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Mississippi: A March Resurrects a Movement

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI — Overcoming disunity, out-of-fashionableness, poverty, and aching feet, the civil rights movement was reborn Sunday on the grounds of the Mississippi state capitol, before the executioners’ eyes of 700 Mississippi troopers and police, armed with M-1s, live ammunition, and tear gas.

The ragged band that had begun as one mystical prophet in Memphis, that became 100 in Hernando, that became 1000 after the baptism of spit in Philadelphia and tear gas in Canton, had become 15,000 Sunday afternoon. And they were 15,000 Mississippi Negroes, their biographies etched in their bent spines and gnarled hands. There were a few clergymen, 100 New Left types, a small group of 1930s liberals like Paul O’Dwyer, and a handful of dreamy Dylanesque kids, but mostly they were the porters, maids, and high school students of Jackson, giving a great movement the rare gift of a second chance to redeem its country’s greatest sinner.

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The anemia of the civil rights movement, inflicted by ghetto riots, integration next door, and the rhetoric of LeRoi Jones, has been cured — at least for a moment — by a cathartic wave of blackness and bitterness. One senses that the obscenely banal comments of the President and the Attorney General after the tear-gassing in Canton were too much for even the generous, ecumenical soul of Martin King. They helped the paralyzed move­ment turn a difficult corner; ex­cept for the student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this is still a reformist rather than revolutionary movement, but its opposition is now total and its energy renewed. Next week the Southern Christian Leadership Conference will have 35 organizers in the 15 rural counties the march passed through, and SNCC will have a dozen. Mississippi II is about to begin.

The mood of the march redirected the too many dreams deferred since the hike from Selma 14 months ago. The unseating of Julian Bond, the failure of the war on poverty, the triumph in Alabama of Mrs. Wallace, the gerrymandering of the Mississippi congressional districts, and the tear-gassing in Canton, they have all driven the ambrosia of liber­als — love — out of the Movement. The spirit of Gandhian agape that hung like a halo over Selma, with its nuns and angelic-faced students, was gone, replaced by a clenched militancy fueled by a despair expressed by Martin King’s admission that his dream of Washington 1963 has turned into a “nightmare.”

The march created its share ot small, memorable moments. Singing, Sunday-dressed kids on unpainted porches waving Amer­ican flags. Marlon Brando limp­ing along anonymously between a 66-year-old cotton picker and a 16-year-old student from a segregated Jackson high school. The shame in the eyes of the old Negroes when they turned away from pleas that they join the pilgrimage. Bob Parris, who started this particular arc of his­tory in 1961, hovering unnoticed and sad on the edges of the crowd. (He is now quietly organizing in Bolivar County.)

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But more enduring than such vignettes is the hard political significance of the 21-day journey down sunbaked U.S. 51. The confirmation of Martin King as the soul and pivot of this movement; now even the kamikazes of SNCC admit “King’s got balls,” after the trials of Philadephia and Canton. The barring of the NAACP from the climactic rally program at the capitol because “they are part of the Administration, not the Movement,” as a militant minister put it. The new path SNCC has charted for itself, as it begins to march to the sound of a different drummer. Every SNCC worker explains the slogan Black Power differently, and so does every journalist. (In Canton, when Stokely Carmich­ael screamed, “This will separate the men from the mice,” the AP wire quoted him as saying, “This will separate the men from the whites.”)

Cleansed of its tumescence of hate, Black Power is an obviously effective strategy for about 40 rural counties in the Black Belt. Explained intelligently, it is perfect psychotherapy for Negroes ashamed of their blackness. As a stance, it is certain to capture the loyalty of many young ghetto Negroes who have felt themselves orphans since the assassination of Malcolm X. But as a program for a movement, it is the fantasy of victims.

Saturday night, about 2000 marchers, plus about another 9000 Jackson teenagers, filled the grassy athletic field of all-Negro Tougaloo College for what Car­michael called “a party.” Sammy Davis sang show tunes and then flew out on a private jet to Las Vegas after march leaders tried to shame him into staying for the procession to the capitol the next day James Brown, who makes Elvis Presley look like a paraplegic, re-created the am­bience of the Apollo with his blues. Marlon Brando told them, “You are the heroes of America … I should be out there and you should be up here.” Carmi­chael, addressing their buried pride, said, “I know you’re out there. Smile so I can see you.” Dick Gregory said he “wished LBJ was the Pope, so that way folks would only have to kiss his ring.” Then the rally ended about 10 p.m., and the leaders retired to continue their public debate that has gone on since Memphis, when Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young went home, and Bayard Rustin rejected  King’s plea that he come to Mississippi to handle the logistics of the 220-mile procession. To the fury of much of the Movement, Rustin claimed he had to finish an ar­ticle for Commentary. SNCC was dissuaded from the civil disobedience, the NAACP barred from the platform because of Wilkins’ antagonistic remarks, King’s most gifted aide, Andrew Young, chosen to emcee the capitol rally, and the divinely inspired Meredith granted the longest speaking time along with King.

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Toward Capitol

At 11.30 Sunday, the procession, 3000 strong, began to file out of Tougaloo toward the capitol, nine miles away. An FBI agent rode in the first car and an integrated SNCC couple in the second, a Black Panther bumper sticker was flapping on the rear. They were singing, “We’ve got the light of freedom …”

The conflict between SCLC and SNCC was played out all along the march. When SCLC arganizers distributed American flags, SNCC’s Willie Ricks took them away, and the Reverend John Morris gave them out again. The SNCC kids chanted “Black Power” and the SCLC staffers chanted, “Freedom,” and usually carried the marchers with them.

What two weeks ago had seemed a meaningless contrivance for the media was slowly transformed into a moving spectacle as the column inched through the unpaved Negro slums of Jackson. Wave after after of Jackson Negroes poured into the column, dressed for Sunday church, badly concealing their pride, and many clutching American flags, that were waved like magic wands every time whites on the sidelines showed their Confederate flags.

It was hot, about 95 degrees, and on almost every block a Negro family was waiting to offer ice water to the marchers. They threw kisses, smiled, prayed, and many joined the swelling, uneven line.

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At a shopping center there was the surrealistic scene of 30 whites, their faces looking like they were recruited from central casting, shouting epithets and taking pic­tures of the marchers. They were guarded by a cluster of 10 Negro highway patrolmen. A little kid with the words “Give me free­dom or give me death” crudely painted on his CORE tee shirt tried to give one of the whites a Black Panther bumper sticker and a Negro patrolman pushed him back into the march.

When the column passed the next large clump of whites, the pilgrims broke into a rendition of “Dixie” and the whites looked like they were watching Robert E. Lee’s tomb being vandalized.

By the time the exhausted, sweat-drenched marcher’s reached the capitol it was almost 4 p.m. Sullen whites, about 1500, ringed the appointed rally area. Shoulder to shoulder, encircling  the stained-glass capitol, stood 700 state troopers, city police, and guardsmen, defending the government of Mississippi from its own unarmed citizens. On the platform sat the unique leadership of the Freedom Movement, and one could not help but measure men like Martin King, Reverend Ed King and Larry Guyot of the MFDP, CORE’s Floyd McKissick, and even emotional, visionary Carmichael, against the leadership of white America. Martin King or LBJ, Reverend Andy Young or Cardinal Spellman, Guyot or Ronald Reagan: who are better qualified to lead this nation?

Inscrutable James Meredith spoke first and was honored by a standing ovation from the platform as well as the multitude.

