Mike Miller, August, 2006; revised January, 2008.
The following are two interconnected documents. The first is the "extended" text of a February 11, 2000 speech by former Democrat Senator and Vice-President, later Presidential nominee, Walter Mondale on the Democratic Party's response to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's (MFDP) 1964 Atlantic City Convention challenge that sought to unseat the racist "regulars" and replace them with the MFDP delegation. Second, interspersed with Mondale’s text is my response to it.
From mid-1962 to the end of 1966, I was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (“Snick”). While the matters covered here are historic, they are also very present. Race and class (and other discriminations) continue to preclude realization of the vision of a just, democratic, nation.
Because of the important role Walter Mondale played in the Democratic Party of the 1960s and thereafter, I believe it is important to both affirm and criticize his statement. The historic record is important for those who want to understand what the civil rights movement was about and for those who will be part of the social movements that must take place to achieve full democratic participation and social and economic justice in the United States--goals yet to be realized. In his speech, Mondale acknowledges the importance of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. His acknowledgement is a positive contribution to a serious dialog about what happened then and what should happen now.
NOTE TO THE READER: The Mondale text is in quotes; my comments and material I quote are in italics.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the 1964 Democratic National Convention
by Walter F. Mondale.
Minneapolis, Minnesota; February 11, 2000
Preface: “The history of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and its challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention is a complex and lengthy affair. Many months of research and hard work went into the preparation of today 's lecture, but unfortunately, time does not permit me to go into all of the details of this episode. What follows is an extended version of my lecture that will give those who are interested a fuller account of the events at the center of today's program. - WFM
“I have had a long and wonderful career in public service and politics, and I have seen remarkable changes in this country during the last half century. This lecture series permits me to share what I have seen and experienced, and to pass on the lessons I have learned to the next generation. I want to begin by thanking the great team I have working with me: Maxine Isaacs, our project director; Gail Harrison, who will take over for Maxine next month; Michael Lerner, our talented historian; Barbara Thompson, who made this event run smoothly; Janet Dudrow, my research assistant, and Lynda Pedersen, my administrative assistant.
“I also want to express my appreciation to those of you who helped support this lecture series and Northwest Airlines for providing transportation for our panelists. And, of course, we owe a special thanks to our sponsors: Bill Buzenberg of Minnesota Public Radio (Bill Kling regrets that he cannot be here today); Mike McPherson president of Macalester College and Timothy Hultquist, chairman of Macalester's Board of Trustees; Nina Archabal of the Minnesota Historical Society; and Dean Brandl of the Humphrey Institute. I also want to thank my partners at Dorsey & Whitney for encouraging me in this effort.
“Today I want to talk about what has been the most profound change in America in my lifetime: the elimination of official racial discrimination. By this I mean the hateful, legally-sanctioned separation of white and black America that has characterized too much of the history our nation. To do so, I will revisit one of the pivotal events in the civil rights struggle - the saga of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In 1964, this group of courageous people fought to open up the political process in Mississippi to black citizens. They took their cause to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, where they forced the party to confront the ugly segregation in its midst. What happened there permanently and profoundly changed both the Democratic Party and American politics.”
This recognition by a mainstream Democrat of the people who participated in and built the Freedom Movement in Mississippi is welcome.
“Since I played an important role in this drama, I want to talk about what happened and why it was important. I am honored to share the stage today with six panelists who will join me in revisiting this topic: Curtis Wilkie, a Mississippian and senior reporter for the Boston Globe; Lawrence Guyot, the chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964; our own Josie Johnson; the Rev. Ed King, co-chair of the MFDP delega-tion; Taylor Branch, the gifted historian; and the pro-civil rights former Governor of Mississippi, Bill Winter.
“Thirty-six years ago this was a very different country. It's almost impossible to explain to those who didn't live in those times how pervasive discrimination was in our society then. We didn't call our system of segregation ‘apartheid,’ but that's what it was. In many parts of our country, public facilities, housing, transportation, and schools were segregated. The ‘help wanted’ ads in newspapers were classified by race. Millions of black Southerners were denied the right to vote, and police routinely brutalized black citizens. These conditions sparked the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s--the sit-ins, marches, and demonstrations that pushed this country to change.”
This is an accurate, but incomplete, statement of conditions faced by African-Americans in the South. The following historic and factual notes should be added: with the exception of a very brief period during post-Civil War Reconstruction, Blacks in the Deep South faced the conditions noted by Mondale and worse. Among the things that need to be added to get a full picture of the 80 years between the end of Reconstruction and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that launched the modern civil rights movement: lynching and other kinds of murder of Blacks both by private white citizens and by legal authorities; systematic loss of Black-owned land throughout the South that resulted from violence and economic discrimination; economic and social exploitation of Blacks, including sexual exploitation of African-American women. During and in the post-Reconstruction period, millions of Southern Blacks were, in fact, re-enslaved by the legal system of sharecropping, tenant farming and day labor that tied them to pre-mechanization southern agriculture. For most, the only escape was migration to the north.
The Federal government, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, enforced southern segregation laws. For example: where local law required segregated public facilities, Federal buildings were segregated. Racist customs not written into local law were enforced as well: many Federal agencies would not hire African-Americans into jobs that were, by custom, reserved for whites. Black GIs stationed in southern military bases had to obey segregation laws when off base. Washington, DC was directly controlled and administered by the Federal government and was completely segregated.
Indeed, the incompleteness of Mondale’s statement is recognized in President Lyndon Johnson’s speech, “To Fulfill These Rights,” given at Howard University, June 4, 1965. Johnson says, “[E]qual opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in--by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.”
“In Mississippi, where blacks lived in a virtual police state, it was a slow, painful struggle. Since 1960, young organizers in Mississippi had dedicated themselves to registering black voters. Working through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), field workers like Bob Moses worked tirelessly on this campaign to give black Mississippians first-class citizenship. They faced mob violence, they were jailed, and some were even killed, but they made only slight headway and attracted almost no national recognition for their efforts.”
Note: the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) also had field workers in Mississippi’s 5th Congressional District. Mondale’s appreciation of this work is an important affirmation.
SNCC workers routinely complained about the inadequate media coverage of our efforts in Mississippi; it is also true that "Snick"--the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee--was widely known throughout the United States. Further, media coverage of voter registration work in the South gained international visibility, particularly in Africa. As part of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and its allies gave widespread publicity to the civil rights movement in the United States; so did major independent media in Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the world.
“By 1964, Moses and his colleagues were weary. They had been beaten and terrorized, and they were desperate for a new strategy to bring change to Mississippi. What they came up with was a bold project they called ‘Freedom Summer.’ They recruited 1,000 volunteers, mostly white college students from the North, to come to Mississippi to help with the campaign to register black voters. Moses and the other organizers knew that these volunteers would be subject to the same violence that they had endured, but they believed the presence of white volunteers would draw national attention to the horrible conditions and violence in Mississippi. They believed the nation would not tolerate the violence if it were visited upon white college students. They also believed that the FBI, which had refused to stem anti-black violence, would be forced to move into Mississippi if the victims were white. And they hoped that their renewed efforts would show white Mississippians that change was inevitable in the South.”
In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States. In 1962, the Kennedy Administration was very interested in getting the southern civil rights movement "off the streets" because of the international embarrassment it was causing the U.S., particularly in countries of the "Third World" where the Cold War opponents were intense rivals for the allegiance of the newly independent nations of Africa. The Kennedy Administration encouraged "The Movement" to shift its strategy from desegregation of public facilities to voter registration, and promised Justice Department and FBI assistance for voter registration work. Except by Southern racists, it was undisputed that there was widespread unconstitutional denial to Black citizens of their right to vote. This promised assistance never materialized. Despite the courage and support of such Justice Department officials as John Doar, from the highest levels of government the support promised was not forthcoming. The result was continued firing, eviction, home and church burning, jailing, beating and killing of civil rights movement participants. It was the unpunished murder of two Mississippi African-Americans, in one case by a white elected state official, that finally prompted SNCC to initiate "Freedom Summer."
