Acuña International Bridge. Thousands of Haitians, some of whom have been refugees for tears, are gathering there, seeking refuge and safety. The U. S. Government wants to be rid of them.
2021: A U. S. Trooper stands guard over Haitian refugees under the Del Rio bridge. Food and sanitary facilities are in short supply.
2021: The Selma attack resulted in passage of the Voting Rights Act, or VRA. For almost fifty years, the VRA helped millions of previously excluded citizens to vote. But beginning in 2013, the increasingly rightwing U. S. Supreme Court dismantled it. By 2021, the law was all but dead. State actions to suppress votes by citizens of color were again rampant, and spreading like a pandemic.
What will happen to America next? “Quien sabe?” But today. I believe, somewhere, John Lewis is weeping.

 

 

Presidential Showdown Week At Guilford: College Finalists Coming

“Predictions are hard,” said the sage yogi Berra, “especially about the future.”

I agree with that rule, and follow it, mostly.

Yet sometimes there are exceptions — predictions that are easy.

Like this one: Continue reading Presidential Showdown Week At Guilford: College Finalists Coming

Back to my Future: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Wherever, Forever . . .

It was the headline that caught me: “Shocking and Ominous Talk,” it blared.

Really? Such language was rare in the Selma Times Journal (STJ), but I found it there, on the editorial page of the New Year’s Day edition, for January 1, 1965.

The Alabama headline shone up at me from a cloudy gray background, on a microfilm reader in a library basement at Harvard. The paper’s full year’s run for 1965 took up only one medium-thick roll, but was likely over 3000 pages. Continue reading Back to my Future: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Wherever, Forever . . .

For A Hearty Holiday: Our Democracy Is Approaching Cardiac Arrest

My fickle finger of fate, lit up for the big MRI

So: I went in for a thorough cardio checkup, a long  overnight at Duke Med. As the capstone of the process they stuck me in this MRI machine for a long hour of lying stock still on my back, eyes closed and hands slowly going numb under the barrage of whanging and zapping aimed at discovering what if anything functional was left in my upper torso.

In cardio terms, the MRI was a success: they said my heart was pretty much okay for a guy my age: go home, take the pills, and keep in touch.

But an hour later, when I clicked the news on the iPad, I got an eerie sinking feeling: maybe there had been more to that big machine than just a very noisy electronic stethoscope. What if it was also a reverse time machine, doubtless part of the CIA’s vast secret UFO research: when they rolled me in, it was 2021. When I came back out into the light, in much of America it was 1964, or maybe 1953.

Not that I was younger, or anything good was back from those days (big Hershey bars for a nickel, Cokes for a dime, and Elvis on the juke box). Instead, 56 years of civil rights history was gone. While I was in that light beige reverse birth canal, the Voting Rights Act disappeared. Continue reading For A Hearty Holiday: Our Democracy Is Approaching Cardiac Arrest

U. S. Black History: 1619, 1776, or What? How About 1962?

Let’s see: Racism & U. S. History. 1776 or 1619? The New York Times, or Trump’s “Patriotic Education” commission? The truth is rising, or the sky is falling?

Pick your side, get in line, join the Culture War’s latest rehearsal for Armageddon.

Really?

As some once-legendary movie mogul once said of another sketchy deal, “Include me out.”

It’s not that I think the spat is irrelevant or of no consequence.

Oh, no.

What it is for me, at least, is old hat. Yesterday’s news. Dumpster ware.

I’ve been here before.

In fact, when I first heard about it, a toddler named Barack Obama was just three years old. Maybe still in training underpants.

That would be 1964. Continue reading U. S. Black History: 1619, 1776, or What? How About 1962?

A Banished Quaker Prophet: Josh Humphries (Updated)

Friend (or rather, ex-Friend) Joshua Ashlyn Humphries, a banished Quaker and Anabaptist prophet/theologian, is dead, at 39.

