Civil Rights Movement as a Response to Injustice

Introduction

There are a lot of injustices that an individual or a group of persons can take or experience in a lifetime. Some tolerate every injustice done on them while others can only take a certain degree until they are fed up.

Reactions to injustices also vary. Others would want a fair retaliation through the court of law. Others would retaliate on their terms and others want a more lasting reform to end a practice of injustice. Others simply shrug off their experience and move on, and others remain damaged and devastated.

It is not clear why or how one individual or group of people could randomly and continuously commit injustice to individuals or groups of people. Racism has brought forth this kind of injustice first to American natives, and then, what are later on labeled as “colored” people. This paper will state that America’s judicial and education systems failed to acknowledge African Americans’ rights and equalities and that they end up at the bottom of the social hierarchy where countless injustices soon contribute to the Civil Rights Movement. It will also point out how the movie Mississippi Burning helped me better understand the injustices described and examined in my chosen articles.

Discussion

How did significant injustice contribute to the creation of the Civil Rights Movement?

The amount of injustice done and experienced by Blacks during the years after they were freed as slaves in an optimist view may be seen as transitional development of the treatment they had with Whites. However, looking back, there is much difficulty comprehending the reasons as well as the details of these injustices considering the democracy and high regard for independence that the US has championed over the previous decades throughout the world. A lot of questions are formed in mind as to why these things have happened. This paper will proceed to several accounts and stories as viewed by authors, researchers, and even the Blacks’ own experiences with segregation, racism, as well as inequality before the creation of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the article The Murder of Emmett Louis Till: the Spark that Started the Civil Rights Movement by Keith A. Beauchamp, it can be viewed that there existed a deep-seated contempt from one race against another race. The injustice done to Emmett Louis Till, on the eve of August 28, 1955, in Money, Mississippi provides a view on the dynamics of racism against blacks in the United States of America back in the 1940s until such time that there was something done about it.

Emmett was a stuttering 14-year old who loved to play practical jokes. He hailed from the south side of Chicago, Illinois. He boarded a train on August 20, 1955, for Clarksdale, Mississippi. He was to visit his uncle Moss Wright and cousins in Mississippi Delta (Beauchamp P 14). A few days after Emmett was seen abducted by white people, his mutilated body was found in Tallahatchie River. His abductors were Roy Bryant, J.W. Milam, Carolyn Bryant, and Johnnie B. Washington. Beauchamp described, “Its head barb-wired to a 75-pound cotton gin fan to weigh down its body, its left eye gouged out, its forehead crushed, and its head with a bullet hole through it,” (P 17). And this was done for wolf-whistling Carolyn Bryant. The incident showed how little or insignificant whites have treated the lives of blacks as whistling was considered enough reason to mutilate a youth.

The Legacy of Virgil Ware by Tim Padgett and Frank Sikora explores how different lives of Blacks and Whites were intertwined to encounter racism even when their lives as individuals were segregated by their communities. On September 15, 1963, 13-year-old Black Virgil Ware was biking with his brother on a road outside Birmingham, Alabama on their newspaper distribution route. Meanwhile, White 16-year-old Larry Joe Sims who came from a peaceful family sympathetic with the Black cause went with segregationist friends in a rally. His classmate made him hold a handgun. On their way home on a motorbike, one of his friends asked Sims to fire the gun to scare the Blacks and Sims complied with eyes closed. Padgett and Sikora described the next event as, “Two bullets hit Virgil in the chest and cheek, hurling him into a ditch as the motorbike sped on,” (P 4). Virgil was the last of the six victims of racism against Blacks in the US for that day before the spread of the civil rights movement across America. What happened to Virgil as well as the indifference of Sims’ classmates with Sims as the triggerman showed the mindlessness towards children of color at that unfortunate time. This only meant that even students were not taught in class about how they should treat their fellow beings.

The article Justice for All: the White Kids Had a Bus by Susan Schindehette narrates the incidences of social racism in the context of education and school experience. In the late 1940s, in Summerton, Clarendon County, South Carolina, an African-American minister named J.A. De Laine requested a bus to service Black children going to school. All 30 school buses served only Whites. The inequality was seen to be most prominent in the schools where the budget for every White child is $179 as compared to the Black at $43 (Schindehette P 1 and 3). Aside from separate school buildings where Whites had modern brick buildings with indoor plumbing against the Blacks’ raw wood, with potbelly stoves, old, tattered books were passed down and marked “For Use by Coloreds Only” (Schindehette P 5).