“It did not take long, unfortunately, for this new strategy to work. In fact, on the first day of Freedom Summer, June 20, 1964, three young organizers - James Chaney, an African American, and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, both white, disappeared while investigating a church burning in Neshoba County. The nation took notice, and the federal government was forced to respond. For six weeks, the FBI combed the area looking for the three young men, until their bodies were found, buried in an earthen dam. And there was more violence. A prominent rabbi from Cleveland, Arthur Lelyveld, was beaten with a pipe, and many more Freedom Summer volunteers were assaulted. 1,000 organizers were arrested, thirty-five people were shot, thirty homes bombed, and thirty-five churches burned. Cleveland Sellers, a nineteen-year-old organizer at the time, called it, ‘the longest nightmare I have ever had’."
“In spite of the violence, the organizers of Freedom Summer continued their campaign with what Dr. Martin Luther King called a ‘majestic’ disregard for their own lives. While the Freedom Summer volunteers registered voters, Bob Moses and his colleagues worked on another part of their strategy .to bring change to Mississippi. They knew that if black people were to gain real power in Mississippi, they had to find a place in the political process. So with the help of Joe Rauh, a brilliant liberal attorney from Washington D.C. and an old friend of mine, they organized what they called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
“The Freedom Democrats' objective was simple, but ambitious. They sought the integration of the Mississippi Democratic Party. They planned to achieve this by challenging the whites-only regular delegation from Missis-sippi at the Democratic National Convention that summer in Atlantic City. Arguing that the Mississippi regulars had campaigned against John F Kennedy and the Democratic platform in 1960, and had no intention of support-ing Lyndon Johnson or the Democratic platform in 1964, the Freedom Democrats demanded that they should be seated at the convention as the rightful representatives of the Democratic Party of Mississippi. They began a national campaign to publicize their challenge, and they won a surprising show of support from Democratic state delegations across the nation, including California, Colorado, New York, and here in Minnesota.
“The Freedom Democratic Party faced a very different response at home in Mississippi, however. Taylor Branch, in his brilliant history, Pillar of Fire, describes the ferocious response to the MFDP challenge by the Mississippi political establishment: police surveillance, harassment, bombings, and terrorism from the local Ku Klux Klan. When the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were discovered just three weeks before the convention, it served to remind the entire nation how far some white Mississippians would go to stop these efforts to open up the political process to black citizens.
“The Freedom Democrats fought on nonetheless, believing they would prevail in Atlantic City. But their persistence was putting them on a direct collision course with the segregated Democratic Party structure of the South and with President Lyndon B. Johnson. A showdown at the convention seemed inevitable.”
While additions should and have been made to Mondale’s text, in general, the above represents a consensus shared by moderates, liberals and radicals about the period leading up to the 1964 Atlantic City National Democratic Party Convention.
“No one was more alarmed by this possibility than President Johnson. It had been less than a year since Presi-dent Kennedy's assassination, and Johnson was deeply concerned about his presidency and his place in history. He had just signed the landmark Civil Rights Act into law, which outlawed legal segregation, and he looked to the convention as his moment to finally step out of Kennedy's shadow and articulate his own ambitious agenda for civil rights and the Great Society. But Johnson also believed that patience was key to advancing the civil rights cause. He feared the Freedom Democrats were moving too quickly, and that their challenge would spark a messy fight between the rival Mississippi delegations at the convention. Unless he could head off the Freedom Democrats challenge, Johnson feared it would spark a walkout of delegates from Southern and border states at the convention. The backlash, he feared, could possibly cost him the election in the fall.
The notion of "moving too fast" versus "patience" as the "key to advancing the civil rights cause" must be challenged. The “landmark Civil Rights Act” to which Mondale refers was passed because of militant non-violent direct action of The Movement. Throughout human history, excluded, marginalized, oppressed, discriminated against people have struggled for their own liberation. They have done this by means of violent revolution or non-violent disruptive direct action and mass organization when these were possibilities. "Moderates" and many "liberals" used to operating "within the system" have cautioned against all these strategies of liberation. Without these strategies there would have been no progress. In the above, the limits of Mondale's "insider" approach begin to show themselves.
“On August 20, 1964, I flew to Atlantic City to attend the convention as a Minnesota delegate. Along with Geri Joseph, I had been appointed a member of the Credentials Committee, which would deal with the MFDP challenge. I already knew something about the Mississippi dispute before the convention. Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag had been in touch with the White House about the MFDP, I had discussed it with Hubert Humphrey and his staff, I had met briefly with local civil rights leaders about it, and reporters were talking with us about it. I certainly shared the goal of integrating the party, but I had never been to Mississippi, and I didn't know the problems there firsthand. What I did know was that Hubert Humphrey had a good chance of being nominated for the vice presidency, and I wanted to help him. I wanted to make sure we did everything we could to ensure a Johnson-Humphrey victory in November, and the excitement that I felt about helping Humphrey become vice-president was central to everything I did at the convention.
“It was not until the Credentials Committee met on Saturday, August 22, that I began to understand the seriousness of the Freedom Democrats' challenge. In a crowded, steamy room, our committee heard Joe Rauh lead a powerful presentation on behalf of the Freedom Democrats. We heard Aaron Henry and the Reverend Ed King, co-chairs of the MFDP delegation, testify about the brutality they had experienced while campaigning for civil rights and the Freedom Party in Mississippi. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. urged us to seat the Freedom Democrats in the name of justice. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP asked us to apply "the rule of morality" and seat the MFDP.
“And in a moment people recall to this day, a sharecropper named Fannie Lou Hamer transfixed the room - and the nation - as she told of being shot at, arrested, and beaten for urging her fellow black citizens to vote. She concluded: ‘...if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?’"
“The impact of the Freedom Democrats' case, especially Hamer's testimony, was awesome. In fact, the emotions Hamer stirred completely changed the politics of the convention. Many of us already knew the Freedom Democrats had Justice on their side, and we wanted to see civil rights advanced in Mississippi. We had no sympathy for the Mississippi regulars. They were an embarrassment to the party, as far as many of us were concerned. But Hamer's speech and the strong outpouring of support for the Freedom Democrats put new pressure on us to do something about Mississippi immediately. The Freedom Democrats wanted change at this convention, not at the next convention in 1968, as Johnson would have had it. Because of Hamer, President Johnson was facing a different convention.”
The Mississippi regulars were more than "an embarrassment" to the national Democratic Party. In 1932, at the time of the "Great Depression," Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President of the United States. Democrats swept control of both Houses of Congress from the Republican Party. The Democratic Party coalition was comprised of the liberal middle class, big city white ethnic "machines" (that in some places included African-Americans), the newly-emerging industrial union movement that was organizing white, Black and other workers on a non-discriminatory basis (in contrast with the "craft-unions" that were racially discriminatory and in many cases segregated in the 1930s) and the Southern Democrats who controlled southern politics from the end of Reconstruction to 1968, with the brief exception of the late 1800s populists who briefly gave hope to the idea of economic justice for both blacks and whites. The "Dixiecrats" (elected southern Democrats) were the principal supporters of the apartheid system Mondale describes. They were central to the Democratic Party coalition that controlled U.S. politics until the post-World War 2 election of 1948 when Democrats lost control of Congress. Together with Congressional conservative Republicans, who by then had long-abandoned the anti-slavery tradition of their party, sometimes joined by big-city "Machine Democrats," the Dixiecrats blocked all legislation aimed at ending racial segregation and discrimination in the South and at including southern Black workers in various "New Deal" economic justice legislation. (For example, farm and domestic workers were excluded from the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act that allowed workers to vote on whether or not they wanted to be represented by a union.) The Farm Security Administration, the one New Deal agency that benefited poor southern Blacks and whites, was soon eliminated as a result of Dixiecrat and agri-business power in Congress.
