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Marching to Montgomery: The Cradle Did Rock

It was the Ecumenical Council, a hootenanny, a happening, and a revolution all rolled into one. And it happened in Montgomery, “Cradle of the Confederacy.”

A broken-down hipster, the Realist sticking out of his dungarees, marched alongside an Episcopal bishop clutching the Holy Bible. There were the kamikazes of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee — SNCC — in their blue-denim overalls, mud-caked boots, and rash helmets, next to middle-class housewives who won’t ride the subways after dark. There were nuns in flowing black habits arm in arm with jowly labor leaders who discriminate in their unions.

There were rabbis, junkies, schoolboys, actors, sharecroppers, intellectuals, maids, novelists, folk-singers, and politicians — 40,000 motives and 40,0000 people marching to Montgomery behind James Forman who hates the oppressor and Martin Luther King who loves the oppressed.

March on Washington

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New Generation

There were hundreds of high school and college youngsters — that new breed of revolutionary that has somehow grown up inside the bowels of prosperous America. There were kids who rioted against HUAC, vigiled against the Bomb, invaded Mississippi last summer, and turned Berkeley upside down. They are a new generation of insurgents, nourished not by Marx or Trotsky, but by Camus, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, and SNCC. Their revolution is not against capitalism, but against what they deem to be the values of an enlightened America — Brotherhood Weeks, factories called colleges, desperation called success, and sex twice a week.

And there were thousands of clergymen symbolizing the revolution within a revolution — the nun with suntan cream on her face who marched all the way from Selma, priests, ministers, rabbis with yarmulkes. There was a huge sign: “Lutherans are Here Because Christ Cared.” Another read: “Kansas Mennonites Support Civil Rights.” And another: “SMU Marches for Freedom.”

On the streets of the Confederacy’s cradle that “coalition of conscience” Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington have tried to will into existence materialized spontaneously. A line of marchers, strung out as far as the eye could see, sang “America the Beautiful” and made it sound like a revolutionary anthem.

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Sleepy Beginning

The day that was to end in triumph and tragedy began in sleepy whimsy at 4 a.m. last Thursday for the 104 participants in the Village Independent Democrats’ “Fly-In” as they pulled out of the West Side Airlines Terminal singing ironic songs about their pilgrimage.

They sang in spirited atonality that quickly disintegrated into anarchy songs like “Stars Fell on Alabama” and “I’m Alabamy Bound” and “Swanee” and “Dixie.”

“Al-a-bam-a, here I come,” roared Bill Tatum, “VIDers, don’t be late, open up that capitol gate. Alabama, here I come, right back where I started from … “

The “Welcome to Montgomery” sign at Dannelly Airport reinforced the ironic mood of the pilgrims, especially for those who noticed that billboard just outside the airport that read: “Get the U. S. out of the U. N. or get the U. N. out of the U. S.”

Within 20 minutes the small airport lounge became congested as flights from Boston and St. Louis also landed, disgorging eager, smiling, scrubbed middle-class faces, some on top of clerical collars.

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Minister’s Greeting

A white minister from Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) greeted new arrivals, urged them to leave the city “as soon as the rally is over because it will be dangerous,” and directed them to shuttle buses to the City of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic complex where the marchers had camped the night before. On the SCLC minister’s lapel was a button that said “GROW.” He explained it stood for “Get Rid of Wallace.”

At St. Jude the predominant mood was gaiety, as thousands upon thousands of visitors swelled the great serpentine line of march that coiled around the vast, muddy athletic field.

Small clusters sang freedom songs during the two hours it took for the whole line to unwind onto the streets towards the capitol, four miles away. The visitors sang off-key versions of better-known freedom songs, while local Negroes, led by either SNCC or SCLC staff members, sang raucous, sassy, taunting songs that came out of the Movement in Alabama’s Black Belt. A group of about 500 from St. Louis stood in a large circle, one small, Negro woman calling out chorus after chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”

Other demonstrators milled around the staging area like conventioneers, wearing name tags and introducing themselves to strangers, pronouncing their home towns with accents of pride — Montreal, Berkeley, Boston, Detroit — and their association with equal pride — ADA, the United Auto Workers, NAACP, the University of Virginia, the American Legion (Gramercy Park chapter).

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To the Capitol

At noon, under one of the day’s brief showers, the procession began to move out, with the bloody-shoed 300 who had marched all the way in the vanguard. With them were barefoot Joan Baez; James Baldwin, nervously smiling, just back from Scandinavia; the angelic looking Montgomery seamstress Rosa Parks, who ignited the mythic bus boycott a decade ago; and SNCC’s John Lewis, who walked the whole way from Selma and who had suffered head injuries on “Bloody Sunday” at the Alabama River Bridge. And there was Martin Luther King, to whom Negroes of the Black Belt now sing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and then kiss his hand.

