Friday, prominent Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers – who was murdered in 1963 in his own driveway after meeting with NAACP lawyers – was honored with the naming of a Navy Supply Ship after him.  This follows a Navy tradition of giving ships in the support fleet names of honored pioneers, explorers, and other notables.

Medgar Evers, Civil Rights Activist and Honoree

Medgar Evers, Civil Rights Activist and Honoree

The announcement was made during  former Mississippi governor and current Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’s speech at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi.

Evers, who was the NAACP’s first field secretary for the state of Mississippi, was integral during the Civil Rights Movement in MS, in organizing nonviolent protests, voter registration drives, and boycotts.  And, his tragic death was the impetus that prompted President John F. Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill.

An administration statement that was released in conjunction with the Navy’s announcement said the following of Evers:

“At a time when our country was wrestling with finally ending segregation and racial injustice, Evers lead civil rights efforts to secure the right to vote for all African-Americans and to integrate public facilities, schools and restaurants.”

Medgar Evers was thirty-seven years old when he was shot, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sojourn to the Past remembers, recognizes, and honors Civil Rights activists who came before us like Mr. Evers.  We hope to continue his legacy of nonviolent, educated actions in the fight for equality for all.

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Thomas Perez

Thomas Perez

Earlier today, the Senate voted 72-22 to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division within the Justice Department.  Civil Rights attorney Thomas E. Perez was named Assistant Attorney General, Head of the Civil Rights Division.  Once announced as the nominee, confirmation hearings were held back in April; however, debate between party lines kept him in the holding pattern until recently.

Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, had the following to say about the confirmation:

“There are no questions about the qualifications of Tom Perez. During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Perez made clear his commitment that the Justice Department would enforce the law. In the arena of civil rights, living up to those assurances is particularly important. Given that Tom Perez has a distinguished record of public service and a long career advancing civil rights, I have full confidence that he is the right person to restore the Civil Rights Division to its finest traditions of independent law enforcement.”

To learn more about Thomas Perez, visit his page in Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, where he served as Secretary of the Department.

This week, The 14th Dalai Lama is in Memphis, Tennessee to receive the 2009 International Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum.  The Freedom Awards is an annual event, which serves as the Museum’s largest fundraiser, and that honors individuals who have made significant contributions in civil rights and who have laid the foundation for present and future leaders in the battle for human rights.  Presenting the Dalai Lama with the key to the city and a proclamation making him an official citizen of Memphis for his devotion to civil rights, were Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton, Jr. and Memphis Mayor Myron Lowery.

His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama

The National Civil Rights Museum is located in the Lorraine Motel, which is known because it is the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  “I never met him, but I admire him very much,” he said.  According to a Huffington Post article by Tamara Conniff, the Dalai Lama became quiet and pensive at the mention of Dr. King’s name, as paying homage to the influential Civil Rights leader is what prompted His Holiness to make the trek to Memphis.

Though living what seems like decades and worlds apart, the Dalai Lama and Dr. King have a distinguishing fact in common: in the face of adversity, the common thread in each of their fights wasn’t a fight at all – it was more powerful than that – it was an unyielding strong-hold to the ideals of non-violent action.  In the Civil Rights era in the United States, King was the face of peaceful protest of all that was unjust about the law; in modern day China, the exiled religious leader infuses all of his Free Tibet messages with stresses of this same notion.

Sojourn to the Past salutes the 2009 winners of the Freedom Awards, and their committment to conquering inequality without violent confrontation or conflict.  Sojourn to the Past’s vision promotes social justice through non-violence and inspired action.

As the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) 2009 Convention presses on this week in Pittsburgh, it’s an opportune time to stop and reflect what can be accomplished when people with common visions power together to work towards common goals. Unions – through their storied history in the United States – are, by definition, alliances of people or parties formed in mutual interest or benefit. ALF-CIO, a national trade union center, is the single largest federation of unions in the United States and Canada, representing more than 10 million workers in North America in all types of occupations from Air Traffic Controllers to Utility Workers.
Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

As the Convention was calling to a vote on organizing, the President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) Wade Henderson told members that union freedoms are, indeed, an issue related to civil rights. And, in addition he urged Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, assuring that the civil rights community would work in conjunction with union representatives to see that happen. “Union participation can begin to lift the dead weight of decades of discrimination. For African Americans, women and Latinos the best way to build a better life is to join together with others to form a union,” said Henderson. Need proof? The advantage of being in a union is obvious to Henderson, who cited that African American union members earn 28 percent more than their nonunion counterparts.

