Last night, John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” discussed the disturbing fact that school segregation still exists in America. While the Supreme Court ruled in 1955 Brown v Board of Education that separate was not equal, it was not until 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act that school desegregation actually started. Unfortunately, …
On January 23, 1976, one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century died a nearly forgotten man in self-imposed seclusion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Over the last three decades or so, you rarely, if ever, hear his name mentioned in the popular media. Once every few years, you might hear someone on PBS or C-Span remember him fondly and explain as to why he was one of the more important figures of the past century. In many respects, he had as much moral authority as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks; he was as politically active as Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte, John Lewis, and Randall Robinson; and, as befits many men and women motivated by moral considerations, he conducted himself with great dignity. For much of his life, not surprisingly and not unlike many of his worthy successors, he was marginalized and shunned by the political establishment of his time — until events validated their ‘radical’ beliefs and resurrected their reputations.
Throughout his life, few principled men of his caliber paid as high a price and for as long a period as he did for his political beliefs.
In light of what’s been going on in this country, the past couple of years especially, and a highly reported so called populist movement, themselves calling the participants ‘teabaggers’, but really a very loud and even with some media and political ideology backing a minority of the population, I bring you this in the subject title and below.
Nothing to do with rock & roll. Nothing to do with JFK.
It has to do with what happened in Greensboro, NC, the day before, February 1, 1960. Four young men–Ezell A. Blair Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil and Franklin McCain–went to the lunch counter at the Woolworth’s department store near the school where they were underclassmen, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
The four sat down and awaited service. They ignored Woolworth’s policy of serving food only to African-Americans who remained standing or took it elsewhere. They defied North Carolina law and the Jim Crow culture which pervaded, indeed defined, the South of the United States. The four sat, unserved, from 4:30 in the afternoon until management closed the store, early, at 5:00.
You can find much written that dates the decade of upsurge, promise and change we call the Sixties from that day.
I’ll argue for the next day, February 2, 1960, 50 years ago yesterday.
That’s the day that really counts, because that morning David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, Ezell A. Blair Jr., and Franklin McCain went back to the lunch counter at the Greensboro Woolworth’s and sat down again. So did 21 other young men and four young women from traditionally Black schools in the area.
The next day, February 3, 63 of the 65 seats at the Woolworth’s counter were occupied and on February 4 a sit-in began at S.H. Kress, another department store, and the protesters had been joined by three white students from Woman’s College. At the same time racist whites in increasing numbers gathered to heckle and harass the disciplined and determined protesters.
On February 7, Black students in Winston-Salem and Durham, NC held sit-ins at lunch counters. On February 8, Charlotte, NC. On February 9, Raleigh, NC.
It took five long months before the Greensboro establishment caved in and ended segregation in dining facilities. Once the original burst of enthusiasm and defiance passed, it was a long hard slog for the ones who started it and the small core that had formed in the struggle. McCain recalls:
McNeil and I can’t count the nights and evenings that we literally cried because we couldn’t get people to help us staff a picket line.
But even as they undertook the long painful battle to bring the victory home, their example had spread the tactic of sit-ins to hundreds of localities, including solidarity protests at chain stores in the North and West. Even more important, their action in sitting down at that counter, and returning the next day had spread the determination to smash Jim Crow and fight for justice to the hearts of millions.
And the Sixties, our Sixties, were underway.
A version of this was posted here last year, and it is crossposted from Fire on the Mountain.
A Virginia newspaper is expressing regret for supporting the state’s fight to maintain separate schools for blacks and whites in the 1950s.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch says in Thursday’s editorial that it played a central role in the “dreadful doctrine” of Massive Resistance _ a systematic campaign by Virginia’s white political leaders to block school desegregation. The newspaper says that “the record fills us with regret.”
The newspaper took the unusual step of promoting the editorial on its front page. It comes on the eve of a conference in Richmond marking the 50th anniversary of the end of Massive Resistance.
I’ll be quick.
Had a brief conversation at lunch yesterday with someone I’ve known for nearly 20 years now. This gentleman – let’s call him Solley – is a longtime Democratic supporter, to the tune of scores – perhaps hundreds – of thousands of dollars over decades. He and other family members used to be active in Democratic politics and were very well connected within the party, but not so much anymore. He’s a World War II veteran.
We were talking about the presidential race, and about the respective prospects for Hillary and Obama. Solley brought up his concern about the Rev. Wright issue, and expressed the view that it could be a very serious matter in terms of Obama’s electability.