The streets in the Negro slums of Montgomery were of mud and clay. There were row upon row of run-down shacks, with the very old, the very young, the unemployed sitting on porches.

The First Time

At first the non-marchers were timid and shy. It was as if shame made them look down rather than at the masses that surged past them. But slowly, they looked up, to wave, and when the marchers began to shout, “Join us, come on,” many accepted the invitation and probably protested their plight for the first time in their lives. Marching through the slums was like taking LSD for the soul.

One bent old woman ran off her porch and kissed a white marcher. Children, dirty and scrawny, ran alongside, singing the songs and chanting the slogans of freedom. A very old man, his cane resting between his legs, sat on his porch steps and wept.

About a mile from the capitol we reached the downtown section of Montgomery, with its banks, hotels, movies, stores, office buildings and clean asphalt streets. The sidewalks were almost deserted except for a sprinkling of hecklers and the federal troops at each intersection, standing at attention, their rifles at their sides.

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Traditional Gesture

But against the windows of the office buildings were pressed the white faces of the South. Some shook their heads “no” or gave the thumbs-down sign when the marchers waved at them. A beautiful woman of about 25 stood on the balcony of the Jefferson Davis Hotel, and when the demonstrators waved at her, this flower of Southern womanhood made the traditional obscene gesture of one finger up.

On the lawn of an elegant home a hunched, elderly maid stood in the midst of her sullen employers. She was smiling and waving a white handkerchief at the procession. One wonders what was happening in the minds of her employers at that moment.

Remarked Edward Koch, the Village Democratic leader: “Walking through the Negro section made me feel like I was walking through Paris again with the liberation army. The white section was what it must have been like marching through Germany.”

From the window of the Alabama Bible Society Building hung a blow up of the picture Senator Eastland introduced into the Congressional Record prior to the March on Washington to prove Martin Luther King was “part of the Communist conspiracy.” The photograph shows King at a rally in 1957 at the now-defunct leftist Highlander Folk School, which was burned by segregationists several years ago.

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Turns the Corner

Dexter Avenue is the eight-lane street that leads into the white stone capitol building. As the procession turned the corner of that final leg of the journey the marchers suddenly broke into “America the Beautiful” and sang it with a passion normally associated in the Movement with “We Shall Overcome.”

“America, America, God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea,” they sang. Hundreds of school children waving little American flag. Ahead loomed the dome of the capitol with its Alabama and Confederate flags blowing in the breeze.”By 2 p.m. all 40,000 marchers, including about 10,000 whites, arrived at the foot of the capitol and stretched out several blocks down Dexter Avenue. The symbolism of the scene was inescapable. At the spot where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated, where George Wallace shouted in his inaugural in 1961, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” the largest civil-rights demonstration in the history of the South sang “We Shall Overcome” — black and white, together — “We are not afraid today.”

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Ten Years Later

In the shadow of the red-brick Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, from whose pulpit Martin Luther King led the bus boycott 10 years earlier, the huge rally was turning into a kind of coronation of the 37-year old minister as spiritual leader of the nation.

“Who is your leader?” the Reverend Ralph Abernathy asked the throng. The answer swelled up. “Martin Luther King!” The only exceptions were veterans of SNCC, who yelled, “De Lawd of Slick.”But even that invidious distortion of SCLC was probably shouted as much in respect as in cynicism.

(The bitterness lurking in the background was based on the fact that SNCC, which had been alone in Dallas County since late 1962, had great difficulty working in harness with King after SCLC took over the Selma campaign in January. There had been serious disputes over strategy and tactics, since King’s basic goal is integration and SNCC’s is a revolution.)

After two hours of speeches by every major leader of the civil-rights movement, King was finally introduced to the crowd. Like the multitude in Washington in 1963, they had become fatigued and restless; many had been awake as long as 20 hours. Overhead, a helicopter and a Piper Cub circled noisily. Behind the platform two dozen green-helmeted Alabama conservation police guarded the steps of the capitol building. Behind them stood a number of members of the Alabama legislature.

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Then King began, his resonant voice and preacher’s alliterative rhythm slowly rousing the audience from boredom. From behind him on the platform came counterpoints of “Amen” and “Tell it, Brother” from other ministers.

In Washington he invoked the phrase, “I have a dream,” the way a blues singer repeats a key phrase. In Montgomery, facing the capitol, it was, “We are on the move now,” that became the launching pad for a series of crescendo-like thrusts.

“We are on the move now,” he said. “The burning of our churches will not deter us. We are on the move now. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now.”

Now the throng responded with shouts of “Yes, Lord,” and “Amen.”

“The beating of our clergymen will not divert us. We are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move now, and no wave of racism can stop us.”

King climaxed his speech by repeating four times with rising fervor, “Glory Glory Hallelujah.” And then the cooks, maids, and janitors were crying and cheering at the same time.

