Negroes have illuminated imperfections in the democratic structure that were formerly only dimly perceived, and have forced a concerned re-examination of the true meaning of American democracy. As a consequence of the vigorous Negro protest, the whole nation has for a decade probed more searchingly the essential nature of democracy, both economic and political. By taking to the streets and there giving practical lessons in democracy and its defaults, Negroes have decisively influenced white thought.
Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here, 1967
After white supremacist bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four Black girls, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair, on September 15, 1963, Civil Rights activist Diane Nash and Rev. James Bevel contemplated a response. In an interview for the Kunhardt Film Foundation, Nash recalls their first thoughts when they heard the news.
"We were both crying really. And we decided that an adult man and woman could not allow four little girls to be murdered and do nothing about it. We felt confident that if we tried, we could find out who had done that crime, and make certain that they were killed."
But then Nash and Bevel considered another option. "We get the right to vote for blacks in Alabama, and in that way, they could better protect their children. So, we made a conscious decision, and we choose option two to get the right to vote, and made a promise to ourselves, to each other, and to God that no matter how long it took us, we were going to work on getting the right to vote."
In the name of those innocent children, Nash and Bevel organize a series of marches from Selma to Montgomery, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Only a hundred years after Lincoln signed that document, declaring African Americans emancipated from slavery101. Other documents, signed by local lawmakers and US presidents (think, Clinton) will designate Blacks unfree from forced labor and incarceration for minor drug offenses. Over 4,000 Blacks, men and women, were lynched after emancipation, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, starting with Joe Coe in 1891. EJI lists the murder of James Byrd Jr., in 1998, as the last, and well after emancipation.
So many other Black Americans massacred and forcibly sent fleeing for their lives, leaving behind their homes. Tulsa, Rosewood, Wilmington and others. What flames and bullets scarred away, Redlining redressed with the shuffling of human beings into housing projects or tenements, as Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. noted, with outrageous rents. Fit only for the thriving of mice and roaches.
And so comes the right to vote across the board for Black Americans. Citizens at last. Or maybe not.
My first vote would have been cast for the man who announced in 1971 that he wanted to become the governor of Illinois in 1973. And he did! Dan Walker claimed to oppose the Daley Machine in Chicago, where I was born and raised. He claimed to be a new politician in the Democratic Party.
I refused to cast my vote for Walker. His brand of politics, for an 18-year old Black woman, made no call for an end to business-as-usual. Soldiers from Illinois continued to be drafted and shipped off to Vietnam. A good many of them Black Americans. A few young men I knew. By the 1972 election for governor of Illinois, the hated Dr. King has been dead a little more than 4 years. And the backlash to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is already in progress.
Walker serves one term as governor, and years later, he is incarcerated for federal criminal offenses. Bank fraud. Money. Enrichment.
After Richard Nixon wins the presidency in 1969. I followed Watergate as if my life depended upon doing so. In a way it did. All the white men revealing their willingness to surrounding the king who believed Black Americans to be the cause of all things evil in America. All, including the king, caught when the Black security guard pushed open a door, compromised by a tampered lock.
In the 1990s, the first Black president, complete with saxophone, wooed Black Americans and a good many white Americans. He smiled when waving and displayed that tightly-closed lip when signing laws to increase the number of Blacks incarcerated for possessing marijuana. To Black Americans outside of official prison walls, Bill Clinton pointed a finger while delivering speeches to Black Americans about "taking responsibility"" For what? Redlining? Being lynched? Incarcerated? Bullied?
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).