Sunday, February 12, 2006

Martin Luther King on the Rise of Black Power and Eclipsing of Nonviolent Direct Action 2

Excerpts from Martin Luther King's Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community continued on the issue of the stalling of the civil rights movement in the face of rising white resistance in the mid-1960s:
Meanwhile frustration and a loss of confidence in white power have engendered among many Negroes a response that is essentially a loss of confidence in themselves. They are failing to appreciate two important facts.
First, the line of progress is never straight.... The inevitable counterrevolution that succeeds every period of progress is taking place. Failing to understand that this is a normal process of development, some Negroes are falling into unjustified pessimism and despair. Focusing on the ultimate goal, and discovering it still distant, they declare no progress at all has been made.
This mood illustrates another fact that has been misinterpreted. A final victory is an accumulation of many short-term encounters. To lightly dismiss a success because it does not usher in a complete order of justice is to fail to comprehend the process of achieving ful lvictory. It underestimates the value of confrontation and dissolves the confidence born of a partial victory by which new efforts are empowered.
[The Regional Issue]
The struggles of the past decadewere not national in scope; they were southern; they were specifically designed to change life in the South; and the principal role in the North was supportive. It would be a serious error to misconstrue the movement's strategy by measuring northern accomplishments when virtually alll programs were applied in the South and sought remedies applicable solely to it.
...The South was the stronghold of racism. In the white migration s through history from the South to the North and West, racism was carried to poison the rest of the nation. ...
Civil rights leaders had long thought the North would benefit derivatively from the southern struggle. They assumed that without massive upheavals certain systemic changes were inevitable as the whole nation reexamined and searched its conscience. This was a miscalculation. It was founded on the belief that opposition in the North was not intrasigent, that it was flexible and was, if not fully, at least partially hospitable to corrective influences. We forgot what knew daily in the South: freedom is not given, it is won. Concentration of effort in the large northern cities can no longer be postponed in favor of southern campaigns. Both must now be sustained. [emphasis added]
In assessing the results of the Negro revolution so far, it can be concluded that Negroes have established a foothold, no more. We have written a declaration of independence, itself an accomplishment, but the effort to transform the words into a life experience still lies ahead.
The hard truth is that neither Negro nor white has yet done enough to expect the dawn of a new day. While much has been done, it has been accomplished by too few and on a scale too limited for the breadth of the goal: Freedom is not won by a passive acceptance of suffering. Freedom is won in the struggle against suffering. By this measure, Negroes have not yet paid the full price of freedom. And whites have not yet faced the full cost of justice....
No great victories are won in a war for the transformation of a whole people without total participation.... Negroes hold one key to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the hands of the white community.
[In recounting the emergence of the Black Power slogan during the Meredith march, King states:]
I guess I should not have been surprised. I should have known that in an atmosphere where false promises are daily realities, where deferred dreams are nightly facts, where acts of unpunished violence toward Negroes are a way of life, nonviolence would eventually be seriously questioned. I should have been reminded that disappointment produces despair and despair produces blindness, and that the one certain thing about bitterness is its blindness. Bitterness has not the capacity to make the distinction between some and all. When some members of the dominant group, particularly those in power, are racist in attitude and practice, bitterness accuses the whole group....
I tried to make it clear that besides opposing violence on principle, I could imagine nothing more impractical and disastrous than for any of us, through misguided judgment, to precipitate a violent confrontation in Mississippi. We had neither the resources nor the techniques to win....
Next the question of the participation of whites was raised. Stokely Carmichael contended that the inclusion of whites in the march should be de-emphasized and that the dominant appeal should be for black participation....
I surmised that much of the change had its psychological roots in the experience of SNCC in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, when a large number of northern white students had come down to help in that racially torn state. What the SNCC workers saw was the most articulate, powerful and self-assured young white people coming to work with the poorest of the Negro people--and simply overwhelming them. That summer Stokely andn others in SNCC had probably unconsciously condcluded that this was no good for Negores, because it simply increased their sense of their own inadequacies. Of course, the answer to this dilemma was not to give up, notto conclude that blacks must work with blacks in order for Negroes to gain a sense of their own meaning. The answer was only to be found in persistent trying, perpetual experimentation, persevering togetherness.
Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find but something that we must create.
So Greenwood turned out to be the arena for the birth of the Black Power slogan in the civil rights movement. The phrase had been used long before by Richard Wright andothers, but never until that night had it been used as a slogan in the civil rights movement....
First it is necessary to understand that Black Power is a cry of disappointment. The Black Power slogan did not spring full grown from the head of some philosophical Zeus. It was born from the wounds of despair and disappointment. It is a cry of daily hurt and persistent pain. For centuries the Negro has been caught in the tentacles of white power. Many Negroes have given up faith in the white majority because "white power" with total contral has left them empty-handed. So in reality the call for Black Power is a reaction to the failure of white power.
It is no accident that the birth of this slogan in the civil rights movement took place in Mississippi--the state symbolizing the most blatant abuse of white power. In Mississippi the murder of civil rights workers is still a popular pasttime. In that stare more than forty Negroes and whites have either been lynched or murdered over the last three years, and not a single man has been punished for these crimes. More than fifty Negro churches have been burned or bombed in Mississippi in the last two years, yet the bombers still walk the streets surrounded by the halo of adoration. This is white power in its most brutal, cold-blooded and vicious form.