Student Alumni of Sojourn to the Past will always share common ground.

Student Alumni of Sojourn to the Past will always share common ground.

The past student participants of Sojourn to the Past are not unlike a union in many ways. They shared a similar experience that establishes common ground. They have a bond that even though they may not personally know those who have gone before them or after them, they look to them as a teammate. They know that together their voices are much louder than any single one of them screaming at the cause all alone. And they are committed to pushing and pulling each other through triumphant and difficult times, taking turns leading if another stumbles. The Sojourn alumni, perhaps most importantly, believe in perpetuation – they are not acting solely on their own behalf, but for the betterment of the lives of the generations to come.
Check out some of the things that students who have made the Sojourn journey have to say here and be inspired!

In admiration of his many years of service in the fight against racism and inequality, Sojourn to the Past’s Jeff Steinberg was honored by the CA State Assembly and Senate with a Resolution recognizing the 10th Anniversary of the San Bruno-based organization.  On Monday, August 17th at the State Capitol in Sacramento, he was presented with the Resolution, which was authored by Assembly member Jerry Hill.

Accompanying assembly member Hill on the floor in the presentation to Steinberg were several influential civil rights activists, including Minnijean Brown-Trickey – one of the Little Rock Nine.

Presentation of Resolution 259

Presentation of Resolution to Jeff Steinberg by Assembly members Jerry Hill and Ted Lieu, Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass, and Senators Curren Price & Leland Yee. Also present: Minnijean Brown-Trickey, a speaker on the Sojourn journey and member of the Board of Directors serving Sojourn.

Since the founding in 1999, Sojourn to the Past has fought dedicatedly against racism, injustice, inequality and racially-rooted hatred.  A non-profit organization that relies on the generosity of donors, Sojourn takes thousands of students yearly from the confines of their classroom to experience the history of the Civil Rights Movement, rooted in the Deep South, where a uniquely designed educational experience takes place.  The learning goes eons beyond what a textbook or lecture can do, and creates a life-changing experience to encourage community activism and leadership.

For his integral role in this inspirational program, Steinberg was awarded this honor, which speaks volumes about the enormous contributions he’s made over the years to Sojourn to the Past, students, volunteers, donors, educators and speakers.

At a young age when impressions about culture, society, and history are still being formed, the students who are fortunate enough to embark on this journey are forever changed, and make long-term commitments to strive for social justice and the rights of all humans.  Sojourn to the Past thanks Jeff for his service, and looks forward to the many years ahead that he will be on board this essential mission.

Myrlie Evers-Williams

May 25, 2009

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Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams is perhaps best remembered as the widow of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP who in 1963 was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson. In the years since the assassination and two hung juries that left the accused gunman, white supremacist Byron De la Beckwith, a free man, Mrs. Evers has continued to wage a lonely war to keep her husband’s memory and dreams alive and to bring his killer to justice. Her diligence eventually paid off when Beckwith was brought to trial for a third time and finally, in 1994, found guilty of the murder of Medgar Evers, more than 30 years after the crime.

Ms. Evers-Williams is a phenomenal woman of great strength and courage. Her dedication to civil rights and equality is exemplified by her activist role, linking together business, government, and social issues to further human rights and equality. On February 18, 1995, she was elected to the position of Chairman of the National Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With the support of a strong member base of the NAACP, she is credited with spearheading the operations that restored the Association to its original status as the premier civil rights organization.

Evers-Williams says that she “greets today and the future with open arms.” This credo has carried her through years of struggle and success. Her children and six grandchildren remain her strongest supporters in her continued fight to secure equal rights for all people, and to preserve those rights for future generations.

We feel both proud and grateful to have someone such as Ms. Evers-Williams practicing Sojourn Living and fighting for equal rights for all.

