Fifty Years of Memories

My mother died last week. And as the eldest son, I have a myriad of memories of her that I want to share. My earliest memories are the beatings. Like when she beat me for accidentally setting my sister’s hair on fire. Not to mention the time I put a snake in the toilet. Or the time she caught me with a telescope looking at the Brown’s making the bedsprings break next door. I was inquisitive. Mom beat me a lot.

Now, you have to understand the nature of beating we’re talking about here. We’re not talking a simple hand job. Oh no. We’re talking take your pants off, lie down take-it-like-a-man belt whippings. The kind that keep you from sitting down for days, but you have to sit anyway because you can’t explain it to your teacher since she knows that you do little things, like sticking bubble gum on girl’s seats and putting toy cars down the toilet – I love toilets, and she wouldn’t sympathize. And I’m sure y ou think that 50 years later, I should have gotten over it. And I admit, I did love her anyway, and was in a forgiving mood in my older years, so I could forget some things, like the time she forebade me from going to the amusement park with my friends, AND beat me all because of a snake I put in my sister’s underwear drawer. We lived next to a creek so there was an ample supply of snakes.

Still, as time went on, she became a very interfering mother. I quickly learned not to bring girls home because she would dig out old photograph albums of me in diapers playing with my own poop that I’d scooped out of the back of my butt… and I was really eating it in that most priceless photo. I tried destroying that photo many times. She seemed to have an infinite number of copies because as soon as I’d taken it out of the album and burned it – I love matches, another would pop up, just in time for the latest girl to be introduced to it, with comments like “wasn’t he cute” or worse still, he was 5 before he got out of diapers, like some girl needs to know that I was slow in some forms of development. So yes, I loved my mother but she continued to meddle in my love life long after she should have stopped. She would purposely forget girls’ names and name the old one, or the even older one and sometimes try three or four names of ex-girlfriends before getting it right, and follow it up with “Oh are you the one who Martin took to the Bahamas, and then the girl would be expecting me to take HER, even if I didn’t really like her that way at all. Yes, I should have learned early that you don’t bring your women home to meet your mother, but she would pop by unannounced, catch me with said woman, hopefully not at the wrong time, but definitely some mornings when a woman would only be at your house because you got some the night before, and she would insist that we come for dinner, and of course said woman would say “Oh your mother is so nice.” And that would be that, and I’d be stuck because you can’t fight two women at once. So there we’d be, after she’d pulled out the photo albums, and was making some food that made me drool because my mother’s cooking ALMOST made up for some of the beatings, and she’d be inviting my lady friend into the kitchen and showing her herbs, and unfortunately asking nosy questions about her and about me and about how far things had gotten, and whether she thought things were getting serious and how many children we might have, because, she’d throw in how much she would love a grandchild, and the next thing I’d know she’d be bringing the entire grandmother-wannabe thing up at the dinner table.

And oh by the way, in case you’re wondering where my dad was, he died when I was young and sometimes I think it was the smartest thing he ever did, because I do remember my mother nagging him. I was about 15 when he died, and old enough to know nagging when I heard it, such as “when are you going to take out the trash, fix the garage door, paint the shutters, fix the roof, hang the photos, clean out the basement,” or just plain “take a bath”. I admit, my dad wasn’t keen on bathing twice a day like my mom wanted him to and it was a bone of contention between them. I think he chose not to take a bath just to spite her, as though that was the only thing he could think of to do that would really get her going, and it did because there were plenty of times when he slept on the couch and she probably threw him out of the bed because she was sure that he smelled of something, even when I couldn’t tell. And sometimes Dad just slept on the couch intentionally. Usually because his favorite team was playing until 11pm at night on a Sunday or a Monday and mom would never stand for staying up that late when she had to go teach little brats in middle school and get up at 5am just to be sure to be on top of everything, and my dad had a desk job and didn’t have to get up until 7am to be at work by 9 and mom hated that something awful so sometimes I think she nagged him just because she envied him. Now I’m not suggesting that Dad slept downstairs all the time because I can attest to the fact that there was some bed-creaking over the kitchen when I would sneak down to see what was in the fridge, and even if there were no moans and groans, I would catch mom smiling on the way out the door if I got up early enough, and dad would hum as he went out the door, and there would be no nagging for a few days, and if I was really smart, I might even get out of a beating or two while her good mood lasted.

Still life really changed when my dad died because he had been the one who taught me how to fix things, and planted a few other ideas in my head that my mom never approved of. It was my dad who taught me how to trap insects, and how to fish, and once he even took me camping with two of my buddies and told ghost stories that made the hair on the backs of our necks stand up because we knew that we had hiked about 4 miles from the car, and we were in the middle of the woods with no cell phones because there were no cell phones back then, and there were twitches and noises and crunches and no light and no one except the four of us, and we were all nine years old and super susceptible to stories about things that go bump in the night. At any rate, dad died of a heart attack when I was 15 and my mom acted as though she didn’t miss him, but I knew it was a front because sometimes I would catch her crying at night, and I let her have her privacy because every once in a while I would cry and damned if I was ever going to let anyone know.

It turns out that some 15 years after my dad died I finally got on mom’s right side by marrying and producing grandchildren in that order, and I know that if I had done it out of order, I would have never heard the end of it, so I made sure to wrap my whopper on the regular and even if a girl suggested that I go bareback I would think of my mother and all of the cussing and screaming and carrying on she would do if she found out that I had sired a child out of wedlock, so it was just something I made sure I never did. I sense that there were a few young ladies who had decided that I was quite a catch because I had a degree and worked at a lab and made good money and I’ve noticed that some women put aside their feelings about who’s attractive and who’s not when it comes to men with jobs, salaries and cars, so I was actually in demand by the time I got into my late 20’s and that’s when my mom started in with the grandchild stuff.

I married Jeannette at the JP and I know it infuriated my mother because she had plans to be all decked out but I told her she’d have her chance when my sister got married, and I wanted to spend my money on the honeymoon which we did quite nicely with a trip to Barbados and the whopper was definitely unwrapped because the little bundle of joy showed up 9 months later, on schedule as far as my mother was concerned, and I have to admit that it was quite handy that she decided to retire early and become the full-time babysitter for Jolyn and Chris and only those two because the tubes got tied, snipped burned, whathaveyou after those two which was a good thing because Chris was a lot like me, and my mother let me know constantly with stories about how he liked to frighten his sister, and put his fingers into light sockets, and climb into dishwashers and swing on chandeliers after climbing up the chairs in the dining room and just generally acting like a 4 year old, which meant that Jeannette would spank him, but not beat him, and my mother changed up on me and would not whip my children, and in fact would just tell them to wait until we picked them up because she believed that she’d done enough disciplining when we were kids and she would let us handle it in our own way.

I have to give mom credit, she actually liked Jeanette enough to remember her name, and not complain about her cooking which was just so-so, and most importantly not to meddle in how Jeannette reared our kids, although Jeannette reciprocated by asking for advice which made my mother like her more. It was actually a good thing that I had a son because between my mother, my sister, my wife and my daughter I was feeling a bit outnumbered, so Chris and I would go out a lot and have man time together and I would take him to get his hair cut, and show him how to fish and swim and do boy stuff, even play with snakes since I took him to all of the hands-on museums that my daughter wouldn’t be caught dead in and we went to the zoo a lot and amusement parks and even camping a few times, although we didn’t go nearly as far into the woods as my dad had taken us back when I was nine because Chris wasn’t quite up to it until he was much older and by the time he was older, he was more of a loner than I was, and so I gave him his space and focused on making sure that Jolyn didn’t do anything I didn’t approve of in the boy department.

When I turned 40 and the kids were 9 and 10, my mom started to decline, so I converted the garage into a small studio apartment for her and she had her own door to come and go as she pleased which she abused somewhat by sneaking off with men that I thought took advantage of her, because even at 60 she was still good-looking, and I didn’t want her to be hurt although goodness knows she’d been taking care of her self since before I got on the planet, but the best thing about having mom adjacent to us was the fact that she still liked cooking and Jeannette quickly let her take over and we finally had down-home meals that made you want to go to sleep afterward and I had to admit that this made up for the downside, which was mom’s meddling ways. Before she lived with us, she had been content to let things be but once she moved in, she found a way to turn me into dad, and convince Jeannette that I was the handiest man on the planet and anything Jeannette wanted I could do so she shouldn’t hesitate to ask and in fact, turning to me would save money, even if I really didn’t have the time or energy to do some of the things mom swore I could do, but it happened that way. “take out the trash, fix the back door, paint the shutters, fix the roof, hang the photos, clean out the basement, I’m sure it sounds familiar because it was the same litany she had come up with for dad, and I suffered through it because Jeanette would back her up every time and you just can’t argue with two women who have teamed up against you so I came up with a rule that requests for things around the house could not be made on Saturday, Sunday or Monday from August to February which of course meant that I could only be asked to do things that took an evening, and I am sorry to say that my Fridays, and some of my Saturday mornings were spent doing projects that I wasn’t even sure where necessary, but I did them so that I could get sex, yes I admit it Jeannette would use that trick from time to time, but I’m happy to say that I could make her smile all the way from Friday to Tuesday with my mojo so that didn’t happen very often.

It was only a few years ago when I turned 50 that mom started going down hill, and it was hard because well, I was just unprepared for someone who had been such a rock in my life to all of a sudden start to crumble, shrink, stoop and basically wither on the vine the way she did, but she had gotten diabetes and a kidney problem on top of that, and she refused to change the way she ate because, after all, down home cooking isn’t the healthiest and on top of that, she loved sweets so it was not so surprising that if she wasn’t willing to give up her ways and I certainly couldn’t make her, then things weren’t going to go her way in the health department. So I watched her decline, but I watched her decline happily at the same time because she was determined to do it her way and by gosh it wasn’t going to be without sweets or any other wonderful things that she insisted be in her life. So suffice to say she went faster than she should have and one day, she just didn’t wake up.

I guess I shouldn’t say that I ever wished her ill, even though she was a stern mother and a challenging housemate, because she was good at what she did and I have to admit that I didn’t turn out half bad, which I give her full credit for, and my sister did fine as well rounding out her motherly responsibilities. Maybe I say it because it’s easier to man up and say such things rather than get misty eyed and maudlin over the simple reality that at some point it’s someone’s time to go and there’s no changing that eventuality so you may as well accept it by the time you’ve turned 50 like I have. She lived a good life, she knew love, she had the grandchildren she required of us, she had dates long after most, and she ate well. I think perhaps it’s easier to remember the beating and the meddling because then I remember her as she was, with the good and the bad for balance. And that makes it easier.


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Transforming Jack Sprat’s Wife

Transforming Jack Sprat’s Wife

February 1st –

Dear Celia,
I miss you so much. Why did you have to move away? We were doing so well. Walking the mall, eating our smoothies, drinking our diet sodas. I lost 30 pounds, and then, in the time you’ve been gone, I put it all back and then some. I’ve now hit 350 pounds. I truly am Bess the Cow. I’ve just got to do something but I don’t know what. I’ve tried Weight Watchers, I’ve tried Atkins. But they just don’t fit into my lifestyle. My oh-so-thin husband complains if I change what we eat, and I watch him dive into his food with such gusto that I end up having more than I should. I swear, I will never master portion control. But I have to do something. I’m 39 years old and I am sick and tired of being fat.
Missing you,

February 14th –

Dear Celia,
I’ve found a this old book in the used bookstore called Fit for Life, and it talks about veganism. According to the book, if you give up animal products and don’t eat fatty foods like potato chips, you can lose weight without portion control. Oh gawd, I want this. But Jeff will have a massive fit. He’ll never give up his meat and cheese. Can you imagine him without steak and fried chicken? Never. I’ll have to cook separate meals. I know it’s going to drive me crazy. But I really want this. Celia, do you think you could help me. Maybe send little encouraging postcards? I don’t know if I can do this alone. Let me know.
February 28th –
Dear Celia,
I’ve decided to go cold turkey. Nuts and berries. Now, really, there are fat bears, and fat cows… I’m not sure about this, but I’ve tried everything else. I stuck a wad of stamped postcards in here. If you could just send one every other week, I know it would make a difference.

March 7th –
Hey Bess, you’ve got this. Love C.
March 14th –
Dear Celia,
you’re not going to believe this. It’s been two weeks and I’ve lost 15 pounds. That tightness in my clothes is gone. It’s so wonderful. And that postcard made my week ‘cause Jeff is acting really strange. I’m still cooking everything he loves, but he used to come in the kitchen, wrap his arms around me and whisper “I love my moo-moo”. He doesn’t do it anymore and I really miss that.
March 21st –
Hey Bess, he’ll come around. Remember that he loves you. Love C.
March 28th –
Dear Celia,
I lost another 5 pounds, but nuts and berries are getting boring. I’m going to have to figure something else out. Spaghetti with marinara sauce (with some meatballs for Jeff). Stir-fried veggies – with some shrimp for Jeff. I looked on-line for a support group, but nothing fits. Weight Watchers and Atkins preach portion control. And PETA folks are so fanatic. I’m not trying to save the planet. I just want to lose weight. I guess I’m going it alone. At least I have you. Loving your post cards.
April 4th –
Hey Bess, love you back. C
April 11th –
Dear Celia,
I lost another 5 pounds and I’m finding cookbooks with interesting recipes. Seems it’s all about beans. Baked beans, beans and rice, beans in chili… and Beano. Because Jeff is seriously complaining about the gas. Sometimes he sleeps on the couch. But I’m under 325 pounds. I wish he would support me. Please keep those post cards coming.

