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.” ❖


We’re Saving Our Own Lives

Black alternative health-care activists will gather this weekend in Harlem for a contentious conference on AIDS and other infectious diseases that is bound to exacerbate the medical and racial debate in the African American community.

Some of the participants will challenge basic assumptions about the disease, which have been propagated by Western medicine. Among them:

  • That HIV causes AIDS.

  • That the disease can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.

  • That the success of protease inhibitors should convince blacks not to experiment with alternative treatments.

  • That vaccines are not dangerous.

  • That advocates of naturopathy and other holistic treatments are conspiracy theorists peddling death to African Americans.

    In addition, some activists will put forth theories that AIDS is an ethnic weapon created by the government to “kill most black people.”

    But even black AIDS specialists have reacted with curiosity and skepticism about the conference.

    “Most of them [the activists] simply have a lack of information in the field of diseases,” contends Dr. Barbara Justice, a prominent Harlem physician who was linked to a 1991 scandal involving the trafficking of HIV-
    infected patients to Kenya for treatment with Kemron, a low-dosage alpha interferon. Justice has clashed with activists in recent years over systems for testing experimental AIDS and cancer drugs on African Americans.

    Among her unrelenting critics is Brother Phillip Valentine, a self-described “nature-healing” activist who was one of the first to warn blacks about the “Kemron cartel’s attempt to use them as guinea pigs” in the fight against AIDS.

    Valentine, founder of the Self-Healing Education Temple­Institute for Self-Mastery, a popular underground think tank that has investigated the Kemron cartel, is one of the activists drafted by the Scholars Committee of Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, organizers of the conference, to help mobilize people of color in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered communities around the issue of AIDS.

    The event, called the Harlem AIDS Forum, will begin at noon on Saturday, December 19, at the Network’s headquarters at 1941 Madison Avenue.

    In recent weeks, Valentine, whose lectures are suffused with metaphysics, African ancestral lore, as well as “concrete scientific evidence” obtained from controversial white scholars, has been practically waging war against the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control. Recently, the CDC reported that although blacks make up 13 percent of the population, 50 percent of the AIDS cases are black— and that figure is projected to jump to 60 percent by 2005.

    “The only myths about AIDS circulating in the black community are those purposely put there by the propaganda machinery of the Centers for Disease Control and the pharmaceutical companies,” claims Valentine, who also incorporates clinical hypnotherapy in his treatment of infectious diseases. “All of these are myths that are propagated and pushed into the black community. Those in the activist community are now trying to show people how these myths arise.”

    Some of the activists scheduled to speak at the Harlem AIDS Forum include: Keidi Obi Awadu, also known as “the Conscious Rasta”; Bishop Shamma Womack, founder of the Christian Bible Center Family Church; Joanne Walker, founder of the Ultimate Health Empowerment program; Lynn Gannett, a former AZT researcher and whistleblower; Dr. Michael Heal, president of Health Education AIDS Liaison (HEAL); and Dr. Jack Felder, a self-published genetic engineer and former U.S. Army germ-warfare specialist.

    The Voice has also confirmed the participation of Debra Fraser Howz, executive director and CEO of the widely respected National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, a group of New York professionals and religious leaders.

    The forum is partly a show of defiance by the activists, who have charged that their white critics harbor a racially based distrust of those who advocate a system of treatment that avoids drugs and surgery. These critics, the activists charge, blame them for selling false hope to black AIDS sufferers and cancer victims.

    Some, like Phillip Valentine, plan to use the recent death of Kwame Ture as an example of why blacks should not pin their hopes entirely on Western medicine.

    Ture, who gained fame as Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s when he electrified America and the world with his cry of “Black Power,” died November 15 of prostate cancer at age 57 in Guinea, West Africa, his adopted homeland. Ten days before he died, Ture maintained that “U.S. imperialism” may have succeeded in killing him with an “FBI-induced cancer.” That allegation set off a flurry of rumors among his comrades and former caretakers in the United States, who fought desperately to liberate Ture from his medical doctors in his final days.

