1966 July-December

1968

1967

Assassination of Wharlest Jackson (Feb)
The Killing of Benjamin Brown (May)
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence Dr. King and the Vietnam War (April)
Miscegenation Laws Ruled Unconstitutional (June)
Supreme Court Jails King in "Birmingham Letter" Case (June)
Stand Off in Prattville, Alabama (June)
Cambridge MD — Black Power speech (July)
Robert Clarke elected to MS Legislature (???)
Federation of Southern Cooperatives Formed (Aug???)
Bogalusa to Baton Rouge March (Aug)
Poor People's Campaign launched (Dec)

 

Assassination of Wharlest Jackson (Feb)

See Natchez MS — Freedom Movement vs Ku Klux Klan for preceding events.

NAACP Treasurer Wharlest Jackson is a key Freedom Movement leader in Natchez, Mississippi. Though Natchez presents itself to tourists as a genteel center of southern hospitality and languid ante-bellum plantation heritage, in reality it's a gritty, violent, industrial town that remains stubbornly mired in its segregated past.

Back in 1965, local NAACP President George Metcalf was severely wounded by a KKK bomb planted in his car after he filed school desegregation petitions and forced the Armstrong Tire & Rubber company to promote him into a "white" job. The attempted murder of Metcalf triggered mass protests by Black demonstrators, hundreds of arrests, economic boycotts, violence by both whites and Blacks, armed confrontations, and dispatch of the National Guard. For months, the town was shaken by tumult and turmoil. The protests and boycotts were finally ended by a settlement that left Afro-Americans dissatisfied with only minimal, token gains, and Klan segregationists enraged that any concessions at all had been made to upstart Blacks demanding full equality. Throughout 1966, the city remained tense, with Afro-Americans unwilling to accept the traditional segregated status-quo and many whites bitterly resenting the changes being forced by Black demands and federal intervention.

As 1967 begins, the Pearl River region of Southwest Mississippi and Southeastern Louisiana is still a center of Ku Klux Klan activity, so much so that the area is sometimes referred to as "Klan Nation." But now their power to enforce white-supremacy through violent terrorism is slipping away as defiant Afro-Americans successfully challenge the "southern way of life." After a decade of "Massive Resistance," Mississippi schools are finally beginning to slowly integrate, "white-only" signs are coming down from business windows, parks, and drinking fountains; and the social customs that enforce universal white superiority and Black subservience are noticeably eroding. The federal government is beginning to enforce the Voting Rights Act and Afro-Americans are registering to vote in large numbers. The anti-discrimination clauses of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are also, at long last, starting to affect health care, government benefits, and above all — jobs. The Klansmen of Klan Nation seethe with frustration and rage. They are losing, and they know it.

As a government contractor, Armstrong Tire is covered by the Civil Rights Act provisions that outlaw employment discrimination. Early in 1967, after 12 years labor in low-paid "Colored" positions, Wharlest Jackson is promoted into a "white" job. The job is safer, cleaner, and pays significantly more money. White workers in the Armstrong factory are furious. The Natchez plant is a notorious hotbed of KKK activity. They know they can't overturn the law, but if Afro-Americans are afraid to accept promotion into white jobs they can nullify its effect. Death threats against Jackson, a Korean war veteran, increase. He is warned to either resign his new position and return to his proper place — or face the consequences.

Jackson usually inspects his pickup truck for bombs before using it, but it's raining hard on February 27, and after an exhausting 12-hour shift, he fails to do so. On the way home, a violent explosion destroys the vehicle, killing him instantly.

More than 2,000 protesters march to the Armstrong plant at shift-change to demand that the killers be brought to justice.

With only a few exceptions, the assassination of Wharlest Jackson and the resulting protests are little covered by most of the national media. By 1967 their attention is mostly on the Vietnam War, and the focus of their limited "race" coverage is slanted towards urban unrest, Black nationalism, Black Power, and the "white-backlash." Many publishers and editors now consider stories about white-terrorism and the continuing realities of oppression and exploitation in Afro-American communities to be of little interest to white readers and advertisers.

The FBI investigates the assassination. They conclude that the bomber is Raleigh "Red" Glover. He is leader of the KKK's ultra-violent "Silver Dollar" faction, which is known to include members of local law-enforcement. Glover is also the prime suspect in the 1965 bombing that severely wounded George Metcalf. But no arrests are ever made. The case is reopened in 1998, and again in 2005, with no results. `

For more information:
Web: Martyrs of the Movement

 

The Killing of Benjamin Brown (May)

In May of 1963, hundreds of Black students from Jackson Mississippi high schools are inspired by the Birmingham protests to launch mass protests of their own against segregation, employment discrimination, denial of voting rights, and police brutality. One of the young demonstrators is 17 year old Benjamin Brown. Over the course of two weeks he is beaten by cops, arrested three times for "parading without a permit," and fined $100 for each offense (equal to a total penalty of $2,100 in 2015).

Brown becomes a dedicated Freedom Movement activist/organizer working in Hinds Country with the NAACP, and elsewhere in Mississippi as a member of the Delta Ministry's "Freedom Corps." Over the next four years he is arrested four more times for crimes such as "distributing leaflets without a permit." State and local law enforcement tracks him as a known "agitator." He marries fellow activist Margaret Brown and they continue to live in Jackson where he makes his living as a truck driver.

Jackson State is the main state-supported segregated college for Blacks in Mississippi. For the past five years, students who participated in the Freedom Movement have faced both disciplinary action by administrators and repression by local police. On Wednesday, May 11, 1967, city police arrest a student on campus for a traffic violation. An altercation erupts between cops and students. Police reinforcement are summoned including Highway Patrol officers in their riot helmets. The confrontation escalates. More police, sheriffs deputies, and patrolmen are called in to suppress the students.

The next day, Thursday, more than 100 protesters gather on Lynch Street adjacent to the campus outside the former COFO/MFDP office which is now the Kon-Tiki Cafe. Armed with shotguns, police, deputies, and patrolmen block the road to prevent anyone from marching towards the downtown area. Some rocks and bottles are thrown. The cops open fire. Benjamin Brown is not in the street with the protesters, he's just left the Kon-Tiki and is walking on the sidewalk away from the police. Four demonstrators are wounded. Brown is shot twice in the back. Police refuse to let anyone care for him as he lies bleeding on the ground. He dies the next day. Some observers believe he was deliberately targeted because he was known to local police as a Freedom Movement activist. His death triggers a new wave of protests, and more than a thousand people attend his funeral.

No action of any type is taken against any of the cops for killing Brown and wounding four others. A year later, in 1968, Brown's mother and widow file a wrongful death suit against the state in federal court. The judge refuses to order police to produce their files. The case is dismissed.