April 18th –
Hey Bess, I’m with you all the way, C.
April 25th –
Dear Celia,
I’ve lost 30 pounds and my clothes are super loose. People are starting to notice and it feels good. I could never tell Jeff; I know he would be angry. But Celia, I’m starting to think that I could lose some serious weight. Maybe 50 pounds. Maybe more. I can’t remember being under 300 pounds. It’s been so long. Jeff has never known me under 300 pounds. I guess this is too much change for him. Do you remember me under 300 pounds?
May 2nd –
Dear Bess, whatever your weight, you are beautiful. C.
May 9th –
Dear Celia,
I lost another 5 pounds and got a hair cut. Jeff is furious. I never realized how much long hair meant to him. But the braids got heavy, the perm was a pain. I love me au naturelle. Did you know I’ve got some curl? I’m going to get professional photos. Glamour Shots. Dammit, I feel good about myself. He’s just going to have to cope.
May 16th –
Hey Bess, keep on keepin’ on. C
May 23rd –
Dear Celia,
Check out these photos! I got my Glamour Shots, and they gave me a makeover. I’ve never really tried make-up before. Real foundation and everything. I love the look. I think I’m going to sign up for a class. I want to learn how to do this for myself, and they have a program for 4 weeks on Monday nights. That can be Kentucky Fried Chicken night for Jeff. And I lost another 5 pounds.

May 30th –

Hey Bess, you’re amazing! C

June 6th –

Dear Celia,
I lost 5 more pounds. I’m under 310 and for the first time in years, I can see my toes. So I went and got a pedicure. Sat in the chair and felt those massage balls go up and down my back. Put my feet in the water just like a Jacuzzi, felt strong hands up and down my calves, could feel the slough come off my heels. My feet are so soft. I decided to get French tips. With a little V. I feel so sexy. I’ve really been neglecting myself. It’s time to change that.

June 13th –
Hey Bess, you’re on a roll. Keep going! C

June 20th –

Dear Celia,
I lost 5 more pounds and I’ve decided to re-invent myself. I’m giving myself a new name. Bessie is a name for a cow. I’m going to be BeBe. Let me know what you think. I’ve been practicing it on piece of paper, I’ve changed my name on Facebook, I’m going to personalized stationary and send it to everyone I can think of. Good-bye, Bess. Hello, BeBe! With a picture of my Glamour Shot. I’ll be the talk of the family reunion.


June 27th –
Hey BeBe, I love it! C

July 4th –

Dear Celia,
I DID IT! I’ve lost 50 pounds. It’s hard to believe. But it’s for real. I’m down to 300 pounds. I’m going to take pictures of the scale and post them on the wall. I need to really celebrate this, but I’m not sure how. In the past, I’ve always celebrated with food. I don’t even want to. I don’t want to mess with my success. So, maybe a facial and a full body massage. Gotta take care of this new body. But Celia, I’ve got to tell you. Jeff is acting worse and worse. It’s like he doesn’t want me to lose the weight. I thought he’d be happy for me. Not sure what to do. Last year, I would have eaten a bucket of chicken or a gallon of ice cream. Today – a mixing bowl full of lettuce with balsamic vinaigrette.


July 11th –

Hey BeBe, you can’t let Jeff get to you. Just keep going. C.

July 18th –

Dear Celia,
I’ve lost 5 more pounds. So it’s time to buy new clothes. Not sure why I put it off. Maybe because I don’t trust what’s happening. And I don’t know if I can keep the weight off. But this has got to be part of my reinvention. And I’m going to buy some dresses. I’m starting to have a waist, and I want to show it off. Not sure to whom, but I do. No more tents for clothing. And no more fat cow catalogs. I’m fitting into a size 26. Hello Dress Barn Woman and Lane Bryant. Good-bye Catherines and size 5X. In fact, I think I’m going to buy a suit. Just one. I’ve always wanted to go to church in one of those beautiful white suits. Maybe even a hat. Re-invention.


July 25th
Hey BeBe, you’re fabulous! C
August 1st –
Dear Celia,
There’s a job opening for a supervisor in my department. I’m going to go for it. I’ve been at this call center for so long, I’ve gotten every kind of call, put up with so much abuse. But I’m good at what I do, and I deserve this. And I now look the part. I wear a dress to work every day, with some make-up, I don’t frown so much, people have noticed the changes in me, and I’ve shown that if I put my mind to something, I can do it. Do you realize what an accomplishment it is to lose 60 pounds? Yup, I lost 5 more. I want this job so badly I can taste it.
August 8th –
Hey BeBe – it’s already yours. C
August 15th –
Dear Celia,
I got the job! I’m going to be the floor supervisor. And they’ve doubled my salary. I’m even making more than Jeff. I wish he’d be happy for me. All he can think about is that I might have to do overtime, and whether I’d still be home in time to make dinner. It can’t always be about him, can it? Still, I have to admit, I’m doing this for myself. He never told me that he wanted me to lose weight. I was always his “Little Moo-Moo”. He won’t even call me BeBe. And when we go out, he’s constantly looking around and saying stupid little things like “He may be looking at you, but all he wants is sex.” I don’t even see when men look at me. And that’s not why I’m doing this. Dammit, I want to be healthy. Do you know what it’s like when you go to step on the scale at the doctor’s office, and they pull out a special scale? Or when you get the “obesity talk” with scare stories about diabetes, high cholesterol and heart attacks? He just doesn’t understand. And it hurts, Celia. It really hurts.
P.S. Five more pounds.

August 22nd –
Hey BeBe – I feel your pain, but keep going anyway. C
August 29th –
Dear Celia,
My skin is starting to flab on me. I think it’s time to go to the gym. Not sure when to fit it in. Maybe after dinner. Or in the morning before work. I’m debating between Planet Fitness, Golds Gym and Bally’s. Planet Fitness has the best hours, but Bally’s has a pool. Can you imagine! Me in a bathing suit! Yup, that’s it. Bally’s. It will give me added incentive. And I lost 5 more pounds.
September 5th –
Hey BeBe – rock that swimsuit! C
September 12th –
Dear Celia,
I’m going to the gym twice a week, evenings, while Jeff is on his Playstation and I lost 5 more pounds. I don’t understand why he’s so angry all the time. When I showed him my swimsuit – a modest one piece suit with a high neck and a little skirt – he lost his ever-loving mind. Called me a whore and a slut and all kinds of other names too sick to mention. Said I wanted to be raped again. I almost changed my mind about going. I think that’s what he wants. For me to lose my nerve and go back to being Bess the Cow. But I can’t. I’ve come so far. My life is changing in unimaginable ways. I feel good about myself. I didn’t realize it before, but it’s new to me, this feeling. That I can do anything, be anything. OK, maybe not an astronaut, but you know what I mean. And I want this for myself. I deserve this. I am a beautiful person, inside and out, and I love me. It feels weird to say it, but I love me. And Jeff can just go to hell.
September 19th –
Hey BeBe – I’m glad you’re loving you. C

September 26th –
Dear Celia,
it’s probably TMI but I’m realizing that Jeff and I haven’t been together in about 3 months. I think it was when I hit 325 pounds. It’s as though he thinks I’ve become ugly. I want him to love me the way he used to. But I’m not sure I can make that happen and still be the new BeBe. I think he’s going to make me choose. Would it be selfish if I chose myself? I don’t know how to win him back without putting the weight back on. And I refuse. I just can’t do it. Not and be true to myself. I will never again be Bessie the Cow. I guess we need counseling.
P.S. Lost 5 more pounds.
October 3rd –
Hey BeBe – Be true to yourself. C
October 10th –
Dear Celia,
I suggested marital counseling and Jeff laughed in my face. He wanted to know what good it was going to do. He said he never wanted me to change, he never asked for me to change. I didn’t know I needed his permission. I’ve tried to keep some things the same. I made sure I still came home on time. I made sure to have his dinner ready. But it’s just not good enough. He says he hates the new me. The new look, the new name, the new job, the new weight. That I’m not the woman he married. And he said I’m not changing for the better as far as he’s concerned. I was surprised when he threw in the new job. Could that be a piece of it? That I make more than he does? It hasn’t changed me! Or maybe it has. I spend more on myself. And I don’t ask his permission because I don’t have to ask him for money. Yup, that’s probably a big piece of it. Somehow, I have to get him to counseling.
P.S. I lost another 5 pounds.
October 17th –
Hey BeBe – Jeff was always like that. Be bigger than him. C

October 24th –
Dear Celia,
I bought myself some Spanx to hold in the loose skin, and I’m thinking of getting surgery to cut the excess skin off. You wouldn’t believe how much it costs. And it’s cosmetic surgery. Insurance doesn’t cover it. That’s so unfair. I would have to take out a loan. I’m going to wait, and see how much weight I actually lose. No point in doing it now. I lost another 5 pounds.
October 31st –
Hey BeBe – that’s my girl. Cut it off, let it go. C
Dear Celia,
I did it! I’ve lost 100 pounds! I’m 250 pounds. I can’t even remember a time when I was under 250 pounds. Sometime in my twenties. Before I met Jeff. No, he never knew me when I was thinner. I guess he likes fat women. Broke women. Women with no self-esteem. Everything I don’t want to be anymore. So I guess he can’t love me anymore. It hurts, Celia. I think I’ll eat some watermelon. An entire watermelon.
November 7th –
Hey BeBe – change is painful, but seriously, you’ve got this. C
November 14th –
Dear Celia,
I think Jeff is having an affair. While I go to the gym. He started encouraging me to go. Nothing else makes sense. Why would he do this to me? I’ve tried to be the best wife I know how to be. Celia, I still love him. Maybe that seems crazy given everything he’s said, but he’s been my rock for so many years. Would you believe, we’ve almost been married for 15 years. And he’s stuck by me through so much. When we found out that I couldn’t have children, he didn’t leave me and he could have. When they found that tumor, he was right by my side. That time I got raped in the park, he didn’t blame me or back away. So much. And just because I want something for myself, he wants to rip it all away. It doesn’t make any sense. I wish I could have some ice cream. Watch me eat another watermelon.

November 21st –
Hey BeBe – you are woman, don’t cry – roar! C
November 28th –
Dear Celia,
I was right. Jeff is having an affair. We lost power at the gym so I went home early. I could hear the bed creaking from the front door. You would think that I’d be mad. I was just curious. And when I got to the bedroom, I was shocked. She was the biggest woman I’d ever seen. He was taking her from behind and hitting her. “Who’s my bitch, who’s my cow?” He was so filled with anger, and she was taking it. And maybe I’m seeing him as he is for the first time. It’s so important for him to be dominant that he has to be with a woman with low self-esteem. Celia, that’s not me anymore. So I guess that’s what it is. I walked away. I don’t think they even knew I was there. I’m going to stay in a hotel. All 240 pounds of me.
December 5th –
Hey BeBe – be strong. This is going to work out. C
December 12th –
Dear Celia,
this guy at work hit on me today. It was so weird. He’s one of the hottest men at the call center. And lawdamercy, the thought of having sex with him is enough to make me come all over myself. But I’m still married. To a lying, cheating no good son of a bitch, but married is married. I wonder if I would take him up on it if I was single. I don’t think so. I’m not the one night type. I think I deserve better. Someone I can get to know, spend quality time with… then sex. Look at me. I’m already thinking about being single. Maybe it’s time to talk to a lawyer.
December 19th –
Hey BeBe – hold out for the best. C

December 26th –
Dear Celia,
I’m down to 235 pounds and it’s time for new clothes again. And new Spanx. I’m a size 20, and it feels so good. I’m not fat, I’m curvy! Sure, the doctor may call me obese, but I know what I was, and that’s not me any more. I am BeBe Moore. Young, successful, beautiful. Jeff be damned.
January 2nd –
Hey BeBe – that’s my girl! C
January 9th –
Dear Celia,
Jeff said the craziest thing to me. He told me that if I’d eat a pork chop, he’d stay with me. So I had a bite. Just to see. And I nearly threw up. In that bite of pork chop was everything that I had been and never wanted to be again. In that bite of porkchop was Bess the Cow. I may be vegan for life! Never again prime rib, never again macaroni and cheese, never again sour cream on a potato, never again a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, never again a Hersheys bar, never again Nacho Cheese Doritos. Never again Bess the Cow. It’s a fair trade.
January 16th –
Hey BeBe – I am SO proud of you. C
January 23rd –
Dear Celia,
I’m 225 pounds and I think I’m ready to see someone about the surgery now. Maybe it sounds crazy, but I’m okay if I stay at 225. I’m a size 18, squarely in Women’s Plus, but if I don’t get down to 200, I’ll be okay. I want to tell you something crazy. All those postcards you send – I keep them in a scrapbook. I put gold frames around them with little flowers or hearts or stars. And at the top of the page, I put my weight in fancy digits from Michaels. The numbers keep dropping, and when I’m struggling, I just open up the scrapbook and there you are, encouraging me. I could have never done this without you.