Josh Humphries, in a happy moment. He deserved more of them.

Dead, and it’s a damn shame.

A  shame for Quakers, Mennonites, and some others. I feel shamed too. But he was not an ex-Friend to me.

The official obituary does not say how or where he passed; presumably in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he had lived for more than ten years. It settled for the piously evasive: he “went to be with the Lord on Thursday, April 29, 2021.”

Yeah, sure; but what ticket did he ride?

The silence here leaves many questions: Josh had serious medical conditions (of which more anon); but just a couple of days earlier, in his last Facebook posts, he was both worn out — and intellectually busy: Continue reading A Banished Quaker Prophet: Josh Humphries (Updated)

Going Public, in The New Yorker & Facebook Live

Apropos of Dr. King’s birthday, and looking toward Black History Month, an email came In Monday telling me the New Yorker magazine had posted on its website an article from the April 10, 1965 issue called, “Letter from Selma,” about the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

And I was mentioned  in it.

Sure enough; it’s the only time I have appeared in the magazine.

I barely remember what was in that “Letter,” though  I can still see the writer, Renata Adler, appearing by the edge of U.S. Highway 80.

Renata Adler

I do recall how strikingly out of place she seemed, on its rough and rocky shoulder, crowded with disheveled marchers, and lined with armed troops eyeing the nearby scrub forests for snipers.

Adler looked as if she had been plucked from a stroll on Fifth Avenue and teleported to Alabama, in a colorful and almost slinky sheath dress, with a broad voguish hat bending under the stray breezes, notebook in hand.
We talked for just a few minutes. It’s a good article. Only time my name ever appeared in the New Yorker, as far as I know.
I think you can read it for free.

And there’s more: on Jan. 18 I was asked to speak to the good people of Life’s Journey UCC Church in Burlington NC, and tell them the title story from my memoir, “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.

Telling a story that’s 56 years old — and as up to the minute as the latest headlines.
Of course, I didn’t get to go to Burl-Ing ton, which is about 40 miles west of Durham.  Instead, I ZOOMed in from home in Durham; that’s This American (Pandemic) Life, 2021.
but we had a good time. I did my best to tell my Selma story,
and explain how for a long time after that year in Selma, it had a happy ending. But then, in 2013, that ending was erased, and the story of fighting for voting resumed.
Only this time, the wear and tear of age had me on the sidelines, but still connected, reminding the young that this continuing story is now theirs too, and it was their turn, not yet to tell it but to write the decisive next chapters with their lives.

The video of the talk is there, for free.

Dr. King on White People & Racism

This red-baiting billboard popped up beside many highways in the South during the civil rights years.

This seldom-cited passage is from “The Three Evils of Society,” Dr. King’s speech to the National Conference on New Politics, in Chicago, August 31, 1967. It is highly relevant to much current discussion about work for racial justice and equity. Continue reading Dr. King on White People & Racism

Cheer Up, Fer Pity Sake!

Reading this morning’s comments from my Facebook friends, you’d think the election was a landslide win for the other guy: so much gloom, doom, depression & lament.

To which I feel obliged to reply sternly:

Friends — GET A GRIP.

Sure, I didn’t get everything I wanted from the election results; not even close.

But there was one thing, one BIG goal that was reached — or is about to be.

What’s that? It’s summed up in a poster that was attached to a podium from which Obama preached us the word a week or so ago; and some other places before that.

It’s this:  Behind all the hoopla and hype, we’ve been in a dead-serious battle that goes way beyond politics. What  battle? (See below.)

“Keep your eyes on the prize, and hold on!”

I first saw such a motto in the office of Dr. King, in 1964 when I signed up as a rookie civil rights worker. I was then secular-minded and anti-religious, but I soon figured out that Dr. King and his crew, with all their shortcomings, were dead-serious about it.

And before too long, I realized that they were also dead-right. There is such a thing as “the soul of the nation” (but don’t go all metaphysical and ask me to define it).  And that soul was and is poisoned and imperiled by racism (and poverty and war and other evils Dr. King preached about).