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They Larry Guyot, the panda-like chairman of the MFDP, rose to talk, unspeakable memories of white violence charging his voice and sending tremors through his body. He said, “Black people must learn three phrases starting at birth: white supremacy, neo-colonialism, and black power.” With that, Carmichael, perched on the edge of the platform, leaped up screaming like a teeny bopper at a Rolling Stones concert. Guyot closed with the prophetic words: “This is not the end; this is the beginning.”

Then is was Carmichael’s turn in the subtle contest for the heart of the resurrected Mississippi Movement. Lean, lithe, with bulging eyes like James Baldwin, he took off his shades as he began his talk with the words, “I want to talk to black people across the this country …”

In private, Carmichael’s description of the ideas behind his slogan of black power is persuasive. But excited by 15,000 black faces, network cameras, and a five-minute deadline, the 25-year-old leader of SNCC was reduced to slogans to explain a slogan. He transposed his words, spoke in a false Southern accent, and at the end the rehearsed chant of black power organized by the SNCC staff failed to engulf the rally.

Then it was time for King, the 37-year-old preacher who holds the unity of this amoeba-like movement in his healing hands. The speech he offered was merely a variation of his inspirational sermon delivered in the shadow of the Lincoln Monument in 1963. He told of his growing nightmares and his enduring dreams in the rolling, hypnotic cadences of the rural preacher. But it was the humane, incorruptible mystique of the man that won the crowd, his crescendo phrases winning affirmations of “amen” and “Say it, brother” again and again.

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Then it was 6 p.m. and it was ending. Meredith still had the shotgun pellets lodged in his body, a beaten marcher was still in a Canton hospital with a collapsed lung, 5000 newly registered voters were in the rolls in 15 counties. The crowd reached out to grab strong but unfamiliar black hands and sing the holy song of the movement:

“God is on our side. We are not afraid …”

SNCC’s Willie Ricks, who has the look of a Times Square evangelist, began to scream, “Black power, black power, black power …”

But he was drowned out by the rising voices of 15,000 Negroes singing, “We shall brothers be — black and white together — we shall overcome — someday.” ❖

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Notebook for Night Owls: The Velvet Underground

Nineveh

Andy Warhol’s new discotheque seems to be an attempt to instill permanence into a private joke. Presided over by the Velvet Underground, and decorated with colored lights, slides and films, it occupies a long mirrored room atop the Polski Dom on St. Mark’s Place, and has the air of a dancing party out of “The Masque of the Red Death.” Most discotheques seem to have been constructed around Sartre’s famous principle that hell is other people, but Warhol, being an innovator, has gone further than other entrepreneurs. He has so arranged his discotheque that his patrons tend to feel, after five minutes in the place, that they have wandered into some evangelist’s vision of Nineveh and that perhaps it is time to mend their ways.

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The room is, of course, very dark, and it is streaked with reddish light. The Velvet Underground, consisting of three guitarists, two dancers, and a pretty girl named Nico who sings a little, disport themselves for most of the evening on a raised stage against a back projection of films and slides. Since the musicians in the group, although loud, are comparatively unskilled, the patron’s attention is mainly focused on Gerard Malanga, who dances continuously, in a style which combines feverishness and languor, in front of the band. He wears leather pants and a tee-shirt imprinted with a picture of Marlon Brando, and he is occasionally partnered by a girl named Ingrid Superstar. But the real star of the show is a strobe beamed upon the audience but usually kept focused on Malanga. When he dances inside the strobe beam Malanga shimmers as if he were in a St. Vitus attack.

Halfway through their set Gerard Malanga and Ingrid Superstar pick up a couple of coiled leather whips and, while the musicians play a song of which the only distinguishable line is “Whip your mistress till you reach his heart,” they do a sadomasochistic ballet which ends with Malanga kneeling with his head against Ingrid Superstar’s thighs while she pantomimes whipping him. This piece seems to impress the audience profoundly. All the dancers on the floor stop to watch (all except one couple who appear to be part of the show and who continue all night to dance a sort of ritualistic Watusi), and a few people whisper to their partners that poor Malanga needs a rest. Then the group swings into a fast number, complete with whistles and sirens, the lights begin to flicker wildly, half the audience covers its ears, and Malanga dances off the stage to recover from his exertions.

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It was at this point, on the night I was there, that a thin dark girl in a blue pants suit seized her escort and announced to him that she was going immediately to church. Her partner, who was dressed like Lord Byron in a flowing ruffled shirt, pointed out quite sensibly that since it was past midnight she might be better off going to bed, but the girl said that the weight of her sins had grown so heavy upon her that she could not rest another minute without confessing them. Several people in her vicinity nodded approvingly. ♦

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

Report from Swinging London: ‘Revolver’ Revolution

Pop Eye: On ‘Revolver’
August 25, 1966

SWINGING LONDON, August 17 — The reception which the Beatles have received so far on their American tour has been less than ecstatic. But it is far from the murderous venom which most Londoners feared would greet their native sons.

It is part of the myth of America-the-free to view even New York as an extension of the uncivilized frontier. There is a distinct impression that Americans are savages. The English main­tain a healthy skepticism about the ability of an average Amer­ican to eat dinner in a civilized manner — there is the fear that buffalo knives will accompany the meat course.

Mini-skirts and mod-men look with mixed envy and scorn at the hordes of madras crewcut gleamers who have made the trek across the sea; and this year the mob is bigger than ever. There is a supreme Eng­lish tolerance for bad weather, cold tea, and young Americans in T-shirts that say “Swinging London — Carnaby Street” on the back. But beneath the bemused affection lies a deep suspicion that, as a cowboy, you are liable to come out shooting when the local pubkeeper says: “Time, gentlemen, please.”

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Recent events in Austin, Chi­cago, Newark, New Haven, or wherever the most recent mass­-murder has taken place, com­pound this impression. The many-headed beast has taken murder statistics to heart. And the news from Vietnam has made matters much, much worse.

So, with the departure of the Beatles for America, a genuine anxiety gripped many teenagers here. A disc jockey on Radio Caroline asked his audience to pray for the group’s safety. Barbara Ruben, groupie-extraordinaire, planned a full-scale march of teen fans past the American embassy in protest. A New Yorker herself, she swore that: “If anything happens to them, man, it’s World War III.”

From the start, the tour has been front page in England. Of course, no one knows and everyone fears what will happen when the Beatles go South (overblown photos of the Ku Klux Klan burn­ing Beatle paraphernalia have fanned local fires) but the odds are that they will make it through and back to the open, custardy fingers of their fans back home.

As though displaying unswerving loyalty to its idols, British youth has flipped completely over the new Beatle album, Revolver. The single chosen from these songs — “Yellow submarine” b/w “Eleanor Rigby” — came on the charts one week ago at number four. Today it is number one. The entire album is in the top 20. Large record stores and tiny street stalls feature massive displays of the art-nouveauish album jacket. The sound of Revolver blares from window after window. John harmonizes with Paul in greengrocers and boutiques. George plays his sitar from cars stalled in traffic. Ringo ricochets from the dome of Saint Paul’s. The Beatles are harder to avoid than even the American.

But there is more than mere adulation behind the sudden conquest of Britain by this particular LP. Revolver is a revolutionary record, as important to the expansion of pop territory as was Rubber Soul. It was apparent last year that the 12 songs in Rubber Soul represented an important advance. Revolver is the great leap forward. Hear it once and you know it’s important. Hear it twice, it makes sense. Third time around it’s fun. Fourth time, it’s subtle. On the fifth hearing, Revolver becomes profound.

