The recent debates over the debt ceiling, reminded us of something Winston Churchill once said,
"You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing ... after they have tried everything else".
Examining this statement led us to think of America's history of internal fighting which began with the slavery issue. By allowing the institution of slavery to exist against America's own "Equality Doctrine" as established in our founding documents, "...all men are created equal..." assured that our political and social discourse would be continuously turbulent. Most of our arguments, over the right thing to do, have centered on our inability to live up to that initial creed.
To be fair, great strides towards equality have come about through Supreme Court decisions, Executive Orders, non-violent direct action, and Congressional Legislation, but only after strong advocacy by African Americans and loyal white supporters. The inevitable Civil Rights Movement, of which we were a part, forced America to do the right thing because of the degree to which America had veered away from that doctrine - beginning with slavery, through the Civil War, failed Reconstruction, "Jim Crow" laws, and the establishment of ghettoes in southern, northern and western cities in response to the Great Migration.
Growing up in one of those cities, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, we witnessed some of these events. As a soldier stationed in Georgia, Bob saw his first "whites-only" sign with which he had to comply, while wearing our nation's uniform. In the same year, the Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Bd. of Education. Helen experienced the insidious segregation directives each summer when her family visited relatives in Virginia. In 1955, a few months after our wedding, we felt the horror and outrage of the murder of Emmet Till. Later that year, the event that captured our attention, and that of the entire nation, culminated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. As members of C.O.R.E. and the NAACP, joining the Freedom Rides, after the initial busses met with violence, flowed naturally from our commitment to advance equality in America, and to do the right thing, knowing our actions would result in arrest and imprisonment.
This commitment has led us to a lifetime of activism. As president of UCLA NAACP and a member of the Chancellor's Committee on Discrimination, Bob worked to change racial discrimination policies of local businesses servicing UCLA students. We battled racism in the Barber Shops near UCLA, and in apartment buildings adjacent to the community, while organizing pickets at local Woolworth Stores in sympathy with the Sit-Ins. We both worked on tutorial projects to help prepare Junior and High School students for college. We organized food drives for southern sharecroppers evicted for registering to vote. Bob's graduate work included a study of disparities in Watts that preceded the subsequent rebellion. He returned to UCLA after completing his doctoral studies to found what is now The Ralph Bunche Center for Afro-American Studies.
The Freedom Rides and the Civil Rights Movement revealed the ugliness of White Supremacy and racial inequality to the world forcing Congress to do the right thing and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Robert Singleton, PhD
Helen Singleton, MPA
August 1, 2011
Copyright © 2011, Robert & Helen Singleton
Copyright © 2011
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