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A CIVIL RIGHTS VOICE FROM THE PAST

By: Ron Carver


I was naive until I wasn’t. Just eighteen, on the day after I graduated from high school, I drove from Boston to Atlanta, Georgia to work as an assistant to Julian Bond, then the communications director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Two weeks later in the late afternoon of June 21, we got word that three young civil rights workers, James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman never returned from what the folks in the Meridian, Mississippi voter registration office thought would be a routine investigation of the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

I was working the nightshift that day and spent the first part of the evening calling jails, hospitals, State Police and the FBI searching for the young men. At midnight, I tearfully called their parents to report our failure in finding them.

Though that night the FBI refused to help, the next day President Johnson ordered them to join the search. Johnson later deployed Navy seamen to drag the nearby rivers and the Bogue Chitto swamps where they uncovered the bodies of ten more black men. For in those days, lynching was common but no longer the community entertainment it had been a few decades earlier.

With the latest murder of an unarmed black man, we can no longer deny that racism is a deep-rooted cultural norm that spans America from coast to coast from Minneapolis to Mississippi. And from the early years of our nation right up to the present. Cops are given impunity, if not encouragement, to take out their aggression on blacks and black men in particular.

We must revive the practice of the 1930’s when the NAACP would hang a banner declaring another black man was lynched on a flagpole reaching out over Fifth Avenue in New York City. And now less than a century later, we must do more.

We cannot leave it to others to protest or demand swift punishment. We must demand more than investigations and firings. We must finally make racist aggression socially and legally unacceptable. We must commit to prison those who commit these crimes. And we must insist that they serve in maximum security facilities, not country club, minimum security facilities along with politicians and white-collar criminals.

And we must also end mass incarceration, and the current bond system, and the disenfranchisement of those who have served their time, and all of the legal and social structures that have continued to discriminate against and harm the souls and the pocketbooks of the previously enslaved citizens of America, a country built on the backs of millions of men and women brought to our shores in chains. This work is past due!


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