Hillary’s Time Machine: Dateline…1964

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On the passing of Victoria Jackson Gray Adams, from the New York Times:

When the delegates started arriving at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in August 1964, they were all aware of the storm heading their way from Mississippi. The state party was controlled by white racists who had openly declared themselves in favor of segregation. Since there was only a feeble Republican Party in Mississippi, there was no practical way for blacks to have much of a voice in politics. And so early in 1964, Victoria Jackson Gray, along with other activists, decided on a radical and cunning idea. They formed a new party — or a new incarnation of the Democratic Party — called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and declared it open to everyone. They held their own precinct meetings and delegate caucuses and nominated their own candidates: Gray would run against the racist titan, Senator John Stennis, and Gray’s two friends and fellow activists, Fannie Lou Hamer and Annie Devine, would run for House seats.

They also made plans to challenge the right of the segregationist Mississippi party to represent the state at the Democratic convention. Gray, Hamer, Devine and 65 other delegates traveled to Atlantic City, and by the time they arrived, other delegations were clamoring for the Freedom Party delegation to be seated officially at the convention — to make a statement against the segregationists. Meanwhile, the “Mississippi regulars,” who had given up on President Johnson when he signed the Civil Rights Act earlier that year, declared they could seat “a dozen dead dodos” and no one could do anything about it.

Continuing on:

The night of the credentials-committee meeting, Hamer, described by Senator Hubert Humphrey, a Johnson ally, as “that illiterate woman,” spoke on behalf of herself, Gray and Devine and on national TV told riveting stories of state policemen savagely beating her in the head. At one point, she looked past the credentials committee and, her whole face flaring with emotion, asked the nation, “Is this America?”

Eventually, a compromise was devised: If the Freedom Democrats would accept two delegate-at-large seats and withdraw the rest of their delegation, then the Democratic leadership would pledge to ban segregation from all future conventions. For national civil rights leaders, the deal seemed pretty sweet. But not for the Mississippians, who wanted their whole delegation seated. In the hotel rooms, the debate over whether to take the deal raged (and now, in history classrooms, still rages). When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. weighed in, he phrased it perfectly: “So, being a Negro leader, I want you to take this, but if I were a Mississippi Negro, I would vote against it.”

In the end, the ladies and their fellow Freedom delegates refused the deal. “We didn’t come all this way for no two seats,” said Hamer, “ ’cause all of us is tired.” Gray’s explanation was more restrained, according to Taylor Branch’s account in his book “Pillar of Fire.” She argued, Branch wrote, that “people back home were counting on them to bring back gains deep enough and fair enough to hold against conditions in Mississippi.”

The women were not seated in 1964, but the 1968 convention was integrated. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who is now a Georgia congressman, said later, “As far as I’m concerned, this was the turning point of the civil rights movement.” It also marked a shift for the Democratic Party. Johnson swept the country in November 1964, but he lost Mississippi and four other Deep South states, all of which voted mostly for Republicans from then on.

The article concludes:

After Atlantic City, Gray returned to her work in Mississippi. (She divorced in 1964 and remarried in 1966, changing her last name to Adams.) She helped found and run citizenship schools, where she taught illiterate blacks how to spell the word “vote” and then taught them how to vote — something she would continue to do right up to a few months before she died. As was true throughout the South, the civil rights movement in Mississippi was inspired by the grand oratory of men like King and Andrew Young. On the ground, though, away from the crowds, it was often women’s work. Stanley Zibulsky, a white teacher who camped out on Gray’s floor during the summer of 1964, explained that women were compelled to put their bodies on the line. “Men couldn’t even answer the door,” he recalled recently. “It was considered too dangerous. There would be a knock, and Vicky was the one who opened the door.”

If you spent 1964 in the bosom of an anti-Black white supremacist like Barry Goldwasser, you could have only learned the lesson of 1964 second hand. Only others could have told you that the definitive battle to secure the place of Blacks within this post-1964 Democratic Party has been secured and sealed by women like Victoria Gray, Fannie Lou Hamer and Annie Devine. It was not secured by the “women” who constitute Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new base. It was not Mark Penn’s soccer mom. This battle was won 40 years ago in the fields of Mississippi. This was a battle over school lunches or the size of playgrounds or scheduling conflicts with The View. This was a bloody battle far from the suburbs of Winnetka, Illinois or Scarsdale, New York. Hillary’s people lost in 1964 – convincingly. They will lose from now until November.

There is one saving grace – the white ethnic voter in a state derisively referred to as Pennsyl-bama. The state is noted for its rural, old-fashioned values which are more like Alabama than a northern industrial state. (The North’s dirty little secret is that New York, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and many other states feature the same rural-urban dynamics.) It is a state where only Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are said to harbor even moderate political views. It is to the center, the center of Pennsylvania (with a capitol in Harrisburg), that a desperate candidate fires her final salvo.

