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“Who is Responsible?” The Bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church and Racist Violence Today

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Tonight, something else from the archives as I do some work on my book. Even so it is very pertinent as we see White Supremacists rove in heavily armed groups, threatening and even attacking and killing Blacks and other minorities, disrupting civil rights marches, threatening Public Health officials, elected leaders, and even police who stand in their way.  In 2014 Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston was the target of a young White Supremacist who committed a mass murder there after sitting with members in a prayer meeting. A primarily Black Baptist Church where I live was threatened  with being bombed last week,  This time by by a White man from North Carolina who used racial slurs and threats on the message he left on their answering machine. Then there is the police violence directed at individual Blacks, as well as militarized police attacks people of all races protesting those murders, in one instance at the wish of the President.

So I am returning to a different time, over a half century ago that bears too much resemblance to today not to revisit. This is about the KKK bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15th 1964. However, unlike today the event triggered no outraged, and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, refused to help prosecutors with evidence that they had against the defendants.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

On September 16th 1963 a young Southern White lawyer in Birmingham Alabama spoke these words after a black church was bombed and the police attacked peaceful protesters:

“from anger and despair, from frustration and empathy. And from years of hopes, hopes that were shattered and crumbled with the steps of that Negro Baptist Church.”

Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 57 years ago today. At 10:22 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was one of the most brazen attacks against a church in the modern era, and men who claimed to be “Christians” committed it.

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Four young girls, three 14 year olds and one 13 year old were killed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives that day. Twenty-two other church members were wounded in an attack, which was carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Why were they killed and why were the others wounded?

The answer to that question is easy. They were murdered for the crime of being black, and the crime of their church serving as a focal point of the Civil Rights movement. Just five months before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been arrested while leading a campaign of protest and civil disobedience in the city and in its jail where he secretly penned his famous Letter from a Birmingham after he saw a joint article published by eight prominent White clergymen, who issued what they referred to as a Call to Unity. In it they denounced the peaceful demonstrations, led by “outsiders” a swipe at King and called for Birmingham’s Blacks to withdraw their support from King and wait for legislators and the courts rather than demonstrate. They also praised Bull Connor’s violent attack with police dogs on the protestors as “calm restraint.”  In January 1963 the same clergymen published “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense.”  In that letter, published shortly after George Wallace’s “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech, these men and others tried to stake out a middle ground. They were uncomfortable with protest, peaceful or not but had done nothing to stop the violence other than ask their White congregations not to resist any court rulings granting it.

King could not let that go. In one section of the letter, a true classic of American patriotic dissent King wrote:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Likewise, most people today, including many blacks do not know that before the bombing of this church, that since 1955 there had been 19 other bombings of black churches as well as the homes of Black leaders in Birmingham that preceded it. But even before that outbreak of violence, Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham” because over 50 bombing attacks against blacks, black churches and black institutions in the years after the First World War.

The church had served as a focal point of the Freedom Summer where Civil Rights activists and students from around the country had met, trained and organized to register blacks to vote. This made it a prominent target for violence at the hands of the KKK and its political and police allies.

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Early in the morning of September 15th four members of the United Klans of America went to the church as it was still dark. Frank Bobby Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash and Robert Chambliss placed a box of 10 sticks of dynamite under the church steps near the basement. A time delay detonator was set to ensure that the church was filled when the bomb went off. The blast occurred as children were leaving Sunday School and going up the stairs to the sanctuary to listen to a sermon, ironically entitled “The Love that Forgives.”

The attack was a heinous crime and an act of cold-blooded premeditated murder that maybe a number of years before might not have made the news in much of the country. But this was 1963 and over the preceding months of the Freedom Summer opened the eyes of people across the nation to what was happening in the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers during that time raised the profile of the Civil Rights Movement and shown the ugly hatred towards blacks held by many Southerners hidden underneath the veneer of polite Southern hospitality.

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Blacks protested and were met with a massive police response coordinated by Governor George Wallace that brought about more violence, and more dead blacks. The violence perpetrated by the police was similar to police responses to peaceful protestors so many times over the past few years following the deaths of Black men, women, and children.

The next day, a young white lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr.; a true Southerner by right and heritage spoke to the White Businessman’s Club of Birmingham. He was thirty-three years old and had an up and coming law practice.  His words were forceful and to the point and he did not mince words. Instead of simply asking why as so many in Birmingham were doing, the young attorney  began his speech with this poignant remark and kept on going.

Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday.

A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.

A short time later, white policemen kill a Negro and wound another. A few hours later, two young men on a motorbike shoot and kill a Negro child. Fires break out, and, in Montgomery, white youths assault Negroes.

And all across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say they wonder “Why?” “Who?” Everyone then “deplores” the “dastardly” act.