January 30th –
Hey BeBe – it was all you. C
February 6th –
Dear Celia,
I guess I’m not done yet. I lost another 5 lbs. I think I’m scared to stop losing because I’m afraid I’ll start gaining. I went for my annual physical and my doctor nearly fainted away. She was so proud of me. She has referred me to a nutritionist who might be able to help me figure out how to keep the weight off forever. No backsliding. Not BeBe.
February 13th –
Hey BeBe – weight be gone! C
February 20th –
Dear Celia,
Jeff filed for divorce. Irreconcilable differences. I know it’s been coming but I still can’t say that word. Divorce. And I’m so tempted to eat something unhealthy. To stuff my face, to have everything I’ve denied myself all year. But I’m not going to do it. Look how far I’ve come. New name, new look, new job… it never occurred to me that all that change would be too much for Jeff. Or that he would want to hold me back. I didn’t realize he was so insecure. He wants to marry Julia. He says he wants to wear the pants, he doesn’t want me to make more than he does, he doesn’t want me to be more attractive than he is, he wants to be better than me, and if he can’t feel that way, he doesn’t want to be with me. He’s letting me keep the house. He just wants the retirement account. I guess that’s fair.
February 27th –
Hey BeBe – be true to you. C March 6th –
Dear Celia,
I have the house to myself, and it’s too big for me. I’m going to sell it. Rent an apartment. Maybe get a dog. Maybe take a cruise. They say that women take a cruise when they get a divorce. Or go to an island. Get my groove back. But I don’t want a man. The compliments are nice, but being sexy wasn’t really my goal, was it? I’ve never turned heads before. In fact, I was never with a man before Jeff. No one ever loved me before Jeff. And I’m no longer sure he loved me. He may have been too insecure to love anyone. Well, it’s time to get BeBe’s head on straight. A cruise. Oh, and I’m down to 210 pounds.
March 13th –
Hey BeBe – have a great time, you deserve it. C
March 20th –
Dear Celia,
I’ve just gotten back from my cruise. No, I didn’t meet a man. But I splurged on every possible excursion. I went snorkeling, played with sting rays, saw some Mayan ruins, bought jewelry. I did everything but eat. And let me tell you, being vegan on a cruise is hard. But I did it. Vegan for life. It isn’t what I planned. I just wanted to lose the weight. But I don’t want to go back to 350 pounds and I don’t know any other way to keep it off… except for portion control and I was never good at that. No, I’m just going to be one of those rabbit food eaters. And would you believe, I lost 5 pounds on the cruise.
March 27th –
Hey BeBe – it’s all about lifestyle changes. Living proof. C
April 3rd –
Dear Celia,
Can you believe it, I’m down to 200 pounds. I got a chocolate lab named Charlie. I take him on long walks twice a day. He sleeps with me and keeps me company. And life doesn’t seem so empty. You may not hear from me so often, but I can’t thank you enough for letting me tell you what’s been happening to me. You’ve been a rock and I love you for it. If there’s ever anything that you’re going through, write to me and I promise to listen.
Best wishes,

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BHM 2017 – Day 10: Murder in Mississippi (last one)

This is my last Black History Month piece. I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more. I have learned SO MUCH.  I was born in 1964 at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement. For some strange, probably deliberate, reason, the Civil Rights Movement was not taught in either American History class that I took. Over the years, I have learned bits and pieces, but nothing as comprehensive as what I have learned this month. I have no doubt that those of you who are significantly older than me could write a book on the subject. And maybe those of you who were younger were lucky enough to learn about it in school. I envy you. 53 is late to learn this stuff, but better late than never. I hope you also have learned a few things that you didn’t know before, and have a better picture of all that went on, because there was SO MUCH. And perhaps you will be inspired to read more.


Happy Black History Month!




I really didn’t think it could get worse than Alabama… until I started reading about Mississippi. (And yes, this is another long one.) The white people of Mississippi were so committed to segregation that they didn’t even need Jim Crow laws. Integration simply wasn’t permitted, and the level of force and violence that was used to enforce these codes was horrific. As historian Charles Payne recounts in detail, Mississippi had the highest rate of  lynchings of any state, recording 539 between the end of Reconstruction and the early 1960s.  And in the state’s plantation economy, conditions for many black farm workers weren’t much better than slavery. African Americans had virtually no education, no rights and no legal recourse against whites who exploited, cheated or attacked them. In the early 1960’s, Mississippi was the poorest state in the nation and 86% of all non-white families lived below the poverty line.


This was the backdrop of the actions of thousands of civil rights activists who, between 1956 and 1968, made the effort to integrate Mississippi and secure African-Americans the right to register, vote and elect black representatives to Congress.


I want to start with an acknowledgement of Mississippi’s civil rights martyrs:


1955:  NAACP leader Rev. George Wesley Lee was shot in the face and killed in Belzoni, MS for urging blacks to vote.  Lamar Smith, sixty-three-year-old farmer and World War II veteran, was shot in cold blood on the crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging blacks to vote. Fourteen-year old Emmett Till, visiting family from Chicago, was kidnapped and murdered near Money, MS, allegedly  for whistling at a white woman… who has recently admitted that she lied. And Black businessman Clinton Melton was gunned down at a Glendora gas in an apparent follow-up to the Emmett Till case.


1957: Clyde Kennard attempted to enroll at Mississippi Southern College. He was arrested and convicted on false charges of possession of liquor. He was sentenced to seven years at Parchman Penitentiary, where he was denied proper care for serious health conditions that eventually led to his death.


1959: Mack Charles Parker, a resident of Poplarville, Mississippi, was jailed for allegedly raping a white woman. A white mob abducted Mr. Parker from his jail cell, beat him, took him to Louisiana, and then shot him


1961 farmer Herbert Lee was shot and killed in Liberty, Mississippi, by E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi State Legislature, because of Lee’s participation in the voter registration campaign.


1963: NAACP State Director Medgar Evers was gunned down in 1963 in his Jackson driveway by Citizens Council member Byron De La Beckwith from Greenwood, Mississippi


1964: CORE workers James Chaney and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner (white) and volunteer Andrew Goodman (white) disappeared near Philadelphia, MS. After several weeks of searching and recovering more than a dozen other bodies, the authorities finally found the civil rights workers buried under an earthen dam. Later that year, the lower half of Charles Eddie Moore’s body and the headless body of Henry Hezekiah Dee are pulled from the Mississippi River near Tallulah, LA; FBI believes they were kidnapped near Meadville, Mississippi, and murdered by Klansmen, 2 months prior. 14-year-old Herbert Oarsby’s body was pulled from the Big Black River near Canton, MS, dressed in a CORE t-shirt.


Additionally, in the summer of 1964, Freedom Summer:

  • 1,062 people were arrested (out-of-state volunteers and locals)
  • 80 Freedom Summer workers were beaten
  • 37 churches were bombed or burned
  • 30 Black homes or businesses were bombed or burned
  • 4 people were critically wounded

1966: Local NAACP President Vernon Dahmer was killed in a dynamite blast to his home in Hattiesburg and Ben Chester White was killed by Klansmen in Natchez.


1967: NAACP activist Wharlest Jackson was killed by bomb after promotion to a “white” job in Natchez and  National Guardsmen fired on a black student protest at Jackson State University, killing civil rights worker Benjamin Brown.


On the first day that I presented information about the Civil Rights movement, I noted that one of the catalysts was WWII. Interestingly enough, James Meredith and Medgar Evers were both veterans who felt that it was time for change to come to Mississippi. Social transformations following World War II that affected all of the South were especially potent in Mississippi. The increasing mechanization of farm work made for substantial dislocation among whites and blacks in the state. Thousands upon thousands left the land to find work. “In cities, blacks and whites competed for jobs, housing, recreation and seats on public transportation, and the problem of the color line assumed pressing urgency,” historian Pete Daniel writes. Like African Americans across the South, many returning to Mississippi from military service had experienced life in other countries with far less racial prejudice. Having fought to secure democratic freedoms abroad, they were determined to fight for freedom at home.


In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education was ruled on by the Supreme Court, pronouncing that school segregation was unconstitutional. In response, in 1956, the Southern Manifesto was signed by 19 U.S. Senators and 82 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including the entire congressional delegations of the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia. The Manifesto, written in response to the Brown decisions, accused the Supreme Court of “clear abuse of judicial power.” It further promised to use “all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.”


Mississippi whites took their efforts to prevent integration to new levels. With all levels of government involved, two organizations came into being: the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, the White Citizens’ Council.  . These white supremacy organizations used many techniques, including surveillance, severe economic reprisals, and brutal violence to thwart civil rights activists; they also were quick to ostracize whites who didn’t openly join their ranks or support their cause. Those whites who retained a moderate or even liberal perspective were targeted by extremists. Some were forced to leave the state; others remained, but under constant threat. And the political process was blatantly affected. . “The fear was that black people would take over and destroy the [Southern] way of life. And the politicians jumped on it. ‘Elect me and we will maintain segregation.’ That’s all you had to say to get elected.” By 1956, the Citizens’ Council had chapters in a majority of Mississippi counties and had attracted some 80,000 members. Central to the Council’s message was the widely-held conviction that the civil rights movement was run by communists and that northern participants such as CORE members were ‘outside agitators’ in the truest sense of the term, representing forces hostile and alien to American values.”  Membership tended to be highest in counties where the population was more than 50 percent black. Headed by the most prominent local businessmen, professionals and governing officials, the goal of the Citizens’ Council was to use every possible means to lawfully resist desegregation. The Council routinely used the economic “squeeze” to punish black agitators. For instance, when African Americans signed a petition to desegregate schools in Yazoo County in 1955, the Citizens’ Council moved quickly. It paid for a local newspaper ad listing the names of the petitioners. The Council then coordinated reprisals against the signers. Charles Bolton writes:


The president of one local bank called all his customers on the list “and told them to come down and get their money out, that the bank did not want to do business with them any longer.” James Wright, a plumber with primarily white customers, not only lost his patrons but also was refused plumbing supplies by a wholesale house, and notified by his grocer that a loaf of bread would cost him a dollar. He soon left for Detroit.


The danger of challenging Jim Crow in Mississippi led the state to produce more than its share of powerful civil rights leaders, including Fannie Lou Hamer, James Meredith, Medgar Evers, Aaron Henry and many others. These seemingly ordinary people were propelled by a conviction that the racial order had to change. Activist and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party leader Fannie Lou Hamer described her determination: “Sometimes it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off that and no one will have to cover the ground I walk as far as freedom is concerned.”


NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers was a force to be reckoned with in Mississippi as early as the 1950’s when he helped organize a boycott of gasoline stations that denied blacks the use of the stations’ restrooms. Named field secretary in 1954, he organized boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP all over the state, with both efforts toward voter registration, and legal defense. Evers also organized demonstrations, and economic boycotts of white-owned companies that practiced discrimination. Within three years he had nearly doubled NAACP membership in Mississippi to more than 15,000. Evers played a pivotal role in investigating Emmett Till’s death in 1955 helping to launch a separate investigation and find witnesses to Till’s abduction.


The first and little known event in Mississippi civil rights history was the Biloxi Wade-ins, where a black physician, Gilbert Mason, and 7 friends tried to integrate the Biloxi waterfront beaches.  Turned away while swimming in 1959, they asked to see the law saying that they couldn’t be there. There was none. A protest with 125 people was held a year later; violence erupted in what has become known as “Bloody Sunday or the Bloody Wade-in. Shots were fired, rocks were thrown, and there was fighting in the streets over the entire weekend. Ten people were shot and a large number were injured in fights. Gilbert Mason was arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace for his role in the protest.


The another notable event by African Americans to make a difference in civil rights was in 1961, when nine students from Tougaloo College, members of the NAACP Youth Council, were arrested for attempting to desegregate the “white only” Jackson  Public Library. The group became known as the Tougaloo Nine. Students from Jackson State marched to the jail in support and were met and attacked with clubs, tear gas and dogs.


