Friday, January 30, 2009

Black History: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing

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From Wikipedia:
The Greensboro sit-ins were an instrumental action in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, leading to increased national sentiment at a crucial period in American history.

On February 1, 1960, four African American students – Ezell A. Blair Jr. (now known as Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain – from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black college/university, sat at a segregated lunch counter in the Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth's store. This lunch counter only had chairs/stools for whites, while blacks had to stand and eat. Although they were refused service, they were allowed to stay at the counter. The next day there was a total of 28 students at the Woolworth lunch counter for the sit in. On the third day, there were 300 activists, and later, around 1000.

This protest sparked sit-ins and economic boycotts that became a hallmark of the American civil rights movement.
According to Franklin McCain, one of the four black teenagers who sat at the "whites only" stools:

Some way through, an old white lady, who must have been 75 or 85, came over and put her hands on my shoulders and said, 'Boys, I am so proud of you. You should have done this 10 years ago.'

In just two months the sit-in movement spread to 15 cities in 9 states. Other stores, such as the one in Atlanta, moved to desegregate.

The media picked up this issue and covered it nationwide, beginning with lunch counters and spreading to other forms of public accommodation, including transport facilities, art galleries, beaches, parks, swimming pools, libraries, and even museums around the South. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated desegregation in public accommodations.

In 1993, a portion of the lunch counter was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The Greensboro Historical Museum contains four chairs from the Woolworth counter along with photos of the original four protesters, a timeline of the events, and headlines from the media.

Several documentaries have been produced about these men who sparked the sit in movement, including PBS' "February One."

The sit-in movement used the strategy of nonviolent resistance, which originated in Gandhi's Indian independence movement and was later brought to the Civil Rights movement by Martin Luther King. This was not the first sit-in to challenge racial segregation. As far back as 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality sponsored sit-ins in Chicago, St. Louis in 1949 and Baltimore in 1952.

In a pre-cursor to the Woolworth sit-ins, on June 23, 1957, seven students organized by a local pastor were arrested in Durham, North Carolina at the Royal Ice Shop for staging a sit-in in the "whites only" section. After being convicted in North Carolina courts, the seven appealed their case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear their case.

On August 19, 1958, the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council began a six-year long campaign of sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, restaurants, and cafes in Oklahoma City. The Greensboro sit-in, however, was the most influential and received a great deal of attention in the press.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Bipartisanship" is not the Holy Grail

Harry Truman in a "bipartisan" moment with Lauren Bacall, a staunch liberal Democrat. This is about as "bipartisan as Harry got."

Last week was exhilarating for Democrats and, judging by the international media, for people all over the planet who have suffered for nearly a decade from the misguided and often criminal policies of George Bush and his terribly inept administration.

The swearing in of Barack Obama and the departure of the Connecticut Cowboy from our public affairs was something long anticipated, and, after our long dark winter, as welcome as the return of springtime and birdsong, at least in these quarters.

The Republican smear machine however, wasted no time in cranking up to its full powers of bloviation. Their program of attacking nearly every move Obama made and every statement he uttered, began seconds after his swearing in and I'm sure will continue unabated in the immediate future. Here's hoping that they are afforded every opportunity to quibble and obstruct, to grouse and whine, as a minority party for decades to come.

The moaning and squawking over the slightly bobbled recitation of the oath of office, a gaffe that was meaningless and easily ignored by people who have something other than chowder between their ears, was, in Republican circles, fanned into a twenty four hour cause celebre by the fulminating heads of Fox Noise and soon picked up on the other "open all night," "all the news that fits," networks.

The storm so roiled the calm in our national teapot that Obama's advisers encouraged him to retake the oath, which he did in a private and sparsely attended ceremony in the White House a day later.

All seemed well with the republic until Glen Beck pointed out that Obama had not sworn the oath with his hand on a Bible," I checked" Beck chirped, "We have never had a president sworn into office without a Bible,"

Beck's research into the matter was apparently less than skin deep. Ali Frick at Think Progress quickly countered with this:

"Beck is simply wrong. As Slate recently reported, official records kept by the Architect of the Capitol show that Teddy Roosevelt did not use a Bible in 1901; and Lyndon Johnson is rumored to have used “a Catholic missal aboard Air Force One after Kennedy’s assassination.” According to his own letters, John Quincy Adams placed his hand on a constitutional law book rather than the Bible."

Beck's investigations didn't include the "actual Constitution" which clearly states that no religious test for public office shall be required, thereby making the Bible, or any other religious text, token, amulet or magic charm unnecessary. It seems that the "Constitution" so often quoted in Beck's parallel universe simply doesn't contain an Article six.

The constitution and strict adherence to the rule of law seemed much on the minds of Republicans this past week, a surprising fact after eight years of their support of a President who famously referred to the document as "just a goddamn piece of paper" and spent much of his two sad terms trampling it underfoot with nearly unanimous republican complicity.

The party that hocked the future of our great grand children to the Chinese, set the world aflame and proved itself completely incapable of anything resembling competent governance during its twelve years of majority now seeks to instruct the new president, who hasn't yet had time to sort out his new key ring, exactly how things ought to be run.

John Boehner in the House and his counterpart, Mitch McConnell, the replacement for Ted Stevens as the face of irascibility in the Senate, quickly assembled on deck a dozen or so other loose cannon to obstruct the disbursal of the next round of TARP funds and fight against Obama's stimulus package. Forget the fact that they tripped all over themselves to approve the bailout of banks and brokers under the recent stewardship of jolly King George.

Following their obscene treatment of American automakers and labor they are now delaying the approval of Hilda Solis as Labor Secretary because of her support for American Labor and, worse, her support of the "Employee Free Choice Act," which corporate America is spending vast fortunes to defeat and I assume Republicans are opposed to out of something more tangible than conservative principle.

They are the same old Republican Party, prowling the mall like jackals or perched buzzard like on the fences waiting for any opportunity to transfer public wealth to the ruling class, any chance to create greater disadvantage for the working class.

The landscape that Republicans envision when they speak of "America" is one far different than that seen by the average Democrat. I for instance see no beauty in long lines of the unemployed waiting for a job at minimum wage or less. To a Republican that is an idyllic image, warming to the heart.

Harry Truman once said:
The Republicans believe that the power of government should be used first of all to help the rich and the privileged in the country. With them, property, wealth, comes first. The Democrats believe that the power of government should be used to give the common man more protection and a chance to make a living. With us the people come first.

In my opinion Obama would be wise to ride his mandate, to maintain the strong cyber link to the body politic and use it to pressure the Democratic majority in the direction it would travel naturally were it not for the corrupting influence of corporate money. I would urge our new President to lose some of his zeal for the grail of "bipartisanship" and simply take his case to the people, and, like an old fashioned Democrat, govern in their name.

Harry also said this:
"I don't like bipartisans. Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know that he's going to vote against me."

Bob Higgins
Worldwide Sawdust