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Presumed Guilty

May 14, 2009

mack_charles_parker_picMack Charles Parker was arrested for raping a white woman in 1959. A Mississippi state trooper offered his pistol to the woman’s husband so he could shoot Parker on the spot. The husband, Jimmy Walters, knew that his wife was not even certain that Parker was the attacker so he refused the offer and he reminded the officer that there was still doubt.

The Walters’, who had a sense of justice, seemed to be the minority in Poplarville, and there was such a strong cry for revenge against Parker that the judge couldn’t guarantee Parker’s safety. Because of this, the county jailer started burying the jail keys in his backyard at night.

M.C. Parker, at 23, had served two years in the Army and was working as a truck driver when he was arrested for the rape of June Walters. He lived with his mother, brother, sister and nephew in a poor black section of Lumberton, Mississippi and most of his wages were spent on his family. On the night of the rape, he had been out with friends, and it will never be known whether he was innocent or guilty of the crime.

Most white people in Poplarville were convinced Parker was a rapist including a former deputy sheriff who believed that Parker didn’t even deserve a jury trial. He ended up recruiting a lynch mob from men attending a prayer meeting and three days before Parker was to stand trial, eight masked white men dragged him from his jail cell, beat him, shot him in the heart and threw his body in the river, where he was found 10 days later. In addition to the former sheriff, the lynch mob included a Baptist preacher and the jailer, who had been persuaded, after all, to give up his keys. Many people in town were afraid of the mob, and many believed the lynching was justified so no one would offer any information to the FBI even though everyone knew who committed the crime. The county prosecutor himself praised the lynching and said he would refuse to prosecute anyone arrested for the crime.

Elsewhere, officials were not so ready to set aside the standards of justice and the lynching was called a “reprehensible act” and pledged a full investigation. This negative publicity only enraged whites in Poplarville, and they took their anger out on Mack Parker’s family. After numerous death threats, Parker’s family had to flee to California.

The verdict of the trial was more than a victory for the killers of Mack Parker; it was a victory for the white South over federal interference. The grand jury refused to indict and the lynch mob went free.

Some plainly viewed the lynching as an act of heroism against a federal government that was slowly destroying the Southern way of life. As one of Mississippi’s State Sovereignty Commission officials put it, “If we sat back and waited for the government to prosecute and punish Mack Parker, it would never happen. So we did it ourselves.”  Unfortunately, Mack Parker was presumed guilty and never had the chance for a trial to prove whether he was innocent or not.

This is a prime example of why it’s so imperative you not only practice your beliefs, but stand up for them as well. The majority is not always right and sometimes it just takes one voice, no matter how small or soft, to be the voice of reason and change the course of someone’s life.

This is one of the many lessons we learn each year during Sojourn to the Past. To learn more, visit www.sojournproject.org.

 

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viola-liuzzo-b-1-01212009-216pxIn 1965, a group of klansmen from Birmingham were sent to Selma, Alabama, with orders to keep the marchers under surveillance. At a stoplight, they noticed a green Oldsmobile with Michigan license plates driven by a white woman with a young, black male passenger. For the klansmen, the car and the passengers symbolized the two most despised aspects for the Civil Rights Movement: outsiders and race mixing.

Viola Liuzzo was a white mother from Detroit who had been shuttling marchers between Montgomery and Selma for three days. She had become known as a tireless and cheerful worker. By all descriptions, Viola was an extraordinary woman. At age 36, with five children at home, she had gone back to school to become a medical lab technician. She worked only for a few months and then quit in protest over the way female secretaries were treated. With the encouragement of her friend, she became one of the few white members of the National Assocation for the Advancement of Colored People. On March 7, 1965, Viola and her husband were watching the news when they saw the first clips of state troopers attacking Selma marchers. Tears rolled down Mrs. Liuzzo’s face and she brooded over the scene for days. Despite her husband’s concern, she got in her car and headed for Selma alone.

