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Fifty Years: Remembering Medgar Evers
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Bona Fide Community Organizing: Core Dimenstions
Everlasting Jackson Woolwoorth Sit-In of 1963
My wife, Eldri, and I were in the Southern Movement from the Summer of 1961 into the Summer of 1967: six years. An American Indian [Micmac/St. Francis Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk], I grew up in the Navajo country of Northern Arizona and Western New Mexico. Beginning in the mid-1950s after I finished a full hitch in the United States Army I was active in Native American rights; was a radical activist in what remained of the old-time Industrial Workers of the World; was a radical activist in the militant and democratic left-wing International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers [Mine-Mill]. I learned much that was valuable as a labor organizer. And for my entire adult life, I have been a left socialist with a strong libertarian dimension.
Trained in sociology, I came with Eldri to Mississippi in 1961 and taught at Tougaloo College, just north of Jackson. I was Advisor to the Jackson Youth Council of the NAACP, a member of the executive committee of the Jackson NAACP, a member of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi State Conference of NAACP Branches, and a primary organizer of the Jackson Movement of 1962-1963. I worked closely with SNCC, CORE, and later also with SCLC and Highlander. [I also conducted some of the first poverty/racism surveys in several Mississippi rural counties and testified to my grim findings before hearings conducted by the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights].
I served as the Strategy Committee Chair of the developing and ultimately very large-scale and blood-dimmed Jackson Movement which reached its climax in the spring and summer of 1963. I participated in the most direct sense in many of the bloodily-suppressed and increasingly massive demonstrations. Along with many others, I was beaten and arrested on a number of occasions; was targeted in the sweeping anti-Movement injunction, City of Jackson v. John R. Salter, Jr. et al. [which, of course, we defied]; and was seriously injured [along with a colleague, Rev. Ed King] and my car destroyed, in a rigged auto wreck.
Following the sanguinary Jackson Movement epoch, I became, at the end of the summer of 1963, Field Organizer for the radical Southern Conference Educational Fund, which was then headed by Jim Dombrowski [with Miss Ella J. Baker and Carl and Anne Braden and Rev. Howard Melish as staff colleagues]. I worked across the hard-core South. I was the primary organizer of an ultimately quite successful large-scale, multi-county civil rights grassroots organizing project in the isolated, poverty-stricken, Klan-infested Northeastern North Carolina Black Belt. In 1966 and 1967, I organized militant grassroots anti-poverty movements i.e., Peoples' Program on Poverty in the Northeastern North Carolina Blackbelt. In those hard-fought Southern years, my wife and I learned much, much indeed from the grassroots about courage and commitment and vision - and we have carried all of that with us for all of these decades.
We left the South in the summer of 1967, went to the Pacific Northwest where I was active in many social justice endeavours. In 1969-1973, we were on the bloody South/Southwest Side of Chicago where I directed the large-scale grassroots organization of multi-issue block clubs. We worked with African American, Puerto Rican, Chicano, and some Native American people and we fought the police and the Daley Machine and organized more than 300 block clubs and related organizations.
Concurrently, on the North Side of Chicago, I was a key organizer of the regional all-Indian Native American Community Organizational Training Center and served for many years as its Chair. I was active in the Plains in Native rights campaigns. And I served as the controversial social justice director for the 12 county Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York [1976-1978], where Native rights and union labor and anti-racism were among the key thrusts that I and others initiated and carried through successfully.
Then we were back in the Southwest for several years in the Navajo country [the vast Navajo Nation], teaching and holding other posts as well at Navajo Community College [now Dine' College], and involved in anti-uranium campaigns and related endeavours. For most of the 1980s deep into the 1990s, I was an active organizer of many effective Native rights campaigns in the Northern Plains e.g., Grand Forks, ND and the utterly racist reservation border town of Devils Lake, ND.
In 1994, I retired as a full professor and former departmental chair [and former chair of Honors] from the American Indian Studies Department at University of North Dakota. In due course, we returned to the Mountain West and are presently based at Pocatello, Idaho where we are quite involved in various 'rights campaigns and very much in the worsening situation regarding the extremely negative city and state police.
I have written and published many articles, some short stories and also one book: Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism, 1979 with an an expanded and updated new edition, University of Nebraska Press, 2011. I am presently completing an autobiographical book of my writings.
I've been a bona fide working organizer since I was a Teen. [I will be to the day I pass into the Spirit World]. And that kind of organizing involves getting grassroots people together, developing on-going local leadership, dealing effectively with grievances and individual/family concerns, achieving basic organizational goals and developing new ones - and building a sense of the New World Over The Mountains Yonder and how all of that relates to the short-term steps. We learned a hell of a lot about all of those critical dimensions during our great years in the Southern Movement.
Member of National Writers Union [AFL-CIO].