Thirty-one years after the murder, the case is reopened at the urging of the Brown family by a new Cold Case unit. In 2001, a grand jury finds that Benjamin Brown was shot by Jackson police captain Buddy Kane and Mississippi Highway Patrolman Lloyd Jones. By this time both men are dead. (Jones, commonly referred to as "Goon Jones" by Blacks in Jackson, had served as sheriff of nearby Simpson County for 19 years). Based on the grand jury report and additional new evidence, the Brown family sues both the state and city charging that Benjamin Brown had been deliberately targeted and wrongfully murdered. The state case is settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 2002, and the Jackson City Council settles the city case for $50,000 in 2003.

For more information:
Web: Martyrs of the Movement

 

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
Dr. King and the Vietnam War

See Vietnam and the Draft: Taking a Stand for preceding events.

The War

By the end of 1966, large numbers of American soldiers have been fighting in Vietnam for almost two years and close to 400,000 of them are "in country" with more serving aboard Navy ships in the South China Sea and at air bases in Thailand, Guam, and elsewhere.

The Viet Cong rebels the U.S. military has been fighting for almost two years have been a melange of Communists, Buddhists, nationalists, religious sects, students, and peasant associations in a coalition called the National Liberation Front (NLF). To the surprise of the Cold-War liberals running the White House, they not only refuse to surrender in the face of overwhelming American might but their resistance has intensified — resistance that is now bolstered by units of the North Vietnamese Army.

Eventually, 3,400,000 Americans fight in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between 1956-1975 to keep unpopular, pro-U.S. governments in power.

Year
1964
1965
1966
1967
U.S.
Troops
23,000
184,300
385,300
485,600
    U.S.
Deaths
285
2,213
8,563
19,926
Vietnamese
Deaths
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
Sources: American War Library and National Archives.
[Troop numbers are on the ground as of the end of each year. U.S. Death totals are cumulative through the end of each year. According to U.S. government figures, a total of 58,220 Americans were killed or later died of wounds during the war (1956-1975). Accurate annual statistics regarding Vietnamese casualties are not available. Estimates of total Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian civilian and military deaths from both sides over the entire course of the war range from 2,000,000 to 3,800,000 while the number of maimed and wounded is unknown.]

As American casualties mount higher and higher, more troops have to be sent than Pentagon planners had originally estimated. To meet the insatiable demand, the number of young men conscripted into the military. By the end of 1966 over half of the American military personnel serving in the war zone have been directly — or indirectly — coerced into uniform by the draft. Known as "Selective Service," the draft is a biased system. Blacks, Latinos and poor whites are more likely to be "selected" for conscription (or pressured into volunteering) than middle and upper-class whites. In the words of a popular anti-war slogan, it's a, "Rich man's war and a poor man's fight."

Conscription becomes even more skewed towards the poor and uneducated in August of 1966 when "Project 100,000" significantly lowers the minimum qualification-test scores required for induction into the Army. In the 1960s, Blacks comprise 11% of the population yet more than 40% of those entering the service as part of Project 100,000 are Afro-American — and their casualty rates are double those of men who enter the service through other routes.

Despite these race and class disparities, overall public opinion still supports Johnson and his war. In March of 1965 when LBJ first sends combat units to Vietnam more than 60% of Americans approve of his action and barely 20% oppose it. Two years later in April of 1967, support for the war has dropped to 50% and opposition has risen to 32%. Though in two years his majority has shrunk its still a majority nonetheless.

The Johnson administration promotes the war as a struggle to "defend democracy," a democracy that by 1967 seems increasingly remote for nonwhites in America. Yet while support for the war among Afro-Americans and Latinos lags behind that of whites a majority also continue to back LBJ's policies — in part out of respect for Johnson's commitment to civil rights. And "mainstream Negro leaders," Afro-American politicians, NAACP and Urban League officers, and a significant portion of the Black press, help sustain Black support for the Vietnam War by publicly condemning those who question it. They warn that civil rights activists who speak out on foreign affairs endanger the freedom cause. (Many of them are the same "leaders" who also condemn sit-ins, civil disobedience, mass protest marches, and armed self-defense as "harmful" to Black social progress in America.)

For a large portion of the American population, dissent against Cold War ideology is "un-American." For conservatives and right-wingers, anyone who opposes military action against the "Red Menace" is a traitor. For the liberal establishment, including many labor leaders and influential clergymen, criticizing Johnson's anti-Communist foreign policy is tantamount to heresy. Outside of college campuses and away from university towns, anti-war protesters are often met with widespread hostility — and occasionally violence.

Even mild calls for "negotiations" are harshly condemned. Politicians and pundits across the political spectrum vehemently reject meeting with "Red" insurgents or Communist governments (other than the Soviet Union) because that might grant them some form of "legitimacy." At this time, the U.S. government does not even "recognize" the existence of the Peoples Republic of China ("Red China") and American diplomats refer to its capitol by its old colonial-era name of "Peking" rather than "Bejing" as the Chinese prefer.

Nevertheless, despite intense pressure to conform to Cold War ideology an anti-war movement is growing ever larger. Prior to 1965, opposition to U.S. intervention in Vietnam was mostly limited to a small number of anti-colonial activists, "Peaceniks" (pacifists, Quakers, ban-the-bomb protesters, etc), and Marxists. But by the end of 1966, student opposition to the war and the draft is rapidly expanding in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Coast, and elements of labor and the clergy are beginning to come out in favor of ending the war through a negotiated settlement. Students, including many who have been active previously in the Freedom Movement, lead and form the backbone of most anti-Vietnam War protests.

The growth of the protest movement obscures the fact that Vietnam War opponents are themselves deeply divided. Pacifists like Dr. King oppose all wars. Some Vietnam War opponents supported wars like WWII but not this one. Many in the anti-war camp see Vietnam as a political mistake, an aberration at odds with an otherwise benign foreign policy. Others see it as evidence of an entrenched U.S. imperialism. Many in SNCC, CORE, and SDS view the war in the context of anti-colonial struggles and as such they support a Vietnamese victory over the U.S. military. And of course the tiny number of American Marxists naturally favor any socialist victory over capitalism as a matter of principle.

By the beginning of 1967, Vietnam War opponents have coalesced into three distinct camps. The biggest group favors a negotiated settlement. At protests their signature is the plaintive lament, "All we are saying is give peace a chance." A somewhat smaller number argue for an immediate or unilateral withdrawal of American troops even if that ultimately results in a victory by the anti-U.S. rebel forces. They march to the chant of, "Bring our boys home." The smallest faction, but often the most fervent, are the "anti-imperialists" who explicitly advocate U.S. defeat by the rebel National Liberation Front (AKA Viet Cong). Their shout is, "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is gonna win!"

