By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The current wave of protests and calls for judicial and economics reforms, historians and activists say, are indicative of a new Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the death of Emmett Till were the catalysts for two previous Black liberation movements which did bring about legal and political changes.
Post Civil War Reconstruction allowed newly freed Blacks to secure constitutional rights and help them build communities, enterprise, churches and other institutions,
The Plessy vs Ferguson decision of 1896 derailed that progress. It set the precedent that separate facilities were legal as long as they were “equal,” making Jim Crow segregation the law of the land until the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s dismantled it. The outcome was federal civil rights, housing and economic reforms.
But a rise in white conservative activism has sought to destroy those gains. The mass incarceration rate, gutting of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), challenges to minority hiring, and funding of public education are some examples.
A national movement has been bolstered by recent heightened abuse by police in Black communities, exemplified nationally in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The recent killings of nine Black people during a mid-week prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina adds to the tensions.
Rev. Cassandra Gould is among the clergy helping to foster reforms in Ferguson. Mo.
Last August when a White police man shot Michael Brown to death in her city, triggering unrest and the national movement to deter police brutality of unarmed Black people.
The Senior Pastor of the Quinn Chapel AME Church in Jefferson, Missouri, Gould said she was in “her mother’s womb” on the day the 16th Street Church in Birmingham was bombed and four Black girls died and heightened the civil rights cause in 1963.
“My parents told me … and I imagined in my mind, what happened to Emmett Till, the danger in Selma, the dogs and the death of the little girls in Birmingham and marchers being beaten,” she recalled.
Today, Trayvon (Martin in Florida), and the Ferguson movement have made the new movement come alive.”
“Today, it’s poor people, the children and the churches leading the way,” said Gould. “Today, as it was in the 50s and 60s, our children and adults are not safe in the streets, schools or while they are praying in our churches.”
Gould and Imam Vernon Fareed, the leader of the Masjid William Salaam in Norfolk, say there are various similarities and differences between the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s and now.
Gould said that although there were multiple personalities motivating the 60’s freedom movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was its loved and hated face and voice of the 60s’ effort.
Today, both said, there is no one face, but many, raising their voices across the nation and they seem to be unified with similar messages, including “Black Lives Matter” and “Take the Flag Down.”
Fareed said legal and constitutional victories were won by the Civil Rights Movement, but “this one is more of a Human Rights Movement.”
“The 60s movement was restricted to the other groups who later benefited,” said Fareed. “Today this ‘Human Rights Movement’ is broader and more encompassing. Not just Blacks but other disenfranchised groups are standing with us on the streets marching.”
Fareed said the recent deaths of the Emanuel 9, and the police shootings of unnamed Black men “have propelled this movement and given it energy.”
“We are mired in the soil of oppression and injustice,” said Fareed. “But justice always rises to the surface. There is always suffering, but those fighting for right will prevail.”
Dr. William Ward is the former mayor of Chesapeake and a retired NSU History Professor.
“This tragedy (in Charleston, S.C) is a local tragedy which is driving this wave of national activism,” said Dr. Ward. “We mourned the deaths of activists, the Kennedys and Dr. King and that violence spurred a movement which deconstitutionalized segregation and racial discrimination.
“But a generation later, we have seen little shift in the economic and political power structures in favor of Blacks,” said Ward. “We are still being excluded from the economic, educational and other opportunities of the country. Many families and this educational system are not doing their jobs to develop our communities and our children. The tragedy which took place in Charleston has pricked the consciousness of White America, who are trying to respond.”
“They are not responding in violence to the movement as they did before,” said Ward. “But the
Confederate flag and other symbols remind us that we did not resolve the issues trigger the activism of the 50s and 60s.”
Kelvin Davis is an activist in Newport News with Community First, a group promoting economic and cultural development in the city’s east end.
Davis said his organization is proposing a plan to build a business, entertainment and cultural center to revitalize the mostly poor and Black section of Newport News.
“It is a new movement, but instead of fighting to take down a flag, we need to focus, this time on improving the economic, cultural and educational conditions of our people,” said Davis. “You can take down that flag, but will that change a people’s heart about how they treat you? Will that help us improve how we treat each other?
“The majority of our children live in poverty, in homes led by poor women,” said Davis. “Black on Black crime over $10 and self hate are so common and we are failing our schools. Who is marching and calling for an end to these injustices? We rely too much on problems only we can resolve.”
Dr. Mark Whitaker is a Portsmouth City Councilman and educator at Hampton University who acknowledges the tangible outcomes of the 60s movement, such as voting and civil rights.
Read entire story at the New Journal and Guide, July 23-30.