If Rubber Soul opened up areas of baroque progression and Oriental instrumentation to commercialization, Revolver does the same for electronic music. Much of the sound in this new LP is atonal; and a good deal of the vocal is dissonant. Instead of drowning poor voices in echo-chamber acoustics, Revolver presents the mechanics of pop music openly, as an integral part of musical composition. Instead of sugar and sex, what we get from the control knobs here is a bent and pulverized sound. John Cage move over — the Beatles are now reaching a super-receptive audience with electronic soul.

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Resemble Mantra

The key number on the album is that last track, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” No one can say what actually inspired this song, but its place in the pantheon of psychedelic music is assured. The lyrics remember a mantra in form and message:

Turn off your mind,
Relax and float downstream —
This is not dying,
This is not dying,

Lay down all thought,
Surrender to the void —
It is shining,
It is shining.

That you may see
The meaning of within,
It is being,
It is being.

Love is all
And love is everyone;
It is knowing
It is knowing…

While not unprecedented, the combination of acid-Buddhist imagery and a rock beat has never before been attempted with such complexity. At first, the orchestration sounds like Custer’s last stand. Foghorn-like organ chords and the sound of birdlike screeching overshadows the vocal. But the overall effect of this hodge-podge is a very effective suspension of musical reality. John’s voice sounds distant and Godlike. What he is saying transcends almost everything in what was once called pop music. The boundaries will now have to be re-negotiated.

Revolver also represents a fulfillment of the raga-Beatle sound. A George Harrison composition, “Love You To,” is a functioning raga with a natural beat and an engaging vocal, advising: “Make love all day long/Make love singing songs.”

“Eleanor Rigby” is an orchestrated ballad about the agony of loneliness. Its characters, Eleanor herself and Father MacKenzie, represent sterility. Eleanor “died in the church and was buried along with her name.” The good father writes “words to the sermon that no one will hear/No one comes near.” As a commentary on the state of modern religion, this song will hardly be appreciated by those who see John Lennon as an anti-Christ. But “Eleanor Rigby” is really about the unloved and un-cared-­for. When Eleanor makes up, the narrator asks: “Who is it for?”‘ While the father darns his socks, the question is: “What does he care?”

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More Next Door

“Yellow Submarine” is as whimsical and childlike as its flip side is metaphysical. Its subject is an undersea utopia where “our friends are all aboard/Many more of them live next door,” and where “We live a life of ease/Everyone of us has all he needs.”

“For No One” is one of the most poignant songs on the rec­ord. Its structure approaches madrigal form, with an effective horn-solo counterpoint. Its lyrics are in an evocative Aznavour bag.

“Taxman” is the album’s example of political cheek, in which George enumerates Brit­ain’s current economic woes. At one point. the group joins in to identify the villains. “Taxman — Mr. Wilson… Taxman — Mr. Heath.” They lay it right on the non-partisan line.

There is some mediocre material on this album. But the mystique forming around Revolver is based on more than one or two choice tracks — it encompasses the record as a whole.

It is a bit difficult to gauge the importance of Revolver from this city, where it has become gospel and where other beat groups are turning out cover copies like Gutenberg Bibles. But it seems now that we will view this album in retrospects as a key work in the development of rock ’n’ roll into an artistic pursuit.

If nothing else, Revolver must reduce the number of cynics where the future of pop music is concerned — even on the violent side of the Atlantic.

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John, Paul, George, Ringo: Cool Duel With the Press

John, Paul, George, Ringo: Cool Duel With the Press
August 25, 1966

A press conference is where photographers jostle for the same shot as the one in the files and reporters ask questions about the subject’s last answer to the same question. It is climaxed by six consecutive words that utterly defy nobody’s imagination — called a lead quote.

“What is your opinion of the war in Vietnam?” was the first question read from a notebook.

“We don’t like it,” said John Lennon, author and leading re­ligious figure.

“War’s wrong and that’s all,” said George Harrison, a visiting student of Indian music.

“Roobish,” said Ringo Starr, a sight act on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Would you care to elaborate?”

“We would elaborate in England but not here,” elaborated Paul McCartney. “In England people will listen a bit more to what you say. Here everything you say is picked up and turned against you. There’s more bigotry in America.” Every pencil in the room came down. “There are more people so there are more bigots.”

“Say any more,” snipped Lennon, “and you’ll be explaining all about it on the next tour.”

“Oh I just love it here,” Mc­Cartney bounced up and down.

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Out of Lights

Brian Epstein, in a lemon and lime striped blazer, pink shirt, and mauve tie, was sitting out of the lights, stroking a sideburn with a subdued smile as he exam­ined the BLACK POWER banner on a copy of the East Village Other. For openers, editor John Wilcock had thoroughly leafleted the proceedings.

“Last few feet of color, Ben­nie,” a television cameraman howled across the room.

“What no more color?” McCartney threw up his hands.

“We shooting this for the Elev­enth Hour News.” The man wheeled in for the last rays from Ringo Starr’s lavender polka dots. “Eighteen million viewers.”

“Goody,” said George Harrison who had been steadily addressing his microphone with a blue-­eyed leer. Lennon kept his back half-turned on the assemblage. “When do we do the commer­cial?”

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Sullen Eclat

For a limpid half hour the Beatles ritually parried the out­side world, capping trivia with irrelevance in sullen eclat. Har­rison was briefly embarrassed when someone asked him what instrument he would try next now that he had mastered the sitar. “Listen — I haven’t learned how to pay the sitar. Ravi Shankar’s been playing it for 35 years and he’s still learning.”

McCartney, who made the only conscientious attempts at civil chat, was aghast when informed that two girls had gotten onto a 22nd floor ledge at the Ameri­cana and threatened to jump un­less he came over. “Of course I’ll go see them. It’s terrible that anybody could even think about doing a thing like that.”

Lennon had moments of elaborate boredom.

Finally, a photographer sitting on the floor told Ringo Starr, “Get ready for a tough one. Your boy is almost a year old now. Can you tell us what he’d like for Christmas?”

“Now how do I know? He can’t talk yet.”

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Four Dummies

Then the professionals made way for 75 chicklets who had won equal time in a WMCA lot­tery. The former were enjoined to the bar where Tony Barrow, Beatles’ senior press official, an­nounced the Put-On Pre-emptive: “The boys have specifically re­quested that only soft drinks be served.” The girls were taking deep breaths while a Good Guy pleaded gloomily, “This is the first time in history the Beatles have come this close to their fans. Let’s show them how grown-­up we can all be.” Before assuming civil defense crouch, one cop patted a lissome post-teen, “The Beatles ain’t showing, hon­ey, They’re just gonna roll out four dummies.”

“Bud,” she said, cocking her Kodak, “you should be so dumb.”

John bounded out first, doing an Eric von Stroheim, “Iff you don’t keep qviet we haf you shot!”

“Who’s shouting out there?” bellowed Paul, shaking a forefin­ger at the rising tumult. It quelled abruptly.

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Burning Question

The Junior Press Conference opened with the burning ques­tion. “Hey, Paul, are you going to marry Jane Asher?”

Before, one of the elders had asked him, “What about Jane Asher?” McCartney had replied, “What do you mean what about Jane Asher?”

“ ‘What about,’ that’s an Amer­ican expression, man,” Lennon had leaned over with the De-troit sotto voce.

“Oh,” McCartney had winked, very Liverpool, “you mean wha­-about JANE ASHER?”

Now, he grinned at his inter­locutor from Yonkers, “We prob­ably going to get married.” Everybody clapped.

“What about that guy in South America she’s supposed to be engaged to?”

“I don’t know anything about it,” Paul panned.