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Postlude

There were supposed to be 26 shuttle buses waiting after the rally to ferry demonstrators from the capitol to the airport five miles away. But 21 of the drivers called in sick, and for two hours thousands milled around in a muddy lot a block behind the capitol while fives buses tried to do all the work. There was pushing, shoving, and maneuvering each time a bus pulled in. Finally an SNCC worker with a walkie-talkie told the crowd, “Come on, you’re acting like kids. This ain’t the New York subway.”

By dusk, the troops had disappeared and the last handful, waiting unprotected in the lot, feeling fear for the first time during the day.

Chaos reigned at the airport. Hundreds sprawled on the lawn, picnicking, sleeping and singing. Huge lines pointed to the lavatories and phones; there were no snack counters. All outgoing flights were late.

After an hour’s delay on the VID flight was ready to be boarded, except that there was no ladder available. So for another hour, the 104 weary passengers stood in a cramped line, 20 yards away from the plane, while a ladder was searched – or, as some suspected, hidden.

Meanwhile, a few yards away, the dean of all civil rights leaders, 77-year old Asa Philip Randolph, had collapsed from exhaustion and Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington tended him while dispatching friends to find a doctor. The Montgomery police seemed uninterested.

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“It’s my fault,” Rustin mumbled. “I never should have gotten him up at 2 a.m. and he never should have walked those four miles.”

At 10:45 New York time, the VID flight left the cradle of the Confederacy amid complaints to the Civil Aeronautics Board about the delay and caustic reflections on “Southern hospitality.” There was no singing on the flight back. Most of the passengers slept. A few talked about the future of the civil rights movement, agreeing at the outset that Montgomery was just a skirmish in a long war whose end still lies beyond the rim of history.

Steve Berger, an aide to reform Congressman Jonathan Bingham, said the new voting rights bill was “pretty bad and very poorly drawn.” Others, activists of the movement, thought no legislation could possibly deal with the specter of firing, beating, and murder that faces any Negro who tries to register in the Black Belt. Other militants spoke eagerly of the next battle – the continuing attempt to unseat the five Congressmen from Mississippi by the Freedom Democratic Party.

Elizabeth Sutherland, who works for SNCC in New York, sat reading a private legal memorandum on the proposed voting bill, pointing out all its flaws and loopholes. “I just hope the registrars don’t get their hands on this memo,” she said.

And there was speculation about what would happen in the Black Belt now that the “civil rights tourists,” Dr. King, the federal troops, and the outside journalists were leaving and the Negroes were left alone to confront the Jim Clarks, the racist registrars, and those terrible faces that looked down from those windows.

When the plane landed at Kennedy Airport, its passengers were told it had already happened – murder. Nobody said anything memorable or poetic. They just cursed. ♦

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March on Washington: The View from the Front of the Bus

“There’s no place for Uncle Tom on this bus, man.” The voice of the Negro echoed down the neon bathed Harlem street as he mounted the steps of Bus 10 ready to start for Washington.

It was 2 a. m. on the morning of August 28. Anticipation hovered quietly over the 24 buses that lined both sides of 125th Street. Cars and cabs stopped more and more frequently to pour forth bundle-laden, sleepy Marchers. Black, white, old, young zigzagged back and forth across the street trying to find their assigned buses. Bus cap­tains marked by yellow ribbons and rumpled passenger lists stood guard at the bus doors. Small groups huddled around them.

Voices arose above the general din.

“You’ve got to switch me to Bus 10. It’s a swingin’ bus. There’s nothin’ but old ladies on this crate.”

“Hey, is this bus air-condi­tioned?”

“Where can I get seat reservations?”

“Hey, chick, are you on this bus?”

“Yeah.”

“Is your husband on this bus?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s all right. I’ll make love to both of you. I’m com­patible.”

“Who the hell is on this bus?” cried George Johnson, the exasperated 30-year-old Negro captain of Bus 10 and organizer of New York CORE’s 24-bus caravan. “People shouldn’t be swapping buses, especially CORE members. It only adds to the confusion. Now everybody get in a seat and stay there. You can’t save seats. This isn’t a cocktail party.”

The reaction to George’s gruffness was a tongue-in-cheek par­ody of the Mr. Charlie routine. “Yassir, anything you say, sir.”

“Don’t you fret now, Mr. George.” “Don’t you go upsetting yourself, boss.” “You knows I always listen to you captain sir.”

There was a general shuffling of bundles on the bus. Index cards with emergency Washington phone numbers were filled out and kept by everyone. “Sit-In Song Books” were passed back.

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Symptomatic Ode   

Outside the window of Bus 10 an old Negro was standing with outstretched arms reciting an impromptu ode to the Black Woman. “Black Woman, you are the queen of the universe. I would give my life for you.” This was less comic than symp­tomatic. It was just one of many signs of the racial pride which is now surging through the Ne­gro people.