“Several proposals to settle the Mississippi dispute were already floating around the convention. The administration's position was rooted in caution. The Democratic Party would be integrated, but it would have to happen slowly, and certainly not at the risk of losing the election to Goldwater in the fall. The administration proposal was a pledge to bar segregated delegations at the next convention and establish a commission to eradicate discrimination in the party so that these problems would not plague us again in 1968. But many delegates believed that if we were going to integrate the party, there was no reason to wait. They insisted that we might as well start there in Atlantic City, and start with Mississippi, which was our biggest headache. They wanted to seat the Freedom Democrats then and there, and send the segregationists home. Many of the Southern delegates obviously disagreed. They argued that the Freedom Democrats had no official standing, and that there was no legal justification for unseating the regulars.
“Over the years, some veterans of the civil rights movement have claimed that the only moral position for the Freedom Democrats to take at the convention was ‘no compromise.’ They have argued that the Freedom Democrats should have accepted nothing less than all the seats for Mississippi, and that anything less than that would have been a ‘compromise with racism.’ But I think the Freedom Democrats were willing to compromise, and I believed there was room for a compromise. We needed to find it if we could.”
A word on the notion of "compromise." At a minimum, the democratic idea is that each and every citizen should have the vote and that majority rule requires recognition of minority rights. Theoretically in a democracy, a majority cannot deny a minority the rights of free speech, assembly, petition, voting, running for office, etc.; nor can a majority by majority vote discriminate against a minority. From its beginning, the United States was a flawed democracy, and throughout the country's history the effort to bring reality closer to the theoretical ideal has been a steady theme of reform. Slowly, though far from steadily because it was a constant struggle with both victories and defeats, from the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, through the elimination of property requirements for voting, passage of the post-Civil War 13th, 14th & 15th Amendments, and enfranchisement of women, extension of suffrage advanced. By the mid-20th century, the only systematic, legally enforced, denial of the vote was in the Southern States.
There is a fundamental difference between, for example, the compromise over whether the minimum wage should be $7.00 or $8.00 and whether a particular group of people are allowed to fully participate in the political process and in civic life. Compromises of the first kind express the respective power of parties participating in a democratic political process. While vast inequalities of wealth compromise, undermine and can ultimately destroy democracy, when people possess democratic rights it is still possible to change tax laws; to regulate, break-up or nationalize corporations, or turn them over to worker, consumer and community co-operative ownership; to organize unions, strike, boycott, engage in nonviolent direct action and otherwise make use of First Amendment guarantees to bring about change. There is a qualitative difference when a group of people are legally or otherwise systemically excluded from political participation. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party had every reason not to compromise on its challenge, and few, if any, reasons to accept the “compromise”, as elaborated below, that was offered to it.
Further, Black leaders and citizens in the South had little reason to believe that compromise with segregation and discrimination would accomplish anything for them. The "compromise" that ended Reconstruction in 1876/77 led to the recreation of many of the worst conditions of slavery. The New Deal "compromise" with Southern Democrats led to the exclusion of southern Blacks from many of the benefits of the New Deal. On the other hand, the most vigorously anti-discrimination industrial unions of the Depression—members of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)--demonstrated in their organizing drives that whites and Blacks could come together on a basis of mutual respect and democratically participate in civic life. Even in the South, the CIO was briefly able to organize across racial lines--as were the Populists in the brief post-Reconstruction period when their slogan was "race has kept us both in poverty."
“Joe Rauh had gone up and down the Atlantic City boardwalk telling anyone who'd listen that there were numerous precedents for splitting the Mississippi seats between the two delegations. Other party leaders suggested we seat neither group, while others suggested seating all the delegates from both groups as long as they signed a loyalty oath pledging to support the party and the nominee.
“When the 110 members of the Credentials Committee met the following day to discuss the challenge, emotions were running high. We debated for most of the afternoon, but there was no consensus about what we should do. We reached an impasse, and then tensions boiled over. One committee member got up and started calling the Mississippi regulars Nazis. In response, a Mississippi delegate called the Freedom Democrats Cuban sympathizers.
“From these shouting bouts, it was clear this dispute was going to end up on the floor of the convention, just as Johnson feared, unless some sort of compromise could be found. Several members of the Credentials Committee, myself included, suggested a subcommittee be formed to deal with the problem. The committee chairman, Governor David Lawrence of Pennsylvania, agreed. He appointed me to chair the subcommittee, and selected four other delegates to join me on it - Sherwin Markman from Iowa, Charles Diggs from Michigan, Irving Kaler from Georgia and Price Daniels from Texas.
“So there I was, a young politician, thirty-six years old, barely acquainted with Mississippi, and untested in national politics, but now in charge of keeping the convention from blowing apart. I strongly believed in civil rights; I wanted to be fair to the Freedom Democrats, and at the same time, I wanted to help Hubert become vice president and see Johnson and Humphrey defeat Goldwater in the fall. I was also very conscious of the possible implications of all this on my own career.”
Here Mondale faces the dilemma faced by each Credentials Committee member and by every delegate to that Convention. There was a possible "compromise"--even if, from a theoretical democratic point of view it wasn't democratic. Had the two delegations been offered equal seating so long as each delegate signed a pledge supporting the Convention's platform and nominees for President and Vice-President, it is likely the MFDP would have supported that compromise. It is also likely all but a few of the racist "regulars" would have left the Convention, perhaps joined by the rest of the Deep South "regulars." It seemed clear to Movement people then, and with the benefit of hindsight it appears clearer now, that most of the country would have voted for Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, supported a firm stand for basic civil rights and isolated the Southern Dixiecrats. That is what happened in 1948 when the Democrats took a firm position against segregation and nominated Harry Truman as their Presidential candidate. The Dixiecrats "bolted" the Party and got nowhere with their Presidential campaign--though they retained their seats in Congress. If anything, "hard headed realism" should have suggested that this was the moment to break the power of the Dixiecrats. It was an opportunity that was ignored.
“I convened our subcommittee and off we went to our fleabag hotel to meet all night. We were under enormous pressure. Johnson, who was good at these things, had let Humphrey know that his chance at the vice presidency depended on his brokering an acceptable compromise. He was dead set against splitting the Mississippi seats between the two delegations, as he doubted the two groups would share the Mississippi seats peacefully. He told Walter Reuther, the president of the United Auto Workers and a key figure in this episode, that if we seated the two groups together, ‘we'd have more damn wars than you ever saw.’ Seating the entire Freedom delegation was also out of the question in Johnson's view, because he was sure it would lead to a walkout and cost him the election in the fall. But we had to find a solution, so Johnson's staff, Humphrey's people, Reuther, Bayard Rustin and others shuttled between meetings of civil rights leaders, the Freedom Democrats, and other delegates trying to find and sell a solution that would keep this issue from exploding on the convention floor.”
By taking the moral high ground the Democrats and the country might have avoided much of the subsequent painful history of Black-white relations in the nation--a history that continues to this very day.
At about this very period in San Francisco there was a parallel opportunity to examine Johnson's realism about the Goldwater threat. In October, 1963, the student movement-led Bay Area Ad Hoc Committee for Civil Rights held sit-ins against discrimination in hiring at Mel's Drive-In Restaurant in San Francisco. City/County Supervisor Harold Dobbs, Mel's Republican owner, was running for mayor against Democrat John Shelley. Most of the moderate-liberal-labor-Black community leadership were opposed to the sit-ins. They feared the sit-ins would result in Dobbs being elected over the liberal Mayor Shelley in their contest to succeed two-term Republican George Christopher. The calculation was parallel to the national concern about civil rights moving “too fast.” Despite the advice of caution, the Ad Hoc Committee continued its protest. Many were arrested. And John Shelley defeated Harold Dobbs in November, 1963 to become mayor of San Francisco.