Events, however, are steadily eroding the political ground on which the "negotiated settlement" advocates are trying to stand. Their call is for formation of a democratic coalition government representing all of the many political factions in Vietnam. But the Saigon military junta and the economic and religious interests who back them have no interest in surrendering or sharing any portion of their power and on the left the Communist-led NLF is determined to reunite North and South Vietnam into one nation under the Hanoi government.

In the middle had been various non-communist opponents of the Saigon government who are sometimes referred to as the "Third Force" — Buddhists, students & intellectuals, peasant associations, and so on. But by 1967, the Saigon dictatorship in close cooperation with the Pentagon and State Department has over several years effectively destroyed most of the non-communist opposition through assassination, mass arrests and incarceration, and "strategic hamlet" concentration camps. This systematic suppression of the non-communist Third Force receives little attention in the America mass media — except when Buddhist monks commit public suicide by setting themselves on fire as a last desperate protest against destruction of their temples and the crushing of their organizations.

With the Third Force effectively destroyed, by 1967 it is only Communists and the Communist-led NLF who remain as effect opponents of the increasingly oppressive and thoroughly hated Saigon regime. Without the Third Force, between the NLF and the military junta there is no longer any middle ground on which a negotiated compromise can possibly be built.

Back in the United States, anti-war activities, even the mildest, continue to be harshly condemned by the political establishment. To law enforcement officers and many campus authorities, anti-war students are subversive enemies of all that is right and holy in America. And in homes across the nation, families are split into warring generations when young opponents of the war and the draft come into bitter conflict with parents proud of their patriotic service during the Second World War.

The Road to Riverside

As a man of God, Dr. King rejects Communism for it's antagonism to religion and as a humanist he opposes its anti-democratic totalitarianism. As a pacifist, he opposes all wars, and as an opponent of colonialism he sees the Vietnamese struggle as a nationalist revolt against an oppressive and corrupt government imposed by foreign powers. As a minister committed to the social gospel, he's dismayed by the damage the war is doing to both American and Vietnamese societies and he's distraught by the negative effects of spending national treasure on bullets and bombs rather than alleviating poverty and human suffering. And as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, he sees it as his duty to speak out on issues of war and peace.

But ever since the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King and SCLC have used nonviolent protests to pressure the federal government to enforce existing laws and enact new civil rights legislation. This strategy, however, relies on political support from the liberal wing of the northern Democratic Party establishment. Now, as SCLC begins to shift its focus from southern segregation and denial of voting rights to national issues of economic justice that challenge business practices in the North, some of that support is drying up. Confronting LBJ over Vietnam will cause more establishment liberals to turn away on all issues — not just the war — so much so that it may become impossible to win passage of important new civil rights laws, or convince Johnson to take executive action against housing and employment discrimination.

King is also the head of a major social-justice organization, and with that role comes responsibilities. Public figures who challenge the Johnson administration face condemnation, ostracism, and retribution against not only themselves but also the organizations they are associated with. Which is why most of SCLC's key activists and supporters caution Dr. King against speaking out in opposition to the Vietnam War. Some of SCLC's board members are vulnerable to political and economic retaliation from the Democratic Party and liberal establishment. So too are pastors of SCLC-affiliated churches, as are prominent supporters. And the bulk of the organization's funding now comes from northern liberals, many of whom are loyal Democrats who support the war and the administration's Cold War policies.

Within the broadly defined Freedom Movement, Dr. King occupies the vital center between militant, youth-led groups like CORE and SNCC and more conservative organizations like the NAACP, National Council of Negro Women, and Urban League. King is determined to hold the Movement together as a united force for equality and social justice. He knows that if opponents manage to divide the major Afro-American organizations against each other they can stymie all future progress. As SNCC and CORE begin to take increasingly strong stands against the Vietnam War, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Whitney Young of the Urban League remain committed to maintaining good relations with LBJ and the liberal establishment. They adamantly support Johnson' Vietnam policy and they relentlessly pressure King to mute his anti-war statements.

For whites in general, Dr. King speaks for Afro-Americans on political and social issues. For many whites, he is the only Black notable they can name outside of athletes and entertainers. Therefore, at least to some extent King's actions and politics affect how Blacks in general are treated by whites. Within the Black community, most Afro-Americans are patriotic and as 1966 comes to a end the majority support President Johnson and his Vietnam War (though not by as large a percentage as among whites). And while King is still widely admired for his past achievements, his influence and leadership are under constant challenge. The majority of his fellow Black Baptist ministers, for example, reject his social activism and their churches do not support SCLC or engage in political efforts. Back in 1961, they forced King and other social-gospel pastors out of the National Baptist Convention and they continue to preach against King's programs and efforts from their pulpits.

Stokely Carmichael of SNCC later observed:

I understood that the struggle for black people's rights was at a critical stage. A delicate balance: the tantalizing prospect of unprecedented progress on the one hand, and the threat of a reactionary backlash on the other. Dr. King was publicly identified as the movement's leader and spokesman, and he felt that his primary responsibility was to his people's advancement and welfare. He felt the political reality was that the advancement of black people's legitimate rights was totally dependent on the goodwill of the administration and the white majority of our fellow citizens who supported the war. That being so, how could he, as our most visible public leader, acting out of a private and individual moral conviction, jeopardize the rights long overdue our people, and for which hundreds of thousands of us had made real sacrifices and were still struggling? ...

What I was not sufficiently aware of was the truly enormous weight and intensity of unrelenting pressure to which Dr. King was daily being subjected at the time. [The White House] deployed surrogates of every stripe to persuade, pressure, or threaten Dr. King in order to keep that "Nobel Prize Negro" in his place. ... I suspected some of this was going down, but could never in my worst nightmare have envisioned the extent. Now I understand much better the source of the strain I often sensed in the brother. — Stokely Carmichael, SNCC.[9]

It is in the context of these contending pressures that Dr. King's two-year road to the Riverside speech begins when President Johnson transforms Kennedy's Vietnam counter-insurgency program into a Vietnam War.

See The Vietnam War and the Assembly of Unrepresented People and Vietnam and the Draft: Taking a Stand for preceding events through the end of 1966.

January-February 1967.

Dr. King temporarily relocates to Jamaica for the seclusion he needs to write Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Vietnam weighs heavy on his conscience. Though he has publicly questioned the war, urged negotiations, and bemoaned its effect on poverty and public morality, he knows that out of pragmatic caution he has held back from speaking forthrightly about Vietnam from his heart and his head. He determines that the time has now come for him to break his public silence, to take his stand and speak truth to power regardless of consequences. No longer will he curtail his public statements because of how Johnson, liberal Democrats, and conservative Black leaders might react.

Late February 1967.