Everybody razzed and Ringo did a Groucho Marx.

“Hey, Paul, do you know Al Perry? He lives in the Village and he says you met him the last time you were in New York?”

“Nope.”

After a grunt of betrayal, the girl held up a leaf. “Do you recognize this? It’s supposed to come from your front lawn.”

“Sure,” crowed Paul, “I’ve missed it for months!” In the pandemonium George did a John Lennon.

Before Barrow bounced them, they had discovered that John is 20 pages into his next book, Paul does not think he looks like Keith Allison, George is the one who coughs on “Tax Man,” and Ringo never buys his own jewelry. Then they threw their inflated plastic offerings up to the dais and trooped out of the Warwick Hotel. The girl had put the leaf back in her pocketbook and, outside, she haunched onto a police barricade of saw horses with the rest of the campers.

“Those are the kind of kids,” bet a female pedestrian, “that never help their mothers in the kitchen.”

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Pop Goes Homosexual: It’s a Queer Hand Stoking the Campfire

Pop Goes Homosexual: It’s a Queer Hand Stoking the Campfire

Last August there appeared on the cover of the magazine One a photograph of a young man dressed as an ancient Roman warrior in a toga and thonged sandal-shoes; on the floor beside his chair there stand a sword, a helmet, a shield. His hair curls downward on his forehead, his eyes are dreamy and promising, his lips pout suggestively. He looks as though only yesterday he was plucked from the sands of Fire Island or the doorways of Christopher Street, hustled into some uptown studio, dressed in this outfit, and photographed — to the general amused satisfaction of countless homosexuals and the equally general slightly dismayed amazement of as many heterosexuals. But no. That’s not the way it happened at all. Inside the magazine the cover photograph is identified as follows: “Youth, Oh Youth!”; cabinet photo circa 1880.” This is, of course, camp. High camp. Double camp. And this, on the cover of a magazine which purports to be the serious spokesman for the homosexual viewpoint in America, sounds perfectly the note of garish hysteria which, as of this writing, presides over the general confusion known as popular culture. What it all boils down to is: the queers have it.

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Popular culture is now in the hands of the homosexuals. It is homosexual taste that determines largely style, story, statement in painting, literature, dance, amusements, and acquisitions for a goodly proportion of the intellectual middle class. It is the homosexual temperament which is guiding the progress of Pop Art, producing novels like Last Exit to Brooklyn, making “underground” movies, selling cast-iron lamps shaped like roses to sophisticated schoolteachers, and declaring the Gene Kelly–Debbie Reynolds movies of the ’40s and ’50s a source of breathlessly amusing entertainment. It is the texture, the atmosphere, the ideals, the notions of “camp” (a term, from its beginnings, the private property of American and English homosexuals) which currently determines middle-class taste, directs its signs, and seems to nourish its simple-minded eagerness to grind the idea of “alienation” into yet another hopelessly ironic cliche.

Aesthetic Mood

It has been claimed (most notably by the critic Susan Sontag in a brilliant and now famous essay “Notes on Camp”) that camp is a sensibility, an aesthetic method of apprehending experience, and above all, a tender way of viewing the naive and the inconsequential. Nonsense. While it is true that camp does finally collect itself into a “way of looking at things,” there is nothing tender about it — at least there is nothing tender about the camp we in the mid-’60s are acquainted with; and I think it safe to say there never was; for camp was used originally by homosexuals as a private identification for a form of self-satire not especially notable for its gentle indulgence. No, camp is not tender. What it is is arch, sly, hysterical, schizophrenic. And what it most profoundly is, now, in its present role as arbiter of popular taste, is a malicious fairy’s joke whose point is its raging put-on of the middle classes; those very classes which have always denied the homosexual his existence.

The homosexual in modern Western society has, like the Jew and the Negro, always lived as an outsider, a spectator at the great heterosexual WASP banquet: you can look but you can’t touch. He walks in the shadow of Western privilege, unable to grasp its substance. He is denied his civil rights, driven from small towns, disowned by horrified families, fired from valuable jobs, forced by emotional need to live in ghettoes. He is a victim of blackmail, an object of ridicule, a man whose fundamental desires are contemptuously dismissed as constituting “an unnatural act”; and for him to attempt fulfillment is to risk arrest and imprisonment. In short, if one is a homosexual that characteristic is likely by far to be the most powerful and most influential factor in one’s life; more than the condition of wealth or poverty, strength or weakness, stupidity or intelligence, more than the sharp influences of region, religion, or personality, does it determine the shape and color and essential direction of experience. It is a fact of existence, in essence, capable of producing a culture. Which it has. A culture most curious in its general characteristics, its aims, its accomplishments.

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Victims in a society are drawn in masochistic fascination to their oppressors, seeking often to emulate and/or to appease them. This very often requires shameful disavowal of the self. His natural emotional integrity, however, makes very clear to the victim what he is doing, thus inflaming him with self-disgust and an appetite for dignity. Upon this unhappy polarization is strung the tension of a victims’ culture. Thus, the Jews on the one hand changed their names and (in affluent America) their noses; on the other hand they steeped themselves in an ethnic intellectuality and mysticism, concentrated on morality, guarded the secrets of the ghetto, and created an intensely Jewish idiom. Similarly, the Negroes on the one hand became Uncle Toms and then (in Adam Powell’s phrase) “Uncle Toms with a Harvard accent,” and on the other hand developed the richness of their religion, the depth of their music, the privateness of their humor, the agony of their lawlessness. And both Jews and Negroes have, through this body of literature, music, thought, and behavior, amounting to a “life style,” added immeasurably to the sum of humanity’s knowledge of the pain and deformity of castigation.

Brutal Caricature

Homosexuals, however, in a bizarre psychological turnabout, seem to have avoided the desperate conflict previously described, and achieved a pivotal psychology and a “life style” that one can almost describe as weirdly “integrated”; or at any rate a demonstrable proof of the dictum: you become what you are. For the homosexual’s culture seems to be based on nothing more than a brutal caricature of the femaleness he so violently rejects; and the absolute craziness of it all is that — whatever the tangled psychic roots — he has become the women he despises, in a form grotesquely frivolous and vicious. Thus he has won by losing. In weird imitation his hair is dyed, his face is made up, his walk is mincing; he is neurotically lonely, weepy sentimental, sexually promiscuous. His mannerisms are painfully girlish: he sulks, he pouts, he flounces; he wrings his wrists and files down his spiteful humor. His interests are more often than not womanish: he becomes a hairdresser, an antique dealer, a haberdasher, a creator of “atmosphere” — in theatres, restaurants, boutiques, and, of course, the salon of the interior decorator. (All of which is not to say that there are not homosexuals among teachers, writers, soldiers, philosophers, and architects. It is to say that those men who are teachers, writers, soldiers, philosophers, and architects and who also happen to be homosexual are not men who are the makers of or the participants in the homosexual culture as such — and the men of whom I am speaking. The distinction is crucial and must be made at once.)