The Democratic Party Convention Sergeant-at-Arms could easily have created a barrier between the white and Black Mississippi delegations. Had the white regulars physically attacked the MFDP delegates, with TV cameras showing the attack to the nation, what a great opportunity that would have been to expel the regulars and rid the Democratic Party of all of them. What would have been lost? The Deep South? Hardly: it was won by Goldwater in 1964, and with the 1968 Republican Party "Southern strategy" was won by Richard Nixon in 1968 and by the Republican Party in every national election since.
“Under the rules, the Freedom Democrats needed only eleven votes in the Credentials Committee and eight states on the floor to bring the challenge to a convention vote, where they might win. But Johnson was absolutely determined not to let this happen. Frankly, part of what we were doing in our subcommittee was buying time to keep the dispute off the convention floor. At one point, it looked like we might have to sit on the issue for the whole convention, and patience on the subcommittee was wearing thin. Price Daniels, who was Texas Governor John Connally's man on the subcommittee, looked at me and asked, ‘can you give me one goddamn good reason why we have to stay here?’ And I said, ‘yeah, Lyndon wants you to stay here.’ So he said, ‘Okay,’ and he stayed.
“I spent three days working with the subcommittee on the Mississippi question. I favored a rule to bar segregated delegations at future conventions, because I thought it would force blacks and whites to work this issue out in their own states and would lead to healthier state parties. This no-segregation rule for future conventions was among four points in a proposal that had been in the works long before the convention. Johnson himself had okayed that proposal, and White House staff had discussed it with Rauh. But that proposal didn't take into account how much strength had been building behind the Freedom Democrats that summer. It didn't offer any seats at the convention to the Freedom Party delegates.”
This proposal was itself based on the naive hope that there were "white moderates" in the Deep South who would rise to the occasion and join with newly enfranchised African-Americans to create a new Democratic Party, one free of racial discrimination. There was little evidence that such white moderates existed in significant numbers, yet the top national leadership of the Democratic Party fostered, and perhaps convinced itself of, this illusion.
“After Hamer's powerful testimony, the Freedom Democrats had captured the momentum at the convention. The stakes had been raised. They were in the center of the national spotlight, and their demand for seats could not go unanswered. We knew that the issue of whether any of the Freedom Democrats would be seated as delegates at the convention would make or break the compromise.
“On Tuesday morning - four days after we heard Fannie Lou Hamer's speech - I had breakfast with Humphrey, Reuther, Governor Lawrence and Tom Finney, the committee staff director who was close to the White House. We outlined the subcommittee's proposal as it stood at that point. It contained the elements the administration and others had already supported - the non-discrimination rule for future conventions, a commission to implement the rule, a requirement that the Mississippi regulars sign a loyalty oath, and a plan to seat all the Freedom Democrats as honored guests. But we added a new recommendation: to symbolize the party's commitment to integration and to affirm the justice of the Freedom Democrats' cause, we would urge the convention to seat the co-chairs of the Freedom delegation, Aaron Henry and Ed King, as delegates-at-large with full voting privileges.
“Everyone attending the meeting agreed to the plan and we knew we had to act that day. The convention had already gotten underway with the Mississippi seating issue still unresolved. Humphrey and Reuther spent the next hours trying to sell the proposal to convention leaders, including the Freedom Democrats.
“After breakfast, I reconvened the subcommittee and I moved the adoption of the compromise proposal. Through Tom Finney, the White House had communicated its support. After some final discussion, our subcommittee voted on the proposal and it squeaked by: Three of us voted for it, but the two southerners voted against it. They still thought it was too generous to the Freedom Democrats. The subcommittee had done its job, but now I was under pressure to get our proposal adopted by the full committee at a meeting later that day. That afternoon, as I headed to the full Credentials Committee meeting, I felt we had come up with an honorable solution to a difficult problem, and I hoped the Freedom Democrats would accept the compromise.”
Note something else about the process of compromise. As Mondale indicates, his sub-committee adopted a “compromise proposal.” But a good faith “compromise proposal” is presented to the other party to the dispute—and there are then negotiations between the disputants. That was not the case at Atlantic City. Really, the “compromise proposal” was a take-it-or-leave-it proposal to MFDP.
“I bumped into Joe Rauh on the way to the committee meeting. He had heard the details of our proposal from Walter Reuther, who had demanded that Rauh support it. Rauh told me that if I could give him a little time he thought he could sell it to the Freedom Democrats. I trusted him. I said I would try to help him get the time, and I tried to do so.”
Joe Rauh’s role continues to be disputed to this day. When I was the Bay Area representative for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Joe Rauh asked Northern California Democratic Part leader Nancy Swadesh if she could arrange a meeting for him with me. He wanted to talk about the Atlantic City and to clear his name of any implication that he was not loyal to the decisions of the MFDP. While he may have agreed to try to convince the MFDP of the “compromise,” when MFDP refused to accept it, if his conversation in San Francisco is to be believed, he, too, rejected it. I am willing to give Rauh the benefit of the doubt on this. I think Johnson was manipulating him as he tried to manipulate everyone else.
“When the committee reconvened - in closed session - I made my presentation. I acknowledged that our proposal didn't go as far as either side wanted, but 1 said it recognized the problem of discrimination in the party and outlined a plan of action to end it. I presented our proposal and made my arguments for adoption. Joe Rauh then asked for a recess to allow him to discuss it with the Freedom Democrats. But Chairman Lawrence pushed for an immediate vote. By then the committee was demanding action. I am sure that the White House feared that Rauh would use the time to stir up further pressure on the committee. In any event, after four days, an impatient committee adopted our proposal on a voice vote. Rauh tried to get a minority report, but he didn't have the votes. I then walked straight from the committee room to the largest news conference I had ever seen in my life, where I announced the committee action.”
Note here an inconsistency between what Mondale says Rauh privately told him and Johnson’s fear that Rauh would “stir up further pressure on the committee,” as well as Rauh’s effort to get a minority report from the committee.
“The timing of the committee vote and my announcement of it have been sources of controversy ever since. Many of the Freedom Democrats learned about the committee vote from the television news while Humphrey and Reuther were still trying to persuade them to accept the compromise. When Bob Moses saw the announcement, he screamed ‘you cheated!’ and stormed out of the meeting. He was convinced that the Freedom Democrats had been tricked. He thought they had been called into a meeting with Humphrey while the Credentials Committee was voting in order to stop them from rallying for a better deal. To make matters worse, some of the news reports suggested the Freedom Democrats supported the proposal; in fact, they hadn't yet decided what to do about it.”
It is possible that Mondale, Humphrey and Reuther did not know that Lyndon Johnson was using them as ploys to stall the MFDP while the Committee vote was actually taking place. But in the broader sweep of things, that is not a very important specific fact. No one in the civil rights movement was more patient, careful and respectful in his dealings with others than Bob Moses. I doubt he "screamed." I have been with him in the most intense circumstances and haven't even heard him raise his voice. I also doubt that he "stormed out of the meeting." Had he done either or both of these, they would have been totally out of character. At the same time, if he did "scream" and "storm out,” these acts are only indicative of how wrong Lyndon Johnson was in his decision to undermine the MFDP's challenge.
“I wish we had given Rauh some time to caucus with the Freedom Democrats before we acted, but we didn't. I wasn't able to deliver on my promise to him. Certainly the Freedom Democrats were entitled to a decent interval to consider our proposal. I am not proud of how this was handled, but I do believe our proposal was a good resolution of the issue.”
It is unusual for politicians to make the kind of admission that Mondale makes here. He should be affirmed for doing that.
“There was plenty of hardball politicking going on behind the scenes. Johnson wanted this issue settled, and he leaned hard on the Freedom Democrats' supporters to go along with this compromise. There's no doubt that the White House pushed to get a fast committee vote once they knew that support for a minority report had all but evaporated. But even without a trick meeting - and I don't think the meeting was a trick - the compromise would have passed. We had debated it for four days and the compromise went farther than most people - including Johnson---expected.
“Both the Mississippi regulars and the Freedom Democrats angrily rejected the compromise. The Freedom Democrats were particularly angry at being given only two at-large seats and having the delegates for those seats chosen for them. Fannie Lou Hamer shouted ‘we didn't come all this way for no two seats!’ Many of them spent the rest of the convention protesting, and some remain bitter to this day.
