To whom it may concern: memoirs of civil rights leaders, some never written, put flesh on the story of the Movement."In including some of the things that follow, I have had to agonize, balancing my need to tell a complete and honest story with what I know to be my responsibility to respect the privacy and dignity of the living and the dead. I can only say that I have written nothing in malice and omitted nothing out of cowardice Cowardice
See also Boastfulness, Timidity.
a swaggerer lacking in courage. [Br. Lit.: The Rivals]
vainglorious braggart, vaunts achievements while rationalizing faintheartedness. [Br. Lit. (or so I like to believe)."
--Ralph David Abernathy And the Walls Came Tumbling Down
Certain periods in human history demand personal memoirs that bear witness to the disappointments, hope and turmoil of their time, because of how that time stood at the very center of great changes in human history.
As with any important period, we expect major players to sit down and write their highly subjective memories of what was really going on. Often, as in the Civil Rights era, the major players either did not live long enough to write something, or for various reasons, they never got around to it.
Of the so-called "Big Six" (Martin Luther King Jr., Southern Christian Leadership Conference Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), civil-rights organization founded in 1957 by Martin Luther King, Jr., and headed by him until his assassination in 1968. ; Roy Wilkins Noun 1. Roy Wilkins - United States civil rights leader (1901-1981)
Wilkins , National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), organization composed mainly of American blacks, but with many white members, whose goal is the end of racial discrimination and segregation. ; Whitney Young Jr., Urban League; John L. Lewis, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (or SNCC, pronounced "snick") was one of the principal organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. ; A. Philip Randolph Asa Philip Randolph (April 15 1889 – May 16 1979) was a prominent twentieth century African-American civil rights leader and founder of the first black labor union in the United States. Early Years
Randolph was born in Crescent City, Florida. , Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) was a labor union in the United States organized by the predominantly African-American Pullman Porters. Organized in 1925, it struggled for twelve years before winning its first collective bargaining agreement with the Pullman Company. ; and James Farmer, Congress of Racial Equality Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), civil-rights organization founded (1942) in Chicago by James Farmer. Dedicated to the use of nonviolent direct action, CORE initially sought to promote better race relations and end racial discrimination in the United States. ), King was cut down by an assassin's bullet at the young age of 39 and Whitney Young drowned off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria, at the age of 50 in 1971. They didn't get a chance to write a memoir.
For King, a memoir of sorts has been cobbled cob·ble 1
1. A cobblestone.
2. Geology A rock fragment between 64 and 256 millimeters in diameter, especially one that has been naturally rounded.
3. cobbles See cob coal.
tr. together from his many speeches, books and letters by his estate, and organized into a coherent whole by Professor Clayborne Carson of Stanford University. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Warner Books, November 1998) gives us some insight into the mind of Dr. King, as he and his colleagues started realizing, in short order, that they were standing at center on the world stage.
It was fascinating to read in tandem this book with his inseparable companion and fellow revolutionary, The Reverend Ralph David Abernathy's wonderful memoir And the Walls Came Tumbling Down (HarperCollins, November 1991). Both men give their insights into the great campaigns they led, starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott The Montgomery bus boycott was a mass protest by African American citizens in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, against Segregation policies on the city's public buses. It was nine years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would change the nation forever. .
Many say the Civil Rights Movement began on December 1, 1955, when the legendary Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and was arrested. One could also reasonably argue that it really began on May 17, 1954, with the United States Supreme Court's Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka decision outlawing school segregation.
Martin and Ralph
Whatever the case, it is undeniable that the Montgomery struggle threw two young, untested black men, only in their twenties, into one of the greatest movements for human rights in human history.
The compelling reasons for the boycott were clear to King: "The bus situation," he writes, "was one of the sore spots of Montgomery. If a visitor had come to Montgomery before the bus boycott, we would have heard the bus operators referring to Negro passengers as "niggers," "black apes," and "black cows." He would have frequently noticed Negro passengers getting on at the front door and paying their fares, and then being forced to get off and go to the back doors to board the bus, and often he would have noticed that before the Negro passenger could get to the back door, the bus drove off with the fare in the box."