But you know the “who” of “Who did it” is really rather simple. The “who” is every little individual who talks about the “niggers” and spreads the seeds of his hate to his neighbor and his son. The jokester, the crude oaf whose racial jokes rock the party with laughter.

The “who” is every governor who ever shouted for lawlessness and became a law violator.

It is every senator and every representative who in the halls of Congress stands and with mock humility tells the world that things back home aren’t really like they are.

It is courts that move ever so slowly, and newspapers that timorously defend the law.

It is all the Christians and all their ministers who spoke too late in anguished cries against violence. It is the coward in each of us who clucks admonitions.

We have 10 years of lawless preachments, 10 years of criticism of law, of courts, of our fellow man, a decade of telling school children the opposite of what the civics books say.

We are a mass of intolerance and bigotry and stand indicted before our young. We are cursed by the failure of each of us to accept responsibility, by our defense of an already dead institution.

Yesterday while Birmingham, which prides itself on the number of its churches, was attending worship services, a bomb went off and an all-white police force moved into action, a police force which has been praised by city officials and others at least once a day for a month or so. A police force which has solved no bombings. A police force which many Negroes feel is perpetrating the very evils we decry. . . .

Birmingham is the only city in America where the police chief and the sheriff in the school crisis had to call our local ministers together to tell them to do their duty. The ministers of Birmingham who have done so little for Christianity call for prayer at high noon in a city of lawlessness, and in the same breath, speak of our city’s “image.” . . .

Those four little Negro girls were human beings. They have their 14 years in a leaderless city; a city where no one accepts responsibility; where everybody wants to blame somebody else. A city with a reward fund which grew like Topsy as a sort of sacrificial offering, a balm for the conscience of the “good people”. . . .

Birmingham is a city … where four little Negro girls can be born into a second-class school system, live a segregated life, ghettoed into their own little neighborhoods, restricted to Negro churches, destined to ride in Negro ambulances, to Negro wards of hospitals or to a Negro cemetery. Local papers, on their front and editorial pages, call for order and then exclude their names from obituary columns.

And, who is really guilty? Each of us. Each citizen who has not consciously attempted to bring about peaceful compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, every citizen and every school board member and schoolteacher and principal and businessman and judge and lawyer who has corrupted the minds of our youth; every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.

What’s it like living in Birmingham? No one ever really has known and no one will until this city becomes part of the United States.

Birmingham is not a dying city; it is dead.

After the speech he knew that he had little support, he began receiving death threats directed at him and his family. His law practice collapsed, and rather than remain as a target, he and his family left Birmingham.

Not only was the attack on Sixteenth Street Baptist Church heinous, but, the response of many in law enforcement at the local level and even at the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was criminal. Hoover refused to investigate, and although a witness identified Chambliss, he was not charged with the bombing; instead he was charged for having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six-month jail sentence.

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Thought FBI agents had investigated the crime and discovered evidence against all four men, Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. So for eight years the crime was covered up.

However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. Baxley re-opened the case and requested the FBI files, which had been suppressed by Hoover, who had died in 1972. In 1977 Chambliss was indicted and convicted of first degree murder, he died in prison. Blanton was tried in 2001, convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 without ever having been charged with a crime and Cherry was convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison and died in 2004.

The attack and the deaths of the four girls served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, the following year the Civil Rights Act.  However, those did not end the fight for equality, and others would die in its aftermath, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who died at the hands an assassin named James Earl Ray, less than 4 years later.

Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965 many blacks have been elected to local, state and federal offices or served in some of the highest ranks of the military, judiciary, and at the Cabinet level. Two, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have served as Secretary of State, two, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, as Attorney General of the United States; one, Clarence Thomas, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; one, Susan Rice, as National Security Advisor, as well as the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson. Finally one, Barak Obama was elected as President of the United States. There is a high probability the the presumptive Democratic Party nominee to oppose President Trump in November, former  Vice President Joe Biden will chose a Black woman as his Vice President running mate. Since it is widely believed that Biden sees himself a transitional President, that if he is elected that one of the women will at some point either inherit his duties should he become incapacitated or die in office, or that in 2024 he will pass the baton of leadership to his Vice President.

But despite these advances, racism is still quite prevalent in this country, not just the systemic racism, and pretend that it doesn’t exist racism, but the open and unabashed race hatred, that during the term of President Donald Trump seems to be getting both more open and violent as its proponents, unleashed and unhindered who, with good reason believe that have a supportive President in the White House go about terrorizing wherever they go.

