Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Malcolm X Day

"Malcolm X NYWTS 2a" by Ed Ford, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c15058. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Malcolm_X_NYWTS_2a.jpg#/media/File:Malcolm_X_NYWTS_2a.jpg

Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925. His birthday is celebrated as a holiday in Berkeley, California.

I attended the debate between Malcolm X and James Farmer at the Cornell University Law School on March 7, 1962, and later had a chance to talk with both Malcolm and Farmer at a small post-debate reception at Telluride House.

In the debate, James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and leader of the Freedom Rides of the previous year, argued for integration as the only moral and practical way forward for the country. Progress was slow, he conceded, but progress was happening.

Malcolm, who was at the time still a minister in the Nation of Islam, and who was accompanied by two bodyguards (and, unknown to us, apparently by FBI observers) argued for separation of the races on the grounds that integration was not working and that in any case American blacks wanted not "an integrated cup of coffee" but "freedom, justice, and equality."

A transcript of the debate was later published in a local newsletter; it has been reprinted in Ronald Reid and James Klumpp, American Public Discourse.


Benson, Thomas W. "Rhetoric and Autobiography: The Case of Malcolm X." Quarterly Journal Of Speech 60, no. 1 (February 1974): 1-13.

Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1985.

Malcolm X. Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. New York: Ballantine, reprint ed. 1992.

Reid, Ronald, and James Klumpp. American Rhetorical Discourse. Waveland, 1988, 1995, 2005.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Jackson State, May 14, 1970

photo: Laying of commemorative wreath at Jackson State University, May 2015. photo credit: Jackson State University.

On May 14, 1970, ten days after the shootings at Kent State University in Ohio, police responding to student demonstrations at Jackson State College in Mississippi fired over 400 shots into a women's dormitory. Every window in the building facing the attacking police was broken.

Two young black men were killed--Phillip L. Gibbs, a junior, and James Earl Green, a high school student.


NPR report Whitney Blair Wyckoff, "A Tragedy Widely Forgotten," NPR, May 3, 2010.

Jackson State University. "45 Years Later: Ghost of Police Brutality Lingers Nationwide as JSU Remembers Gibbs-Green Tragedy."

Brown v. Board of Education

The Warren Court. photo: Wikipedia

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Ruling unanimously, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court declared that racial segregation in public schools was a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

People's Park

photo: Mural at Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, California. Detail showing the killing of James Rector by Alameda County Sheriff's Deputies on May 15, 1969. Photo by Tom Benson, February 2013 (copyright).

On May 15, 1969, students at the University of California, Berkeley, and local citizens, demonstrated against California Governor Ronald Reagan's arbitrary fencing off of an unused field near the university that had become known as People's Park.

Oakland police, state police, and, Alameda County sheriff's deputies, many of them Vietnam Veterans, were called on to quell the demonstrations and were issued live ammunition. The deputies were apparently armed with shotguns, loaded with buckshot.

James Rector, a graduate student, was with a group of friends watching the events from a rooftop when deputies opened fire. Rector was killed. Another bystander was blinded.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Freedom Rides

Beginning in May 1961 and continuing through the summer, the Freedom Rides, initiated by the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee spread through the South.

The Freedom Rides were designed to test and encourage enforcement of a Supreme Court decision declaring segregation in interstate transportation illegal -- a direct challenge to the decades old Jim Crow laws and practices that segregated transportation throughout the South.

On May 14, 1961, a Greyhound bus was attacked outside Anniston, Alabama. With the collusion of local and state police and the local KKK, the bus was firebombed with the driver and passengers held inside, with the intention of killing them all. When that failed, the mob attempted to lynch the passengers, who had fled the bus, but they were prevented by warning shots by the police. The passengers were badly beaten, arrested, and jailed.


PBS documentary, Freedom Riders, in the American Experience series.

Wikipedia, Freedom Riders.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Frances Perkins Day

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing the National Labor Relations Act, 1933. Frances Perkins is standing behind the president. June 6, 1933. photo: FDR Library.