Next, in 1962, James Meredith applied to University of Mississippi. When James Meredith set his sights on integrating The University of Mississippi he intentionally targeted what was perhaps the most hallowed symbol of white prestige in Mississippi. No African American had ever been knowingly admitted (at least one, brief instance is known of a light-skinned man passing as white in the 1940s). Plantation owners and the rest of the Mississippi gentry sent their children to what they called affectionately Ole’ Miss for the finest education the state could offer. Although his application was rejected, the Supreme Court ordered his admittance. On September 13, 1962, Mississippi Governer Ross Barnett rallied his people on statewide television and radio. “I speak to you now in the moment of our greatest crisis since the War Between the States,” Barnett declared. “We must either submit to the unlawful dictates of the federal government or stand up like men and tell them, never! I submit to you tonight, no school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your governor!”  When Meredith tried to register on September 20, 1962, he found the entrance to the office blocked by Barnett. On September 28, the governor was found guilty of civil contempt and was ordered to cease his interference with desegregation at the university or face arrest and a fine of $10,000 a day. On Sunday, September 30, Meredith arrived at the campus in Oxford with an escort of federal officials. Southern radio stations broadcast a call to arms and carloads of people rolled into town to defend Ole’ Miss against what they called an invasion by Meredith and the feds. A mob started pelting federal marshals with rocks, bottles and bricks. The phalanx of marshals responded with tear gas. Two people were killed and more wounded. Kennedy wound up sending 30,000 army troops to Oxford and the next morning Meredith walked across the debris-strewn campus to register. None of the rioters were ever prosecuted. Federal marshals protected Meredith during his time at Ole’ Miss. In 1963, Meredith, who was a transfer student from all-black Jackson State College, graduated with a degree in political science.


As a result of the riots of Ole Miss, the Citizens’ Council began to erode and in their place, came the Klan. Within 6 months of the riots, one man organized chapters in 76 counties in the state. These were the United Klans of America. But a rival Klan emerged in Mississippi at the same time, the White Knights of the KKK. They were more secretive than the UKA, and more deadly. In the summer of 1964, the White Knights soon attracted a following of nearly 10,000 white Mississippians. The racial terrorism ranged from cross-burnings and church-bombings to beatings and murder. According to sociologist David Cunningham: “The White Knights were responsible for most of the highly visible acts of violence in MS throughout ‘60s,”.

But as the Klan intensified its reign of terror, civil rights activists pumped up the pressure for change in Mississippi.


The efforts at voter registration escalated in the 1960’s. Mississippi had a terrible record of black voting rights violations. In the 1950s, Mississippi was 45% black, but only 5% of voting age blacks were registered to vote. Some counties did not have a single registered black voter. Whites insisted that blacks did not want to vote, but this was not true. Many blacks wanted to vote, but they worried, and rightfully so, that they might lose their job. In 1962, over 260 blacks in Madison County overcame this fear and waited in line to register. 50 more came the next day. Only seven got in to take the test over the two days, walking past a sticker on the registrar’s office door that bore a Confederate battle flag next to the message “Support Your Citizens’ Council.” Once they got in, they had to take a test designed to prevent them from becoming registered. In 1954, in response to increasing literacy among blacks, the test, which originally asked applicants to “read or interpret” a section of the state constitution, was changed to ask applicants to “read and interpret” that document. This allowed white registrars to decide whether or not a person passed the test. Most blacks, even those with doctoral degrees, “failed.” In contrast, most whites passed, no matter what their education level.


In July 1960, SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) came to Mississippi to begin a month-long voter registration campaign in the town of McComb, in conjunction with C.C. Bryant of the NAACP. SNCC organized a voter registration education program, teaching a weekly class that showed people how to register. SNCC worker Marion Barry (yes, the notorious DC mayor) arrived on August 18 and started workshops to teach young blacks nonviolent protest methods. Many of the blacks, too young to vote, jumped at the opportunity to join the movement. They began holding sit-ins. Some were arrested and expelled from school. . At sit-ins which began on May 28, 1963, participants were sprayed with paint and had pepper thrown in their eyes. Students who sang movement songs during lunch after the bombing of NAACP field director Medgar Evers’ home were beaten. After Evers was killed in 1963, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization of local and national civil rights groups founded in 1962, organized the Freedom Vote.


The Freedom Vote had two main goals:

  1. To show Mississippi whites and the nation that blacks wanted to vote and
  2. To give blacks, many of whom had never voted, practice in casting a ballot


The mock vote pitted the actual candidates against candidates from the interracial Freedom Party. 60 white students from Yale and Stanford Universities came to Mississippi to help spread word of the Freedom Vote. 93,000 voted on the mock election day, and the Freedom Party candidates easily won. After the success of the Freedom Vote, SNCC decided to send volunteers into Mississippi during the summer of 1964, a presidential election year, for a voter registration drive. It became known as Freedom Summer. Bob Moses outlined the goals of Freedom Summer to prospective volunteers at Stanford University:

  1. to expand black voter registration in the state
  2. to organize a legally constituted “Freedom Democratic Party” that would challenge the whites-only Mississippi Democratic party
  3. to establish “freedom schools” to teach reading and math to black children
  4. to open community centers where indigent blacks could obtain legal and medical assistance

800 students gathered for a week-long orientation session at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, that June. They were mostly white and young, with an average age of 21. They were also from well-to-do families, as the volunteers had to bring $500 for bail as well as money for living expenses, medical bills, and transportation home. SNCC’s James Forman told them to be prepared for death. “I may be killed. You may be killed. The whole staff may go.” He also told them to go quietly to jail if arrested, because “Mississippi is not the place to start conducting constitutional law classes for the policemen, many of whom don’t have a fifth-grade education.” The volunteers helped provide basic services to blacks in the South. “Freedom clinics” provided health care, Northern lawyers worked in legal clinics to secure basic constitutional rights, and “Freedom Schools,” though illegal, taught blacks of all ages traditional subjects as well as black history. The Freedom Schools were  a great success. The proposal was a network of schools  that would foster political participation among Mississippi elementary and high school students, in addition to offering academic courses and discussions. A curriculum planning conference was held in March 1964. The three sections of the Freedom School curriculum were the Academic Curriculum, the Citizenship Curriculum, and the Recreational Curriculum. The purpose of these sections was to teach students social change within the school; regional history; black history; how to answer open-ended questions; and the development of academic skills. The Academic Curriculum consisted of reading, writing, and verbal activities that were based on the student’s own experiences. The Citizenship Curriculum was to encourage the students to ask questions about the society. The Recreational Curriculum required the student to be physically active.


. Over the course of Freedom Summer,  more than 40 Freedom Schools were set up in black communities throughout Mississippi. Students were encouraged to become active citizens and socially involved within the community. Over 3,000 African American students attended these schools in the summer of 1964. Students ranged in age from small children to the very elderly. Freedom Schools were established with the help and commitment of local communities, who provided various buildings for schools and housing for the volunteer teachers. While some of the schools were held in parks, kitchens, residential homes, and under trees, most classes were held in churches or church basements with the average approximately 15 years old. Teachers were volunteers, most of whom were college students themselves.


Approximately fifty Freedom Libraries were also established throughout Mississippi. These libraries provided library services and literacy guidance for many African Americans, some who had never had access to libraries before. Freedom Libraries ranged in size from a few hundred volumes to more than 20,000. The Freedom Libraries operated on small budgets and were usually run by volunteers. Some libraries were housed in newly constructed facilities while others were located in abandoned buildings


One of Freedom Summer’s most important projects was the establishment of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to challenge the all-white regular Democratic party in the state. In June, the names of four MFDP candidates were on the Democratic primary ballot as delegates to be sent to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, but all four lost. Later that month, the regular Democratic party adopted a platform that explicitly rejected the national party platform in the area of civil rights. The MFDP held a convention two days after the bodies of the CORE workers were found and selected a 68-person delegation, which included four whites and the formidable Fannie Lou Hamer, to go to the national convention.  The delegates wanted to be seated instead of the regular delegates at the convention. To do so, they had to persuade eleven of the more than 100 members of the Credentials Committee to vote in their favor. Senator Hubert Humphrey offered a compromise, with the blessing of the president. The white delegates would be seated if they pledged loyalty to the party platform. Two MFDP delegates, Aaron Henry and Ed King would also be seated, but as at-large delegates, not Mississippi delegates. Neither side liked the agreement, but in the end, both sides accepted. The trouble, however, was not over. When all but three of the Mississippi delegates refused to pledge allegiance to the party, the MFDP delegates borrowed passes from sympathetic delegates and took the seats vacated by the Mississippi delegates until they were thrown out. Though the MFDP did not fully accomplish its goals, it showed blacks that they could have political power.


There is no denying the effect that Freedom Summer had on Mississippi’s blacks. In 1964, 6.7% of Mississippi’s voting-age blacks were registered to vote, 16.3% below the national average. By 1969, that number had leaped to 66.5%, 5.5% above the national average.


The last pivotal event in Mississippi’s Civil Rights history was  in 1966, when James Meredith organized a March against Fear. It was meant to be a solidary march from Memphis, TN to Jackson, MS, a distance of 220 miles, to counter the continuing racism he saw in the South and to encourage African Americans to register to vote.  He invited only black men to join him and did not want it to be a large media event dominated by major organizations, but Meredith was shot on the second day of the march. He was shot with buckshot, and survived, but could not continue the march. By 1966, there was tremendous infighting between the SNCC, SCLC, MFDP and CORE, but they came together for the march. While, they struggled over tactics and goals, they were able to cooperate in community organizing and voter registration. They registered over 4,000 African Americans for voting in counties along the way. Ordinary people, both black and white, came from across the South and all parts of the country to participate. The marchers slept on the ground outside or in large tents, and were fed mainly by local black communities. Some people marched for a short time, others stayed through all the events; some national leaders took part in intermittent fashion, having commitments in other cities. On the early evening of June 16, when the marchers arrived in Greenwood, and tried to set up camp at Stone Street Negro Elementary School, Stokely Carmichael was arrested for trespassing on public property. He was held for several hours by police before rejoining the marchers at a local park, where they had set up camp and were beginning a night-time rally. According to one civil rights historian, an angry Carmichael took the speaker’s platform, delivering his famous “Black Power” speech, arguing that blacks had to build their own political and economic power to attain independence: “This is the twenty-seventh time I have been arrested and I ain’t going to jail no more! The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over. What we gonna start sayin’ now is Black Power!”.


In Canton on June 23, the march was attacked and tear-gassed by the Mississippi State Police who were joined by other police agencies, after marchers tried to erect tents on the grounds of McNeal Elementary School.  As the march headed south, the number of participants grew. The march stopped at HBCU Tougaloo College before entering Jackson. Marchers could rest and get food and showers. Many more people joined the march at that point; national leaders returned to it from commitments in other parts of the country. The growing crowd was entertained by James Brown, Dick Gregory and other major musicians and entertainment figures, including actor Marlon Brando who spoke briefly.


Finally, an estimated 15,000 mostly black marchers entered Jackson on June 26, making it the largest civil rights march in the history of the state. The march served as a catalyst for continued community organizing and political growth over the following years among African Americans in the state. They have maintained a high rate of voting and participation in politics since then.



And that ends my notes on Mississippi’s Civil Rights History. Long and bloody. My husband says it hasn’t changed much. I have no intention of going down there and testing his theory. If you read all the way to the end, I commend you because, as I said, it was long. But I hope it was worth it. With knowledge comes power.

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BHM 2017: Day 9 – Atrocities in Alabama

When I first began to notice how much of the activities in the civil rights movement focus on Alabama, I thought I’d devote a day to it. And then when I started reading up on it, I thought I’d give it three days. But I’ll stick to one, so be ready. This is LONG. Read it in spurts. Come back to it, read some more. And be prepared to be overwhelmed by a sense of pride in what was accomplished in Alabama.


Four major Civil Rights battles were fought in Alabama.

In 1955-56, the black citizens of Montgomery fought to integrate the buses. Retaliation included the bombing of King’s home in January 1956.

In 1961, the Freedom Riders were bombed and beaten in Anniston, Birmingham, Montgomery, and finally arrested in Jackson.

In the spring of 1963, the effort to desegregate Birmingham was launched. Retaliation included the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church (in which 4 children were killed).

In 1965, three protest marches were carried out from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery to protest for voting rights.