A young Negro in the seat behind me, when asked why he was going on this March, re­plied, “Because it’s like your sweater. It’s Black. It’s for the cause. If my people are in it, I am going to be in it fighting, even if I get killed.”

Outside the window of Bus 10 was also a more extreme reminder of this racial pride. Young members of the Black Muslims, neatly dressed in suits and ties, were hawking copies of Muhammad Speaks. This paper is the official statement of the Black Muslim philosophy: Black is beautiful; Black is best; Black must be separate from white.

I swing off the bus to ask the young Muslim if he was going to Washington. With a faint trace of a smile on his lips, he an­swered, “No, ma’am. I have to sell papers. You people go to Washington.” The implication was clear: he was too busy working for his own cause — sep­aration — to be bothered working for integration.

An older man, converted to a Muslim later in life, was not so emotionally untouched by the March and what it stood for. When I asked him why the Muslims were not participating in the March, he gave all the prop­er answers. He said: “The Messenger has not spoke. If he says nothing, we sit still. If he says go, we go.” But then, asked if as an individual rather than a Muslim he would have gone, he replied: “I would have gone.”

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‘A Mockery’

Moving through the crowd, I encountered a Negro I knew to be a fence-sitter between the Muslim and integrationist philosophies. I asked him why he had decided to come on the March. He said, “It’s like St. Patrick’s Day to the Irish. I came out of respect for what my people are doing, not because I believe it will do any good. I thought it would do some good at the beginning, but when the March started to get all the of the official approval from Mastah Kennedy, Mastah Wagner, and Mastah Spellman, and they started setting limits on how we had to march peacefully, I knew that the March was going to be a mockery. That they were giving us something again. They were letting the niggers have their day to get all this nonsense out of their system, and then planning to go back to things usual. Well, if the white man continues to sleep, continues to ignore the intensity of the black man’s feelings and desires, all hell is going to break loose.”

Moving back toward the bus I almost crashed into George Johnson. With a certain Hollywood director flourish, he was telling the driver to rev up the engine. George was being interviewed for radio, and they wanted the sound of departure. Followed by interviewers trailing microphone wires, George shouted, “I feel good because the Negroes are on the march and nothing is going to stop us.” With that, he boarded the bus, signaled the driver, and we began to move. It was 3:40 a. m.

The 49 passengers on Bus 10 settled back. Among them were 10 CORE members, including Omar Ahmed and Wayne Kinsler, both typical of Harlem’s Angry Young Men. Present also were 10 unemployed workers sent to Washington on money raised by CORE to protest the lack of jobs. Also among the pas­sengers were Jim Peck, author of the book “The Freedom Riders,” who took a severe beat­ing on one of the first freedom rides into the Deep South; six members of the Peace Corps who were scheduled to leave for Nigeria; three interviewers from French television, with cameras and sound equipment; and a slightly jaded reporter and a cameraman from the Herald Tribune, both of whom had seen too many Clark Gable reporter movies.

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People began to talk and to question one another. Sue Brook­way, a white member of the Peace Corps, was standing in the aisle speaking to George Johnson. She said, “I think the biggest influence of the March will be to create a greater na­tional awareness of the issue and get more people to make a commitment to the cause. Although I agreed with CORE’s goals, it never occurred to me to become active before this. But now I would join if I weren’t going to Nigeria.”

Omar Ahmed, who had overheard the word Nigeria, turned around in his seat and said, “The Negro on this March has to be very glad of the existence of the Soviet Union. This govern­ment is so worried about wooing the African and Asian mind that it may even give the Negro what he wants.”

“I don’t think the Civil Rights Bill will get through,” commented George Johnson from his seat across the aisle. “I have no faith in the white man. Even Kennedy & Kennedy Inc. isn’t doing this for humanitarian reasons but for political ones.”

After a moment he continued: “CORE has been criticized for its new tactics of civil disobedience. Well, as far as I’m concerned, anything done to get our rights is O.K. It’s remark­able that the Negro has taken it this long.”

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‘A New Negro’

The whites in the group were startled at the vehemence in George’s statement. Omar, not­ing their expressions, attempted to explain. “The white power structure has bred a New Negro,” he said, “and he is angry and impatient. It’s not just the Black Muslims. It’s the man on the street. Come down to Har­lem some night and listen to what’s being said on the street corners. The cops go through and you can see fear on their faces. This isn’t Birmingham. If anyone starts anything, we won’t be passive.”

The kids in the four adjacent seats were twisted around in their chairs listening. Heads pressed together, they formed a roundtable, minus the table. Into this group came Wayne Kins­ler, a 19-year-old Negro. He perched on one of the seat arms. Some crumbled cookies and overripe fruit were passed around.

The discussion turned to the Peace Corps. Frank Harman was asked why, since he was white, he wanted to go to Nigeria. He replied, “I want to go to help these people because they are human beings.”

