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[Note The following paper written by Mike Miller
in September of 2000 was circulated to a number of Movement veterans. A
group of San Francisco Bay Area veterans met to discuss it, and from
those initial meetings evolved into the
Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights
Renewing The Beloved Community
(AKA "Walking Wounded" Project)
A concept paper about and for veterans of the 1960s Southern Civil
For a generation of social activists, the 1960s was a formative
period. It was the time of the civil rights movement, the anti-
war movement, the strong emergence of the women's movement, the
rapid growth of the environmental movement and other movements
for social, environmental and economic justice.
Within that period, a relatively small group of people became the
full-time organizers and support staff for the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee --"Snick" as it was called.
At its peak, there were no more than 225 full-time "field
secretaries" working for SNCC. SNCC emerged from the sit-ins
and freedom rides that were initiated by African-American
students in 1960 and 1961. In 1962, a small group of these
students left their studies and began full-time work as
community organizers in the "black belt" counties of the Deep
South with a focus on registering African-Americans to vote .
SNCC restructured itself. The full-time workers were also the
members of the organization, electing its leaders and making its
policies. From work initiated by SNCC came the Mississippi
Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), the Mississippi Summer Project,
the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and many other
initiatives for justice in the South.
In 1955, before the student movement began, perhaps the most
important break with the South's legacy of racism took place.
In Montgomery, AL, a bus boycott was launched, first by a black
women's organization then by a united group of African-American
ministers and their churches under the leadership of Rev. Martin
Luther King, Jr. In other cities of the South, similar clergy-
led efforts began, though none became as well organized or as
well known as the one in Montgomery. From these beginnings came
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and within
SCLC the rise of King as first a national then international
leader for human rights. SCLC was best known for the major
demonstrations it organized, but it also had full-time field
staff engaged in voter registration, community organizing,
citizenship and voter education, economic development and
The Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) was initiated under the
umbrella of the pacifist organization Fellowship of
Reconciliation (FOR) and sought to apply the nonviolent direct
action of Gandhi and others to the issue of racial
discrimination in the United States. CORE was a high-commitment
membership organization; its members participated in direct
action that often led to beatings and arrests. Princi- pally a
Northern organization, in the South, CORE was a leading force in
Louisiana, Florida, Texas and the Carolinas. In Mississippi, under the
umbrella of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition
of all the major civil rights and other African-American organizations
working in Mississippi, CORE was responsible for work in the State's
Fifth Congressional District. James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and
Mickey Schwerner were CORE field secretaries when they were brutally
murdered by white law enforcement officials and others in Mississippi's
It is hard today to imagine the terror that existed among black
people in the South, particularly in the "Black Belt" counties.
Often constituting more than 80% of the residents, only a
handful were registered to vote. Most worked in near-peonage
conditions as day laborers, sharecroppers and tenant farmers in
"the rural" or as domestics in small towns. Fear was pervasive;
any black who asserted his or her rights was likely to be fired,
evicted, denied credit, beaten, experience a fire-bombing of the
family home or be killed. A tiny black middle-class, comprised
of school teachers, independent business people and those who
were able to retain ownership of land, was fully intimidated as
well. Among these, there were a few courageous individuals who
stood up for their rights and others'.
But by 1962, freedom was in the air: the student-led sit-ins
spread throughout the South. The Congress on Racial Equality
(CORE) initiated "freedom rides" to end discrimination in
interstate public transportation. Both sit-ins and freedom
rides had been lead stories on national TV news. In 1954, the
Supreme Court had ruled against school segregation in the famous
Brown vs Board of Education case. In 1955 and 1956, Martin
Luther King, Jr. led the Montgomery bus boycott and other cities
in the south had similar boycott campaigns. SCLC-led marches
and mass demonstrations challenged segregation head-on in cities
across the South. In the early 1960s, SCLC also initiated a
citizenship education program to prepare black voters to vote.
The NAACP was filing briefs against various forms of legal
segregation in the south, and its chapters in the South were
small centers of resistance to Jim Crow. By the early 1960s a
consensus in the southern movement had emerged: organizing
around the right to vote was the key to black freedom. Again
and again, black citizens sought the right to register to vote
only to be denied by county clerks and other registrars of
By 1965, pressure on the Federal Government to guarantee the
right to vote was irresistible. President Lyndon Johnson
supported the Voter Registration bill which, when signed into
law, opened the door for black voter registration. Soon
thereafter, Federal legislation was passed that authorized the
Justice Department to directly register black voters in counties
where local registrars were systematically denying blacks the
right to register.
Throughout this period, harassment, intimidation and violence
persisted against both Movement workers and local residents who
exercised their rights. Federal enforcement of rights was, at
best, spotty. Tension was great. And a price was paid by some
of those who worked without relief in these circumstances. Some
began drinking or using drugs; others suffered "burnout;" still
others became mentally ill. Civil rights workers in rural
communities bore the brunt of the tension, and it was among these
staff that problems most frequently occurred. Those of us who
were part of the period had little understanding of the toll
being taken on some of our comrades in struggle. "Post
traumatic stress syndrome" was as yet unnamed and largely
unrecognized. The support community which Deep South civil
rights organizations provided for their staff itself began to
fray and come apart in the face of violence and the
unwillingness of the Federal Government to fully protect the
rights of black citizens in the South. Heated debate emerged
over "black power" versus "freedom now" or "integration,"
"nonviolence" versus "self-defense" and "philosophical
nonviolence" versus "tactical nonviolence." Healthy debate gave
way to bitter dispute and recrimination, further contributing to
the dissolution of The Movement.
