Category Archives: Selma & Civil Rights

King Day Special! “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner” – Told LIVE

This weekend, Chuck Fager told the true story of Eating Dr. King’s Dinner, by  Zoom at the  historic Fairfield Friends Meeting in Camby, Indiana, near Indianapolis.

The invitation came from Fairfield’s well-known pastor (and best-selling author) Phil Gulley.

You can now watch Chuck telling this story (34 minutes), right now, at this free link.

(You don’t need to register, and we won’t collect your data.) Continue reading King Day Special! “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner” – Told LIVE

To Promote Racial Justice, It’s Time to Move On from “Anti-Racism”

Not to ban the slogan. But to close it like a book, and put it on the shelf with others that have been read, which delivered value, and have become part of a reference collection.

In the almost sixty years since I was drawn into racial justice work, many such slogans have come and gone: like best-selling novels, page-turners in their day, then outpaced by new events, new stories and new mottos.

When I came along, it was all “Desegregation,” “integration,” “civil rights,” and “We Shall Overcome.”  Back in The Day, they were stirring, often thrilling, and not a few sanctified with the blood of martyrs.

They didn’t disappear either. But they were elbowed aside, particularly by “Black power, just as ”Negro,” a term of respect which Dr. King spoke  with pride til the day he died, was replaced by “Black” (which in turn is now jostling with “people of color”). And there have been many others.

For that matter, there was a long succession of similar mottoes before my time, going back over 250 years:

Among Friends there were manumissionists, such as John Woolman, urging owners to free enslaved individuals; then anti-slavery advocates, succeeded in the 1830s by abolitionists, radicals who aimed not so much at individuals as at the slave system.

After the Civil War and the defeat of Reconstruction, there was a long slow progression through guarded euphemisms like “Intergroup relations“ and “human relations” toward the more candid “inter-racial cooperation;” but not until after victory in World War Two did “human rights” enter the discourse.

Some of these terms receded because they were shown to have downsides: “Black Power!” centered African-American agency and justified anger; but it was vague about concrete goals, and some of its advocates slid into the dead-end of violence.

Today, many pretend not to notice, but “anti-racism” carries issues of its own:

  • It’s negative, against, against, against. There was a season for that, after the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others. But again, to construct justice, concrete goals are required.
  • It has become a coalition-buster, in a time when knitting together often fractious groups with similar needs and aspirations has never been so urgent.
  • Then, even more troublesome has been its impact on too many progressive whites. It has exacerbated our most self-defeating feature, the penchant for circular firing squads. I have seen way too much of this even in my small corner of the “progressive” subculture, liberal Quakers.

Why? Since too many of us fear actual conflict, yet can’t avoid the echoes of events mostly happening beyond our cultural bubbles, we displace our anger and fear at the forces outside, and dump them over each other instead, pretending they are the real adversaries. Continue reading To Promote Racial Justice, It’s Time to Move On from “Anti-Racism”

Critical Race Theory & Me: It Could be Verse

Doggone it, the new Texas law banning the teaching of critical race theory came too late to help me.

I’m particularly sorry to miss the mandate that educators avoid anything that might end up making anyone “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

Because discomfort, anguish and other  psychological distress is sure enough what I felt after spending an hour with one of the most successful teachers I ever had, Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark.

It was December 9, 1964. Mrs. Clark was then a member of Dr. Martin Luther King’s executive staff, his inner circle. She had an office in his headquarters suite in Atlanta.

I was a brand-new recruit, called a subsistence worker, earning the grand wage of $25 per week.

Randolph Blackwell

I had told Dr. King’s chain-smoking office manager, Randolph Blackwell,  that I was a writer, who could churn out copy on demand. I had done that in college back in Colorado, for the yearbook and the campus newspaper.

Blackwell said they needed some copy churned out, to keep up with the hurly burly of news.