One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a White, yet progressive  Southern Baptist minister and retired military chaplain noted that many whites may not be explicitly racists in their interpersonal relationships with blacks, but have an attitude that when it comes to places of power, that blacks still need “to stay in their place.” He noted that he thinks that for many whites who think this way,  that this is a large part of the reason that President Obama was opposed and even hated by so many Whites. It was not just politics, policy or ideology, it was blatant in your face racism. Obama was a Black man in the White House, he had overstepped his social standing.  While politics may play a role the root of the hatred of him, it is racism, admitted or not, that drove it. Honestly, I cannot for the life of me any White man occupying the office of the President receiving similar treatment.

But the sad truth is there still is an undercurrent of unrepentant and deeply embedded racism in the country, and not just in the South. In fact many there places in the South have seen greater advances in racial relations than other parts of the country, despite the actions of White Republicans in the region to gerrymander elections and to disenfranchise Black voters since the Roberts Court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. That is not to say that there are those who would attempt to disenfranchise blacks, some of the voting laws recently passed are designed to ensure that significant parts of the black population, specifically the elderly and students living away from home have greater difficulty voting. It is actually a more insidious method than the past Jim Crow laws because the drafters of these laws hope to keep just enough black and other poor or minority voters from voting to ensure that they maintain power. Some of the men that drafted or supported these state laws designed to disenfranchise voters have openly admitted that fact.

Not only is racial prejudice experienced by Blacks, it is experienced by many Americans of Hispanic origins, some of Asian descent but also by those of Middle Eastern, Iranian, Pakistani or Indian descent. And yes, people of all races, including racial, ethnic and religious minorities can be as racist and violent as the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church 57 years ago. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter whom it is targeted against, and who does the targeting, it is wrong and needs to be fought.

In its 2019 report the Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org listed 940 active hate groups of all types operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. (See the Hate Map herehttps://www.splcenter.org/hate-map) The number is down from recent because a number of more the virulent White Supremacist and militia groups have gone underground, shut down websites and social media pages.

Too many people have died in this struggle to stop now, even as their deaths continue to mount. If you read this before or after going to church, remember those four little girls who died at the hands of four murdering, racist Klansmen. Likewise remember that there are others out there full of hate who would not hesitate to do the same again and others who would actively support those efforts. Sometimes in the name of “Law and Order” and  sometimes even in the name of God.

As for me I will fight it racism and violence of all types, especially against those who have been the victims of racism and violence for over 400 years. There are times that I wish I had gone to law school rather than seminary. Maybe after I retire I will do that or take up an advanced degree in Criminal Justice.

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                                                                  Charles Morgan Jr.

Charles Morgan died in 2009, but after he left Birmingham he went on to lead a remarkable life, especially in his commitment to Civil Rights and Justice. The New York Times obituary noted:

“Among his many cases as a civil rights lawyer, Mr. Morgan sued to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Alabama; forced a new election in Greene County, Ala., that led to the election of six black candidates for local offices in 1969; and successfully challenged racially segregated juries and prisons. After the civil rights movement began to subside, Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War.

He represented Muhammad Ali in his successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented the civil rights activist Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views. And he defended an officer when he was court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.”

We cannot ever let ourselves forget that it was supposedly Christian men who bombed a church and killed those four little girls, and that as long as all of us fail to live up to our responsibilities such things will happen again. If we do not, we are as guilty as those who throw the bombs, shoot the bullets, and those preachers, pundits and politicians who deny the fact that these things are still commonplace. This is especially true in the Trump era.

Yes, my friends, we too will be at least as guilty as the brazen killers who continue to try to kill the dreams of those who are not like them. I will fight for the oppressed and always seek to tell the truth and present facts as facts, and I hope that I will be as committed to stand for the rights of the oppressed and for justice as did Charles Morgan.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Orangeburg Massacre at 50

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Friends of padre Steve’s World,

Thursday was the 50th anniversary of a massacre that most people have forgotten, even if they knew about it. On Febuary 8th 1968 three African American students were killed by police and twenty-seven others wounded while protesting on the campus of South Carolina State University. All were unarmed and none had resisted the police.

In February 2013, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lamented the “race consciousness” and “sensitivity” of the present time as compared to when he was growing up in Savannah Georgia in the 1960s.

If he were not in a position of nearly unlimited power and influence where he can through a legal opinion overturn established laws regarding voters rights, equal opportunity and discrimination his memory of the era would be laughable. However, Justice Thomas seemed to have missed so much of what was happening to African Americans and others during the Jim Crow Era, the campaigns for resistance in the “segregation forever” movement and the wanton violence used on African Americans who simply wanted the same rights that other Americans enjoyed.

How a man as educated and supposedly aware as Thomas supposedly is can make such an absurd statement is beyond me. In fact it is ludicrous and speaks volumes about how Thomas would willingly cover up the gross injustices that were perpetrated against African-Americans.