Today -- May 13 -- is celebrated in the Episcopal Church calendar as a feast day for Frances Perkins (1880-1965), who was Secretary of Labor in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. She served for the entire administration and was the longest serving Secretary of Labor, as well as the first woman in the Constitutional line of succession for the presidency.


Perkins, Frances. The Roosevelt I Knew. Reprint edition. New York: Penguin Classics, 2011.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Operation Abolition

On May 12-14, 1960, the House Committee on Un-American Activities held hearings at City Hall in San Francisco.

Hundreds of students from nearby universities, and other concerned citizens, both supporters of the Committee (many of whom had been sent tickets to the hearings) and opponents, who claimed that the Committee was a notorious abuser of civil liberties, converged on City Hall.

Students attempting to enter the hearing room were forcibly removed from the building by police. Film of the events made by local TV stations was commandeered by the Committee, which then commissioned the production of a film, OPERATION ABOLITION, to tell the story from the Committee's point of view.

There was a strong reaction against the Committee and the film on many campuses across the country. In fact, the copy of the film now available on YouTube is deposited there by the American Civil Liberties Union - ACLU.

These hearings, and the reaction that followed, when added to the new activism on Civil Rights generated by the sit-ins spreading through the South and the rest of the country, gave enormous energy to what was to become the student movement.

These events took place ten years before the events of May 1970, which saw  the invasion of Cambodia and the shootings at Kent State, Jackson State, and Augusta, Georgia.

Stills from Operation Abolition. These frames show students and others being dragged down the City Hall steps, which had been flooded by fire hoses. 

The film prompted a backlash among students who saw the film and were offended by its simple minded appeal and by the apparent brutality of the police.

Monday, May 11, 2015

God Bless the Establishment

On May 11, 1970, New York construction workers again attacked students who were demonstrating against the war. A front page picture shows workers holding up a huge printed sign bearing the words


In Augusta, Georgia, state troopers and the National Guard confronted a riot. Four African Americans were shot and killed.

poster: from poster workshop at University of California, Berkeley, May 1970. Thomas W. Benson Political Protest Collection, Penn State University.


Bigart, Homer. “Thousands Assail Lindsay In 2d Protest by Workers: Thousands Assail Lindsay at City Hall.” New York Times. May 12, 1970.
“4 Dead, Guard Called In Augusta Disorder: 3 DIE, GUARD SENT TO AUGUSTA, GA.” New York Times. May 12, 1970.

Fatal Politics

Ken Hughes, Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection (University of Virginia Press, 2015).

from the publisher:

"In Fatal Politics, Hughes turns to the final years of the war and Nixon’s reelection bid of 1972 to expose the president’s darkest secret.
"While publicly Nixon promised to keep American troops in Vietnam only until the South Vietnamese could take their place, in private Nixon agreed with his top military, diplomatic, and intelligence advisers that Saigon could never survive without American boots on the ground. Afraid that a pre-election fall of Saigon would scuttle his chances of a second term, Nixon put his reelection above the lives of American soldiers. Postponing the inevitable, he kept America in the war into the fourth year of his presidency. At the same time, Nixon negotiated a "decent interval" deal with the Communists to put a face-saving year or two between his final withdrawal and Saigon’s collapse. If they waited that long, Nixon secretly assured North Vietnam’s chief sponsors in Moscow and Beijing, the North could conquer the South without any fear that the United States would intervene to save it. The humiliating defeat that haunts Americans to this day was built into Nixon’s exit strategy. Worse, the myth that Nixon was winning the war before Congress "tied his hands" has led policy makers to adapt tactics from America’s final years in Vietnam to the twenty-first-century conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, prolonging both wars without winning either.

"Forty years after the fall of Saigon, and drawing on more than a decade spent studying Nixon’s secretly recorded Oval Office tapes--the most comprehensive, accurate, and illuminating record of any presidency in history, much of it never transcribed until now-- Fatal Politics tells a story of political manipulation and betrayal that will change how Americans remember Vietnam. Fatal Politics is also available as a special e-book that allows the reader to move seamlessly from the book to transcripts and audio files of these historic conversations."