Category Archives: civil rights

Phil Ochs – A Buckeye Remembered

Here’s to the great Phil Ochs on what would have been his 76th birthday (December 19). One of the most influential singers of his time, during the Civil Rights and Free Speech Movements and the Vietnam war, he was also an Ohio State journalism student and worked for the school newspaper, the Lantern. At OSU he met his political mentor, Jim Glover, who introduced him to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and the Weavers. Odd (sad) that the university remains ambivalent/silent about his legacy…

“A good song with a message can a bring a point more deeply than a thousand rallies” – Phil Ochs

Remembering The Stand In The Schoolhouse Door

The milestone incident known as the stand in the schoolhouse door took place fifty-three years ago today, June 11, 1963, at the University of Alabama, when Alabama’s Governor George Wallace attempted to physically block two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling in the university. It was one of the crucial moments in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and a shining example of graceful leadership under immense pressure. 

Previously, in his inaugural address as governor, Wallace had shouted segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” He repeatedly assured his constituents that he would keep his promise and defy any and all federal court orders forcing integration in his state. So on that fateful day he was determined, and honor-bound, to stand his ground. Part savvy politician, part carnival barker, Wallace certainly had a flair for the dramatic and he had staged quite a show for his rabid fans. For his part, Kennedy had to find a way to enforce federal court orders without playing into Wallace’s hands by turning him into a high-profile martyr for the southern racist cause, let alone keep the peace on a campus swarming with white supremacists itching for a fight. The riots a year earlier between whites and national guard troops at Oxford Mississippi over James Meredith had to have been fresh in his mind. (Listen to Bob Dylan’s Oxford Town)

During the stand-off JFK and his brother Bobby were busy working the phones between Washington and their agent at Alabama, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. They were very hesitant to just “kick the governor out of the way.” Their primary dilemma: sending troops too soon might set off violence, but waiting too long might be seen as a retreat. Their solution: Malone and Hood waited out of site under a federal marshals’ protection while Katzenbach went forth to confront Wallace face-to-face on the steps of the admissions building. He calmly and respectfully served the court order and listened to the recalcitrant Wallace’s prepared statement. Kennedy then ordered Katzenbach to turn away, walk back to the students, and escort them to their dormitories. It worked! There was no riot, but also no retreat. Wallace was able to save face with his people and leave the scene. Malone and Hood quietly returned the next day and registered without incident.

Alabama was the last American state to desegregate its universities. Luckily, due to the Kennedy brothers’ resolve and quick thinking under pressure, the Tide went out with a whimper and not a bang. That night President Kennedy went on national television to give a groundbreaking speech. In the age of Trump it is important to hear his words again on this important anniversary…

Watch the great documentary on these days by Robert Drew. I read somewhere that this was the first movie that Obama screened when he entered the White House in January 2009? See it below:

Watch NBC News coverage of the standoff at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963

Read Wallace’s telegram to JFK from one month earlier condemning the use of federal troops in Birmingham

Slipping Into Darkness Again? The Death of RFK

A Poem on the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

Trees are never felled… in summer… Not when the fruit…

is yet to be born… Never before the promise… is fulfilled…

Not when their cooling shade… has yet to comfort…

 

Yet there are those… unheeding of nature… indifferent to

ecology… ignorant of need… who… with ax and sharpened

saw… would… in boots… step forth damaging…

 

Not the tree… for it falls… But those who would… in

summer’s heat… or winter’s cold… contemplate… the

beauty…

— Nikki Giovanni

It was 48 years ago today that Robert F. Kennedy spent his last day on this troubled earth. I remember it well. I was 5 years old. Tears flowed at home. This great one, who had already lost his brother to the bullet, met the same awful fate on that terrible night in Los Angeles. Two months earlier he had delivered the news of MLK’s murder so eloquently…

In this election year of 2016, where we’ve seen violence on the campaign trail not equaled since the turbulent decade of the 1960s, we would do well to stop in our tracks and consider that all the hateful rhetoric– the racism, scapegoating, conspiracy theories and war-mongering– leads to no good end. If we think it can’t happen here, again, we are fooling ourselves.

How We Fight

Voltaire once said “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Sadly, the number of examples throughout history to support his claim fill entire libraries. The most recent, Iraq and Afghanistan (and associated mayhem), are still burning through the fabric of humanity like the Alien’s acid-like blood burnt through the decks of the spaceship Nostromo. Yet where is the outcry? Where are the forces in society with enough clout to expose and blunt the absurdities- the Press and protestors in the streets?

We are in the midst of another election season and absurdities abound in the rhetoric. The saber rattling, while always present in a militaristic society like ours, has begun to escalate. Recently two exiting Generals claimed in their goodbye speeches that Russia is the biggest threat facing America– Russia? Really? I guess there ain’t no money in ISIS and Al Qaeda folks. You don’t need strategic bombers, huge mechanized armies and aircraft carriers to fight them. Guess where those two guys are likely heading next for work?

The presidential candidates appear to cover the gamut with regard to the projection of US military strength internationally– Trump is called a loose cannon and supposedly dangerous because of his unpredictability, Clinton is called a hawk and supposedly dangerous because of her predicability and Sanders is called a dove and supposedly dangerous because his idealism ignores realism. We hear little about ending the war on terror though. We even had one extremely belligerent candidate, Ted Cruz (thankfully banished, a positive outcome of Trump’s success), who proposed carpet bombing an entire country into submission, even though we have empirical evidence going all the way back to Dresden that this never has and presumably never will work!. Was he challenged on this madness? Superficially at best. Again, where are our gatekeepers whose job it is to check the facts, challenge the claims and expose the absurdities? Why are we the people so silent?

Another famous French author once summed it up pretty well:

“A poor man in the world can be done to death in two main ways, by the absolute indifference of his fellows in peacetime or by their homicidal mania when there’s a war. When other people start thinking about you, it’s to figure out how to torture you. The bastards want to see you bleeding, otherwise they’re not interested! The patriots kept clamoring: Guns! Men! Ammunition! They never seemed to get tired. It was an obsession which prevented the best of our fellow citizens from breathing, eating, or copulating. But it didn’t seem to prevent them from swinging business deals. Morale was doing all right on the home front” — Louis-Ferdinand Celine Journey to The End Of The Night (1934)

If you know about Celine then you know that even he was taken in by an absurdity later in his life. Yet his quote remembering his experiences in WWI is as relevant today as it was back then.

There was one moment in our history when the barricades were stridently manned and the constitutional tools at our disposal were put to good use in the battle against the purveyors of absurdity. It was a short moment to be sure, from about 1960 -1973, but during that period we saw important social strides made through the Civil Rights, Free Speech and anti-Vietnam War movements. It was a time before the rise of today’s corporate dominated mass-news media that values the interests of its owners and sponsors above its critical responsibility as the peoples’ watch dog against corporate and governmental over-reach. In the sixties the advent of television news, with its immediate images beamed into living rooms before being sanitized for docile consumption, caught the elites completely by surprise. Suddenly they had lost control of the frame and it cost them. Of course it was good for society, we haven’t seen accelerated social change like that ever since, but it seriously damaged ruling class interests at the time. They learned the lesson– think about embedded reporters for example, now they can only report what their keepers let them see. No more Morley Safers or Malcolm Brownes. A tamed sycophantic news media eagerly goes along with it.

We the people would do well to study those lofty days when people took the law into their own hands and took to the streets to force change. Take heed of the tactics used by those regular folks who spoke up and put their hands on the gears of the machine and follow in their footsteps:

RIP Morley Safer…

Click here for more information and media on those who spoke up against the Vietnam War