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The Civil Rights Movement is Dead and So is the Democratic Party

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Message Roland Sheppard
The first civil and human rights movement by and for Black people started during the Civil War and the period of Black Reconstruction that followed. It was a time of radical hopes for many freed slaves. But it was also a time of betrayal. Then President Andrew Johnson and the non-radical Republicans, in collusion with the Democratic Party, the party of slavery, sold out the early post-war promises for full equality and "40 acres and a mule". Instead, the promise of equality was soon replaced by the restoration of the property rights of the former slave owners in the South.

How did they accomplish this betrayal? The answer is simple -- terrorism. They used police and terroristic Ku Klux Klan violence. These extra-legal activities laid the basis for the overthrow of Black Reconstruction and the institutionalization of legal segregation (Jim Crow) in the former slave states. To enforce Jim Crow, Black people were, for decades, indiscriminately lynched and framed.

This was the status quo in the United States until the United States Supreme Court came out with its "Brown v. Board of Education" decision in 1954, mandating the right to equal education. The successful yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56 reflected the new, more militant mood among Negroes (the name given to Black people by the ruling class). This new mood was a product of the rise of the Black Liberation movements in Africa, the confidence gained by the Black working class during the rise of the CIO, and the respect, knowledge, and expectations of democracy gained by Black soldiers during the Korean War. (For more information about the boycott read my article: 50 Years Later: Lessons from the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Thus the struggle against Jim Crow had begun, and with each victory to integrate and enforce the 1954 Supreme Court decision, the mass of Black people gained confidence in themselves and that the fight for racial equality could be won. In the early sixties, the movement grew stronger as young people from the universities spearheaded the 'freedom rides' and sit-ins throughout the South to oppose Jim Crow and enforce the law of the land, which the local, state, and federal governments had refused to enforce.

In the spring of 1963, the struggles in Birmingham, Alabama, led by the Black working class, garnered international attention when police commissioner Eugene ("Bull") Connor unleashed powerful water hoses and German shepherd police dogs against the demonstrators. Terror and violence gripped this city, while the world watched. Indeed, it was the national and international embarrassment that forced President Kennedy and the government to begin to take governmental action.

After Birmingham, the March on Washington was called. In the space of a few weeks a huge demonstration built. This demonstration was the largest social action in the United States since the union strikes that led to the rise of the CIO in the 1930s. This mass action led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965.

At that rally, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Chairman John Lewis was prevented from delivering his prepared speech by the march organizers. It was a notable omission. In this speech, he was going to say:

". . . . We are now involved in a serious revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their career on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say 'My party is the party of "principles"'? The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater. Where is our party? "

But if Lewis could be prevented by the March organizers from offending the liberal Democratic establishment from the stage of the Washington march, they could not prevent the civil rights movement from embracing a growing militancy and desire to expand the struggle to embrace a larger vision of social change.

Unfortunately, the momentum that was gained from the March was lost during the 1964 Presidential election campaign, when the major civil rights groups called for a moratorium on demonstrations in order not to embarrass then President Lyndon BainesJohnson during the election campaign against the "greater evil" Barry Goldwater. (Both were defenders of Jim Crow prior to the 1963 March on Washington.) The movement never fully recovered to this subordination of the struggle to "lesser evil" political action.

While the struggle in the South was specifically against Jim Crow, the struggle in the North was against de-facto segregation. The images of the dogs etc. on TV being used against Blacks in the South subsequently gave rise to the Black Nationalist movement in the North. The rise of the Black Muslims and Malcolm X was a reflection of the mood in the majority of the Black ghettos in every major northern city, where the economic and political power of Black people was more concentrated and greater than in the rural south. The rise of the nationalist movement consequently generated heated debates within the movement between the strategies of peaceful disobedience and righteous self-defense.

In his latter years, Malcolm X saw the Black struggle as a struggle for human rights, and, notably, as an anti-capitalist economic struggle. As he explained at the Militant Labor Forum in the fall of 1964:

"It's impossible for a chicken to produce a duck egg... The system in this country cannot produce freedom for an Afro-American. It is impossible for this system, this economic system, this political system, period... And if ever a chicken did produce a duck egg, I'm certain you would say it was certainly a revolutionary chicken!"

Unfortunately, Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 before he could build an organization to follow in his footsteps.

Following the assassination of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, later known as Kwame Ture, became the new leader of SNCC and is credited with starting the movement for Black Power. In Lowndes County Alabama in 1965, he helped the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization (LCFO) to form their own party. The symbol of the party was the Black Panther Party. The Alabama Democrats retaliated against this movement by evicting sharecroppers and tenant farmers, and attempting illegal foreclosures against Black Panther supporters. They even threatened to kill any African-American who registered. Thus the LCFO was forced to arm themselves for self-defense, but not to initiate any violence. In the course of time, Black Panther Parties arose throughout the country.

Due to the mass mobilizations by the civil rights movement and the Black rebellions in the inner cities, by 1968 legal segregation, Jim Crow, was destroyed. Blacks acquired the right to vote and access to jobs through affirmative action programs, to make up for the past discriminations. There was hope for a better life in the Black Community.However, after Martin Luther King, struggled against de facto segregation in Chicago, he realized that the struggle for economic equality was a more difficult fight than the struggle against Jim Crow. At this point he began to take similar anti-capitalist positions as Malcolm X.

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Roland Sheppard is a retired Business Representative of Painters District Council #8 in San Francisco. He has been a life long social activist and socialist. He regularly attended Malcolm X's meetings in Harlem and was present at the meeting when (more...)
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The Civil Rights Movement is Dead and So is the Democratic Party

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