“The number of seats wasn't the whole issue, however. We picked Aaron Henry and Ed King to be the two at-large delegates because we wanted to have one black and one white delegate to symbolize our support for the principle of an integrated party. We made them delegates-at-large because we wanted to show that this was not just a problem in Mississippi, but in the country as a whole. We also made them delegates-at-large so that Mississippi couldn't claim we had taken a single seat away from them, and use this to rally support from other Southern delegations.
“But the Freedom Democrats were angry that they had not been given the opportunity to pick their own delegates. Instead Aaron Henry and Ed King were named for them. And because their two seats were seats "at-large," it meant the delegates didn't represent Mississippi, couldn't sit with Mississippi, and couldn't vote with Mississippi. The Freedom Democrats had come to the convention seeking recognition not just as Democrats, but as Democrats from the state of Mississippi with the right to choose their own representatives. And I admit our proposal failed them on these two important symbolic points.
“This clearly was not a perfect compromise, but I still believe it was a good one. If we had simply replaced the Mississippi regular delegation with the Freedom delegation, I was afraid we might actually delay integrated politics in Mississippi. Instead, we tried to devise a solution that required blacks and whites to work together to integrate the party on the local level. I knew this wouldn't be easy, but I thought it would produce a much healthier result. I think the solution we came up with clearly helped achieve the goal of a desegregated Democratic Party in Mississippi and throughout the South.”
The proposed compromise was neither perfect nor good. Indeed, from a number of points of view, it was a bad proposal based on seriously flawed assumptions. Consider the following (but remember that a walkout in the face of an offer to seat both delegations would have been the choice of the regulars):
n The invitation to seat Aaron Henry, an African-American pharmacist of undoubted courage and a leader in the NAACP, and Ed King, a white clergyman teaching at the historically Black Tougaloo College, excluded Fanny Lou Hamer and other poor Blacks who were the principal constituency of COFO and the MFDP; it also excluded women, who were essential participants in the Black freedom struggle in the Deep South.
n Shouldn’t the MFDP delegation be the body to select its representatives?
n The underlying assumption of the strategy was that with caution the National Convention could somehow manipulate integration into Mississippi politics. Caution on racism only perpetuates it. As the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces suggests, ending racism with firm resolve is the approach that works.
n The "solution we came up with" did not "clearly help achieve the goal of a desegregated Democratic Party in Mississippi and throughout the South." Except for majority Black districts, the Deep South is now overwhelmingly Republican. While there are some whites in the Democratic Party, in no meaningful sense of the word can it be said that there is "integration" in the South.
n Mondale says, "We made them delegates-at-large because we wanted to show that this was not just a problem in Mississippi, but in the country as a whole. We also made them delegates at large so that Mississippi couldn't claim we had taken a single seat away from them, and use this to rally support from other Southern delegations." Given Mondale's emphasis on Johnson wanting to prevent an exodus of the Southern white delegates, it should be apparent that the operative reason for "delegates-at-large" was the second sentence in this quote--the white regulars wouldn't be able to claim that "a single seat was taken away from them," not "to show this was not just a problem in Mississippi."
“As to the timing of the vote on the compromise, and Bob Moses' belief he had been cheated, I'm afraid we may never have the full story of this drama. I'd love to get Hubert's version, but he is gone. I don't believe he would have been part of a trick like that. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that the White House wanted a prompt resolution of this issue. In fact, Johnson is on tape urging his staff to settle the challenge quickly, and to "ram it through" the convention when it looked like a resolution was near. Obviously. Johnson's biggest nightmare was the thought of Fannie Lou Hamer leading a debate on the Mississippi challenge on national television from the convention floor. If this were to happen, Johnson feared he would lose control of the convention. So Johnson's staff waited until they were absolutely certain that support for a minority report had vanished, and then they pounced.”
Let's be clear about the meaning implied in Mondale's above "There is no doubt in my mind..." Lyndon Johnson's central interest was in his re-election. In this, Mondale's report is consistent with the emerging consensus about Lyndon Johnson: he would use almost any means necessary to achieve his immediate personal goals. As the Johnson White House tapes and Robert Caro's extensive biography make clear, this is how Lyndon Johnson played politics. Mondale admits as much in the next paragraph in which he reports the astonishing abuse of state power involved in Johnson's use of FBI agents and informants to report on "the Freedom Democrats' every move at the convention," as well as on the moves on Robert F. Kennedy.
As already indicated in our discussion of the Dixiecrats, the matter at hand was not simply about beating Goldwater in 1964. With the national election over, the MFDP initiated another challenge—this one to the seating of the Mississippi Congressmen in the House of Representatives. By its own rules, the House can refuse to seat a person with a majority of the votes in his or her District. On its opening day in 1965, Congressman John Conyers, supported by New Yorker William Fitz Ryan and joined by other Northern liberals, moved to deny credentials to the nominally-elected white Mississippians. This challenge received more than 100 votes, but not support from the White House—indeed the opposite. Again, Dixiecrat power won the day.
“The controversy over this compromise - the anger and the sense of betrayal - can still be felt thirty-six years later. I can understand why. The Freedom Democrats had struggled to escape a nightmare in Mississippi, but when they arrived in Atlantic City, full of hope, they ran into a political great wall, buttressed by a determined president. They saw their challenge removed from public view and handed to five men who met in secret to decide their fate. Moreover, as we later learned, President Johnson had personally ordered a highly covert intelligence operation involving twenty-seven FBI agents and paid informants to report on the Freedom Democrats' every move at the convention. (They were also sent to keep an eye on Johnson's chief rival, Robert F. Kennedy.)
“With the recent release of Johnson's Oval Office telephone conversations, we now have an astonishingly candid look at what Johnson was thinking during the convention. The tapes reveal Johnson was distraught and pained by this episode. He even threatened to resign in the middle of the convention, telling his aides he couldn't bear the thought of having to fight to win his home state of Texas. He wanted to advance the cause of civil rights, but he wasn't sure if he could do it as a white Southerner. Caught in the middle of this dispute, he told his aide Walter Jenkins he felt like a man on the street begging for a quarter for a cup of coffee. He had a crisis of confidence as to whether he could hold the nation together as president.
“Let's spend a moment on Lyndon Johnson. He hasn't had a very good day here so far. Johnson was the first president I came to know quite well. He was a product of the old Southern Democratic system. He had been majority leader of the Senate and many of his oldest friends and allies were rooted in the same tradition. Johnson was also the consummate ‘power politician,’ gifted with legendary powers of persuasion and a penchant for putting people to the test.
“While Johnson could be a conniver, there was another Lyndon Johnson, the Johnson I liked. He had grown up in poverty, had been a teacher in a poor rural school and had a strong streak of fairness and populism in him. He had a sincere concern for the plight of poor and black citizens in his native South, and he genuinely believed in civil rights.
“Johnson was genuinely frustrated with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964. He couldn't understand why they would risk undermining his civil rights agenda for seats at a convention where there wasn't a single vote at stake. But Johnson was more frustrated with the white Southern leaders who wouldn't give him any help on the civil rights issue. When Georgia Governor Carl Sanders, who was considered a moderate, called Johnson in the middle of the convention to complain that the Freedom Democrats were' being given too much with their two at-large seats, Johnson grew angry with his old friend, and bluntly told him so in the following exchange:
LBJ: ‘What they ought to be now, honestly, between you and me, with their population fifty percent, they ought to be delegates of the Mississippi group!’
Sanders: ‘Not unless they're Democrats, Mr. President...’
LBJ: ‘They're Democrats and by God, they tried to attend the convention and pistols kept them out! These people went and begged to be able to participate in the convention - and they got half the population and they [the Mississippi regulars] won't let them - they locked them out!’
Sanders: ‘They aren't registered...’
