Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Berea College Civil Rights Tour 2013: Seminar Day Two

I continue the blog series here at The Gypsy Librarian with my notes, observations, reflections, and thoughts on my journey in the Berea College Civil Rights Seminar and Tour 2013. This is a way for me to preserve some of what I learned as well as a step in sharing it with others. Today I am covering the second seminar day.

Reminder that, 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.

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Day Two Seminar Notes: August 2, 2013:

  • (We open with introductions; we kind of forgot to do this on the first day. Indeed we have a very diverse group of people from those who lived it themselves as adults or children to those, like me, not alive then, seeking to learn more. Some want to learn more given stories they heard from locals or their parents. We are coming together as community for this journey. At least, in one case, one man is going because his father would not want him to go. He tells us that his father, who lived during those times, was very angry with white people in that era. I think for us, in common, the Great Commitments bring us together. I feel so fortunate to be in such great company of learners and those who have walked in history.)

  • For the morning meditation, we listened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Address at the End of the Selma to Montgomery March" (link to text of the speech. Option to listen to the speech available as well). The speech was given on March 16, 1965. 
    • "Our feet are tired, but our souls are rested." 
    • (On hearing this speech, I see how much we still have to go, how some things have not changed. We need to stay on the move. We need to march on.)
    • (Dr. King was a master of the parallel structure, good for teaching and preaching, keeping a strong rhythm of march.)
    • "It is normalcy all over the country which leaves the negro perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity." 
    • "The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all God's children" (we still have a ton of work to get anywhere close to this). 

  • Panel. We have two Berea alumni who were civil rights activist and marchers with us this morning. Ms. Ann Grundy, '68 and Mr. George Giffin, '66. Ms. Grundy "was an organizer and participant in the travel from Berea College to Montgomery, AL to participate in the final days of the Selma to Montgomery March." Mr. Giffin "was a lead organizer of the group that traveled to Montgomery, AL to participate in the final days of the Selma to Montgomery March with Dr. King." 
    • Mr. Giffin: 
      • Discusses the path of white supremacy and apartheid. This was often supported by non-authentic Christians who forgot Jesus was among the first to refute scripture. 
      • Speaking about Bloody Sunday.  They headed down to Alabama, not even packing a few things for the journey and very mindful as they crossed the state line into Alabama. They got there after Bloody Sunday, but they decided to stay. After seeing a state trooper, who he knew wanted to beat him to death, he lost his fear of death. The following Tuesday known as Turnaround Tuesday, which was a wise move for Dr. King as it avoided violence and help would arrive later. 
      • Berea College administration officially opposed students going to marches, but the students and (some) faculty raised funds and went to marches anyhow. President Hutchins did quietly offer his car to the marchers. 58 Bereans marched in Montgomery for civil rights. 
    • Ms. Grundy:  
      • Tells us stories, how Selma to Montgomery happened to her. 
      • African Americans have suffered from integration.  At Berea, we need more faculty to speak to what students see and know; diversity. 
      • We need to remember history and use it. 
      • Who you are and where you are makes a difference when you are wounded and who is there for you. That is race. 
      • Growing up in an era where what her parents and others did had an impact on their black children. 
      • The black teachers in Birmingham, AL were often overqualified to teach in public schools given their great credentials, but they were often left underemployed or unemployed. On the other hand, white teachers were barely qualified by comparison assuming they even had a bachelor's degree. 
      • We need to ask some serious questions about Christianity. Fine Christian schools, when desegregation came, preferred to close down. White parents preferred then to take their kids to private schools and abandon the black kids behind rather than integrate. (We probably should be asking some of those serious questions and more to Christians and Christianity today as well.)
      • Music had a role in the movement as well. Blacks made songs and spirituals, and we need to keep singing them lest we forget. 
      • Often, it seems only blacks truly believe in democracy. When the time came at Berea, she knew that she had to march and go, even if the college administration objected. 
      • How can a school [referring to Berea College] that started as interracial, in essence an "HBCU," before it became an Appalachian school, have a predominantly white faculty and staff? There is much white privilege still in 2013. What are we fighting for now? What are we not doing as descendants of those black and white folk? We need to change the structure. 
      • They may have been isolated at Berea College, but they had connections to a critical thinking world. 
      • Need to check out the scholarly work of Frances Cress Welsing, African-American psychiatrist.  She asked questions on black men being lynched and castrated by white people; white behavior setting the stage for the rest of the insanity. 
      • Examining spirituals helps us examine U.S. history. When Grundy was a student, black music, including spirituals, was not really respected. See work of John Wesley Work III.
    • Question from the audience to panelists: they marched 48 years ago. Was it worth it? Has our generation today failed, dropped the ball?
      • Mr. Giffin: We have to go through hell. There was progress, but we've had setbacks as well. There is still a long way to go. It is a shame that many folks have lost their focus and energy. 
    • Question from the audience, to Ms. Grundy: On the lack of balance in diversity. 
      • Ms. Grundy: Malcolm X may have an answer: "just because a cat has biscuits in the oven does not make them biscuits." Be happy with the position you have now and what you have accomplished. In Grundy's day, only two black men on campus: a cook and a janitor, and black students turned to them. 
      • The word "comfortable" is loaded and coded. Black, and other minorities, are hired to do a job but also to not make whites "uncomfortable." Plus, black and other minorities (often) can't express their diversity and have to "act white." 
      • Idea proposed: For Berea College to partner with some HBCU's, to track students interested in higher education, bring some good graduates then to work here. 
      • We all need to network, share information with each other. 
    • Question from the audience to Mr. Giffin: on being a white male who "took the flag."
      • He also spoke against the war in Vietnam, so this got others, mostly whites, to peg him as a radical. 
      • In terms of issues, he sees a serious lack of willpower. We can at least do what we can in our communities, not give up. 
      • Today, he continues his activism back in Dearborn, MI (his current residence) with Arab Americans. 
      • There are times he bites his tongue, but there are also times he speaks out. A sample snappy comeback to whites on the topic of immigration: if you do not speak a First Nations language, then you are a descendant of illegal immigrants. 
    •  Further remarks from Ms. Grundy: 
      • We don't really know what enslavement did to black psychologically; neither do we know what it did to whites psychologically. In essence, the racist system was go get blacks to hate themselves. See the work of Na'im Akbar in Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery to learn more. Slavery does continue to have an influence on the psychology of African Americans. Also of interest, see article of Akbar in Grist: Journal of African American Studies 31.2 (Fall 2012).
      • Grundy observes that black women are the most unpartnered women, yet they have sustained the black community so much.
      • Grundy also remarks that the Trayvon Martin case sends a clear message that blacks are not wanted, except for entertainment. 
      • We need to remember: Blacks were the only "immigrants" forced to come to the Americas. All others chose to come here. (that is one big difference)
      • In America (i.e. the United States), we have not reconciled the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 
      • We need to tell the truth upfront, admit it. We then need to talk and reconcile.
    • Mr. Giffin adds:  America is in such deep denial of its history it does not know itself. 
      • White supremacy is a white problem. Much work is to be done on what whites have done and perpetrated. We can't reconcile and heal until we acknowledge and do the work. 
    • Dr. Turley adds: Immigrants to the U.S. of all colors are told they need to "be white." But not all can "be white." There is always going to be a color line; race is a fluid and dynamic concept. 

(Overall, the discussion and question/answer session was very spirited and moving at times)

  •  For the lunch period, we watched a segment from Eyes on the Prize, the episode on "Bridge to Freedom (March 1965)."
    • Martin Luther King wins the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964, showing the success of nonviolence. But in America, other young militants challenged this path or tried to maintain it. Some also challenged based on the idea and presence of local movements versus just relying on a national charismatic leader. 
    • (On a retrospective observation, we did not speak as much about some of the other movements or challenges to the nonviolent path, say Malcolm X for instance. Not sure if this was due to a choice of emphasis, just that nonviolence falls more in place with our college, the geography of the area-- some other movements that were more radical in their outlook were based in the East or out West, so on. At any rate, for me at least, it is something I may want to read further about later on. We did get some pretty good perspective on the role and importance of local movements, but there is still much more to learn. Overall, I think we knew were only seeing a part, albeit a big part, of the movement as a whole. And that was good.)
    • Note how whites wanted to keep their racism and oppression, yet they feared to be seen as oppressive racists by the press and the world. (Even back then, racists oppressors were not big fans of transparency)
    • In his 1965 State of the Union Address, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for voting rights legislation, even as members of his own party were doubtful. 
    • The movement meant intolerance against evil and oppression. 
    • Members of the press covering the marches were often harassed, ordered not to film, so on. They often were beaten up as well by local police and thugs (who were often one and the same). 
    • Dr. King points out the contrast and hypocrisy of the American government: it can afford to send millions of dollars and soldiers to Vietnam, but it cannot "afford" to protect American citizens seeking their right to vote on American soil. (Again, how little things have changed given recent setbacks to voting rights. Then again, we can also point out the hypocrisy and contrast of the American government today affording to send millions of dollars and soldiers around the world to "protect democracy" while not being able to "afford" taking care of problems at home such as poverty, education, infrastructure, etc. Makes one think)
  • Post-film Q&A: 
    • The 1965 Voting Rights Act came out of the Selma to Montgomery March. Today, in 2013, the VRA has been attacked and gutted (link to New York Times article). The work is far from over. 
    • There was a side note on the "Mountain Youth" sign at the entrance to the college (near the Boone Tavern and across the street from Fairchild Hall. I had no idea there was an issue, but that is just evidence of my lack of knowledge as a newcomer). The sign used to say, "for Negroes and Poor Mountain Whites." There is a desire to change it back to something like what it used to say. At least, our current college president is willing to discuss this we are told. On an update note, the sign will be remove, and a committee is working on revising it to put a new one in place. 
  • A note on the trip: there is a going to be a group journal book kept throughout the trip, and we all will take turns writing on it throughout the trip. (I was assigned to write on the fourth day of the journey). The journal will then be placed in the library of the Carter G. Woodson Center. 
  •  Finally for this day, Reverend Bowman prays and gives us the group commission: May we join the tour as an act of faith. We seek to understand each other, to bring the best of us. We commit ourselves to the tour. (I think even I, as a heathen, can get behind that sentiment)

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