Friday, August 09, 2013

Berea College Civil Rights Tour 2013: Seminar Day One

For the first time, Berea College, through the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, provided the opportunity for faculty and staff to participate in a Civil Rights Seminar and Tour program. The event was directed by Dr. Alicestyne Turley, Director of the Woodson Center. I had the opportunity to participate as one of the first group to go on this important and moving journey. Over the next two weeks or so, I will have a blog series here at The Gypsy Librarian with my notes, observations, reflections, and thoughts on the journey. This is a way for me to preserve some of what I learned as well as a step in sharing it with others. When the call out for participants went out, I knew that I had to take the journey. For one, it would give me a deeper sense and appreciation of the history and mission of my new workplace (as of this writing, I have almost completed my first year here). Two, it was a good chance to get to know some of my colleagues and other people better. Little did I know how touching and moving this journey would be, nor did I know how fortunate I would be to have people who lived through the Movement tell their stories. But we will get to that.

At any rate, as my four readers know, I try to keep any blogging directly related to work to a minimum (there are reasons for that), but this is too important not to share. As I often do, I will try to type out notes directly. Any additional comments I make I will put in parenthesis (or try to distinguish from just straight notes). Quotes will be in quotation marks with attribution (if I managed to catch the name of source or it was available). If any other participants read this and wish to add or make corrections, etc., their comments are welcome. So are comments from anyone else (as long as you follow my usual rules of good behavior. I will not tolerate any form of bullying, intimidation, rudeness, etc. Such will simply be deleted). I will also add links from various sources as needed to expand on my notes or add further information that may not be clear from just my notes, or just for my own reference.

Before we go on with my notes, in order to set up some context, allow me to quote Dr. Turley's words from her introduction in the seminar's guide. She writes:

"This tour is significant for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that African Americans did not gain their civil rights as something natural, due and owning at birth, rather through countless legal, political and physical struggles, victories and defeats. This Sankofa journey of recovery, remembrance, and reconciliation is meant to give each of us an opportunity to reflect upon these many struggles and victories, as well as the application of social and political policies resulting from our shared history. It is also hoped production of this event will present an opportunity for each of us to engage in discussion on personal and professional levels regarding the mission of interracial education at Berea College and the enduring goals of equality pursued during the Civil Rights Movement which, as a society, we have not  yet achieved."
I should add the definition of "sankofa." As follows:

"Sankofa: An Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to 'reach back and get it' (san-to return; ko- to go; fa- to look, to seek and take) or the Asante Adinkra symbols of a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back. It is often associated with the proverb, 'Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi' which translates "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten'"

-- W. Bruce Willis, Pyramid Complex (1998). 

Our journey was truly a journey of recovery, the recovery of a past that some have forgotten and that many others need to learn. For me, while I have read a bit on this history, the journey brought it to life. Recovery, remembrance, and reconciliation were themes during this journey, and they will come up as I keep on blogging my notes. 

The seminar and tour ran from Thursday, August 1, 2013 to Wednesday August 7th, 2013.

# # # # # 

Day One Seminar Notes: Thursday August 1, 2013:

  • Berea College is the "holiest of holies" of education for African-Americans.  

  • Dr. Chad Berry, Academic Vice President and Dean of the Faculty, delivered some opening remarks: 
    • This tour is a follow-up of the college's Appalachian Tour (this is another program the college offers for faculty and staff. I hope to attend it next summer. The idea now for the college is to do these two tours on alternating years. Thus, 2015 should be the next date for the Civil Rights Tour to take place). This tour draws upon our interracial education commitment. (The college lives and abides by The Great Commitments, which are basically the principles we stand for. Dr. Berry is mainly referring here to the fifth commitment on the list I am linking.).
    • The tour is made possible by funding from a charitable foundation (which by the way is generous enough that we could bring our spouses along as well, whether they work for the college or not. Some folks did take advantage of this. Only reason the Better Half was not able to make this time is because she could not get time off. Having your spouse along, in addition to having that person be a participant, is that you both then go through the experience. It is not too easy coming back from something as immersive and intense as this and then talk about it at home if your spouse has no point of reference).
    • We must be mindful as we visit these places. 
    • We'll be making community on the journey. We might even sing. 

  •  Dr. Turley speaks to us briefly: 
    • She asks us to think about humanity. 
    • We must keep in mind that this trip would have been impossible and even illegal in the 1960s. We would not have been able to travel together. 

  • The program then begins with a meditation on words. For this meditation, we listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Acceptance Address for the Nobel Peace Prize." The speech took place December 10, 1964.  (The Nobel Prize site provides links to both a video and a transcript).
    • Dr. King asks why the movement received a prize for it is a movement that has not won peace yet. 
    • The prize recognizes that nonviolence is an answer. Nonviolence is not passivity; it is a moral force. 
    • Refuse to accept despair. Refuse to accept the cynical notion that nations have to sink into war and nuclear annihilation. 
    • What self-centered men have torn down, centered men will build up. 