I wil comment and report excerpts at a later time on King's critique in Where Do We Go From Here? of black power as a slogan and goal. The purpose of this blog was to report the way in which King squarely lays the blame for the rise of the black power slogan and its subsequent domination to the resistance of white society and phenomenally in the intersection of increased white resistance and the point at which the movement had to go to a new stage to seek practical equality and the payments on both sides would be higher and require the participation of all.

Martin Luther King on the Rise of Black Power and Eclipsing of Nonviolent Direct Action 1

In his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Martin Luther King offers an explanation of the Black Power Movement of Stokely Carmichael and others that whites may find surprising. Rather than attacking the Black Power movement, which had begun to eclipse the nonviolent methods of the civil rights movement during the 1965 march for James Meredith, he lays the blame squarely at the stalling of the civil rights movement in the face of rising white resistance. The following are excerpts from Where Do We Go From Here, written in 1967, from the volume A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington.

One year later [from the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act], some of the people who had been brutalized in Selma and who were present at the Capiol ceremonies were leading marchers in the suburbs of Chicago amid a rain of rocks and bottles, among burning automobiles, to the thunder of jeering thousands, many of them waving Nazi flags.
A year later, some of the Negro leaders who had been present in Selma and at the Capitol ceremonies no longer held office in their organizations. They had been discarded to symbolize a radical change in tactics.
A year later, the white backlash had become an emotional electoral issue in California, Maryland, and elsewhere. In several southern state men long regarded as political clowns had become governors or only narrowly missed election, their magic achieved with a witches' brew of bigotry, predudice, half-truths, and whole lies.
During the year, white and Negro civil rights workers had been murdered in several southern communities. The swift and easy acquittals that followed for the accused had shocked much of the nation but sent a wave of unabashed triumph through southern segregationist circles. Many of us wept at the funeral services for the dead and for democracy.
During the year, in several northern and western cities, most tradically in Watts, young Negroes had exploded in violence. In an irrational burst of rage they had sought to say something, but the flames had blackened both themselves and their oppressors.
A year later, Ramparts magazine was asserting, "After more than a decade of the Civil Rights Movement the black American in Harlem, Hanynesville, Baltimore, and Bogalousa is worse off today than he was ten years ago...The Movement is in despair because it has been forced to recognize the Negro revolution as a myth."
Had Negroes fumbled the opportunities described by the president? Was the movement in despair? Why was widespread sympathy with the Negro revolution abruptly submerged in indifference in some quarters or banished by outright hostility in others? Why was there ideological disarray?
A simple explanation holds that Negroes rioted in Watts, the voice of Black Power was heard through the land and the white backlash was born; the public became infuriated and sympathy evaporated. This pat explanation founders, however, on the hard fact that the change in mood had preceded Watts and the Black Power slogan. Moreover, white backlash had always existed underneath and sometimes on the surface of American life. No, the answers are both more complex and, for the long, less pessimistic. [empahsis added]
With Selma and the Voting Rights Act, one phase of development in the civil rights movement came to an end. ...For the vast majority of white Americans, the past decade--the first phase--had been a struggle to treat the Negro with a degree of decency, not of equality. White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation, but it had never been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation or all forms of discrimination. The outraged white citizen had been sincere when he snatched the whips from the southern sheriffs and forbade them more cruelties. But when this was a to a degree accomplished, the emotions that had momentarily inflamed him melted away. White Americans left the Negro on the ground and in devastating numbers walked off with the aggressor. ...
When Negroes looked for the second phase, the realization of equality, they found that many of their white allies had quietly disappeared. The Negroes of America had taken the president, the press, and the pulpit at their word when they spoke in broad terms of freedom and justice. But the absence of brutality and unregenerate evil is not the presence of justice. To stay murder is not the same thing as to ordain brotherhood. The word was broken, and the free-running expectations of the Negro crashed into the stone walls of white resistance. The result was havoc. Negroes felt cheated, especially in the North, while many whites felt that the Negroes had gained so much it was virtually impuedent and greedy to ask for more so soon. [emphasis added]
The paths of Negro-white unity that had been converging crossed at Selma, and like a giant X began to diverge. Up to Selma there had been unity to eliminate barbaric conduct. Beyond it the unity had be based on the fulfillment of equality, and in the absence of agreement the paths began inexorably to move apart. [emphasis added]
The practical cost of change up to this pointhas been cheap.... Even more significant changes involved in voter registration required neither large monetary nor psychological sacrifice. Spectaclar and turbulent events that dramatized the demand created an erroneous impression that a heavy burden was involved.
The real cost lies ahead. The stiffening of white resistance is a recognition of that fact. The discount education given Negroes will in the future have to be purchased at full price if quality education is to be realized. Jobs are harder and costlier to create than voting rolls. Te eradication of slums housing millions is complex far beyond integrating buses and lunch counters.
Let us take a look at the size of the problem through the lens of the Negro's status in 1967. When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was 60 percent of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare that he is 50 percent of a person. Of the good things in life he has approximately one-half those of whites; of the bad, he has twice those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing, and Negros have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has double share. There are twice as many unemployed. The rate of infant mortality (widely accepted as an accurate indexi of general health) among Negroes is double that of whites. The equation pursues Negroes even into war. There were twice as many Negroes as whites in combat in Vietnam at the beginning of 1967, and twice as many Negro soldiers died in action (20.6 percent) in proportion to their numbers in the population....