As letters of support--and just as important, money--poured into their office from all over the world: Ralph Abernathy discovered that what they were doing was now much larger that just a bus boycott in a small, obscure southern city.
"I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)
"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party. ," he writes in The Walls Came Tumbling Down, (a great title by the way, which explains everything) "precisely when we realized that what we were doing in Montgomery was the beginning of a genuine and important movement ... Neither one of us believed he (King) was ready to lead a national crusade ... But events began to change our perspective.
"Most important, perhaps, was the role television was playing ... Words accomplish only so much. Photographs move people more readily, and moving pictures on a screen are even more emotionally provocative. Without television, I doubt that we could have escalated the Montgomery boycott into the American Civil Rights Movement The American Civil Rights Movement is divided into two distinct, but related periods:
One Lone Voice
Whereas Rev. Abernathy's memoir was deeply personal, with strong character studies that put human faces on the Civil Rights Movement, warts and all, Dorothy Height's memoir, Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir (PublicAffairs Books, June 2003), went in just the opposite direction.
Here, we find a highly intelligent, disciplined, religious woman, deeply committed to the struggle for human rights. From her position as a staff member of the national YWCA YWCA
Young Women's Christian Association
YWCA n abbr (= Young Women's Christian Association) → Asociación f de Jóvenes Cristianas
YWCA , and as president of the National Council of Negro Women The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) was founded in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune, child of slave parents, distinguished educator and government consultant. Mary McLeod Bethune saw the need for harnessing the power and extending the leadership of African American women through , Ms. Height made her presence felt at every turn of the Civil Rights Movement.
Often she found herself as the lone black or the lone woman. Thus she found herself fighting a dun battle, not only for black civil rights, but also for equal rights for women.
One telling example of what she was up against was at the famous March on Washington, where she sat next to Dr. King when he made his famous speech, but she was not allowed to speak. "Even on the morning of the march," she notes, "there had been appeals to include a woman speaker, but Bayard Rustin held fast ... Mr. Rustin's stance showed us that men honestly didn't see their position as patriarchal or patronizing."
There is very little, however, in Ms. Height's memoir that gives us any real insight into who she is as a private person. Her career started in the 20s and continues to this day, but it is only in the second to last chapter that she come out of her many meetings with presidents, First Ladies, kings, queens, Captains of Industries and other notables and gives us a brief glimpse into her personal life.
That Others Might Know
There are other noteworthy memoirs, including, Stokely Carmichael's Ready for Revolution (Simon & Schuster Simon & Schuster
U.S. publishing company. It was founded in 1924 by Richard L. Simon (1899–1960) and M. Lincoln Schuster (1897–1970), whose initial project, the original crossword-puzzle book, was a best-seller. , November 2003), John Lewis's Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (Harvest/HBJ Book, October 1999), and the one I enjoyed the most, James Farmer's Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement (Texas Christian University Press Texas Christian University Press (or TCU Press) is a university press that is part of Texas Christian University. External link
The very essence of any good memoir is that it is, first, well written; and that the writer deals honestly with the victories as well as the fears and inner doubts. In that sense, Farmer's and Abernathy's memoirs succeeded brilliantly, and are classics of the genre.
There is still time, however, for more memoirs of this period to be written. Several people who have not been published but should be come immediately to mind. The NAACP NAACP
in full National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Oldest and largest U.S. civil rights organization. It was founded in 1909 to secure political, educational, social, and economic equality for African Americans; W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Chairman Julian Bond is one. Another is Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, former executive director of the NAACP. Both have had a long, distinguished history in the Movement. A memoir is not necessarily a full-blown autobiography, and does not have to be just the memories of bold-faced names. Anyone with a sharp eye and a strong sense of the inherent drama of human history, especially in trying times, can bear witness.
Fred Beauford is the former editor of The Crisis magazine and author of The Rejected American (Morton Books, April 2000, ISBN ISBN
International Standard Book Number
ISBN International Standard Book Number
ISBN n abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m 1-929-18800-5).