"More Than a Hamburger"

Courtland Cox, 2021

Statement by Courtland Cox on behalf of the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP) to the Intra- and Inter-generational meeting. April 21, 2021

At the first conference of sit-in leaders called by the legendary strategist, Ms. Ella Baker in 1960, she gave a speech in which she told the student activists that the struggle we were involved in was for "more than a hamburger." Ms. Baker wanted the students to understand that the struggle was for more than what they could see in front of them. She emphasized that segregated lunch counters were just a small manifestation of the multi-layered systemic problem of political and economic inequality.

The understanding of "more than a hamburger" was important for two reasons. First, if we only succeeded in desegregating lunch counters, it would achieve the immediate goal, but still leave in place the exploitative relationship of which segregated lunch counters was just a small part. Our objective was to not only desegregate lunch counters, but to encourage others to engage in resistance. If we did not achieve the immediate goal of desegregating lunch counters, we would have succeeded if we inspired others in the Black community to begin to resist the exploitative relationship by challenging interstate travel through the freedom rides or encouraged other forms of resistance by the Black community.

As I listened to Rachel Gilmer talk about the Dream Defenders, I am reminded of Ms. Baker's statement about "more than hamburger." The Dream Defenders mobilized protest after the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the "not guilty" finding of George Zimmerman. While the immediate demonstrations in Florida did not achieve the expectations of the Dream Defenders, the demonstrations inspired Black communities across the country to speak up and speak out about the continuing murders of young unarmed Black men and women.

In the years after 2012, the results of murdered young Black men and women and the police being found not guilty continued. However, the Black community, following the Dream Defenders' early example, continued to engage, demonstrate and speak out even when there was a sense of futility. Eventually the persistence of the Black community began to determine the narrative around police violence and small concessions were made. Those concessions included police having to wear body cameras, police being terminated, and trials being held, which could lead to convictions.

However, the most important thing about the continued demonstrations is that it expanded the involvement of the Black community. Colin Kaepernick bravely took a knee and brought the issue of police violence to the national football audience. Other football players supported the example of Kaepernick and also took a knee. After the shooting of Breonna Taylor, the women of the WNBA engaged in a campaign to not allow the American public to turn away from her murder. Lebron James led a move by the men of the NBA to halt the playing of basketball for a two-week period, and when basketball returned, most of the players wore "Black Lives Matter" on their jerseys. Naomi Osaka brought the message against police violence to tennis at the 2020 U.S. Open by wearing the names of black murdered victims on her face-mask.

The continuing demonstrations after the murders of George Floyd and other Black men and women motivated some in the white community to say to their neighbors with signs and other images of support that Black lives matter.

In 2020, because of the ongoing work by organizations such as Fair Fight, New Georgia Project, Woke Vote, BYP 100, Dream Defenders, the NAACP, and others in the Black community, the Presidential Election was won by Joseph Biden. Both President Biden and former President Donald Trump recognized this fact. Further, in the state of Georgia, on January 5, 2021, the Black community was a major part of a coalition that elected two Democratic senators, and their victory changed the present political dynamic in America.

As a result of the political organizing by the Black community in 2020 and 2021, we're engaged in a successful fight to determine who will control the federal government which is the instrument of power, wealth, military force, taxation, and legislation in this country. Trump and the Republican Party know that they cannot win control of the federal government in a fair election so they're now engaged in a national campaign of voter suppression and voter nullification.

The immediate fight before the Black community requires it to battle against voter suppression, and voter nullification legislation. However, the Black community, possibly for the first time in American history, is part of an effective political coalition that is able to participate in the longer-term struggle about who will control the federal government which determines whose political and economic interests will be served.

As we look today at remembering Ms. Baker's admonition that it's more than a hamburger, many of us understand that we're locked in a fight for political power and not just a fight against voter suppression, and voter nullification. Black business leaders and leaders of several major corporations are expressing their opposition to voter suppression because they know that 90% of all the population growth in the United States between 2021 and 2050 will be in the minority communities. In addition, after 2050, most of you in this meeting will see an America where people of color are the majority population.

American corporations also know that the percentage of expendable dollars for purchases will increase faster with people of color over the next 25 years. While these large businesses understand the direction of this country, the involvement at this historic moment of Black business executives in the struggle for power is a direct result of the resistance movement of the Dream Defenders beginning in 2012, the BYP 100, the Black Lives Matter collective, and others. It can also be directly attributed to the long-term organizing work of the New Georgia Project, NAACP, Woke Vote, Fair Fight and others. The actions of organizations, who either participated in resistance by the Black community or organizing of the Black community, have contributed to the reality that we can truly move from just protest to power.

Copyright © Courtland Cox, 2021


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