Dr. King joins Senators Gruening (D-AK), Hatfield (D-OR), McCarthy (D-MN) and McGovern (D-SD) — all of whom have come out against the war — at an anti-war conference organized by Nation magazine in Southern California. In a speech titled, "The Casualties of the War in Vietnam," King tells 1,500 people that "The promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam," and he speaks of a million Vietnamese children burned by napalm in a war that violates the United Nations Charter and the principle of self-determination, cripples the antipoverty program, and undermines the constitutional right of dissent.

At the same time, he distances himself from those in SNCC, CORE, and SDS whose politics are increasingly being rooted in disillusioned hatred of America by positioning himself as a patriot with a vision of a better nation:

"Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak against this war because I am disappointed with America. There can be no disappointment when there is not great love." — Martin Luther King.[2]

March 1967.

King's fiery aide James Bevel has been given leave from SCLC to organize the first major mass-mobilization protest against the war — a march from New York's Central Park to the United Nations on April 15, 1967. King decides that for the first time he will march in an anti-Vietnam protest, and share a speaker's platform with war opponents from a wide range of political viewpoints including radicals urging men to resist the draft, socialists condemning capitalism, and revolutionary communists calling for a Viet Cong victory over American GIs.

With the exception of Bevel, almost all of Dr. King's closest advisors argue against his decision. Strenuously. He understands their political concerns but remains adamant. "I'm going to march," he tells them.

An opportunity for King to march against the war comes sooner than expected. On March 25th, 1967, he joins Dr. Benjamin Spock in leading 5,000 people through the Loop in the Chicago Area Peace Parade.

King's advisors fear media coverage of the April 15th mass protest will (as usual) focus on the most radical and sensational rather than the most thoughtful and profound. Andrew Young arranges for CALCAV, which now has 68 chapters nationwide, to invite King to give a major anti-war address on April 4th in the historic Riverside Church. Vincent Harding and others begin helping King with the text of his speech.

Late March.

The SCLC board meets in Louisville KY where SCLC is supporting mass protests against residential segregation and Hosea Williams is threatening that "streakers" will disrupt the famed Kentucky Derby horse race. Dr. King meets with boxing champion Muhammad Ali who has announced he will defy his draft notice and refuse induction into the armed forces. King supports Ali. "My position on the draft is very clear, I'm against it," he tells reporters.

But many of SCLC's 57 board members still oppose King's stand against the war — some out of anti-Communist fervor, others because SCLC donations have dropped by 40% and they fear the consequences of going too far down the anti-Vietnam War road. Though it's now less than a week before King is to speak at Riverside, they vote down a resolution calling for SCLC to oppose the war. Eventually, they agree to a watered-down version so as not to "embarrass" King, their president.

A Time to Break Silence

Text of "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence"

It's a warm Spring evening on April 4th as people begin flowing into the massive Riverside Church overlooking the Hudson in New York City. Chartered buses from the Tri-State area and as far away as Pennsylvania arrive with men and women hoping to hear from King a vision of moral clarity they so desperately need in a time of trouble, turmoil, half-truths and outright lies. The pews seat 2700 and they are quickly filled shoulder to shoulder, mostly by members of the clergy — Christians and Jews. Some 1200 folding chairs are set out and they too are soon taken while a line of those not able to get in snakes out the door and down the street.

Dr. King begins with:

"I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. ... A time comes when silence is betrayal. ... but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision — but we must speak. ... I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia ... but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.."

He outlines his reasons for opposing the war. Its negative effect on efforts to relieve poverty and suffering in America and its inherent racial disparities:

"We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem."

He talks of his efforts towards finding nonviolent solutions to deeply destructive social problems and then calls out the U.S. government as, "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

He goes on to talk of his responsibilities as a holder of the Nobel Peace Prize and as a Christian minister. And of the Vietnamese people "... who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now." He traces the history of the war beginning with the Vietnamese struggle for freedom from colonial rule and the U.S. government's support for first the French, then the dictator Ngo Diem, and then a military junta. And he exposes the hypocrisy of Washington's claim that it favors democracy, land reform, and peace.

"Now [the Vietnamese] languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese — the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go — primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees.

They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one "Viet Cong"-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them — mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers. ... We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation's only non-Communist revolutionary political force — the unified Buddhist church."

King goes on to expose Washington's falsehoods, distortions, and half-truths about the war, about communist domination of the rebel Viet Cong, and about Johnson's willingness to negotiate. He talks of North Vietnam and why they have legitimate reasons to distrust American promises and says of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, "Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of 'aggression' as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores."

Of American GIs he says:

"I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they 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."

In a fundamental step away from his previous "negotiate an end to the war" stance, King then calls for an immediate end to all bombing in North and South Vietnam, a unilateral cease-fire, ending U.S. military intervention in Laos, accepting that the rebel National Liberation Front has to have a role in Vietnam's future, and setting a firm date for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Vietnam. In essence, he takes an "immediate withdrawal" position.

Beyond Vietnam

King then goes further. The title he's given this speech has two parts: "A Time to Break Silence" and "Beyond Vietnam." In a significant escalation of his previous positions he parallels the anti-imperialism analyses of groups like SNCC, CORE and SDS by directly critiquing the United State's anti-Communist foreign policy as a form colonialism.

"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 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."

King then calls for "a radical revolution of values," and speaks at length about shifting from a "thing-oriented society" to a "person-oriented society" and aligning with the "shirtless and barefoot people" who are revolting against "old systems of exploitation and oppression."

"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.'

We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

He concludes his speech with a stirring call to action:

"We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

Aftermath

The Riverside audience responds to Dr. King's address with tremendous enthusiasm. John Bennet states, "There is no one who can speak to the conscience of the American people as powerfully as Martin Luther King."

Former SNCC Chairman John Lewis, now working in New York for a foundation, later recalled:

I had heard Dr. King speak many, many times, and I had no doubt that this speech was his finest. It was deep, comprehensive, thoughtful and courageous. It was about what we were doing in Vietnam, but beyond that it was about what we were doing on this earth. He was saying that those bombs that were being dropped in Vietnam would detonate here, that they were being dropped on the hopes and dreams of the American people. And he was so right. We are still recovering today from the spiritual wounds inflicted by that war. I came away from that evening inspired. I still believed, in the face of so much that seemed to be falling apart, that slowly, inexorably, in ways I might not be able to recognize or figure out, we were continuing to move in the direction we should, toward something better. I wasn't in the midst of the movement anymore, not at the moment, but I knew I would get back to it. — John Lewis.[8]

Johnson, leaders of both parties, and most of the political establishment react with predictable fury and condemnation, not just at Dr. King's opposition to the war but even more so to his placing the war in a broader context of colonialism that directly challenges the anti-Communist premise of Cold War foreign policy.