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The brutality of those in power against Blacks and their allies  who demonstrated and campaigned for civil rights was widespread. If Justice Thomas did not hear about it in his childhood it was more likely that it was because Blacks had no voice in local or state government, no support in the local media and those who spoke out were brutalized, their homes, churches or businesses burned or or bombed, and for their trouble many went to jail. It took extraordinarily courageous men and women to stand up to the tyranny perpetrated by politicians, police, businessmen, and even church leaders at the local and State level, which were often directly connected to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in many parts of the South.

Thomas said that he was treated worse by the Northeastern Liberal Elites, than he was in his home town. That may be so, racial prejudice was not unique to the South, in fact some of the worst riots against desegregation occurred in Boston, not far from Thomas’ college Alma mater. In fact in some Northern cities racism and discrimination were as bad than in parts of the South.

Likewise there were incidents of violence in Watts California by the Los Angeles Police Department that helped trigger the Watts Riots. That being said, there can be no doubt that in terms of organized systemic discrimination, persecution, and violence, it was in the South where Blacks suffered the gravest injustice. The South was the unparalleled hotbed of resistance to change, and resistance to the simple desire of people to receive equal treatment under the law.

Today, even many whites remember some of those incidents; the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston Alabama, the baring of James Meredith from the University of Mississippi, the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in which four little girls going to Sunday School were murdered, the brutal attacks on protestors in that same city that sent Dr Martin Luther King to jail, the murder of Medgar Evers, the murder of the Mississippi Civil Rights Workers, Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know about those, well at least some of us do. They all occurred early in my lifetime and certainly if Thomas didn’t know about them as a child, he most certainly knows about them now. But the good Justice willingly chooses to ignore and treat them if they never happened, to Thomas, those were the “good ole days.”

But such an attitude denies history. It is inexcusable for any man or woman, of any race holding such an important position as Thomas to have, that of a Supreme Court Justice to hold such ahistoric and surprisingly for a Black man to hold such racist views. For man like Thomas, who in his office helps to make and interpret law that affects the civil rights of all Americans it is unconscionable. But then, after Anita Hill I never believed that Justice Thomas has a conscience.

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But for each of those incidents there were many more, some very bloody which have been forgotten. I was reminded of one of those incidents when I was stationed at the Joint Forces Staff College and our Commandant, Rear Admiral John Smith talked about an incident that occurred at his alma mater, South Carolina State University in Orangeburg South Carolina, the Orangeburg Massacre. I think I had read about it once, but I had forgotten about it until he spoke of it during the Black History Month observance.

The massacre occurred on February 8th 1968 when students at the college began to protest for equal access to local businesses, especially at the only bowling alley in town, the All Star Lanes. The owner of the bowling alley refused to allow Blacks to patronize his establishment. In the days leading up to the massacre students were beaten by police as they engaged in peaceful protests in the town.

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The protests continued on campus and hundreds of police and state troopers were dispatched to the scene as well as troops and armored vehicles from the South Carolina National Guard. On the campus about 200 students milled around a dying bonfire.

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It was then that local and state police opened fire on a crowed of students at a bonfire. Contrary to the claims of the police none of the students were armed, three students were killed, and twenty seven wounded. Many of the students were shot in the back. The dead included a college Army ROTC Cadet named Henry Smith, another, a member of the college football team, Samuel Hammond who died reciting the 23rd Psalm with his mother at his side, and lastly the young Delano Middleton, a local high school student who had joined the protest.

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FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to make false statements to Justice Department officials to cover for the State Troopers involved. When nine of the police officers went to trial for excessive use of force all were acquitted. But how could they be? Evidence was suppressed, false statements made and testimony of the victims discounted.

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For years the subject was covered up, and disinformation spread by elected and police officials, including the governor who blamed the protest on outside “Black Power agitators” and who claimed that the protest took place off campus. Activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of “inciting a riot” and spent seven months in jail. Twenty five years later he was pardoned. It was not until 2001 that a Governor, then Jim Hodges attended the school’s annual memorial and it was not until 2005 when then Governor Mark Sanford made a formal apology for the massacre.

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The massacre received almost no coverage in the national media and was soon forgotten. The energy of most Americans was focused on protesting the Vietnam War, the Kent State Shootings and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.and the deaths of a few Black students in South Carolina passed without notice in most of the county.

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Justice Thomas and others, whether they be white or black may have historical amnesia, but history is history, even history that those in power desired to cover up.

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History and justice, even belated justice matter because there are those in our country; not all in the South, who would like to roll back the protections that exist in law to protect African Americans and other minorities from institutional discrimination in matters of voters rights and equality. Even today there are business owners who openly boast of their refusal to serve minorities, and are hailed by some for doing so.