    Some now argue that Ture might have won his battle had he not been a victim of white medicine. Valentine broke his silence about a behind-the-scenes tug of war between naturopathic advocates and physicians over Ture’s treatment.

    “We believe that my beloved brother, Kwame Ture, would have stayed with us if, from the beginning, he had been convinced by those closest to him to adopt and follow the naturopathic, self-healing modalities of our ancestors,” Valentine declares. “I was sitting there right next to him when he was being fed disease-proliferating food; he sat next to me and took his chemotherapy pills. I tried to save Kwame Ture’s life. I’ve dealt with many people with the same condition and they have pulled through.”

    Valentine’s remarks irritate Dr. Justice, who was one of Ture’s doctors. “Kwame received excellent care,” she told the Voice. “We went all over the world; we consulted the leading herbal doctor in Cuba and others in Mexico.”

    Valentine fears that an entire generation of civil rights activists may be in mortal danger if they fall victim to degenerative diseases and reject his advice to heal naturally.

    “Far too many of our holy men and women— our precious teachers and elders— are leaving us prematurely because in their time of greatest need they were forced to rely on the poison-promoting protocols and life-depleting methodologies of Western medicine,” he says.

    Phillip Valentine, a Trinidad-born naturopath, rose to prominence in Brooklyn’s black activist community in 1990 as host of “The Gathering of the Masters,” a mind-blowing all-night lecture series in which activists advised participants how to heal themselves through “juice feasting,” fasting, and colonic irrigation. The Masters also expounded on urban legends, rebutted gossip, and tested theories on political controversies. The Gathering ended last year shortly before Valentine left Brooklyn.

    In 1990, when AIDS began to devastate the inner cities, Valentine says he, K.V. McGhee of the Tree of Life, and John Harris, founder of Natural Way Communications, were approached by someone who was trying to market an inexpensive cure for AIDS.

    “We were given a prospectus on interferon therapy with different names under which it would be sold,” recalls Valentine. “We were also given a breakdown of the number of people they expected to get this disease and the amount of money we would make if we invested $1000. I was just blown away.”

    About six months later, the government of Kenya announced that it had found a cure for AIDS, and would market it as Kemron. Valentine was more amused than impressed.

    “Everybody in Africa who was dying at the time was dying from one actual disease, and that was malnutrition,” he scoffs. “The very symptoms of malnutrition emulated the symptoms of AIDS.”

    In Harlem, the weekly Amsterdam News ran frontpage stories alleging that Kemron was being ignored as a possible cure because it posed competition for expensive AIDS medications offered by the white medical establishment. Dr. Barbara Justice, along with talk show host Gary Byrd, touted Kemron on black-owned radio station WLIB.

    Valentine convened a Gathering of the Masters, at which the Kemron cartel was denounced for using the grassroots community to promote the drug.

    “I was beating the drum in black neighborhoods, telling them I had information from the gay community, which already had been bombarded with interferon and was saying that it didn’t work,” recalls Valentine. He delivered a lecture at the time entitled “AIDS, the Biggest Hoax of the Century.”

    Valentine’s attack on Kemron and the subsequent death of Howard Beach racial beating victim Cedric Sandiford— who had AIDS and allegedly was abandoned at a Kemron clinic in Kenya— generated widespread anger toward Dr. Justice and the Kemron cartel.

    Justice told the Voice that although the National Institutes of Health has terminated her trials with Kemron, she still sees HIV-infected patients whom she treats with a “different regimen.”

    One of the most controversial lectures at the AIDS Forum will be delivered by Curtis Cost, a key organizer. Cost has attracted a huge following since the 1991 publication of his book Vaccines Are Dangerous: A Warning to the Black Community.

    “Millions of our people are dying now and many millions more are expected to die soon,” Cost wrote. “It is absolutely essential that we stop passively accepting data from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and other such groups, and begin our own independent analysis into the crisis. We must design our own strategies and solutions. We must determine for ourselves the degree to which vaccines have been and probably still are being used to infect our people with the AIDS virus. This is the only way that we will get to the truth. This is the only way that we will survive.”

    Research: W. Michelle Beckles