Tag Archives: Civil Rights Movement

Two Families, One Crime, And One Hard-Earned Right

By Guest Contributor RJ Young

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.”

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In His Own Words: Dr. King’s ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ Speech at the SCLC

Originally delivered Aug. 16, 1967, at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Transcript courtesy of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute

Dr. Abernathy, our distinguished vice president, fellow delegates to this, the tenth annual session of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, my brothers and sisters from not only all over the South, but from all over the United States of America: ten years ago during the piercing chill of a January day and on the heels of the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, a group of approximately one hundred Negro leaders from across the South assembled in this church and agreed on the need for an organization to be formed that could serve as a channel through which local protest organizations in the South could coordinate their protest activities. It was this meeting that gave birth to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

And when our organization was formed ten years ago, racial segregation was still a structured part of the architecture of southern society. Negroes with the pangs of hunger and the anguish of thirst were denied access to the average lunch counter. The downtown restaurants were still off-limits for the black man. Negroes, burdened with the fatigue of travel, were still barred from the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. Negro boys and girls in dire need of recreational activities were not allowed to inhale the fresh air of the big city parks. Negroes in desperate need of allowing their mental buckets to sink deep into the wells of knowledge were confronted with a firm “no” when they sought to use the city libraries. Ten years ago, legislative halls of the South were still ringing loud with such words as “interposition” and “nullification.” All types of conniving methods were still being used to keep the Negro from becoming a registered voter. A decade ago, not a single Negro entered the legislative chambers of the South except as a porter or a chauffeur. Ten years ago, all too many Negroes were still harried by day and haunted by night by a corroding sense of fear and a nagging sense of nobody-ness.

But things are different now. In assault after assault, we caused the sagging walls of segregation to come tumbling down. During this era the entire edifice of segregation was profoundly shaken. This is an accomplishment whose consequences are deeply felt by every southern Negro in his daily life. It is no longer possible to count the number of public establishments that are open to Negroes. Ten years ago, Negroes seemed almost invisible to the larger society, and the facts of their harsh lives were unknown to the majority of the nation. But today, civil rights is a dominating issue in every state, crowding the pages of the press and the daily conversation of white Americans. In this decade of change, the Negro stood up and confronted his oppressor. He faced the bullies and the guns, and the dogs and the tear gas. He put himself squarely before the vicious mobs and moved with strength and dignity toward them and decisively defeated them.  And the courage with which he confronted enraged mobs dissolved the stereotype of the grinning, submissive Uncle Tom.  He came out of his struggle integrated only slightly in the external society, but powerfully integrated within. This was a victory that had to precede all other gains.

In short, over the last ten years the Negro decided to straighten his back up, realizing that a man cannot ride your back unless it is bent. We made our government write new laws to alter some of the cruelest injustices that affected us. We made an indifferent and unconcerned nation rise from lethargy and subpoenaed its conscience to appear before the judgment seat of morality on the whole question of civil rights. We gained manhood in the nation that had always called us “boy.” It would be hypocritical indeed if I allowed modesty to forbid my saying that SCLC stood at the forefront of all of the watershed movements that brought these monumental changes in the South. For this, we can feel a legitimate pride. But in spite of a decade of significant progress, the problem is far from solved. The deep rumbling of discontent in our cities is indicative of the fact that the plant of freedom has grown only a bud and not yet a flower.

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In Memoriam: Fred Shuttlesworth & Derrick Bell

By Arturo R. García

Civil rights activism lost two pioneers Wednesday night with the passing of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and legal scholar Derrick Bell.

The careers of Shuttlesworth – a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Bayard Rustin – and Bell, who would become the first black tenured law professor and dean of Harvard Law School, seemed to dovetail at times.

In 1957, three years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, Shuttlesworth and his wife, Ruby, famously took their children to Phillips High School in Birmingham, Ala., to break the color barrier. The move came a year after Shuttleworth’s house was bombed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Shuttlesworth escaped the bombing unharmed, but he would not be so fortunate at Phillips, as Ruby was stabbed and, as he recounted for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 2003, he was assaulted by a mob:

Each one was hitting and kicking, stomping. I began to realize that on this brilliant day that every time a chain or something would hit my head I would see instant gray. I knew I had to get back to the car.

I noticed that the guy that was sitting next to the car was going to get the last lick with his chain and I felt as if he had having been struck and stomped as much as I had, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get to the car. And I was trying to make up my mind I was just running to him, I don’t know what I was going to do. But anyway I was going to try to get to the car. Here again you must realize you have to figure God does things that you never even thought about. Suppose the door had closed.
Suppose some Klansman had closed the door or suppose as Rev. Woods said, “if it had been me, I would have driven off.” (Laughing) I would have died right there, or if this man had gotten a chance to hit me this one lick I would have been
right there.

But somehow or another as I was struggling being pulled at, tearing my clothes and kicking, the last thing I remember was one guy was standing in front as I was getting ready to go to the door where this man was getting ready to swing, somebody kicked me in the side. And somehow or another as I was falling down I think, another one struck me from in front. I didn’t see the guy with the chain. I wasn’t looking for him. I finally if you remember seeing the film, I fell up into the door with my hand and [a friend] reached over and pulled me into the car. And my feet were sticking out the door. The door was still open as we pulled off to go to the hospital.

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