I encourage my readers to explore this subject, the book, The Orangeburg Massacre by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson published by Mercer University Press, a number of websites as well as the video here are good places to start.

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/3/1968_forty_years_later_a_look

Like Montgomery, Birmingham, Anniston, Memphis and Selma, Orangeburg though forgotten by most, still matters. Denial is not an option, it is up to us the living not to forget and never to let it happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Breaking Barriers: Jackie Robinson

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am remembering the immortal Jackie Robinson, one of the most remarkable Americans who ever lived, not to mention that played baseball. Former American League President Gene Budig noted: He led America by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong. I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robinson made the United States a better nation.”

April 15th 2016 was the 69th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  When he stepped onto the field, Jim Crow was very alive and well when Jackie stepped onto the field that day and no matter how much we want to distance ourselves from those days there are still some in this country who want to go back to that kind of society.

Jackie had experienced the full force of Jim Crow while serving as an Army Officer in the Second World War. While at Fort Hood Texas serving with the 761st Armored Battalion Robinson boarded an army bus and was ordered to the back of the bus by the driver. Robinson refused to comply as the army busses were not segregated, but the drive reported him to the Military Police. He was arrested and charged with a number of crimes and was tried by a Court Martial which acquitted him, however, it did prevent him from going to war with the 761st, which was the first African-American ground-combat unit to see action, and played a part in his determination to succeed.

Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military, a move which infuriated many in the South.  Likewise it occurred a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in the Brown vs Board of Education decision.  It came a full 17 years before Congress passed the Voters Rights Act in 1964.

When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field it was a watershed moment in Civil Rights for African Americans and paved the way for a change in American society that has continued since his Major League debut. Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights and even simple human decencies like where they could use a rest room, sit on a bus or what hotel they could stay in.

In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks were allowed to see Robinson in stadiums that they would not have been allowed in before.  Players from other teams heckled Robinson, he received hate mail, people sent made death threats, he was spiked and spit on.  But Jackie Robinson kept his pledge to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey not to lash out at his tormentors, as Rickey told him that he needed a man “with enough guts not to strike back.”

Jackie Robinson played the game with passion and even anger.  He took the advice of Hank Greenberg who as a Jew suffered continual racial epithets throughout his career “the best ways to combat slurs from the opposing dugout is to beat them on the field.” He would be honored as Rookie of the Year in 1947. He was a MVP and played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.

In 1964 Robinson again experienced the hatred of racists when he was a delegate for Nelson Rockefeller at the 1964 GOP Convention. It was yet another reminder of the racism that Robinson had fought all of his live to end. He wrote in his autobiography of the experience:

“I wasn’t altogether caught of guard by the victory of the reactionary forces in the Republican party, but I was appalled by the tactics they used to stifle their liberal opposition.  I was a special delegate to the convention through an arrangement made by the Rockefeller office. That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man.  It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people.

A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP.  As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.

The same high-handed methods had been there.

The same belief in the superiority of one religious or racial group over another was here.  Liberals who fought so hard and so vainly were afraid not only of what would happen to the GOP but of what would happen to America.  The Goldwaterites were afraid – afraid not to hew strictly to the line they had been spoon-fed, afraid to listen to logic and reason if it was not in their script.

I will never forget the fantastic scene of Governor Rockefeller’s ordeal as he endured what must have been three minutes of hysterical abuse and booing which interrupted his fighting statement which the convention managers had managed to delay until the wee hours of the morning.  Since the telecast was coming from the West Coast, that meant that many people in other sections of the country, because of the time differential, would be in their beds.  I don’t think he has ever stood taller than that night when he refused to be silenced until he had had his say. 

It was a terrible hour for the relatively few black delegates who were present.  Distinguished in their communities, identified with the cause of Republicanism, an extremely unpopular cause among blacks, they had been served notice that the party they had fought for considered them just another bunch of “niggers”.  They had no real standing in the convention, no clout.  They were unimportant and ignored.  One bigot from one of the Deep South states actually threw acid on a black delegate’s suit jacket and burned it.  Another one, from the Alabama delegation where I was standing at the time of the Rockefeller speech, turned on me menacingly while I was shouting “C’mon Rocky” as the governor stood his ground.  He started up in his seat as if to come after me.  His wife grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Turn him loose, lady, turn him loose,” I shouted.

 I was ready for him.  I wanted him badly, but luckily for him he obeyed his wife…” (From Jackie Robinson “I Never Had it Made” Chapter XV On Being Black Among the Republicans)

Today Jackie Robinson’s life, and his feat of breaking the color barrier in baseball is history, but it should not be forgotten.  He was a pioneer who made it possible for others to move forward.  He would be followed by players like Roy Campinella, Satchel Paige, Don Larson, Larry Dobie and   Willie Mays.  His breakthrough had an effect not just on baseball but on society.