These are desperate times and no half-measures can achieve the objective: racialize and alienate.

The audacity of seeking to bridge white ethnics through the solicitation of a marginalized and fossil-toting Italian on the eve of the Mississippi primary demonstrates the most penetrating ignorance. History has spoken clearly. Candidates of Hillary Clinton’s ilk who would seek to make all Black politicians affirmative action babies will need to pick up the hoe and walk the line before they can expect a single vote from those who remember. When Long Island’s Geraldine Ferraro spoke about Barack Obama, she was also speaking about Maggie Williams and Sheila Jackson-Lee and John Lewis and Charles Rangel and David Patterson and Maxine Waters and every other person who certainly has only achieved their standing by virtue of their pigmentation.

Hillary has requested that America turn back the clock – and it has. She is now Barry Goldwater.

13 comments

  1. T3, Nice article. Mississippi is an abomination of a state, can anyone anywhere name any meaningful contribution that the state made to the union? It may as well be 1964 every year in Mississippi.

    White women got the rights to vote back in the twenties. If a Black man thought about voting at that time, he would get lynched. At a monent of potential compromise, Fannie stood tall, and said no “cause all of us is tired”

    Hillary is now out the closet (white sheet and all)and has reverted to her republican roots to get into the white house. She has basically said, she and macain are the best two to run this country. So Barack now have to beat out two republicans to get into that white house.

  2. That was a beautiful post. I’m sure most kids aren’t learning this history lesson in school…

  3. Thank you…and, no, they’re not. The education children receive reinforces the status quo and prepares them to make decisions and interpret phenomena in ways that are conducive to keeping things as they are.

    The good news is that will the increase of media outlets, children have a greater chance of getting good information – and feeling validating for thinking and living outside of a box created by their parents, peers, teachers or others.

    Hope springs eternal.

  4. Imhotep:

    By the way, I just wanted to say that I believe Mississippi Black folk have achieved some tremendous things. It’s really astounding when you look at the legacy of achievement in the state – juxtaposed to the brutality and the poverty. Tremendous individuals and organizations have been created there. It’s a huge source of pride for me.

    I’ll be looking to catalogue more of that at a future date…and no, my fam is not from Mississippi. We hail from, as far as I can track it back into the 1860’s – Va., Fla. and Ga. – and Jamaica.

  5. T3, I agree with you 100% regarding what Black folks were/ are able to accomplish in mississippi despite the enviornment of uncompromising hate from the majority of white folks.

    When you look at what Fannie and the others did on the heels of the Evers murder, considering that there was no prosecution for that murder, is all the more remarkable. But we are not strangers to the remarkable, it’s what we do!

    The primary reason I refer to mississippi as an abomination, is because it’s white citizens made a conscious decision to not allow it’s best & brighest to participate in the development of the state, consequently mississippi continue to limp along while holding on to it’s 19th century ideals. The same can be said for all of the south, especially the deep south. The rest of the country is barely into the 20th century, pre Brown v. Board.

    I hope you’re able to make your connection all the way back to W. Africa.

  6. Thanks.

    Are you familiar with the Blair Bill? It was a piece of legislation proposed in the late 1800’s by Henry Blair of Massachusetts. The bill proposed separate but equal spending for education. The bill would have dramatically increased funding for schools in the South, but was rejected because those funds would have also been allocated on a per capita basis to Black folk.

    The fate of public schooling in the South was sealed – but it didn’t have to be.

    Harold Cruse wrote about this in detail in his book on pluralism (Plural but Equal? Can’t recall).

  7. Temple, Not familiar with the Blair bill. Back then the country made not pretense about being separate and unequal.

  8. Temple3, Thanks for that link. Blair was an interesting cat, fighting for women’s rights, while fighting against alcohol. I always view alcohol and women as the perfect mix.

    Interesting to see that Blair actually got his proposed legislation for federal spening on public education, pass the senate. But the southern members of the house, true to form, voted for their states to remain illiterate. We’re living with the consequences of that vote today.

  9. And bruh, don’t sleep – that decision by the Southern politicians was all about competition. Prometheus6 often quotes the 1860 census as revealing that Blacks were a majority of skilled labor in the South. With political rights ensured by Northern troops, marketable skills cultivated during the slavery era (many of which were actually brought from Africa), and the capacity to leverage political power into economic power – the history of the South could have been re-written in 20 years.

    Southern politicians knew better than to try to compete straight up. For them it’s been real simple – No Guns, No Wins.

  10. Your last comment was perfect Temple. I think Branch discusses that mindset in several of his books. Those Southern politicians knew the game they were playing, and the thing people don’t want to admit is that it was supported and abetted by Northern “liberals.” JFK and his ilk allowed these Southern whites to dominate and subjugate blacks to maintain their own power.

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