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What Martin Luther King did

This was painful to read but I thought it was worth it. And the writer is correct with respect to me—I had no idea that's what he did.


Excerpts (emphasis in the original post):
...this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I'm guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing "The Help," may not understand what this was all about. But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn't that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn't sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth's.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running.
That is what Dr. King did -- not march, not give good speeches. He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn't the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us. It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid.

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/744793.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 15th, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC)
Excellent. It's good to be reminded.

I have come to realize that one of the reasons I am uncomfortable with current discussions of racism is that they seem so disconnected with history. I was alive and conscious of the world in those days, but I find I have forgotten much. I read James Baldwin and Richard Wright in the 1960's, and they made a deep impression on me. They should still be read, and assigned in school.

Edited at 2011-09-15 11:20 pm (UTC)
Sep. 16th, 2011 03:21 am (UTC)
That was wonderful--thanks.

As far as the terror goes, I'm rereading Black Boy for one of my students, who is reading it in school. Everyone should read it.

The facing the terror part was new & made perfect sense-- An awesome piece.
Sep. 16th, 2011 11:39 am (UTC)
I'm...I'm really, really troubled with the idea that he *ended* the terror.

Greatly reduced it. Made it possible for there to be any reduction at all.

I have been fucking terrified of white men, for racial reasons, and...I thank the good Dr. King that this is not the same sort of pervasive problem it was before I was born. I am really, really deeply troubled by all my white friends waving this around with an emphasis on NOW, as opposed to seeing just how terrifying it was THEN.
Sep. 16th, 2011 03:01 pm (UTC)
Very good points, thanks. I apologize for adding to your troubledness.
Sep. 16th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
Even though this article was written (I believe) by a person of color, I'm troubled by the fact that it implies the terror is over, and also by the fact that it reifies King as the "great man" instead of being part of a process. I named some other key players on firecat's Dreamwidth journal and I know I don't know them all.
Sep. 16th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
I appreciated the article as giving another generational perspective, that of the writer's father. I'm assuming that the writing is genuine, of course.

I'm not qualified to answer the question of whether the terror is over. In my town of Los Angeles, the terror has been perpetrated by the police, and we keep hoping that the department has finally changed.

Edited at 2011-09-16 09:58 pm (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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