Sunday, July 19, 2020

Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

Selma, 1965

See that man in the overcoat in the lower right of the above picture? He's clearly run afoul of the law, and is now about to receive his punishment in the form of an Alabama State Trooper's billy club. Well, you know what they say, crime does not pay. Except...exactly what was his crime? Did he try to rob that Haisten's in the background, the only company I know of that specializes in both mattresses AND awnings? No, that wasn't his crime. Maybe he tried to mug that man in the middle of the picture, that big dude carrying what looks like a bag (I've blown up the picture to size of the computer screen and still can't tell you what it is.) But no, that's not his crime either. Maybe he tried to rape that kneeling woman in the lower left of the picture. Except then why isn't any of those cops helping her back up on her feet? Blow up the picture, and she looks a little afraid to get up, and it ain't the guy in the lower right of the picture nor that big dude with the bag that she's afraid of. I think we can rule out rape. Lessee, what other crimes are there? Did he rob a bank, steal a car, kick a dog, spit on the sidewalk, or remove a tag from a pillow? No, none of those things. His only crime was exercising a First Amendment right, as he and others had peaceably assembled on a bridge to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. At least it was peaceable until the cops showed up, thus greatly increasing the grievances that needed redressing.



Now, this wasn't the man in the overcoat's first run-in with the law, and maybe not even the first time he got his skull cracked. When he was still in high school he had closely followed the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and made it a point to meet both Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, which he did before he had even reached the age of 20. When he was in college, he became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, seven whites and six blacks who rode several buses from Washington D.C. to New Orleans as a way of testing a Supreme Court ruling that proclaimed segregated interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional. At a stop in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the young man walked into  a whites-only waiting room and got kicked in the ribs by a couple of those whites. Nevertheless, he continued with that Freedom Ride and several others throughout the early 1960s, one of which got him a 40-day stay in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. All this might seem a difficult way to spend one's young adulthood, but he had now earned the respect of many of his peers, and was elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In that role he became one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, where he made a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial--at 23 he was the youngest speaker that day--and, along with a bunch of other Civil Rights leaders, got invited to the White House  (that's him in the above photo, fourth from the left, and to the immediate right of the aforementioned King.) All well and good. Then, two years later, came that Bloody Sunday in Selma, but even that didn't stop him. By the late 1970s, he had become a member of the Carter Administration. In 1981, he ran for and won a seat on the Atlanta City Council. In 1986 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, serving Georgia's 5th congressional district for 17 consecutive terms, right up until the day he died. Before that day arrived, however, he had lived long enough to see a black man elected President. He also lived long enough to see that black man succeeded in the same office by a racist, and witness yet another round of racial violence. Live long enough and you get to see the good and the bad, played out in what seems like an endless loop.

John Lewis 1940-2020

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In the July 20 issue of The New Yorker, the always-readable academic Jill Lepore has an article about the history of policing titled "The Long Blue Line". Y'all should check it out.

17 comments:

  1. An absolutely truly great man. No question.

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    1. I'm sure there are those who will question it, Mitchell, but they shouldn't.

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  2. Hi, Kirk!

    Thanks for reviewing the life of John Robert Lewis and for paying a fitting tribute to him. I think this would be a good time for all of us to watch the 2014 film Selma. Thanks also for posting those historic photographs taken in the turbulent times of the mid 20th century. Sadly, here we are well into the 21st and people like Mr. Lewis are still being rounded up and brought in on a charge of EWB - existing while black. Some are beaten and killed before they even arrive at the precinct. This will not stand.

    President Obama remembered civil rights crusader Lewis by stating, "I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders." "When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made."

    It galls me that Congressman Lewis lived long enough to see a black person elected President, but also lived long enough to see that fine president followed by a vicious racist who seizes every opportunity to divide our country and reverse decades of hard fought progress. This will not stand. I wish Mr. Lewis, Carl Reiner and others like them who died this year could have lived to see that fine day in November when a rainbow coalition of Americans sends a powerful message and removes that bully from the highest office in the land. This will not stand. This year we must vote like our democracy, indeed our very lives and the future of our planet, depend on it. They surely do.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Shady, I never had high hopes for him to begin with, but Trump has utterly disgraced the Presidency beyond my wildest nightmares. Next to him, Richard Nixon looks like Jesus Christ.

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  3. Crime among black people is terrible. Poverty, homelessness, drugs. Crime by black on white, not very frequent. Yet I think like John, there are some fine black leaders and heaps of black people at home leading very ordinary lives. I probably have no right to comment, but that is how I see it. Vale John.

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    1. Andrew, I think the farther you go down the socioeconomic scale, the more you see crime, homelessness, drugs, and other social problems. If you look hard enough, you'll see those problems exist among both poor blacks AND poor whites. Unfortunately, most nonpoor whites don't want to look that hard.

      Here's a bit of irony. When Trump clinched the Republican nomination, and then the presidency, some of the more intellectual conservatives, the kind that write for the National Review, weren't all that happy about it. They singled out the poor whites in Trump's base as the culprits (though many whites with deep pockets also voted for him), and wrote essays, in one case even a best-selling book, criticizing those poor whites, noting how they're more prone to crime and drugs than the general white population, then going on to blame not the poverty but these poor white people's parents for not instilling in them the proper values as they were growing up. Sound familiar?

      If only black people have all those problems you mention, Andrew, then the average white person can simply chalk it up to genetics, the easy way out. Ah, but if those problems turn up in white people, and here in the manufacturing-shrunk United States that's increasingly the case, then whites may have to consider a more sociological explanation, be it poverty or bad parenting or whatever.

      Biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and geneticists have known for 20 years now that there's no significant difference between white and black DNA, and that both groups happen to belong to the very same species, homo sapiens. Race is just a social construct.

      Thanks for commenting, Andrew, and feel free to comment again.

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  4. Hello Kirk, As always, I am dumbfounded by the meanness and viciousness of people who consider themselves good, fair and law-abiding citizens (except when the laws got in the way of them acting out their hatred). Otherwise, you post is a perfect summary of what so many have had to face, and then even see many of those apparent gains taken away.
    --Jim
    p.s. Let's not forget all the other groups and people who were horrendously imposed upon at the same time.

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    1. Oh, Jim, I haven't forgotten those other groups and people. There's enough prejudice, discrimination, exploitation, dehumanization, and second-class citizenry to go around. E pluribus unum.

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  5. His long walk for justice is done. RIP

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  6. A very long walk it was, Debra. He was the last living speaker of the March on Washington.

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  7. Each of us can and must carry on his valiant and noble walk for justice by making sure democracy is upheld this November and beyond. RIP John Lewis. You will never be forgotten.

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    1. Mildred, if it just weren't for that undemocratic institution known as the Electoral College. In the past 20 years the Democratic Party has lost two elections even while winning the popular vote. I don't know why the Dems don't make more of a stink about it, unless maybe they figure it's going to work in their favor some day.

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  8. I must confess, I did't know him. But read what he had done. RIP.

    We really don't see such horrible things in Scotland and we have such a diverse population these days.

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    1. Ananka, the United States could learn a thing or to from Scotland.

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  9. I needed to read this
    And so I have just read it again
    Thank u
    X

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In order to keep the hucksters, humbugs, scoundrels, psychos, morons, and last but not least, artificial intelligentsia at bay, I have decided to turn on comment moderation. On the plus side, I've gotten rid of the word verification.