Jackie Robinson would have an effect on my life.  In 1975 the Stockton Unified School District voted to desegregate.  I was in the 9th grade and preparing for high school.  As the school board wrestled with the decision anger boiled throughout the town, especially in the more affluent areas.  Vicious letters were sent to the school board and to the Stockton Record by parents as well as other opponents of the move.  Threats of violence and predictions failure were commonplace.  In the summer of 1975 those who went out for the football team, both the sophomore and varsity squads began to practice.  Black, White, Mexican and Asian, we bonded as a team, the Edison Vikings.  By the time the first buses pulled up to the bus stops throughout town on the first day of school, the sense of foreboding ended.  Students of all races discovered common interests and goals.  New friends became guests in each others homes, and all of us became “Soul Vikes.”

30 years later the Class of 1978, the first class to be desegregated from start to finish graduated from Edison held a reunion.  Our class always had a special feel about it.  Looking back we too were pioneers, like Jackie Robinson we were far ahead of our time.  When I look at my friends on Facebook from Edison I see the same faces that I played ball, rode the bus and went to class with.   Things have changed.  Even 30 years ago none of us imagined an African American President, we believed in each other and we saw potential, but I don’t think that anyone believed that we would see this in our day.

I think that Jackie Robinson prepared the way for other pioneers of Civil Rights including Dr. Martin Luther King.  Today, some 69 years later Jackie Robinson looms large in American History; not only in baseball, but for the impact of his life and actions on America.

His number “42” is now retired from baseball. The last player to wear it was Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. Rivera had been granted an exemption to wear it until he retired. At least the last Major League ball player to honor the number was a class act who will certainly be in the Hall of Fame.

Robinson said something that still resonates with me: “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” It is something that I take into account every day of my life.

May we not forget and always forge ahead in the constant struggle for civil rights and equality, even as many in our nation sink back into the old ways of apathy, and the toleration of injustice and inequity, even seeking to reverse the hard gotten gains that we all have been blessed to see.

So here’s to you Jackie Robinson, thank you and all the other pioneers who have and who continue to fight for the rights of all people.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Watershed Moment: Jackie Robinson and Civil Rights in America

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“He led America by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong. I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robinson made the United States a better nation.” – American League President Gene Budig

April 15th 2014 was the 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jim Crow was very alive and well when Jackie stepped onto the field that day and no matter how much we want to distance ourselves from those days there are still some in this country who want to go back to that kind of society. Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military, a move which infuriated many in the South.  Likewise it occurred a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in the Brown vs Board of Education decision.  It came a full 17 years before Congress passed the Voters Rights.

When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field it was a watershed moment in Civil Rights for African Americans and paved the way for a change in American society that has continued since his Major League debut. Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights and even simple human decencies like where they could use a rest room, sit on a bus or what hotel they could stay in.

In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks were allowed to see Robinson in stadiums that they would not have been allowed in before.  Players from other teams heckled Robinson, he received hate mail, people sent made death threats, he was spiked and spit on.  But Jackie Robinson kept his pledge to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey not to lash out at his tormentors, as Rickey told him that he needed a man “with enough guts not to strike back.”

Jackie Robinson played the game with passion and even anger.  He took the advice of Hank Greenberg who as a Jew suffered continual racial epithets throughout his career “the best ways to combat slurs from the opposing dugout is to beat them on the field.” He would be honored as Rookie of the Year in 1947. He was a MVP and played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.

Today Jackie Robinson’s feat is history, but it should not be forgotten.  He was a pioneer who made it possible for others to move forward.  He would be followed by players like Roy Campinella, Satchel Paige, Don Larson, Larry Dobie and   Willie Mays.  His breakthrough had an effect not just on baseball but on society.

Jackie Robinson would have an effect on my life.  In 1975 the Stockton Unified School District voted to desegregate.  I was in the 9th grade and preparing for high school.  As the school board wrestled with the decision anger boiled throughout the town, especially in the more affluent areas.  Vicious letters were sent to the school board and to the Stockton Record by parents as well as other opponents of the move.  Threats of violence and predictions failure were commonplace.  In the summer of 1975 those who went out for the football team, both the sophomore and varsity squads began to practice.  Black, White, Mexican and Asian, we bonded as a team, the Edison Vikings.  By the time the first buses pulled up to the bus stops throughout town on the first day of school, the sense of foreboding ended.  Students of all races discovered common interests and goals.  New friends became guests in each others homes, and all of us became “Soul Vikes.”