I think I’ve covered the Freedom Riders. So let me talk a bit about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In early 1955, 15 year old Claudette Colvin, a member of the NAACP Youth Council, refused to give up her seat on a bus. The way it worked was, 10 back rows for black, 10 front rows for white, 16 middle rows for extra and the two didn’t mix. Once the white rows were full, the whites filled each middle row going back, and the blacks stood. Claudette was in one of the early middle rows. When she refused to get up, she was  arrested… but the NAACP decided not to showcase her because she was unmarried and pregnant. Instead, they trained Rosa Parks in civil disobedience and let her be the champion. Parks, the secretary of the chapter, let herself get arrested in November. ED Dixon, president of the NAACP chapter, bailed her out, but the Women’s Political Council decided to organize a one-day boycott. The flyer they distributed said:

Another woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negro, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother. This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday


Thirty-thousand African Americans boycotted the buses on December 5th. That afternoon Martin Luther King, Jr. was called in by Ralph Abernathy to form the Montgomery Improvement Association, and the black citizens of Montgomery decided to continue the boycott. Organizers met with the mayor explaining that the boycott would continue until the bus company hired black drivers for routes through black neighborhoods and instructed white drivers to treat black passengers with courtesy and professionalism. At that point, they weren’t trying to integrate the buses, just make the seating arrangements fair with a fixed dividing line for the segregated sections of the buses. Such a line would have meant that if the white section of the bus was oversubscribed, whites would have to stand; blacks would not be forced to give up their seats to whites. The mayor rejected the terms. So the boycott got serious, and a lawyer named Fred Gray took up Claudette Colvin’s case and sued for integration of the buses.

Several hundred drivers coordinated a carpool system to get black workers to and from their jobs. Some white housewives also drove their black domestic servants to work. When the city pressured local insurance companies to stop insuring cars used in the carpools, the boycott leaders arranged policies with Lloyd’s of London, a company which once insured slave cargo ships.And in retaliation, King’s home was bombed, Dixon’s home was bombed, and Ralph Abernathy’s home was bombed. The boycott continued. For 381 days. The support was nationwide. Shoes wore out and churches took up collections for new shoes. Black taxis charged 10 cents, same as bus fare. When they were arrested for charging less than 45 cents, money was raised to bail them out. People walked, rode bicycles, rode mules, and hitchhiked. Eighty-nine boycott leaders, including King, were arrested. It just increased the national attention.

In November 1956, the Supreme Court upheld Claudette Colvin’s case – Browder v. Gayle, to desegregate city buses, and the buses integrated in December, ending the boycott. Score one for King, score one for Civil Rights, score one for African-Americans in Alabama.


The effort to desegregate Birmingham actually started in 1956. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth worked diligently to integrate his city, starting the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) when the NAACP was banned from Alabama, and giving respite to the Freedom Riders in 1961.Birmingham, Alabama was, in 1963, “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States,” according to King. Although the city’s population was 60% white and 40% black, Birmingham had no black police officers, firefighters, sales clerks in department stores, bus drivers, bank tellers, or store cashiers. Black secretaries could not work for white professionals. Jobs available to blacks were limited to manual labor in Birmingham’s steel mills, work in household service and yard maintenance, or work in black neighborhoods. Racial segregation of public and commercial facilities throughout Jefferson County was legally required, covered all aspects of life, and was rigidly enforced. Only 10 percent of the city’s black population was registered to vote in 1960. Fifty unsolved racially motivated bombings between 1945 and 1962 had earned the city the nickname “Bombingham”.

In 1962, Shuttlesworth secured a promise from white civic leaders to desegregate downtown water fountains and restrooms. . When the white leaders reneged on the agreement a few months later, Shuttlesworth appealed to King for help. King and the SCLC organized an elaborate plan to desegregate Birmingham with sit-ins, marches and boycotts of downtown stores: “The purpose of … direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation”.

Oddly enough, it may not have worked if it weren’t for the intense hatred and violence with which the white citizens responded to the King’s tactics, and in particular, the hostility of Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner, Bull Connor, who even said that we “ain’t gonna segregate no niggers and whites together in this town”. Protest actions in Birmingham began in 1962, when students from local colleges arranged for a year of staggered boycotts. They caused downtown business to decline by as much as 40 percent; the City punished the black community by withdrawing $45,000 ($360,000 in 2017) from a surplus-food program. Economic pressure on white business continued. In the spring of 1963, before Easter, the SCLC and Shuttlesworth initiated Project C, with a series of sit-ns, boycotts and marches designed to put Birmingham’s and Connor’s ugliness in the national spotlight. For example, a Birmingham boycott intensified during the second-busiest shopping season of the year. Pastors urged their congregations to avoid shopping in Birmingham stores in the downtown district. For six weeks supporters of the boycott patrolled the downtown area to make sure blacks were not patronizing stores that promoted or tolerated segregation. King was arrested on Good Friday, and wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in which he chastised white clergy for not getting involved in the freedom struggle.  But the response from the white citizens was not controversial enough to draw national attention, nor were there enough arrests to crowd the jails. When the stores tried to integrate in response to the boycotts, Connor threatened to take their business licenses.

When enthusiasm for the efforts began to wane, a new plan was formed – D-Day, also known as the Children’s Crusade. D-Day called for students from colleges, high schools and even elementary schools to take part in demonstrations throughout the city. Actually, a lot of people were horrified at the risk involved, and even King was hesitant. But the plan went ahead anyway, and the students were trained in non-violence tactics, teaching them to overcome their fears of dogs and jails, and showing them the success of sit-ins in Nashville. On May 2nd over 1000 students skipped school for the demonstrations. Demonstrators were given instructions to march to the downtown area, to meet with the Mayor, and integrate the chosen buildings. They were to leave in smaller groups and continue on their courses until arrested. More than 600 students were arrested; the youngest of these was reported to be eight years old, and the jail held 1200 protesters, with a 900-man capacity. The demonstrations continued the next day with another 1000+ students, and Connor brought out the hoses, set at a level that would peel bark off a tree or separate bricks from mortar, to be turned on the children. Boys’ shirts were ripped off, and young women were pushed over the tops of cars by the force of the water. When the students crouched or fell, the blasts of water rolled them down the asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks. The protest ended at 3pm. And the damage was done. Northern reporters photographed it, and it made Life magazine. Television cameras broadcast to the nation the scenes of fire hoses knocking down schoolchildren and police dogs attacking unprotected demonstrators. A New York Times editorial called the behavior of the Birmingham police “a national disgrace.” The Washington Post editorialized, “The spectacle in Birmingham … must excite the sympathy of the rest of the country for the decent, just, and reasonable citizens of the community, who have so recently demonstrated at the polls their lack of support for the very policies that have produced the Birmingham riots. The authorities who tried, by these brutal means, to stop the freedom marchers do not speak or act in the name of the enlightened people of the city.” But it didn’t end there. The jail count swelled to 2500, and news went worldwide. News of the mass arrests of children had reached Western Europe; the Soviet Union devoted up to 25 percent of its news broadcast to the demonstrations, sending much of it to Africa, where Soviet and U.S. interests clashed. Soviet news commentary accused the Kennedy administration of neglect and “inactivity”.

Meanwhile, the protests continued. Protesters shut down businesses in the town, set off false fire alarms, picketed and sat in stores singing freedom songs. All totaled, there were 3000 protestors in downtown Birmingham.

On May 8 at 4 a.m., white business leaders agreed to most of the protesters’ demands. Political leaders held fast, however. The rift between the businessmen and the politicians became clear when business leaders admitted they could not guarantee the protesters’ release from jail. On May 10, Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr. told reporters that they had an agreement from the City of Birmingham to desegregate lunch counters, restrooms, drinking fountains and fitting rooms within 90 days, and to hire blacks in stores as salesmen and clerks. Those in jail would be released on bond or their own recognizance.

And then there’s Selma.

In the 1960’s, a group called the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) launched a voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama, joined by organizers from SNCC. Alabama had both a poll tax and a literacy test to keep blacks, and some poor whites from registering to vote. Selma was 57% black with 15,000 eligible voters, but only 130 were registered. The literacy test was administered subjectively, and even most educated blacks couldn’t pass it. Other tactics included restricted registration hours; economic pressure, including threatening people’s jobs, firing them, evicting people from leased homes, and economic boycotts of black-owned businesses; and violence against blacks who tried to register.

The DCLV and SNCC even held a special Freedom Day on October 7th, 1963, on one of the two days of the month that residents could register to vote. SNCC members who tried to bring water to the blacks waiting on line were arrested, as were those who held signs saying “Register to Vote.” After waiting all day in the hot sun, only a handful of the hundreds in the line were allowed to fill out the voter application, and most of those applications were denied by white county officials. United States Justice Department lawyers and FBI agents were present and observing the scene, but took no action against local officials. On July 6, 1964, one of the two registration days that month, John Lewis led 50 black citizens to the courthouse, but the county sheriff arrested them all rather than allowing them to apply to vote. Three days later an injunction was passed forbidding any gathering of three or more people under the sponsorship of civil rights organizations or leaders. This injunction made it illegal for more than two people at a time to talk about civil rights or voter registration in Selma, suppressing public civil rights activity there for the next six months.

When resistance from white officials proved overwhelming, King and the SCLC were called in to help in 1965. Local protests resulted in 3000 arrests by the beginning of February as organized efforts were made toward voter registration. Up to this point, the overwhelming majority of registrants and marchers were sharecroppers, blue-collar workers and students. On January 22, the DCVL president, finally convinced his colleagues to join the campaign and register en masse. When they refused Sheriff Clark’s orders to disperse at the courthouse, an ugly scene commenced. Clark’s posse beat the teachers away from the door, but they rushed back only to be beaten again. The teachers retreated after three attempts. On February 1st, King was arrested, this time for refusing to cooperate with traffic directions, and Malcolm X responded, stating: if your present racist agitation against our people there in Alabama causes physical harm…you and your KKK friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation from those of us who … believe in asserting our right to self-defense – by any means necessary.” And yet, only 100 African-Americans were successfully registered.

The idea of the march was in response to the shooting death of activist/deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson who was killed by a state trooper at the end of February, during a protest march in Marion. The SCLC decided that the march would run 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, specifically to ask Governor George Wallace if he had ordered the conditions that led to Jackson’s death, and if he would protect black registrants. Governor Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety; he said that he would take all measures necessary to prevent it from happening. “There will be no march between Selma and Montgomery,” Wallace said on March 6, 1965, citing concern over traffic violations. He ordered Alabama Highway Patrol Chief Col. Al Lingo to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march”. On March 7, 1965, an estimated 525 to 600 civil rights marchers headed southeast out of Selma on US Highway 80. The protest went according to plan until the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge and entered Dallas County, where they encountered a wall of state troopers and county posse waiting for them on the other side.  The demonstrators were told to disband at once and go home. Rev. Hosea Williams tried to speak to the officer, but Cloud curtly informed him there was nothing to discuss. Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators, knocking many to the ground and beating them with nightsticks. Another detachment of troopers fired tear gas and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback. Televised images of “Bloody Sunday”, the brutal attack presented Americans and international audiences with horrifying images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign.

A second march was then planed for Tuesday, March 9, 1965. They issued a call for clergy and citizens from across the country to join them. Awakened to issues of civil and voting rights by years of Civil Rights Movement activities, and shocked by the television images of “Bloody Sunday,” hundreds of people responded to SCLC’s call. But there was an injunction against the march, so King cut a deal and agreed to turn around on the bridge and not enter the county, in return for a promise of no violence. This decision created a major rift between King with the SCLC and the students of SNCC who no longer trusted him. SNCC led their own demonstrations in Montgomery with hundreds of demonstrators including Alabama students, Northern students, and local adults, in protests near the capitol complex. The Montgomery County sheriff’s posse met them on horseback and drove them back, whipping them. The SNCC students responded violently, throwing bricks and bottles. One leader said later, “If we can’t sit at the table of democracy, we’ll knock the fucking legs off.”

Finally, on March 17th, the injunction against marching was lifted and the third march was organized. To ensure that this march would not be as unsuccessful as the first two marches were, President Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard on March 20 to escort the march from Selma. On Sunday, March 21, close to 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to commence the trek to Montgomery. In the first legs of the journey, the march was limited to 300 people over the two lane section of Highway 80. So at the end of the day most left and 300 camped in muddy fields so that they could walk the two lane section. When the highway was back to 4 lanes,  additional marchers were ferried by bus and car to join the line, with over several thousand marchers participating on the outskirts of Montgomery. That night on a makeshift stage, a “Stars for Freedom” rally was held, with singers Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sammy Davis Jr., Joan Baez, Nina Simone and The Chad Miller Trio all performing. Thousands more people continued to join the march.

On Thursday, March 25, 25,000 people marched from St. Jude to the steps of the Montgomery Alabama State Capitol Building where King delivered the speech How Long, Not Long. He said:

The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. … I know you are asking today, How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long.”

After delivering the speech, King and the marchers approached the entrance to the capitol with a petition for Governor Wallace. A line of state troopers blocked the door. One announced that the governor was not in. Undeterred, the marchers remained at the entrance until one of Wallace’s secretaries appeared and took the petition.

The third march received national and international coverage; it publicized the marchers’ message without harassment by police and segregation supporters. Gaining more widespread support from other civil rights organizations in the area, this march was considered an overall success, with greater influence on the public. Voter registration drives were organized in black-majority areas across the South, but it took time to get people signed up.

