Category: civil rights history

The day Elizabeth and Hazel were dissed by Oprah

By Alan Bean

I have been inspired by the story about how Elizabeth Eckford (the black woman walking stoically into Little Rock’s Central High School in 1959) and Hazel Bryan (the white woman in the rear screaming, “Go home to Africa, nigger!”) had bridged the racial divide and become best friends.

Not surprisingly, it isn’t that simple.

Racial reconciliation comes hard.  Everybody needs to feel good about their people, their heritage, their roots.  At least Sir Walter Scott thought so:

Breathes there there the man with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!

Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,

As home his footsteps he hath turned

From wandering on a foreign strand!

If such there breathe, go, mark him well;

For him no minstrel raptures swell . . .

African Americans and American whites, particularly in the South, have a hard time feeling good about their ethnic heritage.  Few Black Americans chose to come to this country.  In most cases, their ancestors were hunted down like dogs, manacled, separated from family, culture and religion, stowed into the hulls of slave ships, transported across the Atlantic ocean, and put to work under the lash beneath a blazing son.  The Emancipation Proclamation hardly improved their lot.  In its own strange way, Jim Crow was every bit as degrading as slavery.  (more…)

Girl Scouts, civil rights, and white racial resentment

Below is an interesting article detailing a lawsuit filed against a Georgia Girl Scouts organization. The lawsuit, filed last week, was a result of the expulsion of two sisters from their Girl Scout troop after they gave a presentation on the civil rights movement. 

The audience and other troop leaders did not respond well to the civil rights presentation. According to the suit, “The only applause [the presenters] received was from the other two African American girls and one Indian girl in attendance.”

The response to the young girls’ presentation is not surprising coming from a largely white audience. In fact, this reaction is all too common. The civil rights movement does not reflect favorably on most Southern whites and, therefore, discussion of the movement is often met with resistance and resentment from white audiences. It will be interesting to watch the suit unfold and hear the response (if any) from the Girls Scouts of America . MW

Ga. mom sues Girl Scouts claiming daughters were expelled after civil rights presentation 

By Associated Press

ATLANTA — An Atlanta-area mother has filed a lawsuit against a Girl Scouts organization alleging that her twin daughters were expelled from their troop after they gave a presentation on their family’s involvement in the civil rights movement.Angela Johnson filed the suit last week in Gwinnett County State Court, claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. The suit says the troop leaders knew an expulsion would cause the girls harm and that the organization had a responsibility to repair the situation.

In a statement, the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta says the girls weren’t expelled and calls the incident a “disagreement between well-intentioned moms,” referring to Johnson and the troop leaders. (more…)

A whirlwind tour: Reflections on the Mississippi Delta

Mississippi Delta

By Melanie Wilmoth

It has been a few weeks since Alan Bean and I returned from our whirlwind trip to Mississippi. Since we arrived back in Texas, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the trip and all of our various adventures and encounters while we were there.

We planned the trip to Mississippi for several reasons. We are currently working on a few cases in the Delta and had some research to conduct. We also arranged to meet with other advocacy organizations doing similar work in Mississippi so that we could build relationships and collaborate with them on future endeavors. In addition, we planned to meet up for a civil rights tour with a professor and several students from the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. With all of this on our agenda, our days were filled to the brim. Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted and exponentially more enlightened as the trip came to an end.

When we arrived in Jackson, MS, we were welcomed by the wonderful staff of the John M. Perkins Foundation where we stayed that night. The next morning, we met with the Foundation’s Special Projects Coordinator and learned more about the Foundation’s history and its goal of bringing racial reconciliation to Mississippi. From there, we touched base with the Program Director for the ACLU of Mississippi. She informed us of the current ALCU initiatives around immigration, youth justice, and the school-to-prison pipeline and we shared with her about the work of Friends of Justice, discussing opportunities for future dialogue and collaboration.

After two successful meetings with advocacy organizations in Jackson, we made our way to Cleveland, MS. There, we met with Professor Paul Ortiz and several University of Florida history students. Dr. Ortiz and the students were incredibly friendly and interested in the work of Friends of Justice. After meeting them, I was even more excited about joining them on the civil rights tour. (more…)

Don’t know much about (civil rights) history

By Alan Bean

Most American students know nothing of substance about the civil rights movement.  When Julian Bond talked to school kids twenty years ago, no one could even tell him who George Wallace was (see article below).  For much the same reason, younger readers may not realize that my title was inspired by an old Sam Cooke song.  George Wallace was Governor of Alabama in the early 60s.  Sam Cooke released his famous song in the late 50s.  But I bet students know much more about the evolution of pop music than they know about civil rights history.

How can Americans have a conversation about race relations when most of us know next to nothing about Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, the evolution of the urban ghetto or any other matter germane to the subject?

Although Black Americans probably know a bit more about the civil rights era than white Americans, ignorance abounds on every square of the American crazy quilt.  We won’t get anywhere until these depressing trends change, but first we must ask how much we want to learn about an era that makes white America look really, really bad?

Southern states, a new study by the Southern Poverty Law Center finds, actually do a better job of teaching civil rights history than their northern and western counterparts.  In Mississippi, for instance, the trauma of the civil rights era was far too intense to be forgotten.  The movie The Help is a step in the right direction, but if any person, white or black, had tried to publish a book about black domestics and their white employers in the real Mississippi of 1962, the White Citizens Councils and the State Sovereignty Commission would have kept the book from appearing on book shelves.  A book that incendiary would have been delivered in a plain brown wrapper, in the dead of night.  There were things that simply could not be discussed back then; how much has changed?

Mississippi has mandated a K-12 civil rights curriculum.  If you don’t know about Jim Crow and the civil rights struggle, you can’t possibly understand present conditions in the Magnolia State.  The subject could be ignored for a while, but not forever.  In Colorado, it seems, the issue is far less pressing.

Students’ Knowledge of Civil Rights History Has Deteriorated, Study Finds

Published: September 28, 2011

When Julian Bond, the former Georgia lawmaker and civil rights activist, turned to teaching two decades ago, he often quizzed his college students to gauge their awareness of the civil rights movement. He did not want to underestimate their grasp of the topic or talk down to them, he said. (more…)