But they believed it could be saved, or redeemed. And they knew something else that took me a long time to get: that “saving” this soul wasn’t a one-and-done thing. America had been saved before, and would likely need to be saved again.

Like now, for instance.

Sam Cooke

I  wasn’t sure what they were talking about, though soon, in the unforgettable song:“A Change Is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke, I started  to get the beginning of a clue.  White readers, listen to it; and if you still don’t get it, listen again.

“Soul” music, brought it home with more potency than any philosophy book I’d tried to read in college. With that and the movement, I ended up a peacenik Quaker. (Your mileage may vary.)

Dr. King and the crew are almost all gone now. And their “battle,” while it won some big skirmishes, was far from a total success. In fact, we’ve just come through another big round of the struggle. And it isn’t over.

So when this motto reappeared last spring, I resonated to it at once: there was more than an election underway in the USA in 2020, and one candidate knew it. Despite not being a great orator, he closed in on the essence.

And speaking of closing in, that’s  what’s happening this morning. Like the headline says, the soul candidate is closing in. He could even cross the electoral college finish line today. (Or tomorrow.)

T: WHAT?!?!?! J: I said, “Time to go, Dude.”

Which also means, that the door is closing on the other guy, the Nemesis who has trashed so much, and corrupted so much.

Mr T, have you met my idol, Letitia James? Her middle initials are A. G. NY, and I hear she is A. eager to meet YOU, and B. she gives great lessons in gnashing of teeth.

Oh yeah, there will be plenty of desperate bombast and last-ditch bullsh*t before he’s escorted out of the oval office and off the grounds into 14th Street’s “outer darkness,” where much “much weeping and gnashing of teeth” awaits. I confess, that aftermath will be fun to watch.

But before that, when his rival crosses the finish line, maybe today, I don’t want to hear any more moaning and groaning. Take a break, and give yourself some credit.

For at least fifteen minutes.

In fact, if you can read the signs of the times with even a little insight, that will be a time to celebrate. Do something that pleases and nourishes you.

I know I’m going to.

Hmmm. Celebrate. How will I do it?

If I was a drinker, I’d get drunk.

If I was a doper, I’d get stoned.

If there wasn’t a pandemic, maybe I’d party.

But as I’m old and boring, not to mention sleep-deprived after the longest freekin Tuesday of my nearly 80 years, I’m more likely to take a nap.

But mind you, it will be a VICTORY nap. One from which I can expect to wake up and find that the Orange menace is still on the way out.

Or if I get really wild and crazy, I might even write a poem. A VICTORY poem.

In fact, I feel one coming on right now. So stand back, and stand by:

To 270: A Concise Ode on the Rescue of the Soul of the Nation

Battered,
tattered,
nearly shattered.

But it’s still here,
While the Superspreader’s
Scattered.

And THAT my friends
Is what really mattered.

 

Thank, you, thank you.

Have a great day.

 

Another Quiet Day at Spring Friends Meeting (not really)

If you drove west on the Chapel Hill-Greensboro Road through Snow Camp, North Carolina on Sunday, November 1, 2020, at about eleven AM, you would have passed a white chapel-looking building on your left. A few cars were parked outside, on the grass under the big old trees, which are shedding their wrinkled brown leaves after a hot green summer.

That was Spring Friends Meeting. From the outside, it looked quiet, secluded, and almost deserted. Easy to miss amid the wooded stretches and dairy farms of southern Alamance county.

But inside, it was none of those. Yes, just a handful of Quakers, or Friends, were sitting, widely-spaced and mostly masked, on its long benches. And they weren’t loud. But a lot was going on.

Pepper spray and guns will do that: liven up what’s meant to be a mostly silent meeting. As will being in national headlines. Continue reading Another Quiet Day at Spring Friends Meeting (not really)