One White House advisor tells the president that King, "who is inordinately ambitious and quite stupid," has "thrown in with the commies," because he's "in desperate search of a constituency." FBI Director Hoover tells the president that "Based on King's recent activities and public utterances, it is clear that he is an instrument in the hands of subversive forces seeking to undermine our nation." Carl Rowan, head of the U.S. Information Agency and one of the highest-ranking Afro-Americans in the Executive branch, publishes a red-baiting article in Reader's Digest — the most widely-read magazine in the nation — calling King an egomaniac under the sway of Communist agents.

A few newspapers, such as the Detroit Free Press support King's position, but most do not — more than 160 newspaper editorials and columns nationwide condemn and denounce him. Articulating the opinion of conservative Republicans, LIFE magazine describes the speech as:

"A demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi. ... [King] goes beyond his personal right to dissent, ... when he connects progress in civil rights here with a proposal that amounts to abject surrender in Vietnam ... King comes close to betraying the cause for which he has worked so long."

The liberal New York Times condemns him, Newsweek rejects his "demagoguery and reckless distortions of fact," and the Washington Post — another bastion of the liberal establishment — declares the speech:

"...not a sober and responsible comment on the war but a reflection of his disappointment at the slow progress of civil rights and the war on poverty." [His statements had been] "... sheer inventions of unsupported fantasy ... [containing] bitter and damaging allegations and inferences that he did not and could not document. ... has done a grave injury to those who are his natural allies. ..and an even graver injury to himself. Many who have listened to him with respect will never again accord him the same confidence. He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people. And that is a great tragedy."[4]

Fearing to appear unpatriotic in a time of war, much of the Black press echoes the criticisms of white media. The Pittsburgh Courier says King is "tragically misleading American Negroes," on issues that are, "too complex for simple debate." The New York Amsterdam News urges Afro-Americans to "rally around the country" and support President Johnson.

Committed to the Democratic Party and its Cold War liberalism, NAACP and Urban League leaders rush to reaffirm — once again — that they do not stand with Dr. King. The NAACP Board of Directors adopts a resolution labeling any attempt to merge the civil rights and peace movements, "A serious tactical mistake." Ralphe Bunche, the highest ranking Afro-American in the United Nations, a fellow Noble laureate, and previously a King supporter, endorses the NAACP position and declares that King cannot be both a civil rights leader and an antiwar spokesman — he should "give up one role or the other." Former NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall who is now LBJ's Solicitor General and soon to be Supreme Court appointee, acknowledges King's right to dissent on foreign policy, but "not as a civil rights leader." During a personal encounter, Whitney Young of the Urban League accuses King of abandoning the poor for the antiwar movement. King retorts, "Whitney, what you're saying may get you a foundation grant, but it won't get you into the Kingdom of Truth."

For Dr. King, the most surprising — and disheartening — rebuke comes from his long-time friend, ally, and co-worker Bayard Rustin who defends King's "right to debate" the war but tells Blacks not to join the anti-war movement because the problems they face are "so vast and crushing that they have little time or energy to focus upon international crises." Though himself a pacifist and Conscientious Objector, Rustin later tells Afro-Americans to join the military "to learn a trade, earn a salary, and be in a position to enter the job market on their return." And he opposes immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops because doing so would result in a totalitarian regime ruling Vietnam.

Some Black leaders do support King. CORE leader Floyd McKissick who has been fearlessly condemning the war says, "I'm glad to have [King] with us, no question about that." Dr. Benjamin Mays, King's teacher from Morehouse College in Atlanta calls King, "One of the most courageous men alive today." He defends the speech in terms of Gandhian nonviolence. Others also defend King, and his stand intensifies the Vietnam debates already roiling Afro-American communities across the nation. Sam Washington of the Chicago Defender describes how many Blacks in that city see in King, "a good example to follow," and he observes that while opposition to the war is not yet widespread, Blacks are beginning to move "over to King's side" rather than that of the NAACP and the Urban League.

While King expected attacks from the administration and political conservatives, those from liberals whom he had hoped would be allies trouble him. SCLC leader Dorothy Cotton later commented, "My sense is that Martin was very much pained by the criticism. He really took notice of what people were saying. My very clear impression is that the criticism made him delve even deeper into the way of nonviolence." Rev. Andrew Young later recalled, "Martin was almost reduced to tears by the stridency of the criticism directed against him. [The Post and Times editorials] hurt him the most because they challenged his very right to take a position."

For Vincent Harding, who drafted major portions of Beyond Vietnam, the attacks were a form of racial paternalism, because in essence they saying:

Martin Luther King, you have forgotten who you are, and who we are. You should be very, very happy that we have allowed you to talk critically about race relations in this country. You should be very happy that we've allowed you to talk about Negro things. But MLK, when it comes to the foreign policy of this country, you are not qualified to speak to these issues. These are our issues. Our white establishment [is] in charge of such things, and you are absolutely out of your place to enter into this kind of arena. [5]

As for Dr. King himself, though discouraged by the fierce condemnation hurled at him from former friends and allies, he is buoyant at having finally declared his full opposition to both the Vietnam War and the destructive values inherent in U.S. foreign policy. Eleven days later, on April 15th, he participates in the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, a mass march from Central Park to the United Nations where he delivers an address to the marchers with the call and refrain of Stop the Bombing! The police claim there are 125,000 marchers, protest organizers place the total at 400,000. By either estimate it is the largest anti-war protest in American history up to that point. In later months and years, even larger ones take place.

Dr. King's Beyond Vietnam speech marks a significant advance in the growing anti-war movement. His eloquent statement and his prestige as a moral leader and Nobel Prize winner bring his condemnation of U.S. foreign policy to people and communities who have not been reached by student protesters. Afro- Americans, even those who reject nonviolence and integration, honor him as a courageous leader who puts himself on the line for freedom and justice, and his principled stand against the Vietnam War resonates in a community that has already begun to question the war.

Public opinion, however, shifts slowly — but shift it does. One year later, in the last poll taken before Dr. King is assassinated, public support for the war has dropped to 40%. Three years earlier, in the Spring of 1965, it had been over 60%. And over the same period, opposition to the war has grown from a little over 20% in 1965 to almost 50% in 1968. Yet almost 75% of all Americans, and 55% of Black Americans, still feel that as a civil rights leader Dr. King should not be involving himself or using his prestige in opposing the war.

It is a truism of nonviolent resistance that the people most profoundly affected by any act of political defiance are the protesters themselves. Whatever its effect on the civil rights and anti-war movements, A Time to Break Silence liberates Dr. King spiritually and politically. Ten days after Riverside, he begins a series of speeches on the theme of The Other America, speeches about race, poverty, economic injustice, and political inequality that directly challenge establishment economic policy and American "business as usual." He continues to speak out against the Vietnam War, and he begins planning and building an inter-racial movement of the poor to demand a fundamental reordering of American economic policies and practices. Dreams and plans that are killed by an assassin's bullet on April 4th, 1968, one year to the day after he delivered his Riverside speech.

