Sunday, June 22, 2008

Civil Rights Movement

I am just returning from the Mississippi Delta where i have spent a week with the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute meeting participants in the Civil Rights struggle, visiting landmarks of the movement, and hearing lectures about Freedom Summer and the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike.

We ended the week at the National Civil Rights Movement Museum; it's a great museum and no matter how much you know going in, a little or a lot, you will absolutely learn something. In one spot, they show clips of students learning how to do sit-ins and people responding to the sit-ins. One woman explains how her civil rights are being violated if she has to be in a store or restaraunt that serves blacks.

This clip is in the loop to illustrate how absurd the defense of hatred can sound; we are supposed to see it as dated and hateful and illogical. However, this is the exact argument the ADF often fields- if you make us act as if homosexuals are humans with human and civil rights, then you are violating their rights to practice their religions.

I have no doubt that homophobia is a dead-end game. In many ways, it already seems simple minded and out dated and I wonder when we will see clips of people expressing ADF like ideas. This makes it all the more confusing that anyone, especially members of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, would give this hatred any power, allow it to shape curriculum decisions in any way.

The most important things I learned in this workshop were how many things, how many infrastructures have to be in place for any movement to find success. The Civil Rights Movement only succeeded because it started long before 1954 and because there were lots of failures before.

I was also struck by how many people it took for the movement to succeed and many of these people weren't big names or became famous. They were people who, time and time again, identified hatred when they saw it, stood up to intimidation, and continued to speak what they knew was true. Fannie Lou Hamer is a famous example of this- a sharecropper with a 4th grade education, she became a powerful member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party who called Hubert Humphrey out on what his ambition would cost Mississippi citizens and who spoke so powerfully she terrified Lyndon Johnson.

The most powerful person I met this week (out of many who I have so much respect for) was L.C. Dorsey. Read more about her here

People need to know about the Civil Rights Struggle because it continues, but also because we currently need models of people and organizations who stood up for their rights and were willing to pay the cost to free not only themselves, but their oppressors of their hatreds.

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