Suddenly Wayne shouted, “If this thing comes to violence, your’s will be the first throat we slit. We don’t need your kind. Get out of our organization.”

Completely baffled by the outburst, Frank kept repeating the questions, “What’s he talking about? What did I say?”

Wayne, straining forward tensely, screamed, “We don’t need any white liberals to patronize us!”

Other Negroes joined in. “We don’t trust you.” “We don’t believe you’re sincere.” “You’ll have to prove yourself.”

Frank shouted back, ”I don’t have to prove myself to anyone except myself.”

“We’ve been stabbed in the back too many times.”

“The reason white girls come down to civil rights meetings is because they’ve heard of the black man’s reputation of sex.”

“The reason white guys come down is because they want to rebel against their parents.”

“I’ll tell you this, proving that he is sincere when he is working in the civil rights groups is the last chance the white man has got to keep this thing from exploding.”

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Little Comprehension

The other passengers were urging us to stop the argument. Eventually we did. In the lull that followed, the reactions of the whites were mixed. The most widespread one was complete lack of understanding as to why this had all started. There was little comprehension of the effect words like “help you” or “work for you,” with all their connotations of the Great-White-Father attitude, could have on the bristling black pride. Another attitude was one of revul­sion at the ugliness which had been exhibited. Still others saw the argument as a sign that the walls between the races were beginning to come down, that people were really beginning to communicate instead of hiding behind masks of politeness. They felt that with a greater knowl­edge of one another’s sensitivities, lack of understanding, and desires, it would be easier for the white liberal and the black man to work together.

People began to relax and joke again. Gradually they drifted off into an exhausted sleep. Bus 10 rolled on in silence.

With the coming of dawn, the French TV men started blinding everyone with their lights and interviewing those people who could speak French. Being Gal­lic, they made sure to get shots of the romantic duos pillowed against one another. Not to be left out, the Herald Tribune‘s cameraman picked up his light meter and cord and started doing a mock interview of the interviewers.

Someone cheerfully yelled, “Everybody sing.”

He was quickly put down by a voice from the lower depths: “You’re nuts! At seven o’clock sane people don’t even talk.”

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On we went. Sleeping, talking, anticipating. We passed other buses full of heads covered with caps printed with their organizations’ names. On our right was a beat-up old cab with six peo­ple in it and March on Washing­ton posters plastered on all its doors.

At 10:30 — Washington. The city seemed strangely quiet and de­serted except for a few groups of Negro children on corners. They stared curiously at the unending caravan of buses. Police and MPs were everywhere. Traffic moved swiftly. We parked at 117th and Independ­ence, and the people of Bus 10 merged with the crowd moving up the street. The March was on.

The day was full of TV cam­eras, spontaneous singing, speeches, clapping, the green and white striped news tent, the P. A. system blasting “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the ominous Red Cross symbol on a medical tent, March marshals with bright yellow arm bands and little white Nehru hats, the Freedom Walkers in faded blue overalls, Catholic priests in solemn black, posters proclaiming Freedom Now, feet soaking in the reflecting pool, portable drinking fountains, varicolored pennants and hats, warm Pepsi-Cola, the blanket of humanity sprawled in undignified dignity, a Nigerian student with his head bent in prayer, and the echo of Martin Luther King’s phrase: “I have a dream … ”

It was over. The bus moved out slowly. This time there were Negroes on every doorstep. As we passed, they raised their fingers in the victory sign. They clasped their hands over their heads in the prizefighter’s traditional gesture. They clapped. They cheered. They smiled and the smile was reflected back from the buses. On bus 10 there was no one sitting at the back of the bus. All the seats were in the front.

“We’ll be back,” said George Johnson. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll bring 500,000. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll bring all 20 million.”

SEPT_05_1963_VILLAGE VOICE article about THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR CIVIL RIGHTS by Marlene Nadle

SEPT_05_1963_VILLAGE VOICE article about THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR CIVIL RIGHTS by Marlene Nadle

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Equality From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Martin Luther King on Anti-Semitism

Martin Luther King on Anti-Semitism
September 28, 1967

Mr. Morris B. Abram, President
American Jewish Committee
165 East 56th Street
New York, New York

Dear Mr. Abram:

I am in receipt of your letter making inquiry of SCLC’s position on anti-Semitism. First, let me apologize for being rather tardy in my reply. Absence from the city and the accumulation of a huge volume of mail account for the delay.