Yet the moral imperatives and political issues Dr. King raises in Beyond Vietnam still resonate today in the 21st Century:

When you read the speech, if you replace the word "Vietnam," every time it pops up, with the words "Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan," you will be — it will blow your mind at how King, were he alive today at 81, could really stand up and give that same speech and just replace, again, "Vietnam" with "Iraq" and "Afghanistan". — Tavis Smiley, NPR.[6]

For more information:
Books: Martin Luther King
Web:
     King Opposes Vietnam War
     Vietnam War & Civil Rights Movement
Documents:
     Opposition to the Vietnam War — Documents
     Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence Dr. Martin Luther King
     Address to Anti-War Marchers Dr. Martin Luther King

 

Miscegenation Laws Ruled Unconstitutional (June)

In the first half of the 20th Century, "miscegenation" was a hot-button concept among racists and white-supremacists. "Miscegenation" refers to sex and marriage between men and women of different "races." Since biologically all human beings belong to the same human race, "race" in this context refers to social perceptions of differences in skin color and appearance.

The supposed horrors of miscegenation and the sexual "purity" of white women were used as emotional triggers by political demagogues to whip up race-hatred and win elections. But anti-miscegenation fervor ran in only one direction. It was sex and marriage between men of color and white women that aroused the passions of white voters. While formal marriage between white men and nonwhite women was stridently condemned and strictly prohibited, sex between white men and nonwhite women — whether consensual, coerced, or outright violent rape — was almost universally winked at and often socially condoned under the concept of "Paramour Rights." So much so that "Paramour Rights" became a key issue in the 1954 murder trial of Ruby McCollum.

Though "racial purity" was the emotional battle-cry of white-supremacists, in actual fact interracial children fathered by white men who were not married to the nonwhite mothers were commonplace and well-known as such in their communities. Outsiders often had to rely on locals to identify who was "white" and who merely looked "white" but were actually considered and treated as Afro-American by their neighbors of both "races."

The real issue behind the anti-miscegenation laws was enforced social-inferiority and economic and political subservience. Interracial marriage — and for that matter, consensual, loving interracial relationships — implied a social equality between white and Black which challenged the foundations of Jim Crow segregation and white dominance.

At the end of World War II, 30 of the 48 states enforced "anti-miscegenation" laws making marriage and sex between whites and Blacks a felony. In many cases those laws extended such racial prohibitions to Native Americans, Asians and Latinos as well. The United States and various state Supreme Courts upheld the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws until 1948 when the California Supreme Court in a split 4-3 decision ruled against California's act prohibiting, "All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes."

After the California ruling, other states began overturning or repealing their miscegenation laws. By 1967, only 17 states — the former slave states of the Confederacy plus Oklahoma — still retain such laws.

In Virginia, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 is still in force. It prohibits marriage between "white" and "colored" and defines "white" as someone "who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian." This kind of race definition is often referred to as the "one drop rule," meaning that if any of your ancestors no matter how distant were not pure Caucasian you are defined as "Colored" regardless of your appearance.

In 1958, a Virginia couple, Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter a Black woman decide to marry. Since that would be illegal under the Racial Integrity Act, the ceremony takes place in Washington, DC where interracial marriage is legal. When they return to their home in Virginia, police invade their bedroom and arrest them. For the crime of living together as an interracial couple they are each sentenced to one year in prison. But Virginia Judge Leon Bazile suspends their sentence on condition that they leave their long-time home in the state. Which they do.

In 1963, the Lovings appeal their conviction on constitutional grounds. In 1965, judge Bazile rejects their appeal, stating, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and placed them on separate continents, and but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix."

The Lovings file an appeal in federal court. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules in the Lovings favor, declaring prohibitions against interracial marriage to be unconstitutional and that the purpose of Virginia's miscegenation law is "to maintain White supremacy."

The Court's ruling in Loving v Virginia invalidates all the remaining miscegenation laws. But to appease white voters, some southern states retain the laws on their books for years, even decades. Alabama, the last state, does not repeal its law until 2000. The Alabama repeal referendum passes 59% to 41% but half a million Alabamians vote in favor of retaining their invalid miscegenation law.

For more information:
Web: Miscegenation Laws Overturned

 

Supreme Court Jails King in "Birmingham Letter" Case (June)

See The Birmingham Campaign for the originating events.

Back during the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, a local judge issued an injunction prohibiting all demonstrations, the city issued an order preventing bail bondsmen from bailing out jailed protesters, and Governor Wallace enacted a new law which applied only to Birmingham that raised the maximum bail charged for misdemeanor arrests from $300 to $2,500 (equal to almost $20,000 in 2016)

King, Shuttlesworth, and other Movement leaders denounced the injunction, "We cannot in good conscience obey such an injunction which is an unjust, undemocratic and unconstitutional misuse of the legal process." On Good Friday they marched in defiance, and some 50 were arrested. King and Rev. Abernathy were thrown into solitary confinement. During his lonely sojourn in a cold concrete cell, Dr. King wrote his famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

Freedom Movement lawyers appealed both the unconstitutionality of the injunction and the 5-day contempt of court jail sentences imposed on those who violated it. It takes four long years for the appeal to work its way through the Alabama state court system — which, of course, upholds the rulings — and then up through the federal appeals system.

Finally, on the last day of its session in June of 1967, the United States Supreme Court rules in Walker v City of Birmingham. As expected, they overturn the injunction as blatantly unconstitutional. But in a close 5-4 decision, the majority rules that King and the other Movement leaders were obligated in 1963 to obey the unconstitutional court order while they appealed it — a four-year process — and that therefore they must serve their contempt of court sentences.

Writing for a majority, Justice Potter asserts:

The generality of the language contained in the Birmingham parade ordinance upon which the injunction was based would unquestionably raise substantial constitutional issues concerning some of its provisions. The petitioners, however, did not even attempt to apply to the Alabama courts for an authoritative construction of the ordinance. ... The breadth and vagueness of the injunction itself would also unquestionably be subject to substantial constitutional question. But the way to raise that question was to apply to the Alabama courts to have the injunction modified or dissolved. The injunction in all events clearly prohibited mass parading without a permit, and the evidence shows that the petitioners fully understood that prohibition when they violated it.

Potter's argument blithely ignores the legal and racial realities of Alabama in 1963. Consistently, over generations, Alabama courts had always ruled against Afro-Americans and in favor of the status-quo in all race-related cases regardless of constitutional merits or simple principles of human justice.

