There is perhaps no modern President whose legacy resonates in the public consciousness as much as John F. Kennedy's. It was, in a sense, the first modern presidency: The first to be televised—from its historic inauguration to those shocking final moments in Dallas fifty years ago today—and the first to truly grapple with the maelstrom of social unrest that would lead eventually to the posthumous passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, just months after his death. In this first of two posts on JFK's legacy, we reach into some of our recent books for look at the Kennedy administration's complex and evolving relationship with race and the Civil Rights Movement, starting with the struggle between the Kennedy's Secretary of the Interior Stewart Lee Udall and Washington Redskins owner George Marshall over the integration of his team, and ending with an on-the-ground accounting of the 1963 March on Washington for Civil Rights, and JFK's meeting with the major civil rights leaders of the time.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom happened fifty years ago this week. Most people don't know much about the day beyond a few snippets of one historic speech. But the full story is dramatic, compelling, and central to our understanding of how the civil rights movement shaped our history.
On August 28, 1963, over a quarter-million people—two-thirds black and one-third white—held the greatest civil rights demonstration ever. In this major reinterpretation of the Great Day—the peak of the movement—Charles Euchner brings back the tension and promise of the march. Building on countless interviews, archives, FBI files, and private recordings, this hour-by-hour account offers intimate glimpses into the lives of those key players and ordinary people who converged on the National Mall to fight for civil rights in the March on Washington.
On August 28, 1963, over a quarter-million people-two-thirds black and one-third white-held the greatest civil rights demonstration ever. In this major reinterpretation of the Great Day-the peak of the movement-Charles Euchner brings back the tension and promise of the march. Building on countless interviews, archives, FBI files, and private recordings, this hour-by-hour account offers intimate glimpses into the lives of those key players and ordinary people who converged on the National Mall to fight for civil rights in the March on Washington.
Withers took some of the pictures that we remember most about that long-ago but still-present era when blacks struggled to break the back of a terrorist state and win their full rights as citizens. They marched and got beaten by mobs and cops. They signed up to vote and they lost their jobs and homes. They sang and they got thrown into jail. They spoke up and their churches and homes got shot at and burned.
Withers documented the trial in the Emmett Till case in 1955 and the planning for the Poor People's March in 1968. He took pictures of Martin Luther King marching, riding a bus in Montgomery after the boycott, relaxing behind closed doors before his death. He took the iconic picture of sanitation workers marching in Memphis, bearing the signs "I Am A Man," in the days before King's assassination. He recorded demonstrations all over. He took pictures of those quintessential American institutions, jazz and baseball, which gave expression to black aspirations even while holding blacks down.
And now, after combing documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and matching reports of an informant named in FBI files as ME 338-R with a memo matching Withers to that tag, the Commercial Appeal reveals that Withers gave the FBI hounds information that J. Edgar Hoover and his henchmen could use to disrupt the civil rights and peace movements. The period of Withers's activity is not clear; so far it looks like Withers worked for the FBI from 1968 to 1970.
From the Washington Post's Political Bookworm Blog:
It’s not exactly a memorable anniversary year – not the 25th, or 50th, or 75th year since Martin Luther King’s memorable “I Have a Dream Speech.” It’s the 47th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington on Saturday, and this one may become memorable because in this highly charged election year, the day is being claimed from opposite sides of
the political spectrum. Charles Euchner has chronicled the actual day more than 40 years ago (and less than 50) in “Nobody Turn Me Around: A People’s History of the 1963 March on Washington,” released this month by Beacon Press. Here, Euchner, who teaches writing at Yale University and is the author of eight books, reflects on the
competing commemorations taking place in Washington this weekend.
Euchner says of the 1963 March:
On that long-ago August afternoon, order prevailed. Americans
watching live TV coverage -- the first time anyone ever saw the movement
gather together -- witnessed a joyous but determined crowd. One
commentator likened it to a church picnic, but it was more than that.
With their numbers, marchers presented a “living petition.” Marchers
served notice, in King’s words, that they “can never be satisfied” until
gaining their full rights as citizens.
But marchers knew they had to avoid responding to violence with
violence -- or even returning the vitriol of their foes. When they were
attacked or slandered, they were taught to turn away. Only by focusing
on higher values -- universal values -- could they succeed.
Western Union had delivered hundreds of telegrams of congratulations to the March on Washington tent. One came from W. E. B. Du Bois.
"One thing alone I charge you, as you live, believe in Life!" Du Bois said in a final message composed two months before, during his final illness. "Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader and fuller life. The only possible death is to lose belief in this truth simply because the Great End comes slowly, because time is long."
Then came the news that Du Bois had died the day before in Accra, Ghana, at the age of ninety-five. Maya Angelou led a group of Americans and Ghanaians to the U.S. embassy in Accra, carrying torches and placards reading "Down with American Apartheid" and "America, a White Man's Heaven and a Black Man's Hell."
In Washington, the news fluttered through the audience and onto the platform.
Over a seventy-year career, Du Bois took every conceivable approach to the race problem. He was a provocative propagandist and measured scholar. He was for integration and then for separation. He believed in the American dream and disdained it. He believed in the power of politics and the ambiguity of culture. He brawled and he stood aloof. He embraced indigenous liberation and global communism.
Du Bois wrote thirty-eight books on the experience of race—on slavery and reconstruction, rebellion and war, psychology and economics, America and Africa, war and democracy, ideology and crime. He wrote thousands of articles and reports. He debated Booker T. Washington and coined the expression "the talented tenth," to describe the vanguard that could lead the black race out of bondage. As an American facing the cruelty and degradation of Jim Crow, Du Bois embraced the pan-African ideal of a global race.
Lifetimes ago, in 1909, Du Bois helped create the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He left the NAACP in 1948 when he was rebuked for holding a civil rights march in Washington. In 1961 he became a Communist Party member, renounced his American citizenship, and became a citizen of Ghana.
When Bayard Rustin got news of Du Bois's death, he worked his way across the crowded stage to deliver the news to Roy Wilkins. As the head of the NAACP, surely Wilkins would want to say a few words about this historic figure.
From excerpts to interviews, blog posts to online forums… Here are just a few updates from this week.
Gail Dines, author of Pornland, appeared on CNN News and in the Boston Globe this week, discussing "gonzo" pornography's grip on the young minds of an entire generation. Dines was also mentioned in a recent article on the website Independent Woman which discussed how porn addiction can ruin a marriage.
Dylan Edwards, who is at work on a graphic book about genderqueers and FTM transsexuals, had his picture snapped at Comic-Con and is part of this great roundup of LGBT comics folks at the Prism Comics blog.