30 years later the Class of 1978, the first class to be desegregated from start to finish graduated from Edison held a reunion.  Our class always had a special feel about it.  Looking back we too were pioneers, like Jackie Robinson we were far ahead of our time.  When I look at my friends on Facebook from Edison I see the same faces that I played ball, rode the bus and went to class with.   Things have changed.  Even 30 years ago none of us imagined a African American President, we believed in each other and we saw potential, but I don’t think that anyone believed that we would see this in our day.

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I think that Jackie Robinson prepared the way for other pioneers of Civil Rights including Dr. Martin Luther King.  Today, 67 years later Jackie Robinson looms large not only in baseball, but for the impact of his life and actions on America.

His number “42” is now retired from baseball. The last player to wear it was Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. Rivera had been granted an exemption to wear it until he retired. At least the last Major League ball player to honor the number was a class act who will certainly be in the Hall of Fame.

Robinson said something that still resonates with me: “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” It is something that I take into account every day of my life.

So here’s to you Jackie Robinson.  Thank you and God bless.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Orangeburg Massacre and the Uncertain Memory of Justice Clarence Thomas

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Last February, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lamented the “race consciousness” and “sensitivity” as compared to growing up in Savannah Georgia in the 1960s.

If he were not in a position of nearly unlimited power and influence where he can through a legal opinion overturn established laws regarding voters rights, equal opportunity and discrimination it would be laughable. However, Justice Thomas seems to have missed so much of what was happening to African Americans and others during the Jim Crow Era, the campaigns for resistance in the “segregation forever” movement and the wanton violence used on African Americans who simply wanted the same rights that other Americans enjoyed.

How a man as educated and supposedly aware as Thomas supposedly is can make such an absurd statement is beyond me. In fact it is ludicrous and speaks volumes about how Thomas would willingly cover up the gross injustices that were perpetrated against African-Americans.

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The brutality of those in power against those who demonstrated and campaigned for civil rights was widespread. If Thomas did not hear about it in his childhood it was more likely that it was because Blacks had no voice in local or state government, no support in the local media and those who spoke out were brutalized, their homes, churches or businesses burned or or bombed, and for their trouble many went to jail. It took extraordinarily courageous men and women to stand up to the tyranny perpetrated by politicians, police, businessmen, and even church leaders at the local and State level, which were often directly connected to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in many parts of the South.

Thomas said that he was treated worse by the Northeastern Liberal Elites, than he was in his home town. That may be so, racial prejudice was not unique to the South, in fact some of the worst riots against desegregation occurred in Boston, not far from Thomas’ college Alma mater. In fact in some Northern cities racism and discrimination were as bad than in parts of the South.

Likewise there were incidents of violence in Watts California by the Los Angeles Police Department that helped trigger the Watts Riots. That being said, there can be no doubt that in terms of organized systemic discrimination, persecution, and violence, it was in the South where Blacks suffered the gravest injustice. The South was the unparalleled hotbed of resistance to change, and resistance to the simple desire of people to receive equal treatment under the law.

Today, even many whites remember some of those incidents; the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston Alabama, the baring of James Meredith from the University of Mississippi, the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in which four little girls going to Sunday School were murdered, the brutal attacks on protestors in that same city that sent Dr Martin Luther King to jail, the murder of Medgar Evers, the murder of the Mississippi Civil Rights Workers, Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know about those, well at least some of us do. They all occurred early in my lifetime and certainly if Thomas didn’t know about them as a child, he most certainly knows about them now.But the good Justice willingly chooses to ignore and treat them if they never happened, to Thomas, those were the “good ole days.”

But such an attitude denies history. It is inexcusable for any man or woman, of any race holding such an important position as Thomas to have, that of a Supreme Court Justice to hold such ahistoric and racist views. For man like Thomas, who in his office helps to make and interpret law that affects the civil rights of all Americans it is unconscionable. But then, I do not believe that Thomas has a conscience.

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But for each of those incidents there were many more, some very bloody which have been forgotten. I was reminded of one of those last year  when a speaker talked about an incident that occurred at his alma mater, South Carolina State University in Orangeburg South Carolina, the Orangeburg Massacre. I think I had read about it once, but I had forgotten about it.

The massacre occurred on February 8th 1968 when students at the college began to protest for equal access to local businesses, especially at the only bowling alley in town, the All Star Lanes. The owner refused to allow Blacks to patronize his establishment. In the days leading up to the massacre students were beaten by police as they engaged in peaceful protests.

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Protests continued on campus, hundreds of police and state troopers were dispatched as well as armored vehicles from the National Guard. On campus about 200 students milled around a dying bonfire.

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During a protest the local and state police opened fire on a crowed of students at a bonfire. Contrary to the claims of the police no student was armed, three students were killed, and twenty seven wounded. Many were shot in the back. The dead included a college Army ROTC Cadet named Henry Smith, another, a member of the college football team, Samuel Hammond who died reciting the 23rd Psalm with his mother at his side, and lastly the young Delano Middleton, a local high school student who had joined the protest.

