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I can’t find a transcription of this speech that is correct.  All of the versions available leave out critical bits of this speech.  They leave out the mention of spending too much on military bases instead of bases of genuine concern, etc.  A typical example of the attempt to de-radicalize the good Rev. King.   Listen to this in its entirety.

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

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