By Arturo R. García
The second day of Facing Race kicks off at 10:15 a.m. EST with a plenary session describing current activist movements in the American South, a region many people still feel stopped being a hotbed of civic organizing during the Civil Rights Movement. The three speakers featured in this session have played active roles in forging a new legacy of activism for the region:
- Bishop Tonyia Rawls, founder and executive director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice, as well as a member of the governing board for the North Carolina Council of Churches and the founding pastor of the Freedom Temple Ministries and Sacred Souls Community Church. The Freedom Center launched a legal center focusing on the LGBTQ communities and an employment program helping the southern trans community — both the first of their kind for the region.
- Cristina Tzintzún is the executive director of Workers Defense Project/Proyecto Defensa Laboral. Besides being featured in national news outlets like USA Today and the New York Times, Tzintzún’s work has led to her winning the national Trabajadora Community Leader award from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Last year, Southern Living Magazine named her one of its Heroes of the New South.
- Chokwe Antar Lumumba played a vital role in the development of the People’s Platform in Jackson, SC, where his father, longtime activist Chokwe Lumumba, was elected mayor in 2013 on a platform emphasizing community development and the elimination of the gender-based pay gap. Antar Lumumba’s drive to help his community was also instilled in him by his mother, Nubia Lumumba, and he went on to become the managing partner at Lumumba & Associates, a law firm following those principles, as well as a member of the leadership team for Free Christian Church Ministries.
From the program description:
For the many of us- people of color, immigrants communities, LGBTQ people – who populate and call this region home, we experience and understand “the South” as not only the place where race, power, and revolution is best understood but also where history and legacies give way to 21st century innovation for our movements. Our dynamic plenary speakers, spanning the Southern region, will offer their insight on some of the challenges and opportunities facing the region and our movements to achieve racial justice and equity. From the continuing legacy of youth organizing and direct action in Florida; the role of faith in building inclusive communities and organizing for social change in NC; the realities of shifting demographics and the opportunities for worker organizing in Texas; and implementing community centered methods to build real economic, political and community power in Jackson this plenary will highlight how the South continues to build on its history and towards freedom.
The plenary, as posted online, can be seen in the livestream below.
I should say that people should take a note of Jackson, because we have suffered some of the worst kinds of abuses in history, but we’re about to make some advances and some strides in the development of human rights and the protection of human rights that I think have not been seen in other parts of the country. And I want to caution folks that we’ve got to be careful now when we talk about any one particular place in the United States.
All over, we’ve seen intense oppression. I’m from Detroit, initially, and we’ve seen a lot of oppression there, historically as well as currently. New York has certainly seen its share. Washington, D.C., has seen its share. So, we don’t want to be like people on different plantations arguing about which plantation is worse. What we have to do is to correct the whole problem, and we’re about correcting the problem here in Jackson. And we’re going to be inviting people to come here, and people want to come here, in order to participate in the struggle forward.
By Arturo R. García
A real hero came to San Diego on July 20, as Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) arrived to unveil the first volume of March, a three-volume autobiographical graphic novel telling his own origin story.
“I hope that hundreds and thousands of young people across America and around the world, pick up this book and be inspired to engage in non-violent direct action,” Lewis said. “When they see something that is not right, something that is unjust, that they be moved to protest.”
Co-written by Andrew Aydin, a member of his staff, and illustrated by Nate Powell, the first volume of the story, due out on Aug. 13, flashes back to Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, and his eventual journey into what we now know to be the Civil Rights Movement, but was initially called “the Montgomery Method.” Under the cut is my live report from their jam-packed session at the convention.
By Arturo R. García
That segment, originally aired in 2010, holds to what MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry calls “civil rights lore” regarding Rosa Parks.
But last week, just days before what would have been her 100th birthday–today, to be exact–a new book was released that has gained acclaim for painting a more vivid picture of her life, on top of the story of her refusing to yield that seat on that bus in Montgomery, AL.
Inside the bowels of the Washington Convention Center, where President Obama and his wife would soon dance in front of a well-heeled crowd of supporters, Rosemary Weaver was holding court over a boxed sandwich-and-cookie lunch.
Forget the pundits and the critics who say the magic is missing from Obama’s second inaugural after a tough four-year slog. Don’t try telling that to this exuberant volunteer with an infectious laugh.
“Girl, it ain’t no less exciting,” Weaver tells me as table mates egg her on. “It was important enough for me to come out of my house when it’s cold.”
Suddenly the Maryland publicist stopped joking and collected her thoughts. “You want me to go deep?” she asked. “Our forefathers died for us to be here.”
My urge to scream is rooted in our common cultural practice of remembering Parks only as a demure and delicate old seamstress who sparked the civil rights movement. The common assertion is that Parks’ moment in history began in December 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Ala. But we must confront this assertion, because each time we confine her memory to that moment we erase part of her admirable character, strategic intellect and indomitable spirit.
To be clear, Rosa Parks left us a deliberate legacy of activism, not an accidental activist moment. Furthermore, she, like many other Black women, should not be remembered in the shadows of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. or any other Black male civil rights activist, but rather right alongside of them. We must realize and teach that when Rosa Parks was helping lay the foundation for the civil rights movement, Dr. King was still in high school.
– From “Black Herstory: Rosa Parks Did Much More than Sit on a Bus,” in Ms. Magazine
Felecia Young remembered the day she walked into the Forrest County Courthouse in Hattiesburg, Miss. with her 11-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter, and mother on August 17, 1998.
The streets were barricaded. Buildings and streets showed the faces of police officers who were on site in case of a riot. An Aryan organization had threatened to demonstrate. But Young was determined to bear witness.
She and her children found seats in the balcony of the humid, packed courthouse.
“We sat in the balcony area, way up high,” Young said. “I don’t think I’d ever seen that area open, but they had to open it because there were so many people coming that there wasn’t any where to sit downstairs.”
Young is a black woman, born and raised in Hattiesburg. She attended high school there and graduated from the local college, the University of Southern Mississippi.
After serving six years in the Air Force, during which she visited or lived in 13 countries and earned the rank of captain before her commitment was fulfilled, she returned home, where she and her husband decided to raise their family. It was there where she became familiar with the Ku Klux Klan and its acts of violence. And the charismatic leader of the Klan’s Mississippi White Knights, Sam Bowers, was perhaps the most hateful person of them all.
At the courthouse, Young felt anxious, anticipatory, and inquisitive at beginnings of Bowers’ trial – his fifth trial, in fact, for the murder of Vernon Dahmer Sr. 22 years earlier. She wanted to take in the moment. Most of all, she wanted her children to see Bowers and to remember people like him are real. They exist.
“I wanted (my children) to have that historical perspective,” Young said. “A lot of people have sacrificed their lives so that you could have a better life than they had had.”