Serious distortions by the press have created an impression that SCLC was part of a group at the Chicago Conference of New Politics which introduced a resolu­tion condemning Israel and unqualifiedly endorsing all the policies of the Arab powers. The facts are as follows:

1. The staff members of SCLC who attended the conference (not as official delegates) were the most vigorous and articulate opponents of the simplistic resolution on the Middle East question. As a result of this opposition, the Black caucus modified its stand and the convention voted to eliminate references to Zionism and referred to the executive board the matter of final wording. This change was the direct result of the spirited opposition on the floor by Hosea Williams, Director of Voter Registration and Political Education of SCLC. Incidentally, I only attended the conference to make the opening speech and left immediately after. I had no part in planning the structure or policy of the conference, nor was I a delegate. If I had been at the conference during the discussion of the resolutions, I would have made it crystal clear that I could not have supported any resolu­tion calling for Black separatism or calling for a condem­nation of Israel and an unqualified endorsement of the policy of the Arab powers. I later made this clear to the press, but a disclaimer seldom gets the attention that an original sensational attack receives.

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2. SCLC has repeatedly stated that the Middle East problem embodies the related questions of security and development. Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable. At the same time the great powers have the obligation to recognize that the Arab world is in a state of imposed poverty and backwardness that must threaten peace and harmony. Until a concerted and democratic program of assistance is affected, tensions cannot be relieved. Neither Israel nor its neighbors can live in peace without an underlying basis of economic and social development.

At the heart of the problem are oil interests. As the American Jewish Congress has stated, “American policies in the Middle East have been motivated in no small measure by the desire to protect the $2,500,000,000 stake which U.S. oil companies have invested in the area.” Some Arab feudal rulers are no less concerned for oil wealth and neglect the plight of their own peoples. The solution will have to be found in statesmanship by Israel and progressive Arab forces who, in concert with the great powers, recognize that fair and peaceful solutions are the concern of all humanity and must be found.

Neither military measures nor a stubborn effort to reverse history can provide a permanent solution for peoples who need and deserve both development and security.

3. SCLC has expressly, frequently and vigorously denounced anti-Semitism, and will continue to do so. It is not only that anti-Semitism is immoral — though that alone is enough. It is used to divide Negro and Jew, who have effectively collaborated in the struggle for justice. It injures Negroes because it upholds the doctrine of racism which they have the greatest stake in destroying. The individual Jew or gentile who may be an exploiter acts out of his greed as an individual, not his religious precepts. Just as a criminal, Negro or white — is expressing his anti-social tendencies — not the ethical values of his race.

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On the general question of anti-Semitism, I would like to quote a few paragraphs from my recent book Where Do We Go From Here:

“One fact is decisive for perspective and balance: the amount of anti-Semitism found among Negroes is no greater than is found among white groups of the same economic strata. Two polls cited by Professor Thomas Pettegrew and a very recent study in depth conducted by Dr. Oscar Lewis arrived at this same conclusion. These revelations should allay the alarm that has arisen from exploitation and exaggeration of the issue by some white and Negro publicists whose appetite for attention exceeds their attachment to truth and responsibility.

“The question that troubles many Jews and other concerned Americans is why oppressed Negroes should harbor any anti-Semitism at all. Prejudice and dis­crimination can only harm them; therefore it would appear that they should be virtually immune to their sinister appeal.

“The limited degree of Negro anti-Semitism is substantially a Northern ghetto phenomenon; it virtually does not exist in the South. The urban Negro has a special and unique relationship to Jews. On the one hand, he is associated with Jews as some of his most committed and generous partners in the civil rights struggle. On the other hand, he meets them daily as some of his most direct exploiters in the ghetto as slum landlords and gouging shopkeepers. Jews have identified with Negroes voluntarily in the freedom movement, motivated by their religious and cultural commitment to justice. The other Jews who are engaged in commerce in the ghettos are remnants of older communities. A great number of Negro ghettos were formerly Jewish neighborhoods; some storekeepers and landlords remained as population changes occurred. They operate with the ethics of marginal business entrepreneurs, not Jewish ethics, but the distinction is lost on some Negroes who are maltreated by them. Such Negroes, caught in frustration and irrational anger, parrot racial epithets. They foolishly add to the social poison that injures themselves and their own people.

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“It would be a tragic and immoral mistake to identify the mass of Negroes with the very small number that succumb to cheap and dishonest slogans, just as it would be a serious error to identify all Jews with the few who exploit Negroes under their economic sway.

“Negroes cannot rationally expect honorable Jews to curb the few who are rapacious; they have no means of disciplining or suppressing them. We can only expect them to share our disgust and disdain. Negroes cannot be expected to curb and eliminate the few who are anti­-Semitic, because they are subject to no controls we can exercise. We can, however, oppose them and have, in concrete ways. There has never been an instance of articulated Negro anti-Semitism that was not swiftly condemned by virtually all Negro leaders with the support of the overwhelming majority. I have myself directly attacked it within the Negro community, be­cause it is wrong. I will continue to oppose it, because it is immoral and self-destructive.”

Let me thank you for writing, and also for your consistent support. I realize that this letter is long, but I hope it will shed some light on what can be an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Sincerely,
Martin Luther King Jr.