Laine organized parents and led a lawsuit against the Board of Education. The first in a series of four cases was Briggs v. Elliott, the case collectively known as Brown vs. Board of Education. By May 17, 1954, the court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (Schindehette P 8). The experiences of black children as lesser beings were shown even in institutions where ideal actions and thoughts should be taught. Instead, what was practiced was the opposite. Aside from poorly built and equipped classrooms, the black children were not provided a school bus even when there were tens for the white children. This showed that even in educational institutions, racism was blatantly taught and practiced.

We Shall Overcome by Peter Ling provides a wider view on the participation of various groups towards the achievement of a common goal through silent and oftentimes intentional protests. There were various groups involved in the non-violent reaction of Blacks aside from Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Malcolm X who espoused an eye for an eye stance on the other hand was interpreted to demand respect from an enemy or opponent (P 3), or the Whites. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s tactic was centralized on lobbying and lawsuits (Ling P 4). 1960-1961 saw the emergence of non-violent protests for civil rights of the Blacks in the US. One of the early noticeable forms of the non-violent sit-ins includes the boycott of the busses in Montgomery which was seen as economic pressure. Other establishments such as retailers were also boycotted, thereby influencing businesses to clamor in settling disputes unlike their politician counterparts (Ling P 5). Even in silence, the protest against racism resonated. This article showed that where the livelihoods of whites are affected, they have started listening to the woes of the blacks. However, it did not also mean that equal rights are considered but strategies are only developed to facilitate business as usual.

Her Refusal to be Recast (e): Annie Barton’s Narrative of Resistance is a personal account of the experiences in racism from childhood onwards. Annie L. Barton, despite having a white father, was an African American who experienced racism even as a child. Her father did not acknowledge her existence. In her autobiography, she recalled how her happy childhood reflected children’s innocence of racism: she experienced hunger and nakedness against white children who were well-kept and well-fed. She was allotted food and whipped when she ate more. Most importantly, she witnessed how women who did not bear children were sold, and women were known as the faithful, silent, and submissive Mammy (Pierce P 2). She, however, witnessed the changes of her time when formerly, blacks disappear and hide in fear for any wrongdoing in the plantation or against their masters. This was replaced by whites who hide in fear of the Union troops (Pierce P 4). Barton’s experience despite having mixed blood or having a white father did not improve her condition as a black. She was delegated as a lesser being even as a child. Reminiscence of childhood experiences may heal over time if treatment on the likes of Barton improved. But it was not so in a lifetime.

In Vernon Jordan Jr.’s American Odyssey: Vernon Can Read, another African American who struggled to make a difference in his life, despite the little he had, recounts his more civil experiences with the supremacist whites in his society. His education made him bolder and believes to achieve as much as his white counterparts. Vernon recalled his early experiences of racism while attending university as that of being rejected by Continental Insurance Co. to work as an intern upon learning he was black. On another occasion as a chauffeur for Robert F. Maddox, he had the opportunity to read in the Maddox library where he contemplated giving to his own family a library, other comforts, and facilities. Upon learning that Vernon can read, Maddox declared it to his wife and children as well as friends, and Maddox even commented, “I knew all this was coming. But I’m glad I won’t be here when it does,” (Jordan P 39).

Vernon eventually became a lawyer as he planned, became active in uplifting the black society, and earned a bullet for it. Vernon’s account showed that even in their efforts of improving their lives, the blacks were humiliated, looked down upon as well as treated disparagingly. Vernon was already educated, in a most professional manner as a lawyer, yet, his place as a black, as lower humankind, in the US society is thrown on him most of the time.

All these events, in one way or another, helped strengthen the clamor for change towards respect for every human race, no matter what their color is.

Mississippi Burning

The movie is based on an FBI investigation of the murders of civil rights advocates 21-year-old black James Chaney, 20-year-old white Jewish Andrew Goodman, and 24-year-old white Jewish Michael Schwerner. The lead characters were loosely associated with the real-life FBI agents John Proctor and Joseph Sullivan as portrayed by characters agents Rupert Anderson and Alan Ward. Ward used a direct approach in the investigation process while Anderson incorporates his experience and understanding of race issues being a former sheriff himself in Mississippi. The difficulty of their work was further complicated by the involvement of the local police force with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the fear of the African American folks of being involved in the case. The mayor of the town, Tilman, was indifferent and refused to cooperate with the agents accusing Anderson of “starting to get so far up my nose, I’m beginning to feel your boots on my chin!” (Geronimo and Zollo, Mississippi Burning).

