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.
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.