I’m just past the middle of Pillar of Fire, the second volume of Taylor Branch’s trilogy. The three civil rights workers, Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney are still missing. But they were just the tip of the iceberg. And to be honest if two of those three young men hadn't been white I don’t know how long it would have taken to finally find their bodies in that earth dam.
During the search of the Bogue Chitto swamp in
Mississippi two other
bodies were discovered. Young, black college students murdered when they were kidnapped off the streets of a town called Meadeville. Beaten to death, their bodies weighted and sunk in the swamp. Their killers thought they might be Black Muslims.
Three army reserve officers who had completed training at Fort Benning, Georgia, black, reserve army officers, didn’t even make it out of Georgia before they were bushwhacked, the driver killed. The survivors took their car on a wild ride off the road into the surrounding scrub. Branch hasn’t gotten back to them yet. So far I assume they survived.
The level of violence, tolerated, encouraged and tepidly condemned by everyone from the Johnson White House on down is obscenely appalling. Yes, I’m using twenty twenty hind sight. It had been going on for decades, festering like an undiagnosed cancer only to be exploited in support of segregation. Too many stood by. Too many said nothing or too little. The politics were more important. Defending bureaucratic turf was too important starting with but not confined to J F’ing Edgar Hoover and his pile of potential blackmail files.
Robert Byrd may have finally seen the light in the nineties but that doesn’t excuse his part in the filibuster of the civil rights bill. Stood on the floor of the senate and stated that he couldn’t find anything in the Bible that supported integration but there was the so called “curse of Ham" first used to justify slavery and then used to justify segregation.
Too many of us in the rest of the country stood by either thankful that the violence wasn’t afflicting our neighborhoods or totally ignorant because the bulk of the violence didn’t hit the news or our local papers or afraid of being called communists if we supported civil rights and voting rights. I’m not sure about the sixties, but after the Soviet tanks flattened
back in the fifties the membership numbers in the American Communist party
shrank like an ice cube left out in the sun in July. And there are some
estimates that about half of those who were left were informers for the FBI.
Why shouldn’t the fundies use the commie brush now? It worked so well in the past. Why shouldn’t they wave the Bible at us and claim that it holds all the answers? It worked so well before after all.
When the civil rights era petered out and the Vietnam War ended we thought the violence ended too. It didn’t. It went underground. It spread like an untreated cancer. The violence we ignored because it wasn’t happening in our part of the country is here now. The inner city violence that was tolerated for whatever reason is in our streets. The poverty in those inner cities that grew out of the flight of manufacturing jobs, first to other parts of the country and then overseas is bleeding the supposedly safe suburbs.
I wonder how many inner city schools in Chicago or Detroit or New York or Boston have been scenes of shootings that never made it out of page ten of the local papers. The tiger is loose and we don't know how to stop him before the fangs sink into our throats. Too many of us drank the koolade of hyper individualism forgetting that the lone tree can’t stand against the hurricane but it just might survive if it’s part of a forest.
I forget who said it but true peace is not the absence of conflict. True peace isn’t the silence comes from not wanting to rock the boat. True peace doesn't come from the fear of doing what we know in our hearts is right because we might lose our jobs, our businesses, our friends. A community enjoys true peace when it works for justice and cares for its neighbors. True peace comes when we refuse to tolerate hate that comes cloaked in a book, some call sacred or a flag that's been elevated to status of an idol.
Enough for now, this needs to cook for a bit.