Between Ward and Anderson, Ward retorted to Anderson that, “If you were a Negro, nobody would give a damn what you thought,” (Geromo and Zollo, Mississippi Burning). When asked about liking baseball by mayor Tilman, Anderson replied, “Yeah, I do. You know, it’s the only time when a black man can wave a stick at a white man and not start a riot,” (Geromo and Zollo, Mississippi Burning). In a street language manner for modern times, the statement underlies the inequality that pervaded the time, where Anderson tries to point out to his mayor the problem.

Throughout the first part of the movie, the agents went circling from the white authorities that include the mayor and the police back to the Blacks who remained indifferent due to fear of being attacked. It showed how the authorities were supremacists, and snippets were shown about the abducted and murdered blacks, burning of the church, among other incidents that led to the development of the civil rights movement.

Ward finally gave in after going nowhere in the investigation. He agreed to proceed with the case – Anderson’s way. The two requested a back-up team and help from the FBI and the Black community. By doing it Anderson’s way, the KKK’s group was infiltrated and the members made confused. Through the guts and cunning of Anderson and Ward, the wall that kept the secrets to the death of the three workers started to crumble and disintegrate. Soon enough, justice was brought to the abductors of the three civil rights workers.

Conclusion

The various narratives and the movie provided an almost unbelievable atrocity and injustice done to the Blacks during the period that led to the formation of the civil rights movement. The narratives themselves were compelling and almost mythical in their vividness and poetry. Most of the time, the injustices were mindless. The retelling in Mississippi Burning gave a more comprehensible understanding of the experiences of the Blacks as well as the irrationality and monstrosity of the white supremacists. In between, it seemed the rest of the communities’ members had no choice but keep quite or be damned. In reality, even the presidents and their armed forces took one side as the report on Emmett Louis Till pointed out. It was a difficult time to be an egalitarian.

The sacrifice given by the white civil rights workers who were abducted and murdered together with a black young man is seen as a milestone or turning point when in fact, most of the brutal, irrational murders done on many of the named and unnamed Blacks were all stones that piled up one on top of the other. The pile became a heap of cases and stories that screamed to be noticed, be told and retold until an audience strong enough to say “stop” was reached. It was a bit unfair to credit most of the sacrifices and works of blacks to the death of the three civil rights workers as the movie may suggest. As the narrative on Emmett Louis Till and Virgil Ware pointed out, the killing or murder in the name of segregation and racism was a clear violation of basic rights that the Americans were actually championing. In addition, the movie glorified the FBI agents and underscored the active participation of Blacks in their campaign against atrocity and inequality.

Even the unraveling of the case of the murdered civil rights workers in the movie was lopsided, against the sacrificed lives of blacks, activists or not. Here, the importance given to the murdered activists was unparalleled as compared to their black counterparts. It had been claimed by critics that the FBI sent a special worker or a non-agent to help locate the bodies of the workers. If the workers had been blacks, it would have been unusual if any government agency had lifted a finger at all. However, this was also obvious in the movie.

These actions of the authorities as the articles point out show that the government officials and the members of the communities in general provided an exact reason why the Blacks had to fight for their rights, to be heard, to be counted, to be considered humans with rights. It took two white men to be murdered in order that the government agencies start moving. It took several, probably unaccounted deaths in Black communities, continuous telling and retelling before it was acknowledged that an injustice is being done on them. It took them years and decades to surmount their history in the hands of whites from being slaves – bought, abducted from their place of origins, sold, or traded, lynched, murdered, unaccounted, unvoiced, unheard – to being segregated and treated as lower forms of being. And it took them again decades to tell their truth of deliverance. In reality, the Blacks’ too much experience of injustice made the civil rights movement and they did it with a little help from non-Blacks.

Works Cited

Beauchamp, Keith A. The Murder of Emmett Louis Till: The Spark that Started the Civil Rights Movement. Black Collegian. Web.

Geromo, Chris and Frederick Zollo. Mississippi Burning. Orion Pictures. 1988. Film.

Jordan, Vernon Jr. American Odyssey: Vernon Can Read. 2001. Web.

Ling, Peter. We Shall Overcome: Peter Ling Analyses Martin Luther King’s Involvement with Non-Violent Protest in the USA. History Review, 2003. Web.

Padgett, Tim and Frank Sikora. The Legacy of Virgil Ware. Time, 2003 Web.

Pierce, Yolanda. Her refusal to be recast (e): Annie Burton’s narrative of resistance. (“Memories of Childhood’s Slavery Days”). The Southern Literary Journal, 2004. Web.

Schindehette, Susan. Justice For All: The White Kids Had a Bus. People (61), 2004. Web.