The marches had a powerful effect in Washington. After witnessing TV coverage of “Bloody Sunday,” President Johnson met with Governor Wallace in Washington to discuss the civil rights situation in his state. He tried to persuade Wallace to stop the state harassment of the protesters. Two nights later, on March 15, 1965, Johnson presented a bill to a joint session of Congress. The bill was passed that summer and signed by Johnson as the Voting Rights Act.

Johnson’s televised speech in front of Congress was carried nationally; it was considered to be a watershed moment for the civil rights movement. He said:

“Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”


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BHM 2017 – Day 8: Acts of Congress

OK readers, this is LONG. But I think it’s interesting and informative. It gives some insight on the politics of the civil rights movement, and how non-violent efforts (always televised) were able to influence government. I hope you will take the time to read it all, even if it takes a while. Just come back to it, digest it. And learn from it.

And also, if you have a minute, write back and tell me what you think.



In US history, there have been 11 Civil Rights Acts. Three were during Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 extended the rights of emancipated slaves by stating that any person born in the United States regardless of race is a U.S. citizen.  It was overridden by Andrew Jackson, and then followed by the 14th Amendment. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 was intended to prohibit ethnic violence against African-Americans. (Obviously worked well… ) and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 prohibiting discrimination in “public accommodations” was found unconstitutional in 1883.

No effort was made my Congress to protect African-Americans from discrimination until 1957.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957, signed into law by Eisenhower, was primarily a voting rights bill intended to ensure that all Americans could exercise their right to vote. But all it did was set up a Civil Rights Commission in the Executive Branch to gather information on deprivation of citizens’ voting rights, and that Commission only had a two year life. Even though it was intended to have provisions to prosecute those who discriminated against African-Americans trying to vote, it had no teeth. This would not surprise anyone as it was so greatly protested.  Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC) pointed out that there was already a Federal Statute that prosecuted citizens who denied or intimidated voters at voting booths under a fine and/or imprisonment, but that the civil rights bill then under consideration could legally deny trial by jury to those that continued to do so. (As if Southern jury trials were fair…) In fact, Thurmond filibustered the bill for over 24 hours, droning on about anything he could, from state election laws to his grandmother’s biscuit recipe.

 The Civil Rights Act of 1960, also passed by Eisenhower, extended the Commission another two years, and established the right of the federal government to inspect voter registration polls. It had a number of other interesting provisions. You could not obstruct a court order. You could not flee a state for damaging or threatening to damage property by fire or explosives. But the majority of the Act was around voting, including registration, casting a ballot and having the ballot counted. The act was weak in that the onus on proving discrimination was so taxing. For example, For example, to win a discrimination lawsuit against a state that maintained a literacy test, the Department needed to prove that the rejected voter-registration applications of racial minorities were comparable to the accepted applications of whites. This involved comparing thousands of applications in each of the state’s counties in a process that could last months. The Department’s efforts were further hampered by resistance from local election officials, who would claim to have misplaced the voter registration records of racial minorities, remove registered racial minorities from the electoral rolls and resign so that voter registration ceased. Moreover, the Department often needed to appeal lawsuits several times before the judiciary provided relief because many federal  district court judges opposed racial minority suffrage. Thus, between 1957 and 1964, the African-American voter registration rate in the South improved marginally even though the Department litigated 71 voting rights lawsuits

It is interesting to note that most of the civil rights efforts of the 1950’s and early 1960’s were around ending segregation, not voting. Brown v. Board of Education had been won in in 1954. In 1955, the Supreme Court banned segregation in parks and playgrounds. Emmett Till was killed, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.  In 1957 the National Guard was called out to integrate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. In 1958, Bethel Baptist Church was bombed. The Greensboro sit-ins took place in 1960, in 1961, the first Freedom Riders left DC on a Greyhound bus. And in 1963, the March on Washington was held as well as the Children’s Crusade which televised thousands of children being  hosed, sic’d on by police dogs, and ultimately arrested. So, in my humble opinion, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an indication that Southern Democrats had way too much power in Washington, and the North was afraid to do the right thing.

Nonetheless, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally came into being, in part as a response to the Children’s Crusade. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. It prohibited discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin. It ended segregation in public places, schools, federally-assisted programs and banned employment discrimination.  It also gave the federal courts and the attorney general the power to enforce all aspects of the law. The bill was proposed by President Kennedy shortly before he died, and when Johnson became president, he said it was a number one priority that it pass. As a result,  it survived strong opposition from southern members of Congress such as Strom Thurmond who said: This so-called Civil Rights Proposals, which the President has sent to Capitol Hill for enactment into law, are unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise and extend beyond the realm of reason. This is the worst civil-rights package ever presented to the Congress and is reminiscent of the Reconstruction proposals and actions of the radical Republican Congress”, and from Senator Barry Goldwater: “You can’t legislate morality.” Nonetheless, the bill was finally passed, and was then signed into law. Johnson signed the Act with at least 75 pens, which he handed out to congressional supporters of the bill such as Hubert Humphrey and Everett Dirksen and to civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Roy Wilkins. The first and only time that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X met was at the signing of the bill.

 I want to take a moment to say that the bill – which was still called “weak” by some civil rights leaders, because it did not include a number of provisions deemed essential including protection against police brutality, ending discrimination in private employment, or granting the Justice Department power to initiate desegregation or job discrimination lawsuits – was amazing in conferring power to the federal government to prosecute anyone who did not abide by the law. Much of the Act detailed exactly how this would be done, and what a person could expect for not complying with the law. By putting the power in the hands of the federal government, the Act bypassed all of the states’ claims to be able to enact their own Jim Crow laws. I took some time to read it, and offer the link for anyone who is interested.

Interestingly enough in the same year, the 24th Amendment was ratified, abolishing the poll tax, which originally had been instituted in 11 southern states after Reconstruction to make it difficult for poor blacks to vote.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was yet another act to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. It was the result of a push from the SCLC and SNCC to address voting rights, followed by a determination by Johnson have “the goddamndest, toughest voting rights act that you can.” after Democrats won the House and Senate. In off-year elections. (Sound familiar??? Think Tea Party…) King was initiating countless marches in Selma and Montgomery to press for voting rights. Malcolm X gave a speech in Selma about rejecting the non-violent approach – it was designed to pressure whites into wanting to support King. The march in Selma, the one that was repeated in 2015 with Obama in attendance, was called Bloody Sunday, was televised, and featured police spraying tear gas into the crowd and trampling marchers. A month later, Johnson televised a joint session of Congress pressing for expansive voting rights legislation.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered one of the most effective pieces of civil rights legislation, again, not because of its stated intent, but because of the provisions it makes for the federal government to enforce the law. State and local governments can’t impose any voting law that results in discrimination against racial or language minorities. Literacy testes are banned. There is a special provision that applies to certain jurisdictions which prohibits them from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the Attorney General or US District Court. The bill authorized the assignment of federal examiners to register voters, and of federal observers to monitor elections, to covered jurisdictions that were found to have engaged in egregious discrimination. However, the bill set these special provisions to expire after five years. As a result, Congress enacted major amendments to the Act in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992, and 2006. Each amendment coincided with an impending expiration of some or all of the Act’s special provisions.

The last (finally) civil rights act to be passed during the civil rights movement (1954 -1968) was the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed or national origin and made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone [seeking housing] by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin. Again, the law was designed to put teeth into previous laws, this time around the sale, rental, and financing of housing, along with . coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person’s enjoyment or exercise of housing rights. A few other things were tacked onto the act around Indian Civil Rights, and a rider to make it a felony to “travel in interstate commerce…with the intent to incite, promote, encourage, participate in and carry on a riot”.

Sadly, the bill was contested by both Republicans and Democrats, because, according to Senator Walter Mondale: A lot of [previous] civil rights [legislation] was about making the South behave and taking the teeth from [Alabama Governor] George Wallace…This came right to the neighborhoods across the country. This was civil rights getting personal.” Nonetheless, between the 1967 “ghetto” riots of “The Long Hot Summer” (159 of them! Could it be the impetus behind Spike Lee’s movie, Do The Right Thing? Maybe…) and the civil unrest following King’s assassination, Johnson was able to push the bill through.

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BHM 2017 – Day 7: A digression – 101 Black History Facts you may not have known

My husband posted this list on Facebook, and I was sure that I would know at least half, maybe most of them. Boy was I wrong! So I’m sharing them with you… since my next Civil Rights Movement blurb isn’t done yet. My plan is to have it done by Wednesday. I’m going to review the acts of Congress that were passed in response to all of the protests, boycotts, marches and negotiations that were done to create change. Should be interesting. Now, here are the facts.


101 Little Known Black History Facts


In 1770, Crispus Attucks, whose father was African and mother was a Nantucket Indian, became the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was shot and killed in what became known as the Boston Massacre.



The largest woman’s organization happens to be the National Council of Negro Women.



Alexander Lucius Twilight was the first African American to receive a college degree. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in 1823.



Elbert Frank Cox became the first Black to hold a doctorate degree in mathematics which he received from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY in 1925.



William Sanders Scarborough (1852-1926) was the first black member of the venerable Modern Language Association. Scarborough, who was president of Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, was born into slavery and secretly taught himself to read and write. When he mastered those skills, he went on to learn Greek and Latin.



W.E.B. Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. He is perhaps best known for his work in founding the National Association for the

Advancement of Colored People in 1909 and helping it to become the country’s single most influential organization for African Americans.



Ernest Everett Just prepared for college at Kimball Hall Academy, New Hampshire, where he completed the four-year course of study in only three years. In the graduating Dartmouth College class of 1907, Ernest Just was the only person to be graduated magna cum laude.



In 1634, French Catholics provided education for all laborers regardless of race in Louisiana, despite the belief and laws that Blacks should not be educated.



Louis Latimer was the only African American engineer/scientist member of the elite Edison Pioneers research and development organization. Until Latimer’s process for making carbon filament, Edison’s light bulbs would burn only for a few minutes. Latimer’s filament burned for hours.


  1. Not only did George Washington Carver research 300 products made from peanuts and 118 products from the sweet potato, but 75 from the pecan as well.



An inventor as well as physicist, Dr. George Carruthers was instrumental in the design of lunar surface ultraviolet cameras. He was also Head of the Ultraviolet Measurements Branch of the Naval Research Laboratory.



A tailor in New York City, Thomas L. Jennings is credited with being the first African American to hold a U.S. patent. The patent, which was issued in 1821, was for a drycleaning process



Xavier University, a historically black college in Louisiana, has one of the highest success rates in the country getting their graduates into medical school.



Spelman College in Atlanta is NOT the only historically black college for women, Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina is the other one.


Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was born in Pennsylvania and attended medical school in Chicago, where he received his M.D. in 1883. He founded the Provident Hospital in Chicago in 1891, the oldest free-standing Black-owned hospital in the United States. Dr. Williams was also the only African-American in a group of 100 charter members of the American College of Surgeons in 1913.



Dr. Charles Drew was a leading researcher in the field of blood plasma preservation, and led a massive blood donation drive to provide the British with much-needed blood supplies during World War II.



Benjamin Bradley, a slave, was employed at a printing office and later at the Annapolis Naval Academy. In the 1840s he developed a steam engine for a war ship. Unable to patent his work, he sold it and used the proceeds to purchase his freedom.



Garrett Augustus Morgan invented a smoke hood in 1916 that he used to rescue several men trapped by an explosion in tunnels under Lake Erie. This invention was later refined by the U.S. Army into the gas mask, which was used to protect soldiers from chlorine fumes during World War I. He also invented an early version of a  traffic signal that featured automated STOP and GO signs.



Born in Nashville, TN, David Crosthwait, Jr. was an expert in on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; he designed the hearing system for Radio City Music Hall in New York. During his lifetime he received some 40 U.S. patents relating to HVAC systems.



Otis Boykin’s most noteworthy invention was an electrical mechanism, created in 1955, as a regulating unit for the heart pacemaker. Boykin also invented a type of resistor (an electric circuit element) commonly in use today in radios, computers, and television sets.



Born the son of a French planter and a slave in New Orleans, Norbert Rillieux was educated in France. Returning to the U.S., he developed an evaporator for refining sugar, which he patented in 1846. Rillieux’s evaporation technique is still used in the sugar industry and in the manufacture of soap and other products.



Victor Blanco was the Black mayor of San Antonio in 1809, before slavery was abolished, while Texas was still part of Mexico.



The first Blacks to settle in Alabama were Moors that arrived with the Spanish in 1540— 80 years before the pilgrims.



The son of escaped slaves from Kentucky, Eijah McCoy was born in Canada and educated in Scotland. Settling in Detroit, Michigan, he invented a type of lubricator for steam engines (patented 1872) and established his own manufacturing company. During his lifetime he acquired 57 patents.



Jefferson Franklin Long becomes first Black person to speak in the House of Representatives as a congressman in 1871.



Matthew Henson, a Black explorer, accompanied Admiral Robert E. Peary on the first successful expedition to the North Pole in 1909.




