MAXWELL:  White friends of civil rights

1/20/2008 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

Although the uproar caused by Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s comments about President Lyndon Johnson and slain civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr. has disappeared from the front pages, a cautionary tale about black irrationality regarding race has been written.
In a Fox News interview, Clinton made a point about presidential leadership, saying, “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
All hell broke loose among blacks and among white Hillary Haters glad to paint her as a shrew insensitive to King and the gains of the civil rights movement.
Whites are being disingenuous; they know what Clinton meant. But blacks – who are paranoid with racial slights and perceptions of racial slights and who are determined to protect their cultural icons such as King – are just plain irrational.
Listen to Rep. James E. Clyburn, granddaddy of South Carolina black politics, as he issues a warning, in the New York Times, to all who discuss the sacred cow best known as the civil rights movement: “We have to be very, very careful how we speak about that era.”
The proper way to be “very, very careful” is to tell the truth, as did the editors of the 2003 book Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes when they wrote about “that era” by using unadorned facts.
Recorded conversations of President John F. Kennedy and Johnson, both as vice president and as president, show JFK as a reluctant player in the civil rights battle. He is more concerned about not wrecking his administration, often keeping King at a distance.
“But Lyndon Johnson would be different, for unlike his predecessor, he was wholly determined to do whatever was necessary to pass effective civil rights legislation,” editors of the book write. “About this, Johnson was passionate and adamant, and he staked his political future on passing the 1964 bill. Had Johnson not made civil rights the number one priority of his first months in office, it might have been some time before Congress passed meaningful legislation. … And few would argue that Johnson would have invested his political capital in civil rights had he not been convinced that it was, quite simply, the right thing to do.”
Given their demonstrated irrationality, their new contempt for Clinton and their overnight embrace of Sen. Barack Obama, blacks have become even easier to manipulate now that full-blown race consciousness has taken over.
Historical fact and logic are the biggest casualties.
Following is another historical reality that Clinton or any other white person aspiring to high office had better not discuss: The civil rights movement would not have yie lded such great results so soon if courageous whites had not participated, many losing their personal wealth and social standing, some dying alongside blacks.
Who can forget white New Yorkers Michael Schwerner, 24, and Andrew Goodman, 20, who were killed by klansmen in Nashoba County, Miss., as they, along with James Chaney, a 21-year-old black Mississippian, went to investigate the burning of a black church? They had spent the day registering black voters.
Rita Schwerner, Michael Schwerner’s wife, already had spent six months organizing in Mississippi the day her husband was killed.
The fate of Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a mother of five, who traveled from her Michigan home to the South to help blacks on the frontline, still pains those who knew her. On March 25, 1965, an Alabama klansman fired a .38-caliber pistol through the window of Liuzzo’s car, killing her instantly.
Thousands of other white women worked for black freedom. Anyone who cares to learn more can read Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement, published in 2000 by the University of Georgia Press. Another book, Debra L. Schultz’s Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement, demonstrates the singular courage of women driven to the cause by a sense of morality and social justice.
Atlanta novelist Lillian Smith told of an anonymous letter she received threatening her life if she spoke about racism to a group of white students. Virginia Durr, an early supporter of the sit-in movement in Atlanta, learned the hard way about the hazards of standing up for human rights.
“I am seeing down here,” she wrote, “this deathlike conformity building up, when to speak out, to take action of any kind, to protest, to write a letter, to hold a meeting, brings down on your head both social and economic ruin and there is no recourse in the law.”
Many white ministers risked everything for the cause, and thousands of white students, some marching and others joining the Freedom Riders, ventured into some of the most violent places in the free world.
Although the success of the civil rights movement resulted from an amalgam of forces, the white press put a human face on the struggle. The black press, a handful of scrappy publications, such as the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier and the Baltimore Afro-American, was first to chronicle the events, but white news outlets, especially television, brought the terror of the struggle into living rooms worldwide.
White editors, such as Ralph McGill and Eugene Patterson of the Atlanta Constitution and Buddy Davis of the Gainesville Sun, resolved to break the silence and fear that had made generations of racial injustice a way of life.
Even while the klan was labeling McGill as “Southern-enemy-number-one,” he wrote editorials, columns and essays and gave speeches that indicted the Old Confederacy.
“Persons who disagreed poured garbage on his lawn, made abusive telephone calls, sent threatening letters, demonstrated outside his office, and shot holes in his mailbox and window,” writes Calvin M. Logue, editor of No Place to Hide: The South and Human Rights, two volumes of McGill’s work.
Now, in light of the hysteria that followed Clinton’s totally rational King-Johnson comment, are blacks willing to acknowledge that without white participation and blood, the civil rights movement would have been vastly different?
Or, as Clyburn cautioned: “We have to be very, very careful how we speak about that era”?