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As I mentioned here, I do a fair amount of guest lecturing in our faculty members' civil rights classes.  Each time I meet with a new group of students, I do my very best to remind people that Dr. King was only the most "noticeable and charismatic" of individuals within a narrow window of the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.  

I think it's important for many reasons, but among the most important is to provide more accessible role models in the wake of our national deification of Dr. King, of Rosa Parks, etc. All too often, students end up thinking that only "great men" and "great women" can foment great change.

But avoiding a reductionist history of the movement leads to a richer story for all involved - not just students.

The movement began (even in its most remembered nonviolent 1960s guise) long before Dr. King was born, and it should continue now, even though I must ask myself why such racism and hatred persists in today's society, why such a fragmentation at the heart of the CRM was allowed to occur without true attainment of its goals.  There are so many people we can learn from - yes, Dr. King is an individual from whom we can all learn so much, but there were thousands of others; rich people who gave up everything (William Monroe Trotter) or very little (T.R.M. Howard), poor who had nothing to give, like Fannie Lou Hamer, but gave it anyway in their blood and sweat in dark prison cells in Mississippi.  Jo An Robinson, Claudette Colvin, Paul Cuffee, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, James Meredith, Medgar, Myrlie, and Charles Evers, Bob Moses, Vernon Dahmer... so many names, faces, stories, strengths and foibles.  

As I've noticed in many threads, people somehow try to qualify one person as being "more hated" than another.  This kind of "quantification" shouldn't happen, especially not here, among all these progressive minds.  Even though Dr. King, Vernon Dahmer, and Medgar Evers gave their lives in the struggle for rights, they understood this: a poor laborer in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who lost his land because he participated in Freedom Summer, had lost his livelihood, and a young black girl in Arkansas who didn't have books but yearned to read lost her hope.  The black men and women who died at the hands of white men driven by ignorance and hatred wanted to preserve everything that was good for all people.  They would have despaired more over the loss of HOPE than the loss of one person, for they knew that even if one person died, others would step up to take his or her place - as long as they all had strength, hope, and the same ultimate goal.

All these people were only human, but they were given strength by their belief that a man (or woman, later - even SNCC & COFO had problems with sexist discrimination) had rights, regardless of the color of his skin.  It is our responsibility to remember in these times (that yes, try our souls) the changes wrought in the Civil Rights Movement were created by thousands of people doing little things and massive protests.  We should commemorate Dr. King, not just this day, but every day - with our words and our actions, but we should also remember the thousands of people who went before and made the explosion of justice in the 1960s possible.  The people I named above and their stories are remarkable.  They should serve as our guides during the next few years, because they have fought far, far more entrenched hatred than we confront today.  They succeeded to a degree, and it is up to us, regardless of color to take up their mantle, re-learn their stories and dust off their time-worn shoes for another long march toward justice.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rubyr, politik, erratic, Eowyn9

    Southerners are remarkably careless with their history. - Jane Daley, 2011 SHA Meeting

    by khowell on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 02:08:33 PM PST

  •  Just an exquisite diary, kh, and so true. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    khowell, politik

    Thank you. I hope this diary gets rescued. It is very important.


    "Southern nights have you ever felt a southern night?" Allen Toussaint ~~Remember the Gulf of Mexico~~

    by rubyr on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 03:14:29 PM PST

  •  yes! thank you so much for this. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rubyr, khowell

    "Maintaining a robust public health infrastructure will be critical to managing the potential health impacts of climate change." NCADAC Draft Climate Assessment Report January 11, 2013

    by politik on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 04:15:03 PM PST

  •  Beautiful! And very true. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rubyr, khowell

    By idolizing great historical figures like Dr. King and Gandhi and Mother Teresa, we forget that each of us holds so much potential to change the world for the better. Nobody can start a movement alone. It takes thousands, millions of individuals who are willing to fight and sacrifice and never lose hope no matter how bleak the situation appears at times.

    This ties in well with the close of Obama's inauguration speech today:

    You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country's course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time -- not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

    Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

    Although I'm not a US citizen, I quite definitely had a lump in my throat as I listened to these words. Inspiring, moving and a challenge to us all, "ordinary" people who nonetheless have the power to shape the course of history.

    "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell) Join the Forward on Climate Rally on February 17!

    by Eowyn9 on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 04:50:50 PM PST

    •  Precisely (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I've always said that the only way we're going to make the legacy of the civil rights movement relevant is by telling the broader story - both temporally, as in the "Long Civil Rights Movement" advocated by numerous historians, most notably John Dittmer, and by telling a more inclusive movement as well - incorporating these "Local People" and their work, as well as telling the stories of the regular white folk who did terrible things to fight equality.  The broader story has to work both ways, I think.

      Southerners are remarkably careless with their history. - Jane Daley, 2011 SHA Meeting

      by khowell on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 05:43:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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