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J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to make false statements to Justice Department officials to cover for the State Troopers involved. When nine of the police officers went to trial for excessive use of force all were acquitted. But how could they be? Evidence was suppressed, false statements made and testimony of the victims discounted.

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For years the subject was covered up, and disinformation spread by elected and police officials, including the governor who blamed the protest on outside “Black Power agitators” and who claimed that the protest took place off campus. Activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of “inciting a riot” and spent seven months in jail. Twenty five years later he was pardoned. It was not until 2001 that a Governor, then Jim Hodges attended the school’s annual memorial and it was not until 2005 when then Governor Mark Sanford made a formal apology for the massacre.

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The massacre received almost no coverage in the national media and was forgotten. The energy of most Americans was focused on the Vietnam War, the Kent State Shootings and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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Justice Thomas may have historical amnesia, but history is history, even history that those in power desired to cover up.

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History and justice, even belated justice matter because there are those in our country, not all in the South, who would like to roll back the protections that exist in law to protect African Americans and other minorities from institutional discrimination in matters of voters rights and equality. There are business owners who openly boast of their refusal to serve minorities, and are hailed by some for doing so.

I encourage my readers to explore this subject, the book, The Orangeburg Massacre by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson published by Mercer University Press, a number of websites as well as a video that I have provided a link to here http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/3/1968_forty_years_later_a_look are good places to start.

Like Montgomery, Birmingham, Anniston, Memphis and Selma, Orangeburg though forgotten by most, still matters. Never forget and do not let it happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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52 Years: Musing on Life and Civil Rights in 2012

Trayvon Martin and Emmit Till

Well about this time of night some 52 years ago my mom was deep into a very long day of labor at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland California. 52 years and it doesn’t really seem that long but it is. When I was born Dwight Eisenhower was President and his Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy were preparing to run against each other for the Office of President.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists like Medgar Evers were campaigning for the rights of Black Americans and others and would lose their lives in doing it within a few years. In that time Blacks were violently attacked even in church, the 15 September 1963 Street Baptist Church bombing. Just 6 years before I was born a 14 year old boy named Emmit Till was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. His killers backed by a surge of popular support were acquitted of the murder and a few months later confessed to the murder unable to be prosecuted under double jeopardy. Blacks did not gain legal protections enjoyed by whites until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When I was a teenager my home town of Stockton California desegregated its schools. I am proud to be part of the first class at Edison High School that completed all of its high school years in that environment.  I remember those times fondly and my friends there are all my “Soul Vike” brothers and sisters.

I know this is a weird start to a birthday article but I never believed that I would see racism become fashionable again.  But then I should have seen it coming because it has always been there maybe just under the surface but still there.  Back in 2009 I was attacked and threatened by a White Supremacist in response to articles about world War II and a baseball game on this site.

So when I started reading responses of certain media and political figures to the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman it struck a chord. I have been following the case online and have read a good number of posts by people “defending” Zimmerman by making the most racist and hateful comments maligning the dead kid and those that have the nerve to make this killing an issue.

No one is perfect and I am not calling for a mob approach to justice that would condemn Zimmerman without a full and impartial investigation and if need be a trial. However that being said if no one bothered to raise Trayvon Martin’s death the story would be buried deeper that Trayvon.  Without the actions of some nationally known activists and media personalities Zimmerman would never be forced to account for his actions that night in which he killed Trayvon. Zimmerman is said to have allegedly killed in self defense despite defying police who told him not to pursue or confront the teenager and the police at the minimum did a terribly inept investigation and at worst were complicit in a cover up that now may involve leaking material to a local reporter that they believe is helpful to painting the dead kid in a negative manner.

That bothers me. It reminds me of what I have read of reaction to and defense of the murderers that killed Emmit Till.  If Zimmerman did nothing wrong and if Trayvon Martin actually attacked him first a thorough investigation would have left no doubt. Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty but he may never even face trial based on the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law.  I just don’t get the convoluted arguments that self defense trumps even a fair and thorough investigation of of a man that used a gun to kill another. But now all we have is the trigger puller’s account to rely on and the stultifying spin of his defenders who seem more intent on killing the victim once again than they are on finding out what really happened. The Sanford Police have probably ensured that will never happen by not doing the ballistics, gunpowder residue and other normal procedures that would show what happened. That is not justice.

I was perusing a Christian blog which the matter was being discussed and I think that what I read there was the most discouraging as people professing to be Christians were in the lead trashing the life of a dead kid and making comments on race, African Americans and civil rights that if they were said about White Christians that would be decried in the right wing press and blogosphere.

I wonder at times how far we have come.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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