Icons from the 1960s civil rights movement express cautious optimism

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CINCINNATI (AP) – Bob Moses says America is “a swinging moment” for racial change, possibly as transformative as the Civil War era and the 1960s civil rights movement he helped lead.

“What we experience as a nation has only happened a few times in our history,” said Moses, one of the main organizers of the 1964 “Freedom Summer” project in Mississippi. “These are times when the whole nation is swinging, and it is not quite sure how it will swing.”

Moses, now 85 and still active with the Algebra project he founded, was among the many people, black and white, who risked imprisonment, attacks and even murder in the fight against racial segregation and voting rights in the South. Associated Press reporters asked some of their leaders about their current protests across the country, triggered by police murders of black men in Minneapolis and Atlanta.

“We have some sort of perfect storm,” said Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, a close assistant to the murdered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and leader of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, an organization fighting for social change. “You have COVID-19, you have” Code Blue “- police brutality – you have poverty and you have Trump.”

Studies show that black people have suffered disproportionately from the corona virus, the ensuing economic downturn and police action, and polls show that most are against Republican President Donald Trump. However, Jackson noted that it’s not just black people who take to the streets in large numbers.

“They are bigger, more rainbow and more global,” said Jackson, 78.

Bobby Seale, 83, who co-founded the Black Panther Party with the late Huey Newton in 1966, said he finds today’s demonstrations “fantastic” for drawing hundreds of thousands of people, far greater numbers than he should have in his day. .

“I love it,” said Seale, laughing from his home in Oakland.

Andrew Young, a lieutenant to the king, marvels at both the magnitude and spontaneity of the protests. The former Democratic congressman, the Mayor of Atlanta and the United Nations Ambassador recalled that activists spent three months organizing a campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963 that imprisoned King and other protesters. He said only a fraction of the 500 protesters wanted turned up.

“Our mobilization had no consequences,” said Young, 88, explaining that King’s letter from prison and an economic boycott proved to be more powerful.

James Meredith, who turns 87 on Thursday, has seen himself on a lifelong mission from God to overthrow white supremacy. He said Monday from his home in Jackson, Mississippi that it is a sign from God that a young girl filmed the death of George Floyd through the Minneapolis Police Department. Meredith says that this kind of visual evidence draws attention to persistent violence against black people.

“Every time it seems to be over, the same thing that has been going on for 500 years has happened over and over again,” said Meredith, who became the first African-American to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962 amid violent protests. by whites. He survived the shot in 1966 by a white man during a ‘march against fear’.

St. Louis activist Percy Green, who gained national attention in 1964 for scaling up the Gateway Arch to protest the exclusion of blacks from federal contracts and jobs while the Arch was being built, said the 1960s protests had clear goals had.

“However, this is reactive,” said Green, an 84-year-old veteran civil rights activist. “What we did back then was proactive. So they will have to keep this up to get change. ‘

Green and Seale said activists should use the energy of the street-growing multiracial, multi-ethnic coalition to register new voters for lasting political change.

Jackson suggested protesters should broaden their focus beyond the need for police reform.

“Now my concern is that the police are the epidermis, the skin layer of our crisis,” said Jackson. Racism is bluntly deep; it’s not just the police. ‘

Even Seale, accused of conspiracy and uproar following the Chicago Democratic National Convention of 198, said, “They need to keep it peaceful. I don’t believe in riots. ‘

Former Democratic United States Senator Fred Harris, 89, the last surviving member of the 1968 Kerner Commission, a panel investigating the urban riots of the time, said he was “just as angry as these protesters” because of racism, inequality and poverty continued all those years later. He warned that violence leads to more repression.

“I have hope, though,” said white Harris from his home in Corrales, New Mexico.

Jackson and Young are too.

“A new consensus will emerge about maintaining public order in a civilized society,” Young said. “I think we’re just getting started. I don’t think anyone has any idea of ​​the big change this is going to introduce. “

Moses remains careful. America has been ‘swung forward’ racially and relapsed earlier. The emancipation and reconstruction of the American Civil War era gave way to Jim Crow’s segregation in the south. King’s nonviolent movement and racial progress slowed amid a white backlash over urban riots and riots in 1967 following King’s assassination in 1968.

But Moses also thinks that the video of Floyd dying slowly under the knee of a white police officer is a harrowing picture for the nation.

“Until you can get up under the pressure of the deep sea, you don’t realize” Whoa! I’ve been in the deep sea, “he said from Hollywood, Florida.” Some Americans were shocked, I believe, to discover that they had actually swum in this deep, deep sea and did not understand it. ‘


Contreras reported from Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi contributed.


Follow the writers at twitter.com/russcontreras, twitter.com/dansewell twitter.com/EWagsterPettus and https://twitter.com/sudhinT.

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