Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"I'm Going to do Something"

Given that it's Rosa Park's birthday today, I thought I'd reprise something I wrote several years ago about the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement.

Here's Pete Seeger talking to Majora Carter about some of his memories:


First of all, he said this about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Why did he start with a bus boycott? Why didn't he start with something like schools, or jobs, or voting? Couldn't a bus boycott come later?

When you face an opponent over a broad front, you don't aim at the opponent's strong points. You aim for something a little off to the side. But you win it. And having won that bus boycott...13 months it took him to do it...then he moved on to other things.
This struck me as incredibly powerful when I first heard it. I began to imagine the kinds of things facing African Americans in 1955 in the South. It wasn't just segregation - it was the almost complete denial of voting rights, it was lynchings and bombings, etc. At what point does where someone sits on a bus become the priority place to begin? As Pete Seeger said...it began at the place where the movement could likely win...and use that to build upon for the rest of the work.

Then he goes on to tell the story of how he met MLK and Rosa Parks. It was at the Highlander Folk School (today, the Highlander Research and Education Center). In 1932, Miles Horton, Don West, Jim Dombrowski and others founded the Highlander Folk School as a place to train union members, labor leaders, and the unemployed in Tennessee. In the 1950's that mission extended to training organizers in the Civil Rights Movement. As Seeger discusses in the video - people like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks participated in these sessions.

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Rosa Parks on the far left and Martin Luther King on the far right.

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Septima Clark and Rosa Parks

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Martin Luther King, Pete Seeger, Horton's daughter, Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy

I just love the story Seeger tells about being in a group with Rosa Parks at the end of one of these sessions and all of them being asked what they were going to do when they went home. Rosa said she didn't know, but she'd come up with something. Boy did she!!!!!

The result was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. From there, it would be 9 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. And that was yet another beginning...the struggle continues today.

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