LBJ: ‘Well, some of them are registered! That's enough to get two delegates on here. ... I think you've got a good legitimate case to say that the state of Mississippi wouldn't let a Negro come into their damn convention and therefore they violated the law and wouldn't let them vote and wouldn't let them register, intimidated them and, by God, they ought to be seated. I think it's a legitimate case to be made there. But I don't want to make it. But I don't see how [the Mississippi regulars] could raise hell - have their cake and eat it too and just say, by God, 'I'm going to be the dog in the manger. I'm gonna have all I got - every vote the state of Mississippi got - then by God I'm gonna bark if somebody across the hall gets a couple.' That ain't gonna take a vote away from a human. All it does is just stops the agony and the pain and the bad publicity of three damn days here on television and gets us out of there with a unanimous vote and I can't see that it costs a man a dime.’
“It is very easy to vilify Johnson for the ‘power politics’ he employed in dealing with the Freedom Democrats at the 1964 convention, but this taped exchange reveals something else. While his critics imagined him joking with his Southern cronies, making light of the Freedom Democrats' complaints, here was Johnson making the Freedom Democrats' argument for them, admitting outright that they deserved to be delegates. He was furious with those he called the ‘lily-white babies’ who refused to accept that the time for change had come. Johnson was working hard to convince his old Southern colleagues to concede a shred of decency, and he was disgusted they wouldn't.
“This tape gets to the root of the controversy that has dogged this compromise for so long. After all the Freedom Democrats had been through in the pursuit of justice, they could not see why they should wait any longer for a remedy. And here is Johnson, admitting they were right. But the dispute hinged on whether Johnson and the party acted with integrity in dealing with the Freedom Democrats' challenge, whether the party was moving in the right direction on civil rights, and whether it was moving fast enough.
“Johnson's handling of the Freedom Democrats' challenge walked a thin line at times between hardball and over-the-line tactics. But I don't think we can even dispute that the party was moving in the right direction on civil rights. History shows that it was, though it may not have been clear to everyone in the emotional turmoil of the convention.”
History shows something different. As Mondale himself repeatedly makes clear, Johnson's interest in the Convention was coming out of it without an exodus by the Deep South white regulars. Given Mondale's and our own understanding of how Johnson played politics, it is certainly fair to conclude that whatever he said during the Convention, and to whomever he said it, was said to keep the Party united. Further, given that it was being taped, we can assume it was said for the history books.
Perhaps Johnson wanted to keep "the party moving in the right direction on civil rights." But read carefully how Mondale characterizes what the President wanted: “He [Johnson] couldn't understand why they would risk undermining his [emphasis added] civil rights agenda for seats at a convention…”
The President and Congress were moving in the right direction on civil rights for three principal reasons:
n In the Deep South, The Movement maintained its massive pressure for voting rights. It was the 1965 Selma-Montgomery march that highlighted this struggle and pushed voting rights legislation and enforcement to the top of the country's political agenda.
n In the North, the first of the black community riots/revolts (pick your term) took place in Harlem in July, 1964 which was followed by Watts in 1965; in fact, the country was unraveling on the issue of race.
n In the world, the Soviet bloc was effectively using the front-page news of continuing racism in the United States to embarrass American claims of "democracy" and to score foreign policy victories with the newly emerging post-colonial governments, particularly in Africa.
Mondale’s understanding of the President wanting to move civil rights as “his agenda” reveals the fundamental point of the disagreement: who would control the pace and program of the civil rights movement. Perhaps Johnson really wanted to push a program to achieve civil rights and even to end poverty, but he wanted even more to control the pace and content of the program to accomplish these ends.
“Whether you thought the party was moving fast enough on civil rights depended on whether you were a segregationist, an MFDP delegate, the president, or somewhere in between. For Johnson and many of the other civil rights leaders at the convention, there was a genuine fear that moving too quickly on civil rights would only help Barry Goldwater and endanger everything they had worked for.”
Here I wish to make a substantially new point. The issues raised by what we called "The Movement" were broader than "civil rights" as it is defined by Mondale. Working in the Black Belt Counties of the Deep South, we were painfully aware of the depth of poverty that was the daily experience of the vast majority of Southern Blacks. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, the United Automobile Workers (UAW), the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the National Council of Churches (NCC) and most of the rest of the Washington, DC-based Leadership Conference on Civil Rights recognized that race and poverty were so intimately interconnected that the country could not solve the problems of race without significantly addressing the problems of poverty.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) recognized this as well, and sought to address it with a "bottom-up" strategy of organizing poor Blacks and poor whites in the Deep South so that they could, to return to an earlier idea, liberate themselves.
In early 1960s, SNCC actually provided funds from its meager budget for the Southern Students Organizing Committee (SSOC), an organization of white southern students, so that it could organize poor whites in the South on lines parallel to those of SNCC's organization of poor blacks with an expectation that the two could form coalitions and be allies on issues affecting them.
In addition to organizing COFO and the MFDP, SNCC organizers were directly involved in efforts to organize Black cooperatives and labor unions, protests against evictions when Blacks were forced off the land by plantation owners who no longer needed their labor because of the mechanization of cotton, and protests against welfare cuts that were used to force Blacks to leave the Deep South (welfare and food stamps held Black households together between cotton picking and planting seasons).
By 1968, SCLC was involved in the Poor Peoples' March on Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while he was in Memphis to support striking Black garbage collectors. Indeed the 1963 March on Washington was a march for "jobs and justice." Three of its demands were specifically non-racial and economic:
n A big program of public works to provide jobs for all the nations' unemployed, including job training and a placement program.
n $2-an-hour minimum wage, across the board, nationwide.
n A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include currently-excluded employment areas. [This would have extended coverage to domestics, farm laborers and others.]
Subsequent action by SNCC and SCLC put these organizations on record as against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Again, as we can see with hindsight, that unjust war was but one expression of what neo-conservatives openly discuss and justify as U.S. "empire."
If by "civil rights" we mean the right to vote and the elimination of legal and de facto racial discrimination, SNCC, SCLC and other elements of “The Movement” in the Deep South are better understood as "human rights" organizations. And, at least in their adopted policies, so were the rest of the "civil rights movement" and its major labor and religious allies.
Between 1955 and 1964, the national Democratic Party had an opportunity to do something different--to actually fully adopt and act on a real "New Deal" agenda. That agenda would have included full democratic participation for all people in the civic and political life of the country and the end of all barriers based on race. It would have included legislation aimed at ending poverty, and appropriations adequate to implement such legislation. In fact, Lyndon Johnson's own Secretary of Labor, Willard Wirtz, proposed full-employment legislation as the key to a "war on poverty." Johnson rejected it as too expensive a program. "Maximum feasible participation" in a woefully under-funded "war on poverty" was its substitute. Wirtz said at the time, “The confluence of surging population and driving technology is splitting the American labor force into tens of thousands of ‘have's’ and millions of ‘have-nots.’ In our economy of sixty-nine million jobs, those with wanted skills enjoy opportunity and earning power. But the others face a new and stark problem—exclusion on a permanent basis, both as producers and consumers, from economic life. This division of people threatens to create a human slag heap. We cannot tolerate the development of a separate nation of the poor, the unskilled, the jobless, living within another nation of the well-off, the trained and the employed.”
The rest of a real New Deal program would have included national health insurance, Federal support for quality education for all students from pre-kindergarten through college and graduate school or trade or technical training, similar support for child care, affordable rental or owner-occupied housing for all, extension of labor organizing protection to all workers and a substantial increase in the Federal minimum wage. It would have used Federal authority to break the power of U.S. mega-corporations in the domestic and international economy, and the use of taxation, regulation, critical sector government-ownership (as in the Tennessee Valley Authority), worker-consumer-community ownership as a substitute for concentration of ownership in the hands of the few, subsidies and the use of other legal tools to establish and maintain economic fairness. It would have re-created the Farm Security Administration to restore rural land ownership to millions of Blacks, Latinos and poor whites who had been forced off the land by the collusion of agri-business and the Federal government. It would have created a similar program for home ownership in the north to repair the injury caused by exclusion of racial minorities from post-World War 2 Federal Housing Administration programs and the red-lining by banks, savings and loans and insurers. It would have done more.
