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“My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

……..

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. n the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.”

It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

I have pulled some quotes from this speech but reading or listening to the speech in its entirety is the only way to do this speech justice.  Please do.  Here is the speech in full text w/an audio: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

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**This Post is part of a larger series of activist we should know**

“People have to be made to understand that they cannot look for salvation anywhere but to themselves” 

               -Ella Baker

As students, and certainly students in North Carolina, we have heard much about the Greensboro Sit-Ins and the Civil Rights Movement.  We heard about injustice—probably for only for a few days in our US History course—as if it happened, was discovered to be wrong, and then changed by a few super-humans who lead us to the promised land of equality before the law.  This reduced, linear reading of history leaves us with few lessons to carry forward—little to nourish ourselves as citizens in a world still yearning for people committed to make change and confront ever more entrenched oppressions.  These histories leave us merely with monuments to what was.  We look on them with reverence and wait for our next hero.

As seekers of justice we cannot be satisfied with the dominant narrative of history.  We must sharpen our eyes and dig through the past in hopes of finding the roots of our current struggles.  We must discover our ancestors, learn from their efforts, and carry forward their vision with ours.  We must look to groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and figures like Ella Jo Baker.

Ella Baker grew up near the North Carolina-Virginia border on what today we would call a cooperative farm.  Her parents believed in building community among African-Americans and thus she grew up surrounded by a large group of extended family that worked together and shared resources to sustain each other.  Out of this work Ms. Baker quickly gained a sense of collective struggle and a self-sufficient streak.  Her upbringing in this collectivist, deeply democratic setting informed her belief on the importance of radical democracy in organizing work.

Ella Baker went on to become a leading field organizer and director of the NAACP, founder of In Friendship, and the first organizer of Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  She brought to all of these organizations perhaps the largest network of committed people built by any civil rights leader.  She left all of these organizations with a want for something that none of the major civil rights groups could give her: an organization that took seriously building a struggle which would uplift the voices of Black-Americans on the ground in the most dangerous areas of the southern United States while building long term leadership and attacking the roots of a society she believed did not meet the needs of working people.  In many ways, the nomadic nature of her activist career made her a perfect candidate to facilitate the convergence of young activists that came to be the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

As the sit-in movement was sweeping the country, Ella Baker used her influence within SCLC to solicit funds and organize a conference of the young activists to take place in April 1960 in Raleigh, North Carolina at Shaw University.  While organizations from the NAACP to CORE lobbied for the students to join their ranks, Baker offered students a different perspective.  She told them to build their own organization.  They agreed with her and formed the group that would become SNCC.  While I certainly cannot do justice to the legacy of SNCC in this post, there are many sources I would encourage you to explore.  First among these is Charles Payne’s I’ve Got the Light of Freedom in which he describes eloquently the impact of this organization.

SNCC initiated the mass-based, disruptive political style we associate with the sixties, and it provided philosophical and organizational models and hands on training for people who would become leaders in the student power movement, the anti-war movement, and the feminist movement

This formation of this dynamic group was made possible by the mentorship of Ella Baker.

Knowing the legacy of Ms. Baker brings with it a responsibility to carry on and fulfill her mission.  She envisioned a movement which would be led not by ministers or the privileged, but by the people who most needed it.  She recognized the importance of nonviolent direct action and encouraged activist to take up the work of building collectives that would be capable of meeting injustice head on.  She believed in the importance of organizing the American South and uplifting the voices of the working class, young people, and people of color. In the end she hoped to build a society of cooperation and collective action which brought her back to the interdependent community of her youth. As Payne states in his book, the complex political legacy of SNCC “went back at least as far as Miss Baker’s grandfather’s farm.”  The question now is how much further we can carry it.

-MH

Today at 10:30, UNC students, faculty, staff, North Carolina community members and representatives from the press began to assemble on the steps of Wilson Library to demonstrate the necessity that Governor Beverly Purdue pardon members of the Wilmington Ten in the final days of her administration.  Reverend Dr. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP aptly described the rhetoric that has surrounded the case for forty years: clutching at straws of evidence that members of the Wilmington Ten broke any law has taken precedence over the fact that the prosecution for their case behaved illegally on multiple occasions.
This is unacceptable in light of the illegal actions known to have been committed by the prosecution during the 1972 case.  Prosecutor Stroud, who has recently been disbarred, feigned serious illness in order to cause a mistrial when he learned that the jury selected for the first Wilmington Ten trial was comprised of ten African Americans and two white men.  According to documents presented by Dr. Tim Tyson, which are currently housed in the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library, Stroud wrote “B” next to the names of black jurors, and included comments like “KKK Good” and “sensible Uncle Tom Type” in the margins.
There is also evidence that Stroud bribed three of the key witnesses, for example, by purchasing a minibike for one and offering another $40,000 to appear in a grand jury hearing.
Justice for political prisoners, for activists whose very struggle for freedom and justice is criminalized, for those who suffer from the abuse of state power, are all topics of concern for feminists.  The Civil Rights struggle continues today; social and economic injustices persist today, and are perpetuated in public schools, at “our” borders, in prisons.  Women are always implicated in the system, both as participants in and victims of egregious injustice done in the name of free trade and national security, both of which constitute a twentieth-century revision of White Men’s Rights demonstrations that occurred in Wilmington’s historic Hugh MacRae Park at the time of the Wilmington Ten trials.