In a scathing dissent, the four liberal justices argue that forcing people to serve sentences for violating unconstitutional laws and court orders makes a mockery of constitutional protections. Writing for the dissenters, Chief Justice Warren argues:

Petitioners in this case contend that they were convicted under an ordinance that is unconstitutional on its face because it submits their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly to the unfettered discretion of local officials. They further contend that the ordinance was unconstitutionally applied to them because the local officials used their discretion to prohibit peaceful demonstrations by a group whose political viewpoint the officials opposed. The [Supreme Court majority] does not dispute these contentions, but holds that petitioners may nonetheless be convicted and sent to jail because the patently unconstitutional ordinance was copied into an injunction — issued ex parte without prior notice or hearing on the request of the Commissioner of Public Safety... I dissent because I do not believe that the fundamental protections of the Constitution were meant to be so easily evaded, ...

And Justice Douglas adds:

Our function in cases coming to us from state courts is to make sure that state tribunals and agencies work within the limits of the Constitution. Since the Alabama courts have flouted the First Amendment, I would reverse the judgment. ... The right to defy an unconstitutional statute is basic in our scheme. Even when an ordinance requires a permit to make a speech, to deliver a sermon, to picket, to parade, or to assemble, it need not be honored when it is invalid on its face.

In essence then, the court's ruling in Walker v City of Birmingham gives local judges unlimited power to halt protests supposedly protected by the First Amendment. "Now even the Supreme Court has turned against us" sadly says Dr. King.

Few Freedom Movement activists believe the self-serving myth that courts are impartially immune to the influences of culture, politics, and party partisanship. They know that the Brown decision overturning Plessy v Ferguson and generations of legally-sanctioned segregation grew out of the social and political changes wrought by the Depression-era progressive struggles, New Deal and World War II idealism, and Cold War geo-political realities.

So they see this ruling as a Supreme Court endorsement of the "Law and Order" politics of the so-called "White Backlash" that elevates obedience to racist and repressive laws above justice. And they place it in a political context of white fears of Black militancy, hysteria over "Black Power," opposition to open housing campaigns in the North, and the Johnson administration's increasing intolerance of opposition to its Vietnam War.

At the end of October, Martin Luther King, his brother A.D. King, Wyatt Walker, Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and other ACMHR leaders serve their five-day jail sentences.

 

Stand Off in Prattville Alabama (June)

(Description to be written.)

 

Cambridge MD — Black Power Speech (July)

See Cambridge MD — 1964 for preceding events.

(Description to be written.)

 

Robert Clarke elected to MS Legislature (???)

(Description to be written.)

Federation of Southern Cooperatives Formed (Aug???)

(Description to be written.)

For more information:
Book: Sumter County Blues: The Ordeal of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives
Web: Federation of Southern Cooperatives for web links.

 

Bogalusa to Baton Rouge March (Aug)

Photos

See Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense for preceding events.

By the end of summer, 1965, the Freedom Movement in Bogalusa Louisiana led by the Bogalusa Voter & Civic League (BVCL) and the Deacons for Defense & Justice has achieved some victories over segregation and white-supremacy. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is finally, at long last, being enforced — at least to some degree — against public facilities and commercial establishments that have long refused to serve Afro-Americans, though Blacks who attempt to patronize previously "white-only" venues still sometimes need the Deacons to protect them from white racist attackers.

Historically, Bogalusa had been a "company town" of the Crown-Zellerbach (CZ) corporation and they are still the city's largest employer. After much struggle, management finally begins meeting and negotiating with BVCL leaders A.Z. Young, Robert Hicks, and Gayle Jenkins over their racist hiring and promotion policies. Some progress is made. Along with other concessions, the segregated promotion lists are merged and more jobs are opened up to women. But the union representing CZ workers is still divided into segregated white and "Colored" locals as required under Louisiana law prior to the Civil Rights Act and resistance from the white local stymies further advances. With support from the Justice Department, the Movement files suit in federal court. Though it takes 3 years, that suit is largely won in 1968.

The KKK's reign of terror has been broken through armed self-defense and nonviolent protests that finally force the federal government to take action against Klan violence, but Klan remnants still exist and still engage in sporadic violence and intimidation. Token integration of local schools has begun, but Black students are forced to endure cruel harassment and discrimination by white students and teachers.

Though they've made some limited concessions, the white power-structure is determined to continue enforcing and defending the deeply ingrained patterns of white-supremacy in Washington Parish and the town of Bogalusa. Widespread employment discrimination, for example, in both private enterprise and local government continues to perpetuate long-standing patterns of economic injustice and inequality. Police brutality against, and harassment of, Afro-Americans continues, as does blatant discrimination in regards to government services.

The Hicks v Knight federal court injunction now requires law enforcement to respect constitutionally-protected protest rights, but those rights nevertheless continue to be curtailed by local ordinances, injunctions, and arrests. In October of 1965, the city government forbids evening and night marches (the ones most likely to draw large participation from adults with jobs). After Black students launch a school boycott, BVCL leaders are busted for "Contributing to the Delinquency of Minors." Students marching in protest are arrested. Police attack, arrest, and beat close to 20 Afro-Americans leaving a meeting at their union hall, dragging them from their cars and chasing them into Black businesses. Shouting, "I'll show you who rules this town," Police Chief Claxton Knight busts into the Bamboo Bar to arrest Henry Austin, a Deacons for Defense leader.

Movement lawyers accuse the cops of violating the Hicks injunction and federal judge Herbert Christenberry concurs, condemning the police action:

I think the record shows that this was a deliberate scheme to harass these people, confuse them, and throw them in jail, in as wild a manner as possible. ... I have seen the scars, the abrasions, the photographs of these Negroes. They speak eloquently of what happened, and I know I couldn't have tried this case from its inception without knowing what the reputation of some of these officers is among the Negroes in that community for their violent conduct in handling Negroes. ... The police and the sheriff are taking up where the citizenry [meaning the Klan] left off. They are committing the violence themselves. [11]

Yet Judge Christenberry's harsh assessment has little actual effect. Action to curb police brutality and secure First Amendment rights for Bogalusa Blacks is slow and grudging in 1965 and 1966.

Afro-Americans make up one-third of the population in Washington Parish, but a year after enactment of the Voting Rights Act Blacks still comprise only one-sixth of voters. Though Bogalusa is the main town, people have to travel 20 miles to the courthouse in Franklinton to register.