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Last summer on the sands of one of the Fire Island beaches frequented by homosexuals I sat watching the incredible parade. Beside me sat a beautiful 25-year-old boy (offering friendship to the tune of “Do you prefer Helena Rubinstein to Elizabeth Arden?”) who the night before had frugged wildly, flirted madly, and subsequently nearly been raped in his bed by a muscular bartender he had drunkenly led on, and whose near-attack was made memorable by the fact that at precisely the “terrifying” instant the bartender had entered the bedroom, somewhere across the dunes someone was shrieking: “Well, if that’s the way you feel about it you can just take your sneakers and go!” Now, eight or ten frantic hours later, the sun blazed in the sky and my friend was feeling morose and decadent. He watched a powerful looking blonde on the next blanket plucking his eyebrows and, in a passion of unconscious double meanings, burst out: “You know, this is ridiculous. After all, you can’t be gay all your life! I mean this (pointing to the blonde’s makeup job) is all so adolescent.” (I was struck absolutely dumb.) But that is precisely the point. And that is precisely what homosexual culture is aiming at: the gruesome attempt to be gay all your life, to be professionally gay all your life. Which is, of course, what the preoccupation with trivia always amounts to. And again, of course, the parodic echo of the woman: the frantic female in a sweat over the loss of her youth.

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Giver of the Word

It is the willful confusion between this “gay” homosexual ambience, this mindless grotesquerie of trivia and the aesthetic value of style, that accounts for the strange popularization of camp, the absolute distortion of its meaning, and the irony of its position as giver of the word to the educated middle classes.

For, after all, what has camp ever been? In Where’s Annie?, Eileen Bassing’s novel about Am­erican expatriates in Mexico, is a scene in which a party in the villa of an aging American homosexual writer turns into a kind of orgiastic revel (as Terry Southern would say if this was “Candy Goes to College”). The number­less boys kept by the writer begin to dress themselves in women’s clothes and then proceed to impersonate female impersonators. It begins in an attitude of high laughter and gradually gathers momentum; the original intent of burlesque slowly loses its sharp defining edge as the boys forget themselves in a blur of genuine growing heat. Ned, a homosexual painter — himself a complexity of integrity and evil — flies into a fury at this disgusting “camping.” Together, Ned and the writer (for whom the boys are a surrogate) are camp: the self-conscious mockery etched in self-conscious contempt. For camp is, pure and simple, self-hatred. And, in all its ramifications, it represents the homosexual’s contribution to the stock of known psychology on the subject, confirming the fact that included in self-hatred in almost equal parts are revulsion and attraction, compassion and disgust, defiant guile and naked vulnerability, and that its neces­sary components — i.e., the recognition and practice of that which leads to bitter conscience-stricken remorse — exist in loving symbiosis and wouldn’t for all the world have it any other way.

What marks camp more pre­cisely than anything else is the mockery which surrounds it; a mockery which may seem deceptively gentle but which invariably turns savage; a mockery which may be trained by its practitioners on themselves but in curious psychological integrity absolutely lashes the squares who — either way — resent or identify themselves with camp, reminding one always of the way in which Negroes re­gard those whites who insist they understand the Negro. It is this mockery Susan Sontag has erroneously labeled camp’s tenderness (meaning a gentle appreciation which endows the naive, the simple, the meaningless with style), thereby helping to skyrocket into a position of current celebrity and influence this fantastically arch “sensibility” and its creepy creators, exploiters and sycophants.

100 Year Set Back

The most directly stunning result of camp’s influence is, of course, the raucous Pop Art vogue… which has probably set the course of American art back some hundred years or so. One has the feeling that it all started one day when a bunch of the sweet young things got together after a mad, mad day at the decorator’s; in sarcastic imitation of the Mrs. Babbitts they serve the boys began to whoop it up, painting the objects best fitted to describe Mrs. B’s crass taste. One painted a huge lettuce and tomato sandwich sitting, appropriately, on the table of a haute-cuisine restaurant — everyone was highly amused: “The old cow!” Suddenly in popped a slightly retarded P.R. man who had lost his way while trying desperately to focus across the insurmountable distance of four straight martinis. He took one look at the lettuce and tomato sandwich. “Wow!” he breathed in reverent tones. “Man, that’s great. Its a whole new vision. Creative as hell!” “Whey you foolish boy,” tittered one of our own, but his eyes widened in incredulous cunning as he caught the malicious glee in the glance of his own dear boy on the other side of the room. Then they both nodded, steered the P.R. man to his fifth martini — and the panic was on. Soon the boys were reinventing photography, turning out pretty good super­market ads, and slapping a lot of papier-mâché around: all to the tune of thousands of dollars, international fame, and impeccable interpretation: “A profound statement… babble, babble, babble… the meaninglessness of affluence… babble, babble, babble… seriousness is dead… babble, babble, babble.” And one sees Andy Warhol staring serenely across private, peroxided spaces, smiling Sphinx-like as the critics describe the meaning of his Brillo boxes. Or one gazes in disbelief at one of Tom Wessleman’s nudes. What is it? What’s wrong here? Is sex only being gently twitted? Are these pictures merely humorous? Humorous, hell! They’re down­right ludicrous. And that’s the point: women are ludicrous and most insultingly ludicrous are the middle-class women in the middle-class bathroom and the middle-class kitchens of middle-class America. But — and this is the crowning touch — she, the idiotic real-live model — stands before this classically spiteful joke, smiling benevolently as though she were in the know, because she’s heard somewhere that all the intellectuals love this stuff. She pokes her dour-faced husband in the ribs: “Joe, buy it. C’mon, Joe. For me.” And Joe chomps down on his cigar, counts out a few thousand dollars, and takes it — or a giant hamburger or a soup can or a really groovy papier-mâché busdriver — back to the steel and glass Long Island palace he calls home, thereby further contributing to a curious sociological phenomenon: today the nouveau riche culture-vulture­ lives in a strikingly designed home, buys antique furniture, Spanish rugs, glass lamps — and hangs Pop Art on his walls; 40 years ago he bought white wall­-to-wall carpeting, cream-colored furniture, and hung Picasso and Braque on his walls… and another notch is carved in the camper’s belt.

Of course, one could go on and on. From Pop Art to Rudi Gernreich’s topless bathing suit (an especially delicious example of a camper’s delight; one can see Gernreich outfitting some mindless blonde in his topless wonder. “Oh, Rudi, should I?” she breathes anxiously. “Oh honey,” deadpans Rudi. “It’s so you.”) to Tiffany lamps to comic strip characters to flapper clothes to silent movies to Victorian furniture and threadbare Oriental rugs; to “atmosphere” and the dreadful insistent preoccupation with it; to the creation of a mystique and a genuine value surrounding it; to the fraudulent notion which claims that the trivial has the right to more than five minutes of our attention and proceeds to make a cult, a life-style out of it; to the claim that emptiness is substance; to a literature which has grown out of the homosexual temperament and which is frightening in its steely-eyed slickness, its language of surfaces, its heartlessness, its unbearable loathing of humanity and all its activities (I speak here of books like Last Exit to Brooklyn and most certainly not of books merely dealing with homosexual love, such as Giovanni’s Room or Another Country, in which the protagonists are men in passionate pursuit of their manhood; quite another matter altogether).

Why? Why camp? And why now? Why the eager bobbing plunge of yes by middle-class intellectuals — that plunge which is alone responsible for the phenomenal rise of camp in the world?

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The answer lies in the fact that it is a time in which the spirit of self-belief is profoundly on the decline. For most men the gods are all dead: ideology, tradition, Christian morality — all gone, neatly knocked off by imperfectly understood and thoroughly indigestible doses of Einstein, Fermi, and Freud. We find very little beyond ourselves to believe in and thus we cannot take ourselves seriously. We have become disheartened, demoralized, and, finally, hysterical — so intolerable is our circumstance. The world thus must be declared a topsy-turvy place, the banners of renunciation must wave, and black must be declared white. And so, everywhere in the Western world men are involved in what the British novelist, John Fowles, speaking in his new novel, The Magus, refers to as “…this characteristically 20th century retreat from content into form, from meaning into appearance, from ethics into aesthetics.…” Thus, an intellectual like Susan Sontag cultivates aesthetics and seeks to prove that an insignificant and rather nasty sensibility really has something legitimate to say; and round the world cowardly intellectuals everywhere become ardent camp-followers concentrating with myopic imbecility on “style”: “The envelope is the message, baby.” Meanwhile the swishes of America lean back, smile soothingly, croon, “Oh sweetie, you are so-o-o right,” and spoon the cream right off the top.