By 1964, there was a real struggle within the Democratic Party between those who wanted a tightly controlled machine that was more connected with the liberal wing of corporate power in the country and a looser, more decentralized, constellation of forces that was developing at the local and state level. The former supported urban renewal that was, in ghettoes across the country, known as “Negro removal;” the latter supported organizing efforts opposed to urban renewal. Ditto with the federal highway program’s presence in cities. The former supported the war in Vietnam; the latter was critical of it. In 1968, the former tendency was, for the most part, expressed in the candidacy of Hubert Humphrey; the latter was expressed in the candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. The MFDP of 1964 was clearly an expression of what was called the “new politics.” The Johnson-Humphrey Democrats did not want to add Mississippi to the growing number of “reform Democrats” who were within the party. Indeed, in 1964, few of the patronage mechanisms were in place to build a traditional party machine; on the other hand, by 1968 the federal Poverty Program’s mechanisms of cooptation were in place in Mississippi.
Instead of a real New Deal, the Democrats choose to imitate Republican policy but humanize its rough edges. Veterans of The Movement disagree as to why this choice was made. Some believe it to be inherent in the nature of the modern U.S. political and economic system; others believe it a failure of political will on the part of the Democrats; others think our own strategic and tactical errors played an important role. Perhaps it is elements of all three.
In the post-1964 Convention period, The Movement and its allies lost the capacity to move the country forward on a "lowest significant common denominator" agenda. We divided among ourselves, and divided again.
Many lost hope in the “conscience of the country” and in the capacity of the liberal establishment to right the grievous wrong of southern segregation and discrimination. Others found confirmation in their view that considerations of wealth and power were what drove the nation’s politics.
“Six weeks before the Democrats met in Atlantic City, Goldwater was nominated by the Republican convention in San Francisco. He had voted against the Civil Rights Act in the Senate, and he based his presidential campaign on the white backlash against civil rights in the United States. Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, and many of the established civil rights leaders were concerned that if Johnson lost the fall election, it would open the way for Goldwater to roll back the civil rights revolution. They were sympathetic to the Freedom Democrats, but they urged the Freedom Democrats to accept the compromise. They knew it gave the Freedom Democrats only a fraction of what they had been hoping for, but they also saw the compromise as a partial victory on which the Freedom Democrats could build. The alternative, they feared, was pushing the fight and risking a rupture in the Democratic Party that would imperil Johnson's and Humphrey's election, and stop the momentum of the civil rights movement.
Hindsight gives us the benefit of 20/20 vision; a conclusion can be drawn very different from Mondale’s. In fact, Johnson's victory in 1964 was only a partial postponement of the "roll back [of] the civil rights revolution." The "momentum of the civil rights movement" was stopped by the resistance to change by the government and private, mostly business, institutions it confronted.
In Deep South black belt counties, poverty increased rather than decreased. In the north, the gap between the wealthy and the poor increased rather than decreased. Unemployment fluctuated, but at times increased rather than decreased. Except for a new strata of working- and middle-class racial and ethnic minorities, the life chances and experiences of most people of Black, Latino, Appalachian, other poor white and many Asian backgrounds remained impoverished. Today, poverty, even as measured by its woefully inadequate Federal Government definition, is on the rise. Racial segregation, discrimination and inequality persist.
“Today, when we look at what happened in Atlantic City, much of the dispute boils down to whether we see the compromise at the convention as a beginning or an end. Many Freedom Democrats saw the compromise as the end of their challenge, and therefore a defeat, as a victory of politics over morality.
“I saw the compromise as a starting point. The basic goal of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, as I understood it, was to open the doors of the Democratic Party in Mississippi and throughout the South and create an integrated-national party. The test of whether we did the right thing, in my mind, would come at the next convention and in the years to follow: Could we change the Democratic Party through the rules we adopted in Atlantic City? Would we do it?
“In 1966, I went to Biloxi, Mississippi to give a speech to the heirs of the Freedom Democrats. I told them that ‘having presided at the birth of the new rule, I don't intend to witness its death. I firmly intend at the 1968 con-vention to honor the mandate of 1964 - to oppose the seating of any delegation based on racial discrimination.’"
“This was not an empty promise. I went back to Mississippi again in 1968, before the Chicago convention, in my role as the co-chairman of Humphrey's campaign. I spoke to the Loyal Democrats, a new integrated group preparing to challenge the Mississippi regulars. I assured them that we fully supported them, and that they would prevail in Chicago. The white Southern establishment was furious with me. Senator John Stennis called me and told me I should mind my own business. He said that my speech was a ‘terrible blow’ to Mississippi.
“But this time at the convention, the rules were clear. We kept our promise. The Mississippi regulars were ejected, and the Loyal Democrats, including Aaron Henry, Lawrence Guyot, Ed King, and Fannie Lou Hamer, were seated. At the same convention, we also helped Julian Bond and an integrated delegation that included Taylor Branch take half the seats from Governor Lester Maddox's segregated Georgia delegation.
“The changes in Mississippi were even more profound: In 1964, only six percent of the black voting-age population in Mississippi was registered to vote, and there were only six black elected officials in the entire state. But the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the remarkable activism of the Warren court, and the opening of the Democratic Party transformed Mississippi. Seven years later, 62 percent of eligible black voters in Mississippi were registered, and by 1987, Mississippi ranked first in the nation with 803 black elected officials.
“These changes marked the end of one-race, one-party politics in Mississippi. With time, similar changes occurred throughout the South. But this revolution also came at a cost to the Democratic Party. While we were trying to open up our party, the Republican Party was doing just the opposite. We can ask if the Democratic Party moved swiftly enough in the field of civil rights, but we also need to consider what was happening in the Republican Party at the same time. Early in the summer of 1964, the large majority of Republicans in Congress voted for the Civil Rights Act. But the GOP broke with tradition at its convention a few weeks later, and shed its mantle as the party of Lincoln. The Republicans purged all but a handful of the black delegates to their convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
“They seated a delegation from California that was as lily-white as the regular Mississippi delegation that had come to the Democratic convention. The few blacks who remained were horrified by the shift in their party. They told tales of harassment on the convention floor. One black delegate had his coat set on fire, while others were spat on and cursed at. After leaving the convention, Jackie Robinson commented ‘I now believe I know how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany.’"
“The change in the Republican Party after 1964 was so extreme that I remember John Sherman Cooper, the saintly Republican senator from Kentucky, telling me that he was quitting the Senate because he had given up hope that the Republican Party would be faithful to the heritage of Lincoln. He didn't like what his party was doing in the South with the issue of race, and he felt he was too old to do anything about it. This was only the beginning of a Republican effort to lure disenchanted Southern whites away from the Democratic Party. In 1968, Richard Nixon used his ‘Southern strategy,’ devised with help from Strom Thurmond, to slaughter the Democrats. And in 1980, Ronald Reagan kicked off his national campaign by going to Philadelphia, Mississippi, the same town where the three Freedom Summer organizers were killed, and telling an all-white crowd there, ‘I believe in states rights.’ Even in the current presidential campaign, we hear the Republican candidates refusing to urge South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from its capitol.
“In the short term, the Southern strategy paid off handsomely for the GOP. Local offices went to the Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction. Three Republican presidents won with white Southern support, and Congress was handed over to Southern leaders like Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, and Jesse Helms. The once-solid Democratic South became the Republican's solid South. They pushed the moderates from the East and Western states out of the GOP leadership, and in doing so chased the center out of our nation's Congress.
“The events of 1964 also shook up the civil rights community. One SNCC staff member called it ‘the end of innocence’ for the young civil rights organizers who had organized Freedom Summer. As the violence, the murders, and the bombings took their toll, the movement fragmented. After Atlantic City, several civil rights leaders wanted to move in a more radical direction, believing that politics had failed them and that change wouldn't happen through peaceful means. They mobilized for black power rather than integration. SNCC never led an interracial civil rights campaign like Freedom Summer again, and in 1967, it expelled its remaining white members.”