Dr. Henry Sampson co-invented and co-patented the gamma electric cell in 1968, which produced stable high voltage output and current. He also holds three patents concerning solid rocket motors and one on the direct conversion of nuclear energy into electricity.



During the First World War the U.S. Army would not press African Americans into combat assignments. The French Army, which had traditionally accepted all men who volunteered for the fight, eagerly accepted the black troops. Most of these Black troops received the French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) for their outstanding bravery in combat.



Frank Wills, a Black security guard, discovered President Nixon’s cover-up which later caused his resignation as President of the United States. Despite Wills’ discovery he struggled to find work for the rest of his life.



Of the estimated 35,000 cowboys that worked the ranches and rode the trails of the American West frontier, 5,000–9,000 or more were Black. They participated in almost all of the drives northward, and were assigned to every job except that of trail boss.



Diahann Carroll was the first African American woman to have her own weekly television series, “Julia.”



Benjamin T. Montgomery, a former slave, bought the plantations of Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the end of the Civil War, and became one of the biggest cotton planters in Mississippi.



The U.S. Capitol and the White House were both constructed with the help of free Blacks and slaves, working alongside white laborers and craftsmen.



To offset the stigma of “race color,” the phrase “Black is beautiful” was used to ease color pressure and dignify the use of the word “Black” to describe African Americans.



Autherine Lucy becomes the first Black student at the University of Alabama in February 1956.



In 1954, with Barbara Jordan as the leader, the all-Black Texas Southern University debate team stunned and beat the Harvard debate team.



Ernest Green becomes the first Black person to graduate from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in May of 1958.



Harriet Tubman usually comes to mind when discussing the Underground Railroad; however, Levi Coffin was the President of the Underground Railway.



The oldest Black sorority is Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA) Inc. The first Black Greek sisterhood was founded in 1908 at Howard University by Ethel Hedgeman-Lyle.



Adolph Plessey, a Black man arrested for entering a railroad, took his case to the Supreme Court, which ended with the “separate but equal” decision of Plessey vs. Ferguson.



There is a college named after Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.: Malcolm-King College, located in Harlem.



T.J. Boyd becomes the first to patent an apparatus for detaching horses from carriages in 1872.



Rex Ingram, a Black actor, bypassed the stereotypes by playing a meaningful role in the film “The Green Pastures” in 1936.



William Harwell, an African American inventor, created an attachment for the arm of the shuttle. This device is used to capture satellites.


Alfred L. Cralle invented the ice cream scooper. His invention was patented on February 2, 1897.



Born into a family of free blacks in Maryland, Benjamin Banneker learned the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic from his grandmother and a Quaker schoolmaster. Later he taught himself advanced mathematics and astronomy. He is best known for publishing an almanac based on his astronomical calculations.



Sophia Tucker and Harriet Giles, the founders of Spelman College, used just $100 to found this Historically Black College.



Estine Cowner became a scaler on a construction crew at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, CA, to construct the Liberty ship George Washington Carver. The demand for qualified labor in WWII opened up new opportunities for Black women.



Harry C. Hopkins received a patent for enhancing the hearing aid.



A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Charles Henry Turner received a B.S. (1891) and M.S. (1892) from the University of Cincinnati and a Ph.D. (1907) from the University of Chicago. A noted authority on the behavior of insects, he was the first researcher to prove that insects can hear.



Estevanico was a black slave who participated in an exploration from Mexico into North America in 1540. During his explorations he discovered the territory that would become Arizona and New Mexico.



Frederick Jones invented the ticket dispensing machine, the starter generator and the two-cycle gasoline engine.



In response to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision the White Citizens Council was formed. Their primary goal was to continue segregation, despite the ruling that “separate but equal was unconstitutional.”



In 1965, Bill Cosby became the first African American to star in a television series with his role opposite Robert Culp in “I Spy.”



Tennessee was the first state to pass a law for the enlistment of “all male free persons of color between the ages of fifteen and fifty years of age.”



Fredrick Eversley, an African American sculptor, created a stainless steel sculpture of two wing-like shapes framed by neon lights at the entrance to the Miami International Airport.



A.W. Martin is the African American inventor that created the door lock.



Fanny Jackson Coppin, bought into freedom by her aunt, was an educator and missionary. Her innovations as head principle of the Institute of Colored Youth included a practice teaching system and an elaborate industrial training department.



The African American Advisors to President Franklin D. Roosevelt were called the “Black Brain Trust.”



Iowa-born Archibald Alexander attended Iowa State University and earned a civil engineering degree in 1912. While working for an engineering firm, he designed the Tidal Basin Bridge in Washington, D.C. Later he formed his own company, designing Whitehurst Freeway in Washington, D.C. and an airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama, among other projects.



Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Edward Alexander Bouchet was the first African American to graduate (1874) from Yale College. In 1876, upon receiving his Ph.D. in physics from Yale, he became the first African American to earn a doctorate. Bouchet spent his career teaching college chemistry and physics.



Vermont was the first U.S. territory, in 1777, to abolish slavery. Pennsylvania was the first state to do so, in 1780.



George Washington Carver designed the concept of a moveable school, with teachers and equipment traveling to remote areas to instruct the poor in agriculture and nutrition. This concept was later adopted in underdeveloped areas around the world.



Dr. William Hinton, a Black physician, is credited with creating a test to detect the syphilis disease.



Allen Allensworth, in 1908, founded a Black town where African Americans could run their own businesses and government.



Philip Emeagwali wrote a computer program that won a prize in the Price/Performance category of the 1989 Gordon Bell competition (for “price-performance ratio as measured in megaflop/s per dollar on a genuine application”). The program performed operations at a rate of 3.1 gigaflops per second.



Sojourner Truth’s real name was Isabella Baumfree.



Joseph N. Jackson invented a programmable remote control for television.



In a 22-hour operation in 1984, Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr., an African American surgeon, successfully separated a pair of twins born joined at the head.



Poet Rita Dove served as the nation’s poet laureate from 1993 to 1995. She also won a Pulitzer Prize for a collection of her poems published in 1986, only the second African American poet to win that prize



Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rebecca Cole was the second black woman to graduate from medical school (1867). She joined Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first white woman physician, in New York and taught hygiene and childcare to families in poor neighborhoods.



Lincoln University is the oldest Historically Black University in the U.S. It was founded in 1854.



Andrew Brimmer was appointed the first Black person to serve on the Federal Reserve Board in 1966.



Nelson Mandela, South African president and political activist, was released from prison after 27 years in February 1990.



On August 20, 1948, a 42-year-old Satchel Paige pitched the Cleveland Indians to a 1-0 victory over the White Sox in front of 78,382 fans, a night game attendance record that still stands. He also holds the record for the oldest “rookie” debut, at 42 years old, and the oldest player to compete at 59 years old.



M.C. Harney, an African American inventor, invented the lantern lamp, which replaced the use of candles as the primary source of lighting when daylight was unavailable. His device was patented on August 19, 1884.



Marie V. Brittan Brown, a female African American inventor, designed a security system which was patented on December 2, 1969.



Andrew “Rube” Foster organized the Negro National League, the first Black baseball league, in 1920. The first independent Black professional baseball team was the Cuban Giants, formed in 1885.



In 1959, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors in Prince Edward Co., Virginia, voted to close its public schools in a show of “massive resistance” against integration. The vast majority of the county’s 1,700 African American students and some white students went without formal education from 1959–1964.



Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., became the first African American general in the U.S. Air Force in 1954.


Joseph Hayne Rainey was the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a congressman from South Carolina elected to that post in

1890 and enjoyed the longest tenure of any Black during Reconstruction.


Sir William Arthur Lewis, a professor of economics at Princeton University, was the first African American to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. He received the award in 1979 which represents the highest level of accomplishment for an economist.



February was chosen as Black History Month because two important birthdays occur in February—that of Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that of Frederick Douglass, an early African American abolitionist



In 1959, Dr. William C. Davis, invented instant mashed potatoes. Not too surprisingly, he invented them while doing research on potatoes at the University of Idaho



If you enjoy buying fresh food from across the country at your local supermarket, you have an African American inventor named Frederick McKinley Jones to thank. He invented the air-cooling units used in food transporting trucks in the 1930s, and was awarded more than 60 patents over the course of his life, 40 of which involved refrigeration equipment.



African American Sarah Boone patented an improvement to the ironing board on April 26, 1892. Sarah Boone’s ironing board was designed to be effective in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.



Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, an African American from Sainte-Domingue (Haiti), built the first permanent settlement in what would become Chicago in 1779.



William Tucker was the first African born in the colony in Jamestown, Virginia. There are reports that he lived to be 108 years old.



Alonzo Pietro, a Black Spaniard explorer, set sail with Christopher Columbus to the “New World.”



Ruth Ella Moore received a Ph.D. in Bacteriology from Ohio State University in 1933 becoming the first black female to do so. Dr. Moore served as the Head of the Department of Bacteriology at Howard University Medical College from 1947 to 1958.



Walter S. McAfee is the African American mathematician and physicist first calculated the speed of the moon. On January 10, 1946 a radar pulse was transmitted towards the moon. Two and a half seconds later, they received a faint signal, proving that transmissions from earth could cross the vast distances of outer space.



In 1900, James Weldon Johnson wrote with his brother the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” on the occasion of Lincoln’s birthday. The song became immensely popular in the black community and became known as the “Negro National Anthem.”



Jesse Owens broke 4 world records in one afternoon at the Big Ten Championships on May 25, 1935; a year later, he upstaged Adolf Hitler by winning 4 golds (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump) at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.



Henry Highland Garnett, born a slave in Kent County, MD was named Minister of Liberia in 1881. He was also President of Avery College in Allegany, PA.



In 1972 President Nixon named Benjamin Hooks, a lawyer and Baptist minister from Memphis, to the Federal Communications Commission, making him its first black member. From 1977 to 1993 he was the executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.



Brig. Gen. Sherian Grace Cadoria was the highest ranking African American woman officer ever in the U.S. Armed Forces when she retired in November 1990.



Alice Parker, in 1918, created a heating furnace that could be used to heat an entire living space.



Carter G. Woodson organized the first Negro History Week Celebration on the second week of February in 1926. The week celebration eventually became a month long celebration which is now known as Black History Month



Phillis Wheatley, a slave brought from Africa as a child and sold to a Boston merchant, spoke no English. By the time she was sixteen, however, under the tutelage of her owners, she had mastered the language. Her interest in literature led her to write and publish “Poems on Various Subjects” in 1773. She is one of, if not the, earliest published African American author.



Col. Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Ph.D. (USAF) was the first African American in space. He has flown missions on STS–8, STS 61–A, STS–39, and STS–53


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BHM Day 6: Bayard Rustin, CORE and the Concept of Non-Violent Protest

When I first started reading about the early Civil Rights Movement in order to understand how it started, two groups kept coming up. The NAACP, and CORE. Most people know something about the NAACP, but fewer know about CORE. So I wanted to talk a bit about CORE and how they pioneered the Non-violent movement that King later adopted in the 1950’s. So, I started doing some digging about CORE and discovered Bayard Rustin, the black gay civil rights leader who advised Martin Luther King on non-violent protest strategies. It became clear that he was SO pivotal, that I wanted to begin this segment by presenting him to you.

Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 in Pennsylvania, and attended two HBCUs, Cheyney University and Wilberforce.  He moved to New York in the 1930’s to work with pacifist groups and early civil rights protests. He joined a communist organization in the 1930’s, which would tarnish him for life, even though he left within a few years. In 1936, he also briefly became a Quaker. In the 1940’s Rustin began working with the Fellowship for Reconciliation (FoR), an international multi-denominational Christian organization founded in 1914 to protest World War I. Rustin learned non-violence from FoR, in addition to his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, who was protesting British rule in India in the 1940’s.

Rustin collaborated with A. Philip Randolph on the original 1941 March on Washington movement to press for an end to discrimination in employment, hoping that the march would pressure President Franklin Roosevelt into opening defense-industry hiring to blacks. Roosevelt was so alarmed by the specter of violence and the negative publicity during the “war against fascism” that a deal was reached before the march could even begin; Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 – the Fair Employment Act, which banned discrimination in defense industries and federal agencies.

Rustin did not only protest African-American injustices. He also traveled to California to protect the property of Japanese Americans in internment camps. And In 1942, he got arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in  Tennessee. After g the founding of CORE, Rustin was again jailed for refusing the draft, between 1944-1946.  Rustin helped CORE organize the first of the Freedom Rides, with 14 pairs of black and white men riding buses through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Rustin was arrested in North Carolina and sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks.  Later, Rustin worked on FoR’s Free India Committee, attending a world pacifist conference in India in 1948.. Mahatma Gandhi had been assassinated earlier that year, but his teachings touched Rustin in profound ways. “We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers,” he wrote after returning to the States. “The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.