It will no doubt all pass: it is too flimsy, too fraudulent, too distasteful not to. And the course of human life has a way of taking care of its cyclical demoralizations, anyway. The cynical ennui of the 1920s was soon replaced by the urgent events of the ’30s and ’40s. Who knows but that Vietnam may yet turn the trick for us. In the meantime wounds will be inflicted and scars left. One very real scar may be the result of the disservice being performed on the concept of style and the meaning of aesthetics in human life. For the discrepancy between the meaning of style as an enriching cloak of expression for vital content and the shallow, mean-spirited, empty-vesseled “style” of camp is so large that if it weren’t painful it would be absurd: Susan Sontag has dedicated her notes on camp to Oscar Wilde. In actuality they should have gone to Bosie Douglas, for not only is it decidedly more his spirit — spiteful, petulant, vain, trivial, untalented — than Wilde’s which informs camp, but it is the difference between the two that tells the entire story.

The meaning of camp and the “meaning” of camp require a hand as masterly as Nabokov’s to unravel the endless reverberations of self-parody in which this fantastic little con game are rooted. But the irony of the adoration of camp by the middle-class intellectual is obvious and of classic proportions: not only does the victim comply with circumstances oppressive to him but he also diligently searches for a victimizer hateful enough to effect his demise with the proper amount of imagination… and style.

Categories
From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Peace March, 1966 

Peace March, 1966
March 31, 1966

I live on 103rd Street near Central Park West, one of the very few whites in a block of Negroes and Puerto Ricans. Garbage strews the streets and children play in it. Their elders view the scene with sullen passivity. Getting drunk seems to be their only retort. The subway strike and the blackout before it seemed not to affect their lives, both being manifestations of a foreign life in a society in which they are kept alien. 

When I saw the ad in The Village Voice that told of the Peace Parade down Fifth Avenue on March 26, I had been watching several men and women in windows opposite my building going through an elaborate system of signals, all directed to a window next to mine. One, a man I’d noticed often before, wearing a dirty white trench coat and limping, I had put down as a runner of sorts. Another, a janitor with a carrying voice, still young and dressed always in army fatigues, carries on as the neighborhood pimp. All would appear as Hollywood spies but for their apathetic demeanor. I wondered what Vietnam meant, if anything, to these victims of the Great Society. 

I turned on the radio to get the weather and had to wade through a report on the War on Poverty, a bulletin telling us that narcotics addiction threatened our way of life, then came the voice of a hero of my youth, Louis Armstrong, singing about Schaefer’s beer, a premature estimation that 10,000 to 12,000 were marching in the Peace Parade that wasn’t to start for at least an hour and a half. Then I got it: it was 43 degrees and windy with partially sunny skies. I was slightly hungover from a $20 evening listening to Sonny Stitt and Roy Eldridge, both of whom had thrilled me in the late forties and early fifties when we were all young. I would go to the parade to see what youth was up to now. 

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I dressed warmly, left my apartment to pick my way through the debris of Friday night’s brawls, and entered the park. 

The sun was filtering through a hazy sky, and wind blew dirt into my eyes. The pond is idyllic from a distance, but up close its water is green with slime and dotted with broken buggies, beer cans, unidentified junk. Plane trees with greenish-yellow peeled bark seem the only trees able to thrive in the polluted city air. Even the squirrels look ratty and undernourished. 

As I walked, I thought of the 2,000 Vietnamese we were said to have killed in the past week, of the President’s voice when he branded those who spoke out against the killings as misguided, and how carefully parental he made his voice sound, like a misunderstood teacher explaining to his very young students that their welfare was in his heart. Further on in the park, boys played baseball desultorily, some drank from bottles in bushes, others fought in cruel desperation. Here and there an old woman fed squirrels or birds with bread crumbs. A man tossed a stick for his dog to chase. Spring had come to Central Park and was greeted apathetically. 

When I reached Madison Avenue, I headed south toward Ninety-Second Street where The Village Voice said that the “unaffiliated” were to gather with “professional groups” and “pacifist groups.” Having spent the major portion of the past fifteen years as an executive of an automobile-leasing firm, giving up finally when I realized the only legitimate concern was the making of money in the shortest and cleverest way possible, I decided that I was one of the “unaffiliated.” 

It was a little after 12 when I arrived at my corner. Small knots of people had congregated and were being stared at by the police, who were out in riot proportions. One or two looked at me with the deference I had become used to, and I hoped the small frays in my Rodex overcoat that had cost me $175 a few years ago would be noticed by the young people who were, I thought, beginning to eye me with suspicion. I reached greedily for a copy of The National Guardian being shoved into my hands, sticking my finger through the hole in my leather gloves as I did. I even tried to adopt the sullen looks the partisans were giving the police. But the feeling of alienation was strong within me, and as I pushed past the corner, throngs were on Fifth Avenue, and I saw myself as they must have seen me: a forty-nine-year-old man who could afford to dress well, one with gray hair and a white mustache, an Enemy of the People. When a girl asked me to buy The Catholic Worker, I said in a loud voice that I hadn’t enough money. Several near me tittered, and she said it only cost a penny, or what else I felt like contributing. I fumbled nervously in my pocket and gave her all the change I had, four pennies. A bearded youth gave me a placard to carry, saying “Bring the Boys Home Now!” I was in business. 

It was getting on toward 12:30, and I realized I had been foolish not to have had a more substantial breakfast than a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. My back, which plagues me from time to time, began to stiffen. I sat down on the low stone abutment of the Jewish Museum to wait for the start of the parade. A policeman, with a forced smile, asked me to please not sit there, that no one was allowed on the sidewalks. I took my stand close to a family group being photographed by the father — two lovely teenaged girls in long straw-colored hair, and their mother. The girls were eager for action. Two middle-aged and respectable couples were working on a banner strung between two wooden poles on which a crude replica of Picasso’s “Guernica” was drawn. The street was filled up. I couldn’t now, if I wanted, leave for food or for any other reason. There was barely room to move without jostling. 

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There were several young men looking self-conscious in their attempts to live up to newspaper descriptions of “beatniks,” in long matted hair and beards, talking overly loud to girls neutered by clothing that de-emphasized their sex. There were also those who seemed to be cultivating a look that would brand them as “radicals,” wearing the mask I remembered from the Depression leftists, along with the newer Fuck-Communism-Let’s-Have-a-Ball variety. There were, too, a few teenagers out for kicks. But most of the men and women packed close to me were coupled, concerned and brimming with enthusiasm I had been taught by my daily reading of the press had been stamped out. On no face did I see the signs of cowardice, malevolence, or moral depravity such “peaceniks” were implied to be contaminated with. 