I used to play in that park, y’all.  -Sarah-Kathryn Bryan

Welcome to our newest recurring blog theme: activists we oughta know!!

Now if there is one thing I have learned in the time I have spent deprogramming myself and my brain, it is that we have been offered an intentionally narrow array of heroes and role models within this great thing I will refer to as “the dominant cultural narrative.”  This cultural narrative is, as you might have imagined, fashioned and molded by the cultural ideals of the dominant forces in any given society.

“What’s wrong with that?,” you might ask.  Well, my friends, this model has a number of flaws, in my opinion. Allow me to list only some of them without explanation below:

  • reinforces current power structures
  • terms of selection are highly exclusionary to anything that threatens the status quo
  • the MLK effect (my own term – describes the phenomenon by which certain serious revolutionaries and their movements are stripped of their radical and subversive messages/beliefs and are then presented without full historical context within the history books used to “educate” our children)
  • only interests/practices of the dominant party/group are represented – meaning that experiences that do not fall within the dominant range of experiences are either actively invalidated or passively NOT validated
  • whose stories and histories are being told? and to whom?
  • WHEN IN DOUBT – ask our self: What’s at stake? Who stands to benefit?

I could go on, but this isn’t really the point of this post…so…MOVING ON

If you are familiar with the concept of the matrices of oppression or of the concept of intersectionality, it should come as no surprise that the people whose voices are most often ignored, whose stories are least often told, whose struggles are given the least legitimacy are – women of color.

I am surprised, but not really, to discover how much I have yet to learn.  AND SO WE BEGIN ——

VIRGINIA LEE WILLIAMS

Virginia Williams was one of seven people (3 women, 4 men! Doubly integrated!) to stage a sit-in at The Royal Ice Cream Co. Parlor in Durham, North Carolina on June 23, 1957 – three point five years before the famed Greensboro sit-ins.  The parlor was chosen primarily because of its location within a black neighborhood.  According to custom, whites were allowed use of the soda counters and booths while blacks ate in the parking lot.  The group, now referred to as “the Royal Seven” was arrested and charged with and convicted of trespassing by, of course, an all white jury. Their convictions were later upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

I would like to borrow this little exchange from the News & Observer article I have cited at the bottom of this page:

“They were very courteous and never handcuffed us,” Williams remembers about the arrest. “When we got to the station, one of the officers said to me, ‘If I was your daughter, I’d take you across my lap and spank you.'”

Without missing a beat, Williams replied: “If I were your daughter, I wouldn’t be here for this.”

This sit-in could very well be the FIRST sit-in of the civil rights era (1955-1980) if only Wikipedia would accept my article.  As it turns out, however, it is hard to cite things that were never recorded as historically significant at the time. C’mon wiki!!! This sit-in received a little local coverage, but beyond that, was mostly ignored.  The N&O covered only a brief about the arrests.

SO – Virginia Williams is a North Carolina native.  Her parents, Wiley and Elizabeth, were sharecroppers in North Hampton county.  As it turns out, her father was an active member of the local NAACP chapter throughout her childhood, though this fact wouldn’t come to light until later, as the meetings were held secretly, I assume for reasons of safety/security.

While her involvement in the sit-in sort of happened by chance, it was enough to spur her into a lifetime of activism, including nearly a decade spent fighting segregation laws and practices in North Carolina.  She also participated in the March on Washington in 1963!  Virginia Williams worked for forty years as a cafeteria worker in Chapel Hill and though now retired, she remains active in her advocacy.  She volunteered for the Obama campaign and often speaks about her experiences to a wide array of audiences – from elementary school classes to the N.C. Museum of History.  She is the only living member of the Royal Seven.

As proof of her continued action – I had the honor of making her acquaintance this month during the Civil Rights weekend in Chapel Hill. The “Still Walking for Justice” event commemorated the 65th Anniversary of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, also known as the first freedom ride.  9 women, each walking in honor  of a female activist, completed a leg of the journey from Pauli Murray’s former home in Durham to the Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill.  Virginia Williams was one of the 9 women honored that day. I was proud to wear her name – and not just because of the specific work she did.

Virginia Williams is an inspiration, an example of a long life dedicated to community engagement.  She is a reminder that, YES, you can just go out and involve yourself, and SHOULD, because sure, our schedules are busy, but what are we working towards if not a better world? Your involvement, however big or small, is a vital to THE movement – whatever that is for you.  Don’t hesitate!

P.S. – It was my lack of familiarity with most of those names that inspired this project of ours.  From the Pauli Murray project, which you should check out, on why we are still marching for justice:

“The work continues. Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Queer rights, voting rights, prisoners’ rights, women’s rights, and civil rights are still on the line and require our vigilance to protect them. The Walk also shows how we can use history to activate memory and motivation for contemporary activism.”

Sources:

http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/02/21/350063.html

http://media.photobucket.com/image/recent/bragin/DE/royal1.jpg

http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/20648962/article-Walk-to-commemorate-1st-freedom-ride

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pauli-Murray-Project/114283276942

Feminist Students United (FSU) is a progressive feminist organization which affirms that no form of oppression can be overcome until all aspects of racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism are dismantled. We acknowledge intersecting identities and strive to be mindful of these intersections in all our work. We endeavor to create an environment which is non-hierarchical and supportive in nature, and we work to bring about change in our community through education, outreach, direct action and community organizing.

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