After the klansmen had spotted her and her young, black passenger they began to follow them. Surprisingly, Mrs. Liuzzo didn’t seem too concerned, and soon both cars were racing down the highway at 100 miles per hour. About 20 miles outside of Selma, the klansmen pulled up beside the car and one aimed his pistol out the window and shot Mrs. Liuzzo, shattering her skull. LeRoy Moton, her passenger, grabed the wheel and hit the brakes, and the car crashed into an embankment. When the klansmen walked over to inspect their work, Moton faked his death while they shone a light in the car. As soon as they left, Moton flagged down a truck carrying more civil rights workers, and although he was terrified, he was uninjured. Viola Liuzzo was dead.

After two trials (one being a hung jury where the klansmen were found not guilty), the three klansmen were eventually found guilty and each sentenced to 10 years in prison. This was the first conviction of murder in a civil rights case and was a landmark in southern racial history. It was also the first time the federal government successfully prosecuted a case of civil rights conspiracy.

 As intense a story as this is, we can look at it as a learning opportunity. It’s important that every day, in every way possble, we experience history in order to inspire the future.

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Freedom Riders

May 4, 2009

freedom-ridersOn May 4, 1961, a group of blacks and whites set out on a highly publicized trip to test a Supreme Court order outlawing segretation on bus terminals. They called themselves Freedom Riders.

Waiting for these buses to arrive at the terminal, an angry mob of white men carrying pipes, clubs, bricks and knives came at the bus. The driver drove off quickly as they saw the mob there waiting, but the mob caught up with the bus again right outside of Anniston, Alabama. The mob smashed all of the windows of the bus and threw a firebomb on board. The Freedom Riders all rushed out of the flames and into the hands of the mob where they were quickly brutally beaten by them.

The second busload of riders were all beaten by eight white men who boarded the bus when it pulled up to the terminal. The most seriously injured was a man named Walter Bergman who suffered a stroke as a result of the beating and was confined to a wheelchair for life.

Top federal officials arranged for the wounded Freedom Riders to fly out of Alabama, and students in Nashville made plans to finish the Freedom Ride. Federal officials tried to discourage them but were unsucessful. Once again these individuals attempting to finish the Freedom Ride were met by a mob – this time of more than 1,000 whites who beat them without police interference.

President Kennedy decided to protect the Freedom Riders since officials had failed to stop them. They rode into Jackson Mississippi unharmed the rest of the way, but were promptly arrested due to the fact that officials were told they could continue to enforce their segretgation laws if they would guarantee the Freedom Riders’ safety.

In September, bus companies were ordered to obey the earlier Supreme Court ruling which outlawed segregation in bus terminals. Once again, young protesters had exposed the injustices of segregation and forced the federal government to defend constitutional rights. As Martin Luther King said, “The real meaning of the movement: that students had faith in the future. That the movement was based on hope, that this movement had something within it that says somehow even though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.”

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hamer2

Fannie Lou Hamer  was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity. Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant champion of civil rights. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Fannie Lou Hamer on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
In 1962, even though many were warned to appeal if they were assembled to vote by an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an associate of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hamer was the first to volunteer. Black people who registered to vote in the South faced serious hardships at that time due to institutionalized racism, including harassment, the loss of their jobs, physical beatings, and lynchings. Hamer later said, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared – but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they [white people] could do was kill me, and it seemed they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

This is just one example of her bravery. In  1963, Hamer was on her way back from Charleston, South Carolina with other activists from a literacy workshop. Stopping in Winona, Mississippi, the group was arrested on a false charge and jailed by white policemen. Once in jail, Hamer and her colleagues were beaten savagely by the police, almost to the point of death. Released on June 12, she needed more than a month to recover. Though the incident had profound physical and psychological effects, Hamer returned to Mississippi to organize voter registration drives, including the “Freedom Ballot Campaign”, a mock election, in 1963, and the “Freedom Summer” initiative in 1964.
She was known to the volunteers of Freedom Summer – most of whom were young, white, and from northern states – as a motherly figure who believed that the civil rights effort should be multi-racial in nature.

Hamer continued to work in Mississippi for the Freedom Democrats and for local civil rights causes. She ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965, and was then seated as a member of Mississippi’s legitimate delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, where she was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. She continued to work on other projects, including grassroots-level Head Start programs, the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.

Hamer died of breast cancer on March 14, 1977, at the age of 59 at a hospital in Mound Bayou, Mississippi and is buried in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi. Her tombstone reads, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”.

 

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