A jolly fat man pushed through with a shopping bag, crying out, “The old button man is back with more goodies!” Another, bare­headed and scholarly, followed in his wake, distributing placards, a baby slung round his back, calling out with the placard waved aloft, “Who is qualified to carry this sign? Step right up!” Laughter floated round in the cold air of the shaded street. “I want to see the parade,” a small child’s voice complained. Police had given up their attempt to keep people from the sidewalks; paraders now occupied the window ledges of the Jewish Museum as well as the doorway. Behind me, all the way back to Madison, the street was walled with people. Signs of all kinds were held aloft with now and then a streetwide banner proclaiming the groups to which they were aligned: teachers, scientists from Rockefeller Institute, writers and artists, professional groups. Before me, across the weakly sunny Fifth Avenue, on the park’s stone wall, were photographers taking pictures of us. Over the heads of those in front, the tips of flags could be seen. People were patiently waiting for their time in the sun. Overhead, a plane buzzed and someone shouted, “There they go!” and nervous laughter broke out. 

Finally, at close to two o’clock, two flags, one the standard of our country, the other an older standard with thirteen stars in a circle surrounding the number seventy-six. A cry sprang up, building to a roar. The parade bad begun. Veterans from World War II and Korea were in the vanguard. Mothers gathered their children around them, some taking fresh grips on their prams, signs were held aloft as we strained on tiptoes to catch glimpses of the marchers and the signs they carried. The sound of applause was loud. 

Cold and hungry, my back threatening to break down at the first wrong movement, I stood in that crowd of dedicated young Americans and allowed their fervor to warm me in a way that food and drink never could. When the word came, we were let into the street, our banner aloft, to walk eight in a line down that sunny street, to the bursting applause of the throngs who lined the sidewalks on the other side of the barriers of wooden horses and policemen. It was like a sudden entrance on a stage lit by klieg lights. To my left a young good-looking couple marched hand in hand, next to them a woman pushed a stroller with a child in it, an old woman in a purple plush hat with pearl hatpin, an ancient man looking grim, two bright young girls with widely staring eyes. I was on the right end of the line on the park side of the street. Marshals in green armbands tried to keep the lines orderly, men with green badges of the press stalked along with costly picture-taking and sound equipment, policemen with bullhorns swaggered as thousands of their co-workers lined the streets facing the spectators. Here and there a small blue motorscooter buzzed by with a blue helmeted policeman on it. The chanting began, slow and faltering at first, then growing as it found its own rhythm: “Peace Now, Peace Now, Peace Now!” 

A can of red paint splattered on the asphalt, a scream, then the chanting rose to cover all for a time. I saw faces in the crowd along the route contorted by insane rage, mouths stretched to the breaking point, eyes staring, fists shaking. They were young boys in brown uniforms with orange lettering and green berets, though they were scarcely old enough to have seen action in Vietnam, most still in their teens. They were screaming as loud as they could in scratchy voices. When the “Peace Now” chant died down, I heard some of the words they spat at us. 

“Fruits, Communist bastards, cowards!” “We killed two thousand of your kind last week, queers!” “Killing’s too good for you bums!” “Look at ’em, they look like girls! A bunch of dirty girls!” 

“Don’t you like girls?” I found myself asking suddenly, my face hot with excitement and embarrassment for having been lured into talking back to them. My marshal came quickly alongside to tell me there was no need to answer. I marched in silence, eyes ahead, my ears ringing with the profanity of the hooligans from the right. It was no longer possible for me, seeing those faces, the signs that urged for more, more bombing of Hanoi and a mining of the Bay of Haiphong, to believe what the press told me, what our political leaders said, that these were men of courage while we, the marchers, were cowards, evil or misguided. Compared to the naked hate on the faces of these sidewalk hecklers, those of the marchers I associated in my mind with early Christian martyrs, as they bravely faced scorn with songs. 

The hecklers were only small pockets, isolated by long stretches of sympathizers who clapped their hands and called out encouragingly to us. I saw a Catholic priest bearing a sign saying “FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP IT!” An egg was hurled and it stained the street. An elegantly dressed woman of middle age, heavily painted with snobbery, looked down her nose and muttered something to a man with a cane. Behind them, on the steps of an institution-like stone building, a woman in her twenties in bizarre clothes, showed herself to the marchers, her long legs drawn up and wide apart. She giggled when the marchers looked. Her young man smoked moodily, now and then he raised his fist and screamed some obscenity. The woman laughed hysterically and opened her legs wider.

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Waves of weakness surged through me. My legs, from long standing, would not behave, and I stumbled along like a cripple or one with too much to drink. The sounds were overwhelming. Out of it came the high-pitched taunts of a young fellow, clean and scrubbed-looking, his hands in his pockets as he marched cockily along with us on the sidewalk, one eye out for his two straggling companions. When they cheered him, he screamed louder. He was centering his attack on the woman with the purple plush hat in my line. She was at least sixty and walking was a job. She tried to ignore him. He broke through the line of onlookers to walk beside her. “You filthy old whore!” he screamed, his face pushed close to hers. Above were the fat horizontal ramparts of the Guggenheim Museum. “A dirty old whore!” I moved without thought. I slapped that red young face and saw surprise and fear as police zoomed in to get him. There was some murmuring but I was too confused by the suddenness and unseemliness of my attack to know if I was being praised or put down. But I was pleased with myself, in spurts between waves of self-loathing, when seeing the distorted faces of the anti-demonstrators I appeared in my own eyes as one of them. “Please don’t answer them, and stay in line,” I was warned by my marshal. “That’s what they want. It’ll only get us in trouble.” But when I could look around me, I saw smiling faces, especially that of the old woman in purple plush. 

At 72nd Street the march turned into the park, where those before us were lined up along the paths, held back by policemen. From the mall came the amplified sounds of folk singing. There were to be speeches. I had had it. All I wanted was a place to sit and a drink to warm me. I left the march and walked for a time alongside it on the grass, feeling again the difference in my dress, my manner, my weariness. Was I no longer a part of humanity? Had I been led astray too long by the trappings of success? 

I had my drink in an Irish bar with a television set blaring out the final inning of the Chicago White Sox–New York Mets baseball game. Here were men said to be of my kind, well dressed, in various stages of inebriation, shouting, faces flushed, about sports. I left to walk back to the subway station and home. 

On my block swarms of children filled the streets, their parents shouted up to the windows of friends, who screamed back. Garbage was mashed into the sidewalks and spilled over cans already filled. A four-year-old was banging with two chair rungs on a sheet metal fence, while above him two older boys clung to a fire escape masturbating. On the wall of the tenement was a sign in chalk that said “Fuck China.” I was home. 

Categories
Equality From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Martin Luther King, Attacked in Chicago

King in Chicago: Has White Power Killed Love Power?
August 11, 1966

CHICAGO — Hit squarely between the shoulder blades, Reverend Martin Luther King closed his eyes and fell to one knee. He waited for the impact of the bullet. But King had been struck by a rock. He brushed off the back of his neck, told reporters he was fine, and signaled his followers on.

They followed. More than 800 strong, they walked two abreast through Chicago’s Gage Park area last Friday, led by officials of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Twelve hundred policemen tried to prevent the march from becoming a bloodbath. The demonstrators inched their way through a hail of bricks, bottles, firecrackers, and spit. Seven thousand white residents of the area screamed abuse from the sidewalks but police formed two tight blue lines around the demonstra­tors and kept the murder verbal.

Chicago is a poor city in which to prove the pragmatic validity of non-violence. This year’s quota of race-warfare was far more vicious here than anywhere in the nation. The city’s Roman Catholics are scattered in tight ethnic ghettos; they are neither rich enough to tolerate newcomers, nor organized enough to meet the civil rights revolution with anything more destructive than bricks and cherry bombs.

