To our brothers and sisters of #BlackLivesMatter Movement SNCC Legacy Project (SLP), 2014
Where Do We Go From Here? SNCC Legacy Project (SLP), 2016
Black Lives Matter, I'm very proud of. I think the young people are on the right track. They understand they have to take matters into their own hands.
I worry about they're not being firm about not tolerating violence. We didn't stand for that for a minute, because in our case, if any of the demonstrators had gotten violent, we'd have been mowed down by the police. So we did not tolerate anything like that. If there had been violence, we would've immediately called the demonstration off and gone back to the church to regroup and not let that person come. Now there are provocateurs that the opposition sends in for the purpose of seizing the high ground which, being unarmed and nonviolent, is the high ground. And I just would be, if I were in their position, I'd be very firm about not allowing that.
Plus, they are doing what they saw and read about and what they saw on television. They saw the demonstrations and the marches. That's about 20% of what we did. They didn't see the long meetings for many, many hours that ran days and days where we were planning strategy. They didn't see the door-to- door canvassing. They didn't see the many meetings, political education meetings, and all kinds of meetings where we taught people what they needed to know. We had a file for every Black family in Selma in which we had the names and ages of everybody who was of an age to vote, to become registered. Keep in mind virtually nobody in Selma was registered at that time. We had the ages of all the children in the household in case they had to have babysitting during meetings.
We talked to everybody. We had literacy schools. There is just so much that the young people today just don't realize went on, because you can march and march and march, and at no point is the opposition going to say, "Well, they've marched a lot, so now we're going to do good. You know, we're going to stop killing them." You have to create circumstances that make it more difficult for the opposition to continue oppressing you than to change.
To just illustrate what I mean by this, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, they had to carry on for more than a year until it became clear to the opposition that they would either go out of business or they would desegregate. And they decided it was easier to desegregate than the bus company go out of business. So that's what you have to do in a community.
Black Lives Matter, Dream Defenders, Movement for Black Lives, BYP100, and many other similar organizations are taking the torch from our hand-off and carrying on the work we dedicated our lives to, just as we carried on the work of the World War II vets and Civil Rights Congress activists who came before us, and as they in their turn had done the same from those who had fought before them.
One of the little known long-term effects of the Civil Rights Movement was to decisively end America's social tolerance of racial lynching (defined as a murder in which race is the primary motivation). At the height of the Movement in 1964 I believe there were 168 known racial lynchings in the U.S. (and more that were unknown). That's an average of more than three per week.
Prior to the Freedom Movement, racial lynchings of Blacks, Latinos, other nonwhites (and to a certain extent Jews) was either accepted by whites as a necessary method of social-control or tolerated as regrettable and distasteful acts that should best be ignored by decent folk. Obviously, nonwhites had quite different views but since they were unable to vote their thoughts were of little importance.
Except in rare cases like Chaney-Schwerner-Goodman, the national media largely ignored lynchings, and in many cases local media reported them as if they were sporting events. The Black press did cover lynchings, but their stories were ignored by whites and government officials. Perpetrators were rarely prosecuted and almost never convicted, so lynching was in effect a socially-sanctioned crime.
The Freedom Movement changed that. Cultural change comes slowly so it didn't happen overnight — in fact, it took decades — but change it did. National mass media now reports on and vigorously condemns racial lynching. The public in general (with some exceptions) react with horror, repugnance, and demands for justice. Law enforcement makes a real effort to find and arrest the perpetrators and if caught juries convict them and they are sent to prison. That's a sea-change from before the Movement. We did that. We changed American culture in regards to lynching.
What we were unable to effectively challenge was race-based murder by police. We tried, but without video evidence the lies of the cops were accepted as gospel truth by whites in general, the media, politicians, and the courts. Now that video is available, movements like Black Lives Matter are beginning to successfully change public perception of police racism. They are taking up the challenge of racially-biased police killings that we failed to effectively solve. It'll take awhile — possibly a decade or more — but I think we can see that already they are having an effect.
Black lives certainly matter. And the distinction of "Black Lives Matter" from the obvious truth that "all" lives matter does need to be expressed. Recently I drove past a church from which hung a Black Lives Matter banner, and my passenger remarked, "I don't see why that needs to be here. There aren't many black people around here." And I answered, "That's exactly why it needs to be here. Black people don't need to be reminded that black lives matter. They already know that. It's white people who need to be reminded."
From where I stand, I don't yet see a movement among the Black Lives Matter expressions and protests. (I had the same question about the Occupy wave of protests and activities.) There doesn't seem to be an organization or a set of specific goals to be worked toward, or a way (or ways — more than one) to work towards these. That said, from where I stand as a white man of my generation, I'm probably not very well qualified to know very much. In practicality, I'm ready and willing to put whatever perceptions and skills I have as a veteran of the freedom movement in the service of the people formulating and acting the Black Lives Matter agenda, if and when I'm asked.
My standard answer when asked about Black Lives Matter is "UNTIL Black lives matter, NO lives matter."
Black Lives Matter is/was a effort to capture media attention regarding the wanton shootings killing hundreds of Black people, particularly men. It began in the 2012 and hit its crescendo around 2015- 2016. Since that time, it has receded from being a front-line demonstrative trajectory and to that of an on- line forum for broad discussion. Have we seen the last of its forays at rallies and gatherings of pure racial hostility? I do not know.
Answering the BLM comet's comparison to SNCC in a snippet is dangerously difficult, if one is to put real thought into the response. Were both groups after the same thing? If not exactly, is there sufficient information to speculate on the range of their objectives? On the face of it, both were organizations, but SNCC had a face, it had an address and staff/volunteers/associates who were readily identifiable to the community and who worked together towards certain ends. That notwithstanding, both SNCC and BLM were efforts to loosen the bonds racism; one, focusing on voter disenfranchisement (SNCC) and the other (BLM) sounding the alarm via media on killings and trying to galvanize public sentiment to demand police accountability in that regard. Both achieved dimensions of success, but neither was able to complete the set tasks. The reason for that, of course, being the intractability and virulence of American racism; but, both organizations moved the historical dial some.
The short answer is that no organization today moves like SNCC. Living in communities to teach, educate, promote and support is simply not repeated as an organizing strategy. It was in 1960 and it was a strategy of great sacrifice. Having a definitive goal such as voter registration made SNCC's objectives seem more achievable in the short term, even if they were incomplete. BLM has an extraordinarily broad public mandate culled from the objectives of a number of nonprofit and community-based organizations which it published in 2016, I believe. I cannot comment on the sources or their objectives at this time; however, when I read them over a year ago, I found them desirable but overbroad and, therefore, not achievable in the near or foreseeable far term.
I do not think that social media is more than a mobilizing tool. It's a telephone call, a short note, a meet up place; it is not ironing out the thinking and garnering the commitment for the long haul which will take a lifetime. On the scales of better or worse, I think that is not a public discussion. I will say that both groups have made the effort. Anyone or any group willing to make the effort towards the liberation of minds and bodies is welcome to do so.