One of his jail sentences was more personal. In January 1953, Rustin, after delivering a speech in Pasadena, Calif., was arrested on “lewd conduct” and “vagrancy” charges, allegedly for a sexual act involving two white men in an automobile. With the FBI’s file on Rustin expanding, FOR demanded his resignation.

Rustin met the young civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and began working with King as an organizer and strategist in 1955. He taught King about Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance and advised him on the tactics of civil disobedience. He assisted King with the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956 and helped him found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. According to Rustin, “I think it’s fair to say that Dr. King’s view of non-violent tactics was almost non-existent when the boycott began. In other words, Dr. King was permitting himself and his children and his home to be protected by guns.” Rustin convinced King to abandon the armed protection, including a personal handgun.

Again going overseas, Rustin demonstrated against the French government’s nuclear test program in North Africa and in 1958, he played an important role in coordinating a march in Aldermaston, England, in which 10,000 attendees demonstrated against nuclear weapons.

Sadly, Rustin and King cooled their relationship in 1960. They were planning a march outside of the Democratic National Convention, and New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. threatened to announce that they were lovers if the march wasn’t called off. The march was called off and Rustin resigned from the SCLC.

Although most people associate the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with Dr. King, it was the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, meant to refocus younger activists on economic issues in addition to desegregation. The march was timed for the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. Because of Rustin’s “liability” as an openly gay man, the head of the NAACP asked that Randolph take the lead with Rustin as deputy. The march combined the NAACP, SNCC, CORE, the SCLC, the National Urban League and Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Challenges included Uniting feuding civil rights leaders, fending off opposition from Southern segregationists who opposed civil rights fending off opposition from Northern liberals who advocated a more cautious approach and figuring out the practical logistics of the demonstration itself. On the last point, Rustin later said, “We planned out precisely the number of toilets that would be needed for a quarter of a million people … how many doctors, how many first aid stations, what people should bring with them to eat in their lunches”.  Between phone calls, he drilled the hundreds of off-duty police officers and firefighters who had volunteered to serve as marshals. He made them take off their guns and coached them in the techniques of nonviolent crowd control he had brought back from a pilgrimage to India.  The march itself, of course, turned out to be a tremendous success, including those glorious moments when the official estimate of 200,000 was announced (actually, there was as many as 300,000, says; when Marian and Mahalia sang; when Mrs. Medgar Evers paid tribute to “Negro Women Freedom Fighters”; when John Lewis and Dr. King spoke; and when Bayard Rustin read the march’s demands. And perhaps the most poignant statement of the power of nonviolence was that there were only four arrests, Taylor Branch writes in The King Years, all of them of white people.

Bayard Rustin died of a ruptured appendix in New York City on August 24, 1987, at the age of 75. Rustin was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2013.

And now, some of the history of CORE.

The Congress of Racial Equality was started in 1942 in Chicago, IL, as a brainchild of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Of the 50 original members, 28 were men and 22 were women, roughly one-third of them were black and two-thirds white. Rustin, while not a father of the organization, was, as Farmer and Houser later said, “an uncle to CORE” and supported it greatly. CORE sought to apply the Gandhi’s principles of non-violence as a tactic against segregation. By 1961 CORE had 53 chapters throughout the United States. By 1963, most of the major urban centers of the Northeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and West Coast had one or more CORE chapters, including a growing number of chapters on college campuses. In the South, CORE had active chapters and projects in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky.

There were 4 projects that put CORE on the map, all organized based on non-violent protest, and all met with violent resistance. CORE worked in tandem with SNCC to sponsor the sit-ins and the Freedom Rides,  worked with numerous groups on March on Washington in 1963. and worked with the NAACP and other groups on the Freedom Summer Voter registration project– that was the summer that three CORE activists were murdered by the KKK.

The first CORE-sponsored sit-in was held in 1943 in Chicago. Twenty-seven black and white members of CORE sat at Jack Spratt Coffee House. When the blacks were refused service, both the black and white members refused to get up. Other customers participated, and eventually, the black CORE members were served. Sit-ins were then tried in St. Louis in 1949 and in Baltimore in 1955, by a group of Morgan students who sat at the counter of Read’s Drug Store. When the story was picked up by newspapers, Read integrated its lunch counters. But it was the 1960 sit-in in Greensboro that sparked an explosion in the effort. Over many months, small groups of students studied and debated the strategies and tactics of Nonviolent Resistance. Under cover of church, YMCA, and educational conferences, students from different schools met to organize. On February 1st, 1960, four black college students sat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter, from 11am to 3pm, waiting, studying, doing school work, and not moving. The sit-in was a purely non-violent protest. No one participated in a sit-in without seriousness of purpose. The instructions were simple: sit quietly and wait to be served. Often the participants would be jeered and threatened by local customers. Sometimes they would be pelted with food or ketchup. Angry onlookers tried to provoke fights that never came. In the event of a physical attack, the student would curl up into a ball on the floor and take the punishment. Any violent reprisal would undermine the spirit of the sit-in. When the local police came to arrest the demonstrators, another line of students would take the vacated seats. Within 2 days, a group of 60 students became involved, occupying every seat at Woolworths, from the start ‘til the end of the day. The KKK came to harass the students. But the effort swelled, spreading to Kress, Walgreens and other Greensboro restaurants. The sit-ins continued until July, when the majority of national drug store chains the national drugstore chains agree to serve all “properly dressed and well behaved people,” regardless of race. Triggered by the Greensboro sit-in, sit-ins occurred in 30 communities in 7 states including Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina and Florida. Counters at Woolworths, SH Kress, Katz, McCrory’s, Rexall and other national chains were targeted. All totaled, 70000 students participated in the sit-ins, even though many were beaten and 3600 were arrested.


CORE modeled the 1961 Freedom Rides after the ride of 1947. In 1961, an integrated group of civil rights activists rode Greyhound and Trailways busses into the South planning for black riders to enter “whites only” sections while white riders would enter the “colored” waiting rooms. The integrating actions of these Freedom Riders met with relatively minor resistance until they arrived in Anniston, Alabama on 14 May 1961.   In Anniston, Alabama, a white mob awaited the arrival of the first bus bearing the Freedom Riders at the Greyhound station.  As it arrived, they attacked the bus with iron pipes and baseball bats and slashed its tires.  The terrified bus driver hastily drove out of the station, but the punctured tires forced the bus to pull off the road in a rural area outside of Anniston. The white mob who pursued the bus fire bombed it and held the doors shut preventing riders from exiting the burning bus. Finally an undercover policeman drew his gun, and forced the doors to be opened. The mob pulled the Freedom Riders off the bus and beat them with iron. The second bus carrying Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston an hour later at the Trailways station. The bus driver got off and talked with Anniston police and a group of 8 white men. After the black Freedom Riders refused orders to move to the back of the bus, the white gang came flying onto the bus and beat and stomped the riders, especially targeting white “nigger lovers.” The white gang threw the bleeding and semi-conscious riders to the back of the bus, and it left for Birmingham. In Birmingham, an FBI informant in the Klan learned of a detailed plan in which Police Chief Bull Conner had agreed to give the Klan 15 minutes after the bus arrived to beat the riders before local police would arrive.  The plan was reported to the FBI headquarters, but no action was taken. The Trailways station was filled with Klansmen and reporters. When the Freedom Riders exited the bus, they beaten by the mob with baseball bats, iron pipes and bicycle chains, and then, battered and bleeding, they were arrested. White Freedom Riders were particularly singled out for frenzied beatings. Two riders were hospitalized, including white Freedom Rider Jim Peck with 52 stitches in his head. That night, the hospitalized Freedom Riders were ejected from the hospital because hospital personnel were afraid of the mob. Eight cars of churchmen, brimming with shotguns and rifles, headed off to rescue the riders. (This is ironic, considering that the Freedom Riders were pacifists and dedicated to non-violence). Chief Bull Connor threatened to arrest Rev. Shuttlesworth for having interracial meetings at his house. None-the-less, Shuttlesworth rescued Peck from the hospital at 2 AM. With most of the Freedom Riders injured, and the danger of the violence escalating to the point of someone being killed,  it was suggested that the Freedom Rides should be discontinued.  Nashville student Diane Nash, a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) felt that if violence were allowed to halt the Freedom Rides, the movement would be set back years.  She pushed to find replacements to resume the ride, and on May 17th, a new set of riders, students from Nashville, took a bus to Birmingham. There, they were arrested by Police Chief Bull Connor and jailed. These students kept their spirits up in jail by singing Freedom Songs. Out of frustration, Police Chief Bull Connor drove them back up to the Tennessee line and dropped them off stating “I just couldn’t stand their singing.”


Dr. King got involved with the Freedom Rides, developing a new strategy. Authorities in Jackson, Mississippi were intent on arresting all Freedom Riders who integrated the bus stations.  The new plan called for refusing bail, and filling the jails with Freedom Riders. Following arrest, the Riders would have 40 days in which to enter plea. They would stay in jail those 40 days and then bail out. The Freedom Riders rode from Montgomery to Jackson. Often with police escort. However, they were arrested in Jackson, the whites to the cushy city jail, and the blacks to the stifling county jail. When President Kennedy took no action, having cut a deal with the governors that the Riders would not be beaten, but could be arrested –  the white Riders began a hunger strike, and as the Freedom Rides continued, the jails filled as the Riders refused to post bail. A total of 300 Riders were arrested as a result of 60 Freedom Rides across the country, culminating in Jackson, MS. In response, the Riders were moved to the State Penitentiary at Parchman , where prison life is described as “worse than slavery, murders and rapes are common, and the guards use shotguns and leather whips to enforce absolute rule. The riders continued the hunger strike and sang Freedom Songs for hours at a time. In retaliation, first, the guards removed their clothes and made them lie on steel beds. Then they took the screens and the Riders were attacked with mosquitos. Next, the guards sprayed the Riders with DDT insecticide. Fire hoses are used to smash bodies against the steel bars, and the prisoners are tortured with agonizing electric cattle prods. Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) later recalls: “When [the prod] touched your skin, the pain was sharp and excruciating, at once a jolting shock and a burn. You could actually see (puffs of smoke) and smell (the odor of roasting flesh) your skin burning.” Mississippi fails to break the Riders. They emerge from prison — Parchman and Hinds County Jail — stronger and more committed than before.


Finally, the Kennedy administration has the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) issue another desegregation order. When the new ICC rule takes effect on November 1st, passengers are permitted to sit wherever they please on the bus, “white” and “colored” signs come down in the terminals, separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms are consolidated, and the lunch counters begin serving  people regardless of color. In the Deep South states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, a crack has been forced open in the solid wall of segregation.

But rules put to paper in Washington must be enforced on the ground in the South — and that requires men and women of courage to defy generations of custom and a century of terror. The new order is signed on November 1st, and on that same day nine Black students in Albany GA try to use the bus terminal’s “white-only” facilities. They are denied. And from that seed of defiance grows the Albany Movement which goes on to challenge segregation throughout Southwest Georgia.

Freedom Summer took place in 1964 when college students went South by the THOUSANDS to register blacks to vote. The effort was focused on Mississippi which had the lowest percentage of black voters in the country. One of the things that was done during Freedom Summer was to organize the Mississippi Freedom Party. 80,000 people joined the party and elected a slate of 68 delegates, including Fannie Lou Hamer, to attend the all-white Democratic National Convention. When the effort failed, Hamer’s appeal was televised, and there was a ban on racially discriminatory delegations at future conventions.


Thirty Freedom Schools were established throughout Mississippi, teaching black history, the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, and leadership development in addition to remedial instruction in reading and arithmetic. The Freedom Schools had hoped to draw at least 1000 students that first summer, and ended up with 3000. The schools became a model for future social programs like Head Start, as well as alternative educational institutions.
Freedom Summer activists faced threats and harassment throughout the campaign, not only from white supremacist groups, but from local residents and police. Freedom School buildings and the volunteers’ homes were frequent targets; 37 black churches and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned during that summer, and the cases often went unsolved. More than 1000 black and white volunteers were arrested, and at least 80 were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers. But the summer’s most infamous act of violence was the murder of three young civil rights workers, a black volunteer, James Chaney, and his white coworkers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. On June 21, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner set out to investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi, but were arrested that afternoon and held for several hours on alleged traffic violations. Their release from jail was the last time they were seen alive before their badly decomposed bodies were discovered under a nearby dam six weeks later. Goodman and Schwerner had died from single gunshot wounds to the chest, and Chaney from a savage beating.


OK folks, I know that was a little disjointed. I was rushing. But I was also learning. I have known so little, and I am learning so much, I just wanted to share. So, that’s it for now. Work calls. I hope all of this knowledge invokes a deeper understanding whenever people say that the Civil Rights “Struggle” was brutal, and we need to respect what was won for us, and not go backwards.

I know now that Ben Carson’s “bullsh*t” about race relations under Obama being the worst since slavery shows such an astounding lack of comprehension about black life in the South that it boggles the mind.

We have come very, very far. We just need to build on it.

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