The black power schism has created a profound enmity among the lower echelons of Chicago’s Negro leadership. One militant leader, who wore a Black Panther insignia as he spoke, called the SCLC march “King’s last stand.” He was a bit unkind. But many accept his pre­mise — that King’s 35-point pro­gram to “make Chicago an open city” is, in part, an effort to wrest control from the militants, of the place they now hold in the hearts and headlines of America.

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Chicago’s newspapers are filled with hair-raising stories about vast Negro gangs on the South Side. Tale of the Mighty Blackstone Rangers which the Chicago Daily News called “the biggest, toughest, and best disciplined gang Chicago has produced in a decade,” are filling the copy gap between the last mass murder and the next tax hike.

All these factors make this town one hell of a place to stage a comeback. But that is what SCLC’s ambitious program amounts to. It calls for more public housing construction in racially mixed areas, the estab­lishment of a bargaining union for welfare recipients, and a civilian review board. It is too early to tell whether the program or the marches will succeed. But Martin Luther King and his fol­lowers proved one thing last Friday: they showed Chicago and the nation that the Southerner is everyman.

King appeared first for the TV cameras. He stood on the steps of the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, on West 71st St., while across the street parish­ioners distributed water ices from wooden drums. Demonstra­tors piled into cars and headed west of 71st, past the wooden fire escapes and backyard alleys which spell slum in Chicago. Suddenly, across a thoroughfare call­ed Normal Boulevard, everything became hostile and white. Clusters of onlookers booed from the sidewalks at the passing motorcade. Neighborhood kids on bicy­cles rode alongside, pointing and spitting.

The cars deposited demonstra­tors and reporters in Marquette Park. After the previous Sun­day’s march, gangs of whites roamed through this area setting fire to demonstrators, cars. This time, cars and drivers returned to the Negro quarter, leaving hundreds of tense marchers camped along the grassy slopes, waiting for things to start.

They didn’t wait long. Gangs of white youths tossed stones and sticks from across a narrow river. A brawl broke out in the parking area. And passing cars honked in protest. The police arrived in chartered city buses, and quickly cleared the area. Blue shock helmets bobbed a­mong the weeping willows and along the dirt roads over which King would walk. There had been rumors of land mines.

“I hope King gets it,” said a neighborhood boy named John, waving a Confederate flag in the direction of the marchers. “We was chased twice and we ain’t gonna move again,” he explained. A friend held a sign which said “Wallace for President.” “I’ll go to school with ’em and I’ll work with ’em,” he said, “but I won’t live with ’em. I seen what they did to their neighborhoods and I don’t want ’em doing it here.”

Gage Park is a Polish-Lithuanian ghetto. Many of its residents moved there from other neighborhoods where Catholic churches have since become Baptist or Pentecostal. They stand on their porches awaiting the Nigger invasion. The anger of genuine frustration is on their faces. They hold their children and scream “White power,” and “Get that priest out of there; he’s no priest.” But over the insults and the clenched fists, they tell you: “We won’t move again.”

The line moved slowly through the park. Two brown banners at the head proclaimed the movement’s insignia: a V encased in a circle. Veteran demonstrators began to sing but the marshals ordered quiet. Over the silence were the sounds of shuffling feet, the crack of nightsticks against policemen’s thighs, and the distant roar of autohorns.

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On California Avenue, the crowd marched past rows of neat porches and shrubbery. “Keep your slums; we don’t want ’em,” one mother screamed. “Kill coon King,” chanted a group of old men. And two teenagers who said they were “some of the boys from Saint Rita’s” warned: “It’s gettin’ dark soon; then there’ll sure be some action.”

On California and West 63rd, a phalanx of teenagers tried to charge King’s bodyguards. Po­lice pinioned two youths to the ground and handcuffed them, while enraged neighbors shrieked: “Brutality,” and “let ’em go… let ’em alone.” King in a grey suit, blue shirt, and no tie, was almost hidden from sight by his followers. Whenever the group stopped, they covered his head with picket signs.

All along West 63rd the side­walks were filled with shouting, spitting whites. Firecrackers ex­ploded freely among the march­ers. Those hit, limped. A priest picked up a brick which had hit him in the shoulder and put it in his pocket. A knife, aimed at King, hit a young student in­stead; police carried him away as the crowd roared its approv­al. When the entire march halted before the Mark Realty Com­pany, which has allegedly re­fused to serve Negro applicants, the street exploded with boos and cries of “We want Rockwell.” A silent prayer was pockmarked by breaking bottles and exploding cherry bombs which the crowd lobbed into the kneeling demon­strators.

Police Chief Orlando Wilson’s finest stood careful guard over the parade. The cops were sen­sitive to charges of negligence which Negro leaders lodged aft­er last Sunday’s brickbath. Aft­er the march was over Negroes shouted approval as one marshal asked for “three cheers for the blue.” It was an unexpected trib­ute; the cops were startled.

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White onlookers were not so complimentary. Along Kedzie Avenue, police swung freely at cursing teenagers. When the marchers returned to Marquette Park to disperse, they were fol­lowed by a mob estimated at 5,000 whites. Hecklers lined a slope, cheering whenever a fire­cracker exploded like fans at a football game. Clouds of dust covered the area as police chased charging youths through the grass. One man kicked a policeman in the leg and re­ceived a sharp blow across the face. Blood oozed from his nostrils and forehead; he began to cry. Three policemen pinned his hands and carried him away.

A youth was tossed into a pad­dy wagon, his shirt splashed with blood. An injured policeman writhed on the ground while four more cops felled his assailant, and applied handcuffs. Teen­agers began to scale a high fence to reach the marchers, but po­lice knocked them down with flailing billy clubs.

Amid the screaming mob, 800 marchers huddled in the road­way waiting to be piled into po­lice busses. Lewis Cole, a young New Yorker who is in Chicago for the summer to work with SCLC, blamed the Roman Cath­olic educational system for the riot. “These folks actually be­lieve Negroes have tails,” he said. “I’ve never seen people so sick with hatred. This puts Mis­sissippi and Alabama down.”

Cole, who has traveled through the South, is a firm believer in non-violence. He said: “You don’t beat a crazy man; you take him to the psychiatrist.” Suddenly a cherry bomb exploded at Cole’s feet. He grabbed his knee and rolled over in pain, as a small crowd of women squealed with delight.

“I still love ’em,” he said.

Busload after busload of marchers pulled out of the area. Police swinging nightsticks charged a mob of teenagers blocking the roadway, but they left the thousands on the slope alone. “If that crowd breaks through,” one cop said, “it’s gonna be the end.”

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On one bus, the marshal or­dered all windows closed. The vehicle pulled away amid a hail of spit. No longer protected by the police, it sped through the hostile white streets. Stones and bottles flew from the sidewalks. The marshal shouted, “Every­one duck.” A window shattered and one marcher picked up a huge yellow brick that had hit him in the head. His scalp bled from three places. A second win­dow cracked and glass spilled freely over the rear section.

Once across Normal Boulevard the marshal shouted: “We made it.” The bus rang with cheers. Freedom songs began spontaneously. From the porches, lad­ies smiled. From small shops, merchants and customers waved. From the sidewalks, young toughs clapped and sang along. Suddenly there was no more black panther stalking, and no one was screaming “burn baby burn” and there were no Molo­tov cocktails hidden in the al­leys. It was like the good old days, before non-violence be­came passe.

Martin Luther King, Nobel Prize winner, pacifist, agitator, leader, and ex-leader, had faced 5000 white Chicagoans who want­ed to see his throat slit. He told those few reporters who had not left for cover: “I’ve never seen so much hostility in a demonstration before. And I’ve been all over the South.”

A flying brick screamed; “Amen.”