And news there was. That was the month when Dr. king headed to Oslo to collect the Nobel Peace Prize.  And, I soon learned, he and his staff were almost ready to launch a voting rights campaign in Alabama. Continue reading Critical Race Theory & Me: It Could be Verse

Three Selma Poems — Alabama 1965

On Meeting Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark─ Atlanta, December 9, 1964

 

On Meeting Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark─ Atlanta, December 9, 1964

I sit down quietly in the chair, The older woman smiles and light

Reflects off frame glasses and gold rose earrings, the voice

Is like, is like the whisper of tires on a faroff nighttime highway Or maybe that of a Negro woman of sixty-six

Which it is.

She inhales to speak, I raise

My fine young journalistic pen, prepared to summarize Her story into ink traces,

To finish my entry blank in the Biographical Sweepstakes: “Tell us, in 150 words or less,

The substance of her life”; I am, of course, confident─

The smile fades back into equilibrium, and she says calmly: “My Father was a slave.”

I see, yes─the pen moves to the paper: M-Y-F-A-T-H-E-R-W-A-S-A-S-L-A─

Ahh, ha ha ha,

No, something isn’t quite right, She didn’t even blink.

Voice steady

My Father─

Hands quiescent in her lap My Father─

Breathing is regular My Father─

Oh no.

You see, my father was a normal, middle-class guy like every- body else,

You understand that don’t you Mrs.–

My Father was

Yes, Yes, I know, but surely you can understand the difference was only superficial, just an accident of history that yours happened to be

─a slave (why in hell won’t she blink)

Well it was his own damn fault, wasn’t it─after all he must have known the Truth, because

My Father was

The Good Book, you know, says that

Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you─

─a slave.

Say that’s kind of a clever twist there Mrs.─ Ahh, ha ha ha. …

Lay down your pen and sniffle for shame, boy─ You there, the intellectual snot-nose,

Mucus running from your pen and you With the cheek to call it ink.

But then, you have been to a university

and so of course you know all about slavery

You even wrote a thousand-word paper on it (for extra credit, that is)

“… basically a part of the economic system, the indispensable

supply

Of cheap labor for the harvesting of the cotton crop.. ”

But you missed the chapter in the non-required readings about

how to face a calm old woman who can look you in your smooth white face and say

My Father

And not even blink you say could you talk just a little slower please ma’am

I didn’t get that last part your father was a what

─a slave.

Just like my father except for one or two of those little accidents of History, heh heh

My aren’t we an educated magnanimous liberal christian, boy─ Go to the rear of the class, get out the dictionary and look up

the following six words,

then write for the next three hundred years after school is

out on the new whiteboard with the black chalk the following sentence which you may have run across some where in your supplementary extracurricular living:

My father was not a slave, That’s it, only at the end,

Put a question mark.

Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987)

 

SELMA STREETS – February, 1965

by Charles Fager

Here along the Selma streets Old men like tree stumps, Young men like defaced pillars,

Whiskers and hair grease and dirty overalls, Keeping impassive hopeless vigils,

Fraying edges on society’s old, but not discarded clothes.

I spring upon them, a dangerous animal, Dressed in new overalls and enthusiasm, Hands full of transmigrated dynamite caps:

ONE MAN-ONE VOTE the caps read,

They offer no resistance when I pin the explosives on reluctant lapels, But then, of course, they never have.

“Come on down to the courthouse, come on come on… Nobody’s gonna hurt ya………………. ”

I’m right of course, nobody’s ever gonna hurt them anymore, but that’s not what I’m talking about, not even what I’m thinking….

“Yeah, OK (they don’t say Boss Man or Mr. Charlie (thank God?)), sure, “Ah’ll be downnere inna fewww minuss, sure

“Inna fewww minussa, sure “Inna feww, sure

“Suresuresuresuresu”

Heads nod, graying whiskers flicker in and out of shadow, but the eyes say Go away go away, please now just go ahead on away;

The eyes look around me, over, beside, through, but not at, because I don’t Really exist, can’t exist, mustn’t exist (I’m thinking about

socioeconomic factors, the effects of a political aristocracy,

the philosophy of dynamic nonviolence and, of course, the existential value of

the local Negro religion, yes, professor, you see, as I explained fully in the footnote on page 47 of my thesis and as we can clearly see from MacElvain’s quite valuable remarks on the subject……….. ).