For those of us who were part of this period, The Movement was
our 1930s, our Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, our
organizing of industrial workers in the CIO, our fight against
fascism in World War II. But unlike veterans of each of these
struggles, our hurt veterans had no post-struggle support
system. There was no "Veterans of the Lincoln Brigade"
organization, no labor unions to provide emotional and financial
support for its early organizers, no GI Bill to provide
financial aid or Veterans Administration to provide physical and
mental health care. Further, the deep community which bound us
together as a band of brothers and sisters, a circle of trust,
had collapsed by the end of the 1960s. Bitterness replaced
mutual support; anger was turned inward against one another.
Rebuilding Our Community
Today, thirty to forty years later, veterans of that period are
attempting to rebuild the community we then knew. All of us
identify that time as one of the most significant in our lives.
Most of us never again experienced the intensity and depth of
feeling that bound us together as a "beloved community"--both
the way we sought to be with one another and the community we
sought to build in the society as a whole. Some of us are the
walking wounded, suffering the most dramatic effects of post-
traumatic stress syndrome. This is manifested in addictions of
various kinds, homelessness, mental illness and other problems.
But all of us are wounded in one way or another from that
experience. In coming together, we hope to overcome the various
kinds of pain we experienced with the death of The Movement and
the pain we imposed upon one another. All of us of that period
are between 50 and 75 years old. Many of us have been involved
in some aspect of social change work ever since The Movement
period. Many work for nonprofit or small grassroots
organizations that have no health care coverage and/or no
retirement program beyond their contribution to social security.
Some are even more economically marginalized with no health care
or retirement plans.
For the most part, those of us initiating this effort were in
SNCC. Recently, the community of support that was SNCC at its
best has begun to rise, Phoenix-like, to restore the sister- and
brotherhood we once knew.
- In 1990, thirty-year celebrations of the first Greensboro,
NC sit-in took place in several cities across the country.
Since that time, other gatherings of Movement veterans were held
in various places across the country. In 1994, a national
reunion took place in Jackson, Mississippi. It was attended by
hundreds of Movement participants.
- Early in 1998, we reached out to our brother Stokely
Carmichael/Kwame Ture. At the Washington, DC Marriot Hotel, a
thousand people, many of them Movement veterans, came together
to celebrate his life of commitment to black liberation. Most
of us knew this would be the last time we would see Kwame as his
irreversible prostate cancer was draining his life from him.
- Over the past several years, individuals and small groups
of Movement veterans reached out to well-known figures such as
Jim Forman and to the front-line fighters who are now little
remembered beyond the immediate communities in which they
worked. The common purpose was to find ways to assist people
facing various kinds of difficulties.
During this period, a theme emerged: it is a time to heal the
bitterness of internecine conflict within and between the
different organizations that divided us back in the 1960s and
early 1970s. We increasingly realize that whatever our
differences then, and whatever our differences now, we did
something significant in the country and the world. We did
support each other in the struggle--however inadequately. We
miss that spirit of mutual support and, at its best, love that
bound us together. It is, we believe, a time for reconciliation
and renewal of past relationships.
We also feel a debt to those of us who have specific problems
that can be addressed by an effective support community. We
want to reach out to those who are isolated and bring them into
the community we once knew. We want to help those who have no
pensions, health care, jobs or other source of financial income
to find the assistance they need.
An initiating committee of Movement veterans proposes to develop
a network of support for veterans of the Movement who now need
that support--which includes those of us who are members of the
group. The initiating group was comprised of SNCC field
secretaries Hardy Frye, Phil Hutchings, Betita Martinez, Mike
Miller, Wazir Peacock, Jimmy Rogers and Jean Wiley. Joining
them are Fred Mangrum and Scott B. Smith, Jr. and Bruce Hartford
, an SCLC staff member who worked in the South in 1965-67. We
seek to re-establish the community we once knew. Specifically,
we envisage a program comprised of the following elements:
- Assisting Movement veterans to obtain whatever kinds of help they
need to lead fuller lives. This could include developing resources to
deal with mental illness, homelessness or other deep social problems;
it could be more modest things, such as assistance to people who need
to find jobs or housing. The local committee would begin to identify
local resources so that a full range of services could be provided for
a Movement veteran such that whatever his or her needs, they could be
met. These services would include: (a) physical and mental health,
including hospitalization if required; drug and/or alcohol
rehabilitation might be necessary in some cases; (b) housing, either
with a supportive family, with sympathetic individuals (including other
Movement veterans who might be in the area) or more institutional
housing (half-way houses, etc.) (c) spiritual renewal and restoration;
(d) employment and/or income; (e) educational or vocational training;
(f) other as required according to the individual circumstance of a
particular person. These resources would be sought first among former
Movement activists, such as volunteers who participated in the 1964
Mississippi Summer Project, the SCLC's SCOPE, CORE's program work
and/or who were involved in Northern support work for The Movement. At
present, we have identified roughly 60 people in the San Francisco Bay
Area who fall within this category.