After the Meredith Mississippi March in June of 1966, Afro-American leaders in Bogalusa embrace "Black Power" concepts and rhetoric — though not separatism or rejection of white allies. Mimi Feingold, a white CORE activist supporting the Bogalusa Movement, describes a BVCL mass meeting:

The movement combines country-style Negro religion with black power rhetoric. Meetings here start with several long prayers and ... a hymn or two, and even "We Shall Overcome" sounds like a Negro hymn! Then the president of the Voters League gives a rousing speech, sprinkled with anti-white sentiments .... There's even violent, riot-like talk, but just as quickly people condemn looting and burning, realizing, they say, that the wrong people get killed. — Mimi Feingold. [11]

For more than a year, demonstrations are suspended while the Bogalusa Movement tries to achieve progress on a number of fronts through negotiation, lawsuits, federal intervention, and economic pressure — with scant results. Finally, in July of 1967, they return to direct action protests. BVCL leader A.Z. Young tells a rally:

The people of Bogalusa are probably wondering why we are starting our demonstrations again. Well it's to let them know that we have the same problems with which we began this program. We have accomplished a few things but have not gotten into the mainstream of life here in Bogalusa. There are no Negroes except at the broom and mop level at United Gas, Louisiana Power and Light, Southern Bell, and here at City Hall. Turn in your phones, turn your lights off, and stop paying your water bill; let them know how important Negro money is and they will begin to hire Negroes. — A.Z. Young. [12]

The 1967 protests are nonviolent — Bogalusa style. Meaning that the Deacons for Defense and Justice provide armed protection against bombings, assassinations, ambushes, driveby shootings, and similar acts of white terrorism. But despite their militant rhetoric, the Deacons are far too savvy to engage in open battle against law enforcement or mobs acting in concert with the police and under their protection. They know that shootouts with heavily armed cops would be both suicidal and result in immediate suppression and destruction of the Movement as a whole.

On July 4, 1967, in yet another denial of free speech, almost 60 people are arrested for "Parading without a permit" while trying to march to the Bogalusa City Hall. On July 23 and 24 more than 100 people, roughly three-quarters of them students, march 20 miles from Bogalusa to Franklinton the parish seat to protest a range of issues and specifically the release of the two white men who had murdered Clarence Triggs a year earlier. They are demanding equal rights for Blacks under the law and that, "Negroes may safely traverse the highways at night, without fear of violence or intimidation."

On the way to Franklinton they are met with white harassment and violence from a mob. They reach the county seat and from the courthouse steps A.Z. Young tells the marchers. "There's a penalty for killing birds out of season, but there is never any penalty for killing a Negro — there has never been a white man convicted for killing a Negro in the history of Washington Parish,"

BVCL leaders demand a meeting with Governor McKeithen. They are ignored. They announce a 100-mile protest march from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge the state capitol where a rally is to be addressed by Black Power advocates such as H. Rap Brown of SNCC. In addition to police brutality, suppression of First Amendment rights, and equality under the law, the march demands also include an end to employment discrimination by the state of Louisiana and specifically that Afro-Americans be hired by the Highway Patrol which is still an entirely all-white force. As if to emphasize that point, the force had recently been expanded by 150 new officers — all of them white.

The march route along US-190 goes through heavily white areas of Tangipahoa and Livingston Parishes that have long been Klan strongholds. And it takes place at a time when whites in America, and particularly southern whites, are in a state of near hysteria over violent uprisings in the Black ghettos of northern cities like Newark and Detroit. The Deacons for Defense, who the white media demonize as violent, "anti-white Black guerrillas," announce that they will provide armed guards for the marchers. BVCL leaders call on the federal government to protect their march from violent attack as they had done with the Selma to Montgomery March, but Washington rejects their plea and instead pressures Louisiana to provide an escort of state troopers.

Some 50 or so marchers leave Bogalusa on Thursday, August 10th. A crowd of hostile whites harass them in Hammond (pop. 20,000), the main town of Tangipahoa Parish. The number of state troopers guarding the march is increased. A larger and even more violent white mob attacks them east of Denham Springs (pop. 6,000) the main town of Livingston Parish which is almost entirely white. Again the troopers are reinforced, and 650 Louisiana National Guardsmen are mobilized.

The march, now almost 100 strong, enters East Baton Rouge Parish guarded by hundreds of state troopers and National Guard. Angry whites throw bottles, rocks and eggs, and scatter nails and broken glass on the road ahead of them. Guardsmen find a dynamite bomb beneath a bridge ahead of the marchers and disarm it.

When they arrive in Baton Rouge on Saturday the 19th, Governor McKeithen mobilizes 1,500 Guardsmen and close to 200 state police — not so much to protect the marchers as to suppress a feared Black riot incited by the end-of-march rally. The Guardsmen have "shoot-to-kill" orders and the state police are instructed to "arrest on the spot" any rally speakers who utter "treasonous or seditious statements." A swarm of local cops armed with shotguns occupy the city's Afro-American neighborhoods.

A mostly Afro-American crowd of 400-500 attend the rally. Having been jailed in the North on unrelated charges, H. Rap Brown does not appear. A.Z. Young tells the crowd, "I'm not here to incite a riot or to create a disturbance, but to get jobs for black folks." CORE leader Lincoln Lynch calls for Black Power and revolutionary violence. Despite the presence of a nearby KKK counter-rally there is no actual violence, nor does militant rhetoric inspire any acts of rebellion or looting. Later that night, however, aggressive police provoke some minor skirmishes with Black youth in a ghetto neighborhood.

Some months later, after threats of another, larger march on Baton Rouge, two Afro-Americans are finally hired as state troopers — the first ever. Gradually, over time, Blacks begin to be hired into the lower rungs of state and local government, though the supervisory and skilled occupations remain almost entirely white for decades.

For more information:
Books: Louisiana, Bogalusa, & New Orleans
Web:
     Bogalusa LA Movement
     Deacons for Defense
     Louisiana Movement

 

Poor People's Campaign launched (Dec)

Photos

(Description to be written.)

For more information:
Books: Poor People's Campaign and Resurrection City
Web: Poor People's Campaign and Resurrection City
Documents: The Other America Dr. Martin Luther King

 

1967 Quotation Sources:

1. Statement on Viet Nam, Dr. Martin Luther King. Birmingham, August 12, 1965
2. Selma to Saigon: The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, by Daniel Lucks.
3. Testimony of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr." Washington, Senate Committee on Government Operations. December 15, 1966. GPO, 1966.
4. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, & the SCLC, David Garrow.
5. Beyond Vietnam, American Radio Works
6. The Story Of King's 'Beyond Vietnam' Speech, NPR
7. At Canaan's Edge — America in the King Years 1965-68, Taylor Branch
8. Walking With the Wind, John Lewis.
9. Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture and Ekwueme Michael Thelwell.
10. Mandate for Change, Dwight Eisenhower.
11. Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972, Adam Fairclough.
12. Decons for Defense & Justice: Armed Self-Defense and the CRM, Lance Hill, 1997 (Dissertation)


1966

1968

© Bruce Hartford
Webspinner: webmaster@crmvet.org
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