The great majority of Americans are suspended between these opposing attitudes.[:] They are uneasy with injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it.
The persistence of racism in depth and the dawning awareness that Negro demands will necessitate structural changes in society have generated a new phase of white resistance in North and South. Based on the cruel judgement that Negroes have come far enough, there is a strong mood to bring the civil rights movement to a halt or reduce it to a crawl. Negro demands that yesterday evoked admiration and support, today--to many--have become tiresome, unwarranted, and a disturbance to the enjoyment of life. Cries of Black Power and riots are not the causes of white resistance, they are consequences of it. (continued)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Portrait of Yarrow Mamout by Charles Willson Peale

My ancestor, Charles Willson Peale, painted the beautiful portrait of Yarrow Mamout, that was the subject of an article in the Washington Post Magazine today. See the article at

The Array Against Civil Rights in the North 1

From Civil Rights The 1960s Freedom Struggle by Rhoda Lois Blumberg, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1991.
The year after the Watts riots, [Martin Luther] King was invited to Chicago by its black protest leadership. ...[including Jesse Jackson]
On 26 January 1966, King and his family took up temporary residence in Chicago's Lawndale ghetto area. Southern experience would prove to be insufficient preparation for this crucially different northern campaign. ... Demonstrations brought out unexpectedly vicious white mobs that somtimes numbered in the thousands, and black urban dwellers were in a mood to retaliate. Their anger had been recognized and articulated by Malcom X: similar grievances had been given violent expression in the Watts riot. Support could not be expected from the Democratic Administration because of both King's anti-Vietnam stand and Mayor Daley's power in the party. As a big-city boss, Daley knew how to use his power of patronage to buy off key black politicians. (p. 174)
The atmosphere conducive to nonviolent protest had changed... [citing David Levering Lewis, King, A Biography (1978):
"Even if the Vietnam issue had not strained relations to the breaking point, there was virtually no possibility of White House assistance in Chicago. The political power of the Daley machine within the Democratic Party, the socio-economic thrust, as opposed to the former legalistic, of the SCLC's Northern campaign, the complex interrelationships of Eastern finance, Midwestern industry and labor, and federal power--all these constituted built-in restraints upon pro-civil rights intervention by Washington outside the South.... Meanwhile, in Congress legislation was introduced to curtail civil rights demonstrations by Representative Roman Pucinski, an Illinois Democrat and formerly a consistent support of civil rights legislation."
... Civil rights forces felt that 1966 was a crucial year in which they needed to counter the rising black power mood. King focused on housing discrimination in its various forms: exploitative slum housing and de facto segregation created in collusion with real estate interests. ... (p. 175)
As the civil rights forces drew attention to the problems of slum dwellers, Daley countered with his own expressions of concern about the issue. He met with the civil rights delegations, assuring them of good intentions. On the same day, 26 May 1966, that King announced plans for a march on city hall, Daley was able to announce the successful negotiation of a fedeal loan for housing renovation. The significance of the day for civil rights forces was heightened by another tragedy. Jerome Huey, a 17-year-old black youth, was beaten to death on a streetcorner by four white youths in the de facto segregated suburb of Cicero. This was the kind of hateful incident that had galvanized thousands in the South, and the Chicago movement intended to utilize it. ... (p. 176)
1966 became a riot summer in the city. A police-related incident eventuated in a major three-day conflagation. The rivalry between nonviolence and other forms of black revolt was heightening, as was white backlash. The racism of northern white citizens became more overt as they gathered in huge numbers to threaten and jeer nonviolent demonstrators. At an Agusut rally in Marquette Park, King was stunned by a rock thrown at him, and only the police presence held back mobs ready to kill. Racism was virulent in Chicago, but unlike southern officials, Daley and Chicago dignitaries continued to meet with King and his CCCO allies. (page 177)"
The Cicero march took place, in response, but without King's participation... Major concessions had been promised by Mayor "I don't want to buy the black vote, I just want to rent it for a day" Daley. But later Daley backed out of these concessions. Said King: "I look back over it and wish we'd gone to Cicero."
In short, at Cicero, Ill., the civil rights movement met defeat. The attempt to take on the issue of housing--bad housing not fit for human habitation and segregated housing--met with defeat. The liberal New York Times editorialized that Martin Luther King should withdraw from the North; liberal funds dried up for SCLC.