The walk back up to the listonclay cafe seems longer than when I came down the street, perhaps because the ragged lines of men (Children of what God?)

The sure, yeah OK men still are standing there, New buttons still offending their lapels,

Eyes still looking, perhaps now a bit more carefully, over, under, around and through,

Then at me when I’m past, but I see them doing it (go away go away go away) Words to an unsung spiritual, prayer of the nonchurchgoers, the Movement of Those no longer able to move.

Into the cafe, darkness and dirt, filthy flannel figure bending

Across the counter, observing the half-full beer glass as if

It held the answer and maybe it does; I spring again FREEDOM NOW button poised “Come on down to the courthouse fella, come on come on,

Nobody’s gonna hurt ya, whattsa matter, are ya afraid of losing your job–

(I am of course ready with my arguments to show that one must have courage, one must not be afraid to risk everything, one must)?”

But when he turns these eyes upon me (not over, under, around or through) and whispers, says, “Ain’t got no job,”

And turns back to the more understanding beer glass, Filthy flannel in the dark and dirt,

Only my mouth continues, throwing up a smokescreen until I can

Get away, away, get away quick, outside and past the

Dying tree stumps, defaced and crumbling pillars,

Glances at the periphery accusing me: you there, boss man,

How do you, O young white man of faith, deal with the substance of Things Hopeless, the Evidence of the Things that are Seen;

But I just walk on in my new overalls, and think of socioeconomics, And don’t say anything.

 

 

UNTITLED – SELMA, MARCH 1965

 

The trooper car is, of course, waiting when you get back to your car:

“Hey you” (flashlight beam, reflections off uniform brass, neck hairs fluorescent in headlight glare) “where you think you’re goin?”

To freedom. To heaven (to hell?) To anywhere. To–

“To the church.” (clear your throat quickly so your voice doesn’t falter) Yes, of course: to the church.

“Lessee your identification and the registration on that car… ”

Pull out the wallet and start the charade, let them examine your driver’s license etc., with extreme and exaggerated care, of course they have to get on the radio and check the car out through

Birmingham, outside agitators are an unsavory lot and it’s more than likely stolen;

But while you’re standing there, looking carefully off down the

nighttime street, notice the other trooper looking at you intently, intently:

“Where you from, Charles?” (listen to the question: something rings in it besides antagonism, there is more than one query in the words; look up at him quick, how can you answer without exposing the concealed questions?)

“Well (you want to say give me thirty seconds to think over my answer(s) at least)–“

“What,” interrupts the other trooper, “does that button mean?” and he points:

GROW--white letters on black background, Get Rid Of Wallace, what else, but you won’t say that, you don’t need to get beat up tonight, and besides you know that he asked it because he too heard some (not all) of the other questions

in his partner’s voice; so you have to answer him satisfactorily without letting it tear down the little bridge the other has extended.

“Well GROW refers to the philosophy of the whole movement

…” etc., etc., and so on, it’s hard, but the other trooper is still peering so the bridge is still there.

“MmmminmHhmmmm,” the questioner says; he of course

knows what it really means, but your straightfaced baloney throws him temporarily off balance.

Silence in heaven (and earth) for the space of about half an hour (minute). Then–

“Where’d you say you were from?” Listen again:

Reach out:

“Well, I was born” (yes I hear you) “and then we went” (can you give me your hand?) “and after that we” (just for a moment) “when I finished college–“

He nods a little and you know he heard; so did the other, and his guard is up:

–“Why don’t you get a good job back where you came from, and quit messin’ around down here?”

It was too good to last……. Just try to retreat with dignity and

without burning the bridge’s remains….

“Yeah, there’s other ways to settle this than in the street,” the other, his guard also now up, joins in. . .

There isn’t any answer for this, so just look down at the muddy street.

He hands you back your license and finishes up the charade: “Tell your boss to get some identification on this car, and we’re

Not letting anybody into the church. Only the sheriff could do that.”

Copyright © by Chuck Fager

 

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 fare.

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)