Categories
Equality From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

When Love Comes to Town: Martin Luther King in Harlem

The Coming of a King: A Charismatic Moment
June 22, 1967

Everyone was waiting for the Lord.

Martin Luther was coming to the meeting and nobody was about to miss him. A Negro wo­man who looked like she spent her life getting stuck behind the fried chicken platter at the church so­cial and doing the dirty work for the block party was having none of that nonsense Wednesday. The red rose on her crocheted hat vi­brated with her determination. She informed the person beckoning her to sit at the card table and check names that she had come to hear Reverend King, and then walked on by.

She passed through a door de­corated with leaning men. The huge man who was acting as bouncer-in-reverse had been unsuccessful in getting the men to come in and sit down. Despite his frantic signaling that seats were available, none of them wanted to give up the chance to be the first to see the coming of the Lord.

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On the wooden chairs set up around the room, women in $2 house dresses and beads were turned at a 30-degree angle to watch the door. Using programs folded accordion style instead of pastel fans with pictures of Christ, they managed to turn the chandelier ballroom of the Hotel Roosevelt into a Baptist Church.

Not all the faces were black, some were Puerto Rican. Few were white. Emptying bedpans is not a high-priority white job. And all the people in the room were hospital workers.

The official reason for the gathering of the 800 was a meeting of delegates of Local 1199 of the Drug and National Employees Union. In between taking turns checking the hall to see if the Reverend had arrived, they busi­ed themselves with union business and watched a documentary in which they starred.

The film was greeted with the jokes and applause of a home movie. Only home in this case was Harlem. Mrs. Cameron, the movie queen for the day, strolled past bars on 127th Street, past roach-crawling rat-infested tenements, past gutters filled with garbage and vomit, and explain­ed how the union had improved her life.

Mrs. Cameron wasn’t the only star. A black Santa and Robert Kennedy were greeted with great enthusiasm both in the film and by the audience. Santa won his supporters by being black and by giving out presents. Kennedy, as usual, didn’t have to do anything to wrap up the vote.

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The Lord appeared for the first time — on film. There was a great burst of applause. The applause was just as loud, but accompani­ed by laughter, when Malcolm-in-shades flashed onto the screen.

The difference was not in af­fection, but in conception. King is the father you depend on and try to live up to. Malcolm is the brother you pound on the back and take to a crap game around the corner.

At a point between flashes of union members singing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and shots of their demonstrating with the Sou­thern Leadership Conference, the men standing in the doorway made a dash for the outer corri­dor. He was there. The image had been made flesh.

By the time the men reached the corridor, the reporters who had been perching like vultures on the mezzanine railing had already begun to circle the Reve­rend Martin Luther King with their microphones. They were hard at work doing the job they do best — playing one black group off against another.

“How come, Dr. King,” one of the newsmen asked, “the black nationalists weren’t invited to the unity meeting that set Cleveland up as the target city for the summer?”

“The meeting was for civil rights organizations,” Dr. King said. Then, healing the situation, he added, “That does not mean we won’t work with the national­ists and the Muslims in Cleve­land. We have already met with them and have a fine relation­ship.”

“Muhammed didn’t come to the mountain?” the newsman ask­ed, still trying to bait him. “No, not this time,” King re­plied. Not even bad jokes ruffled his calm.

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At this point, King’s disciples began hustling him toward a pri­vate room. He was almost in­visible in the center of the group. People seeing him for the first time standing among others were surprised that the Lord was such a little man.

Once word was out that he had reached the hall, no one even pretended to watch the film. There was a sense of great excitement, but muted. And when the door opened, and he came through, a great rush of people jumped to their feet clapping away. The “Hallelujah Chorus” would have been appro­priate to the mood of the moment as would “Lord, Hold My Hand While I Run This Race.”

He made his way with imposing solemnity to the center of the stage. The deep voice rolled out over the assembly. Its familiar cadence soared — evoking the shared experiences of his people, giv­ing them a sense of identity, restoring for awhile a feeling of wholeness. This was the commu­nion he supplied and they sought.

What he said was not important. It was the man who lent weight to the words. It was his presence felt, his integrity sensed. Such a man could make the telephone book seem like the gospel.

Still, what he said wasn’t un­important. He spoke of the nation’s problems of race and pov­erty, problems that are gigantic in scale and chaotic in detail. He noted that the friends who were with the Negroes in Selma are with them no longer. He defined black power as the ability to make General Motors and Washington say “yes” when they want to say “no.” He spoke of the war in the Mideast. He defended Is­rael’s right to exist and he pro­posed a Marshall Plan for the Arabs to ease the tension among the have-nots.

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Then, moving to the heart of his speech, he spoke of Vietnam — of the unjust war:

“Who appointed this country divine agent to the world?” he asked. “Who gave it the ar­rogance to try to fix up another country when it hasn’t put its own house in order? How can it expect its black soldiers to fight in brutal solidarity with whites in Vietnam and then come home and not be able to live on the same block with them?… Come home to Alabama and not even be able to be buried in the same ceme­tery with them?”