- The Committee will also explore the possibility of
creating or becoming part of group benefit plans so that
individuals now without health care coverage could become part
of a plan that would provide basic medical, hospital, disability
and other health care services. Similar exploration would take
place to determine if there were ways to develop pensions
supplemental to social security or for people with no social
security or pension plan at all.
Three overall guiding principles would inform these activities. First,
to create a seamless web of resources so that the individual needing
assistance would feel like a welcome comrade rather than a client.
Second, to make it possible for the individual who receives assistance
to become fully re-integrated into the community of support that is now
being recreated by people who were in the Movement in the 1960s.
Ideally, the person would become fully interdependent --able to work,
live and otherwise function in the community without specialized
resources supporting him or her. Third, our group would not become a
distributor of money or other resources. Rather, we would work
together to find these resources for those who need them.
- Telling our story to future generations. While the name of Martin
Luther King is now internationally known, few know that it was "regular
people"--day laborers, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, domestics,
teachers, small business people--of the Black communities of the South
who were the history makers. We hope to find ways in which to tell
this story that will be accessible to students ranging from elementary
to college level.
- Providing material for academics and other researchers who are
seeking to tell The Movement story. Each of us has spent time with
professors and college-level students sharing our experience from the
period and making available files and other materials to them.
- With the benefit of hindsight and thirty years to distance ourselves
from the passions of the time, we hope to foster a conversation to
appraise what we did in The Movement period. What did we accomplish
and fail to accomplish? And, more important, why did we accomplish
some objectives and goals, but not others? Are there lessons to be
learned for the present? If so, what are they?
- Being available to today's activists to share whatever lessons we
learned in our experience that might be useful to them. The Movement
of the 1960s grew without much of a sense of what had preceeded it.
The McCarthy era stifled debate from the late 1940s into the mid-1950s.
Government persecution of left-wing activists silenced a whole
generation. Many social change organizations disappeared as a result
of the fear that was pervasive in that period. We hope that we will be
able to be part of the continuity that should exist between generations
of activists and organizers committed to democracy and social and
- Fostering reconciliation among us. In South Africa, as a result of
the work of its Reconciliation Commission, those who once persecuted
activists of the African National Congress and other black liberation
organizations are now engaged in a process of reconciliation with those
they once oppressed. If it can happen there, it can happen among us
who shared fundamental values but who became estranged from one another
over issues of strategy and tactics. Other similar efforts are taking
place in countries in Eastern Europe where informants and secret police
are seeking reconciliation with those upon whom they spied and those
who were jailed or beaten. The steps in this process include the
following: a confession of doing something wrong; a statement of
repentence; an offer of restitution (where this is possible); and a
request for forgiveness.
At the dinner honoring him shortly before his death, Kwame Ture spoke.
His theme was the need for unity among all African people. "If
Roosevelt and Stalin could get together against Hitler, then black
people ought to be able to get together against their adversaries."
There were other similar statements as well. There was one moment when
he captured the room; you could have heard a pin drop. After speaking
of the necessity for unity, he looked down the long dais and said to
Minister Farrakhan, "Minister Farrakhan attacked Martin (Luther King,
Jr.)." He paused for dramatic effect, then continued. "The NAACP
attacked Martin. CORE attacked Martin. The Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee attacked Martin." He paused again, then quietly
said, "And Martin never attacked back. We need unity in the black
community." It is this spirit which we seek to rekindle.
We are developing our own San Francisco Bay Area group. We have
now met about ten times. We hope and plan to develop in the Bay
Area activities which will allow us to achieve the above
identified purposes and to implement the above named program.
We hope to raise funds to make it possible for us to hire a
traveling organizer who would visit Movement veterans in
metropolitan areas across the country urging them to form
similar groups in their areas. We hope the Shaw gathering can
be a place to discuss these ideas and to encourage people in
other areas to initiate local committees.
Our vision is of local committees in any area where there is a
sufficient number of Movement veterans to constitute such a
Third, we have initiated a "Veterans of the Civil Rights
Movement" web site to provide information about our activities,
be a point of contact for individual Movement veterans who list
their contact information and describe their Movement and post-
Movement experiences, identify support resources for Movement
veterans and be a place for memorials and tributes to fallen
comrades. Bruce Hartford set the web-site up and is its
volunteer web-site manager. We imagine that at some point down
the road a national committee would be formed, and would serve
as a clearinghouse for activities, convenor of regional and
national gatherings and coordinator of efforts that require
action larger than any one metropolitan area can undertake. At
the same time, we anticipate that each area's committee would be
autonomous and run by its members.
Copyright © Mike Miller, 2000.
Copyright © 2000
Last Modified: September 11, 2000.