"Black power" was a slogan under which many disparate views gathered: self-help and Black capitalism advocates, the Nation of Islam, Blacks who believed they were simply doing what white ethnics had earlier done in U.S. politics--organize themselves to act as a bloc, radical and moderate nationalists and others. Nor was Black power necessarily separatism as opposed to integration. As other ethnic communities had used their power in the past, so Black power could be used to achieve racial equality as well as to build separate community institutions.
While he did not use the term “Black power”, Martin Luther King, Jr. explained and defended its use. To say in the same phrase, "to believe that politics had failed them and that change wouldn't happen through peaceful means" is a serious distortion of what that slogan meant to all but a few of those who used it. Further, the "violence" that was advocated or supported by many in the south was simply support for the right of Blacks to defend themselves against home burnings and violent attack on themselves and their families. Aggressive violence against property was the tactic of a tiny number of Black militants. No Black or other minority group supported aggressive violence, such as assassination attempts, home and church bombings, against persons. Yet white individuals and organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, participated in killings in both the south and north. (To name one northern example, Black Panther Fred Hampton was set up by an infiltrator paid by, and shot to death while asleep in his apartment by, the Chicago police department.)
“But many more civil rights advocates, despite all of the disappointments and provocation, kept their faith with Martin Luther King's message of nonviolence, integration, moderation and decency. They are the heroes in this story, for they held our country together when things were about to fall apart. It was their courage, patience and faith that turned the civil rights dream into reality. Many of them, like Andrew Young, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and John Lewis, became prominent national political leaders. Some, like Fannie Lou Hamer, stayed with the party despite how upset they were with the outcome of the Freedom Democrats' challenge. Some were virtually forgotten, like the three white members of the regular Mississippi delegation who, despite death threats, stayed at the convention because they believed in integrating the party too.”
Mondale joins in re-writing history to make Martin Luther King, Jr. a "moderate." His 1963 "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" was an explicit critique of "moderation." As will be later noted, he grew more radical.
There were two phrases of this period that deserve some defense in this context. The first came from Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. At the 1964 Republican Convention, he said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." There is truth in this statement that should not be obscured by who said it or the place at which it was said. The persistence of racism throughout U.S. history has been most successfully challenged by people who were not moderate in their opposition to it.
The other phrase, "violence is as American as cherry [not "apple"] pie" was voiced by H. Rap Brown, who was elected Chairman of SNCC in 1967. At a time when Blacks across the country were being beaten and murdered by white racists, whether in public authority or private citizens, self-defense was a legitimate position supported by many Americans. In a country that: still practices capital punishment; witnessed the unpunished lynching of thousands of Blacks in the South; waged unjust war in Vietnam; lied about “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the invasion of Iraq; and that used, and continues to use, violence to topple elected governments throughout the world, isn't this a statement of fact?
Mindless moderation becomes crackpot realism when it is the sole test of whether political ideas or action are legitimate. In this case, Mondale succumbs to both. And we need only look at Katrina and its aftermath to see the depth of continuing poverty and racism in the United States.
“Now, after all of these years, we can see something else: these leaders were visionaries. What they saw has come true. Martin Luther King once told an audience, ‘when Negroes win their struggle to be free, those who have held them down will themselves be freed’."
“Rev. King was right. America is now a profoundly better nation because the moral stain of official discrimination has been removed. Despite the many problems that remain, and there are many, the elimination of official discrimination has permitted us to tap much more of our talent, and has bolstered America's position of leadership in the world.
“In the long run, I believe the strategy of using race to divide us in politics will fail, and Mississippi may be the place that proves it. It took time, but in 1976 the Mississippi Democratic Party was finally unified into one organization, open to blacks and whites. And when Jimmy Carter and I were elected that year, glory be, Mississippi was the state that put us over the top. We were the first Democrats to carry Mississippi in 20 years, and we did it by putting together a coalition based on principle, not on race. Governor Bill Winter's election in 1979 showed continuing progress, as did the election of Congressman Mike Espy in 1986, the first black representative from Mississippi since Reconstruction.
“Paradoxically, it is the South that has benefited the most from the changes it resisted. During the days of Jim Crow, the South was an economic backwater. Now the South is booming, attracting bright people of all races, and enjoying economic growth. It should remind us that decency is not just nice, it's necessary and it works.
It's tempting to look back from today's vantage point and think these victories were inevitable. But none of it was pre-ordained. All of it was very hard to come by.
“When you hear people say that citizens can't do anything; that it is foolish to become involved; that nobody listens...please tell them to look at America's history. Tell them to look at Fannie Lou Hamer. We can change, we have changed, and we must change.
“When I spoke to Mississippi's Young Democrats in Biloxi in 1966, I told them ‘some day the whole country will listen to Mississippi. You will have emancipated us all.’ And, God bless them, so they have.”
Even granting poetic license, Mondale stretches reality beyond reasonable limits when he says, "What [these visionaries] saw has come true" as part of the conclusion of his speech, especially after having time to edit and “extend” its comments for future readers. I agree with him on the necessity for regular people, citizen and non-citizen alike, to become involved. I agree that “[none of] these victories were inevitable…none pre-ordained. All of it was very hard to come by…We can change, we have changed, and we must change.” The promise of the Mississippi Freedom Movement is a promise yet to be realized, but one the United States ignores at its peril.
I would like to sum up here what I believe was accomplished and unaccomplished by The Movement in the period 1955-1964.
Accomplishment in the Deep South:
n Legal and de facto racial barriers in politics, economics, cultural life and other aspects of public life in the south were in part broken.
n There are now thousands of Black elected public officials in the Deep South.
n For the most part, Blacks in the Deep South are no longer arbitrarily harassed, beaten, jailed or killed by police and sheriffs, though important exceptions remain.
n Similarly, private white citizen violence against Blacks is largely a thing of the past.
n There is a Black working and middle class that emerged from the civil rights struggle.
These accomplishments are at least balanced by the agenda that remains unfulfilled and the problems that remain:
n Continuing de facto racial barriers in political, economic, social and cultural life.
n Re-segregation and woeful under-funding of public education that is manifested in what Bob Moses calls "sharecropper education."
n Black poverty in many Black Belt counties that exceeds what existed 40 years ago!
n Systematic denial of the Black right to vote by a variety of means used by white politicians throughout the south and in places like Ohio in the north.
n Add to this the de facto racial discrimination in state exclusion of ex-felons from the franchise.
n A legal system whose racial inequality is exemplified in Black-white differential prosecution, conviction and capital punishment rates.
n Continuing Federal Department of Agriculture discrimination against the small number of surviving Black farmers in the South.
Walter Mondale needed to pay greater attention to the words of his hero Martin Luther King, Jr who once told a different audience things that are so singularly appropriate again today as Democrats offer only a marginal difference from Republicans both in domestic policy and in U.S. war policy in Iraq. The quotations that follow are from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's April 4, 1967 speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence," delivered to a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City.):
I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice...Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live...In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church -- the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate -- leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight. I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation...
There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.
Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years -- especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not "ready" for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists.
[In Vietnam],We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for [our soldiers] must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation...
Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible...I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest...
I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons [and daughters] of the living God.
In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military "advisors" in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken -- the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
[In the following paragraph I have taken the liberty of substituting the word "terrorism" for the word "communism;" that is the only change.] This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against [terrorism]. War is not the answer. [Terrorism] will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a [terrorist]or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. W e must not engage in a negative anti-[terrorism], but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against [terrorism] is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove thosse conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of [terrorism] grows and develops.
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every moutain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain."
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies...We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate...
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." We must move past indecision to action...
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world...Shall we say the odds are too great...the struggle is too hard? ...Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity...whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
Copyright Mike Miller, 2008
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