After every question, the audience responded. It was not just the church ladies: It was the young blacks standing along the aisles. It was the tough young kids who are one step from the street corners of Harlem — the kids who he had been least able to reach. They were the ones who were ap­plauding the loudest and shouting “Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir!” when he asked, “How come this country only worries about Vietnam? How come it doesn’t use its pow­er against South Africa or Rho­desia?” And they shouted again when he asked, “How come this mainly white country doesn’t stop bombing colored people?”

He stopped the questions. He started to unravel the thread of continuity of his convictions:

“There has been a whole lot of applauding in this country. People and the newspapers ap­plauded me in Montgomery when Negroes were killed and I urged people to be non-violent. They applauded me in Birmingham when Negroes were gassed and I urged people to be non-violent against Bull Connor. They ap­plauded me in Philadelphia after the bodies of the three were found and I urged people to be non-violent against Sheriff Rainey. Yet they damn me now when I urge people to be non-violent against little children in Vietnam.

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“Even tonight, a man came up to me and said that my talking against the war had hurt my leadership. He urged me to pull back from my position.

“My answer to him was: ‘Sir, I’m sorry you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I don’t determine my position by polls nor by what is safe or politic or popular, but by what is right. As for hurting civil rights by my position, the war has already done more to hurt civil rights than I could ever do by talking against Vietnam.’

“Despite the dismal picture both in and out of the country, the Lord has not been beaten down,” he assured them. “I have not lost faith. We have survived slavery. No war and no backlash is going to turn us around.”

And the people said, “Amen.”

“We shall overcome. No lie can live forever.”

And the people said, “Amen.”

“We shall overcome. This faith I have hewn out of our mountain of despair. We shall overcome.”

And, as he spoke, you knew he did believe. And so did the people. If he had asked them to walk on water, they would have. When he finished, they rushed forward to touch him, to shake his hand, to grab hold of a piece of his faith that would last them at least until they got back to 127th Street.

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.”

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES Media NYC ARCHIVES

In Honor of MLK: Lunch Counter Sit-Ins of the 1960s

Martin Luther King and associates at the Durham, North Carolina, Woolworth’s lunch counter after it had been closed by the company, February 16, 1960

Sometimes restaurants are good for more than just eating. In honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday, Fork in the Road presents this collection of historic photos from the lunch-counter sit-ins of the early 1960’s, which forever changed the history of the United States.

The sit-in that started it all: From left, Joe McNeil, Franklin McCain, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson conducted a 1960 sit-in against segregation at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

It may be difficult for us to believe now, but in the early 1960s, just 50 years ago, segregation of races in public accommodations was still the rule in many parts of the country — and not just in the Deep South. Seating in lunch counters and other restaurants was typically restricted by race, with some institutions open only to whites, others open to whites and blacks, but forcing blacks to sit in marked-off areas or even eat standing up. Other culture, religious, and racial groups (Chinese and Native Americans among them) were also the subject of similar discrimination.

Though lunch-counter sit-ins began as early as 1957, they didn’t become a focus of national attention until 1960, when a series of demonstrations occurred at Woolworth’s lunch counters. In cities like Greensboro, North Carolina; Jackson, Mississippi; Tallahassee, Florida; and Lychburg, Virginia, many of these eating establishments were emphatically whites-only as a matter of company policy. The Greensboro sit-ins, beginning on February 1, 1960, galvanized the movement, and led to dozens of similar demonstrations.

Sit-in at Woolworth’s in Jacksonville, Florida, 1960

Lunch counter sit-in, Nashville, Tennessee, 1960

Typically, the sit-ins would begin when a group of demonstrators, often from local colleges and including sympathetic white students as well as African Americans, would enter a segregated facility, sit down, try to order something, then refuse to move until they were arrested or the place closed. At first, the response of the Woolworth Corporation — based in New York City — was to simply shut down the lunch counters entirely, hoping the demonstrations would blow over. Eventually, they relented and opened the luncheonettes to all races. It was one of the civil rights movement’s greatest victories.

While many of these demonstrations occurred spontaneously, they were quickly extolled and backed by Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Of the sit-ins, he later wrote in his autobiography, “Spontaneously born, but guided by the theory of nonviolent resistance, the lunch counter sit-ins accomplished integration in hundreds of communities at the swiftest rate of change in the civil rights movement up to that time.” Much like Occupy Wall Street today, the sit-ins spread and spawned a greater struggle, and many sit-in veterans soon created other civil rights organizations, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Here is an excerpt from MLK’s autobiography on the sit-in movement.

Lunch counter sit-in demonstrators heckled and abused, Jackson, Mississippi, 1963.