(Dr. Gerald Smith, the first presenter, arrived late, so the presentations of the day were done in different order. My notes reflect the order in which they actually took place)

  • Dr. Dwayne Mack, Associate Professor of History at Berea College and Carter G. Woodson Chair in African American History presented on "Berea College and the Civil Rights Movement."  (By the way, Dr. Mack can be found on Twitter. His handle there is @MFCBook).  He gives some preliminary observations and then moves into the topic.
    • He reminds us and himself that he is a man, a son. (This is referential too to the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee; link goes to King Papers project out of Stanford. More on this later as Memphis is a stop on this tour. Additional link to a photo of the strike. Additionally, this online exhibit on the strike may be of interest as well, out of Wayne State).
    • He speaks about the search of identity and overcoming obstacles as a faculty member of color. 
    •  Building relationships is important. As a young man, Dr. Mack socialized with black and brown people. Then, he went to Pullman, Washington for graduate school. "Talk about being the only black person." It was a growth experience. Coming to Berea was and is a time of growth and adjustment. Faculty of color don't network as other white people do; it is often informal networking. 
    • So why does a guy from New York City projects stay in a place like Berea, Kentucky? He is growing as a human being. You take each person individually for any person can become your brother or sister. You develop relationships with people. (For me, as, most likely, the only Puerto Rican in our faculty, this is a valuable lesson and reminder as well. I also continue to grow as a human being in my professional and personal journey). 
    • Dr. Mack has faith that we can all grow and learn from each other. If we learn more about history, how people came together to overcome injustice and oppression, then we can grow together. 
    • Building relationships sustains. 
    • He invites us to ask ourselves why are taking this trip? It is important not just to engage the past to also engage with those who went with us and were engaged then. 
    • Note that the Civil Rights Movement was full of black women. In fact, it was often led by brave black women. 
    • Berea College was on the wrong side of history when it did not go to the South in 1964. The college has been in the right and wrong side of history, but concern and support for the Civil Rights Movement would grow as student activists would organize to go to the South anyhow. This was triggered by events like Bloody Sunday.  Students and faculty did go to Alabama anyhow, even if the administration officially opposed their going. 
    • To be connected, you need to engage with people not like you. You can't grow otherwise. We need to think for ourselves, embrace history, and do our own research as faculty and staff. 
    • The singing of freedom songs energized the activists. 
    • In March of 2005, Berea College celebrated the 40th anniversary of its students' participation in the Civil Rights March for Voting Rights from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL. 

  •  Dr. Gerald Smith, of the University of Kentucky, presented an "Overview of the American Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985." 
    • See the book I Shared the Dream: the Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky by Georgia Davis Powers. (Hutchins Library does have this book.)
    • See the book The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry. (We also have this book in Hutchins Library.)
    • The period of 1954 to 1968 has pretty much been the master narrative when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement, also known as the Black Freedom Movement. Around the 1970s, scholars debated this and no longer see that period as a master narrative.These scholars pushed the dates back, and we now see a "Long Movement" from the late 1940s to the 1970s. However, some have said the movement never really died. The arguments now consider whether the movement really ended or not. Also, in addition to the national scope, the scholarship now looks at the many local movements. 
    • A question to ask: "When I think of Civil Rights Movement, I think of _____ ."
      • What? 
      • Where? 
      • Who? 
      • Why? 
    • We have memories of the movement even if we were not born in it or lived through it. Memories are shaped by what we have seen and heard. That then, as we share, becomes part of our collective memory. 
    • Every site we will visit is based on a design. There is a collective memory on those sites. As visitors, we then interpret that memory. Think how the site was constructed based on the memories of the designer and others. 
    • Initially scholars kept a national focus. From the 1980s onward, they started looking more at local movements and grassroots efforts. These are the folks who never made the front pages but were important to the movement as well (in other words, my kind of people). 
    • Kentucky did have a history of segregation and violence against blacks. 
      • 1896: Plessy v. Ferguson decision (Separate but equal doctrine. Some information with a small video about it at PBS here. The text of the case out of Cornell's Legal Information Institute over here). This then led to local segregation laws like Kentucky's Day Law of 1904 (which by the way Berea College fought).
      • Racial violence. In Kentucky, 61 blacks were lynched between 1900-1940. 
    • Memphis, TN; Birmingham, AL, and other cities and towns were violent places for blacks. Blacks were constantly dehumanized, and white children were socialized to accept this and carry it on. (I don't think has changed much in some areas of the United States). 
    • Cemeteries teach about the past. See the tombstones of slaves and servants set by the masters (when they bothered to do so) designating them as "loyal servants," so on. 
    •  African-American response to Jim Crow: 
    •  See the book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire. Among other topics, it does discuss black women being raped by white men, then those rapists being declared not guilty. (As of this post, we do not have the book in Hutchins Library, a deficit I plan to remedy soon). 
    • Some NAACP early legal victories: 
    • See also: Smith, Gerald, "Direct-Action Protests in the Upper South: Kentucky Chapters of the Congress of Racial Equality." Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 109.3/4 (Summer/Autumn 2011): 351-393.  (We have this volume in print at Hutchins Library, in the Mountain Collection, which is part of Special Collections and Archives. I have photocopied the article to read, and I will likely feature it in a future "Article Note" post here on the blog).

  • During our lunch, we would watch a chapter from the PBS American Experience series Eyes on the Prize.  We watched the chapter "Mississippi: Is this America? (1962-1964)." 
    • Noted in our seminar book, themes to consider here: black duality; white liberal charity versus human respect; federal versus states' rights; institutional racism. 
    • Other themes: 
      • White resistance: society, police, political parties. 
      • Black duality of participants versus those who chose not to participate or could not participate. Note: Blacks were taught survival skills for an all-white world, so many of those blacks would tell the civil rights workers just what they wanted to hear to get the workers to go away. In their classrooms today, faculty (and this can certainly include me as librarian), may see this as well, so building trust is important. 
      • For whites in the struggle, their skin color was not going to save them in Mississippi. 
      • Note the role of black women as activists and leaders. Also note the regular people, the field workers, and others not getting on the press. 
      • Politicians often sidestepping not to take a stand. 

No comments: