MLK Jr. On Getting ‘Woke’ in 1965

On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. It had been two years after his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and this oratory was meant to keep young Americans engaged and encouraged in a civil rights battle that was beginning to drag.

Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King’s speech lays out the three rules for winning the civil rights movement.  He says, in short, 1) the globalized world has become a neighborhood; we must make it a brotherhood; 2) we must eradicate racial discrimination, a note to which I added economic, gendered and sexual, all three of which I am sure King would support; and, 3), we must approach rivals with non-violence. Dr. King of course was far more elegant, eloquent and masterful, so, without further ado, a truncated text version of MLK Jr.’s speech that day, as well as audio from a 1968 delivery in DC.

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HBD: Mary Renault and Richard Wright

 

Today marks birthdays for Mary Renault (b. 1905) and Richard Wright (b. 1908), two authors who used their tremendous talents to tackle social injustice and institutional discrimination.

Renault’s novels, including 1953’s The Charioteer and 1956’s The Last of the Wine, challenged homophobia: the first directly, the second, like most of her works, indirectly, through the lens of historical fiction. Meanwhile Wright’s works, most notably 1941’s Native Son and his 1945 memoir, Black Boy, explored and exploded racism in America and its deleterious impact on the nation and its people.*

In another similarity between these Virgos, both authors left their homelands to live their truest lives: Renault and partner Julie Mullard escaped England’s mainstream homophobia by relocating in 1948 to comparatively nonchalant South Africa (they would also become vocal opponents of that nation’s racist apartheid government); and Wright and his wife Ellen Poplar relocated to Paris in 1946 to enjoy an existence free of American racism, especially because they were an interracial couple in a time when that was uber taboo.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that post-WWII America and England, symbolic stars at the time for the west’s superior liberalism, lost two of their brightest  stars because of their restrictive, moralistic social norms?

Both authors died in their adopted lands, Renault in 1983, and Wright in 1960, in Paris.

(*Note: James Baldwin, the gay black author recently discussed here and who escaped American homophobia and racism by also moving to Paris, later took aim at Wright’s depiction of black people, in Notes of a Native Son).

American Bigotry: 1832, 2018

Just a note, in case you’re interested: On this date in 1832, virulently racist President Andrew Jackson named Elbert Herring the first commissioner of the recently reorganized Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Freshly incorporated into the War Department, this newly emboldened agency soon enacted, at Jackson’s specific request, the forced removal of thousands of Native Americans from their rightful land, leading to the Trail of Tears. This wasn’t the first time Indians would be kicked off their land, nor would it be the last, but it was the largest such event of its kind, and the most brutal: an estimated 2,500-6,000 died as they were shoved west and involuntarily settled on reservations.

On a related note: Donald Trump cites Jackson as an inspiration. Could Jackson’s anti-Indian attitudes be inspiring the current president’s use of ICE to round up and detain Mexican immigrants, even those who are already naturalized citizens?

About That Socialist Commune (It Was Racist)

A few weeks ago, at the website Timeline, the writer Meagan Day wrote an article about the Kaweah Colony, a short-lived, circa 1886-1892 socialist commune in what is now Sequoia National Forest, and which was crushed railroad conglomerates and other capitalist forces.

It was exciting to see some coverage of this little-known outpost and its dissolution. I myself only learned about Kaweah because the cabins they build showed up during research for my book, and was fascinated enough to drum up an 8,100+ word draft about the colony, its founding and its ultimate end, an end finalized by capitalist interests but brought about in part by colony infighting and paranoia. The piece went nowhere. I submitted it to one or two sites, but who wants to read 8,100 words, especially on something so esoteric?

In any event, while I appreciated the Timeline piece, I found it incomplete. In addition to overlooking the group’s internal conflicts, including a spin-off colony, the piece also didn’t mention the inglorious fact that Kaweah’s founders were xenophobic racists and misogynists. It’s an unfortunate truth that sullies the romantic image, and I admit I struggled with how to address it when I first pursued what seemed to be a fairly straight-forward and timeless tale, but Kaweah’s ugly underbelly is essential to remember nonetheless. It also makes one wonder, as I did in my scuttled piece, whether we’re better off Kaweah was crushed and scattered to the four corners. Does the world need another enclave of white supremacists, even on under the guise of cooperative living? That’s a hard no.*

All that said, here is an unedited excerpt from my unpublished piece. It picks up right after the colony’s Bay Area-based founders, Burnette G. Haskell, James J. Martin and John Redstone, decide to break away from San Francisco and start their own society in the woods.

(*It’s worth noting that California which so many of us envision as a sunshine-y liberal haven, is also a hotbed of white supremacists.)

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When the President Fought White Supremacists

No, this isn’t a story about the current president. It’s about Teddy Roosevelt, the late president who on this date in 1903 shuttered the post office in Indianola, Mississippi, a punishment for locals’ racist intimidation of Minnie M. Cox, a black woman who was also the town’s postmaster.

Though Mrs. Cox had already held the role for well over a decade— President Benjamin Harrison appointed her in 1891, making Cox the nation’s first black female postmaster, and McKinley invited her back in 1897 — the combination of blackness, womanhood and power apparently become too much for self-conscious white chauvinists at the turn of the century. Egged on my white supremacist newspaper editor James K. Vardaman, local haters started protesting Cox at the end of 1902.

Finally, after weeks of awful invective and constant threats, including  the mayor and sheriff telling her they wouldn’t protect her from lynching, Cox involuntarily resigned her position.

Roosevelt was having none of it.

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