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Saturday, May 15, 2021

It Seems to Me: Personal reflections of the freedom movement then and now

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Fortunately, I grew up in that period when my father, Dr. Andrew J. Brown, had established a connection in 1956 with Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and the freedom movement. At that time I was 14 years old. The Montgomery Movement and Bus Boycott was live and was grabbing the attention of many in the USA. When my father invited King to Indianapolis, I was able to witness Kings’ presence at our house. I recall at that time he was a young man and my father was 33 years of age. Of course I was allowed to observe King’s presence and my dad’s interactions. As it was in those days, you could be seen but not heard around adults. Little do many know, King made additional visits to our home along with other freedom fighters. That history is another story that could be told.

During that time the “movement” was referred to as the freedom movement, not the Civil Rights Movement. Even when I joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), we referenced ourselves as freedom fighters. Even when SNCC and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began the bus demonstration, we referred to it as the freedom riders. My beginning with SNCC started in the late winter of 1962. I was assigned to Selma, Alabama, in 1963. As a SNCC field secretary, I had the responsibility of being an organizer in as related to nonviolent strategies and tactics for change in Dallas County where Selma was the county seat. It must be remembered: SNCC’s purpose was to bring “liberating change” to the Black community. We would emphasize a “freedom agenda” not a “civil rights agenda.” In the early ‘60s we referenced the activities as freedom initiatives. We sang freedom songs, and when it came time, we organized freedom demonstrations not “protest demonstrations.” That included lunch counter sit-ins and picketing encounters, which in all intentions, ended with violent reprisals by Sheriff Jim Clark and other law enforcers. Ultimately, many young people would end up in jail where once again they sang their freedom songs.

As a field secretary of SNCC we did intensive nonviolent instruction for young people. Of course at that time nonviolence was the “mantra of the spirit of freedom” proclamation. Nonviolence action was our civil disobedience to the unjust “Rule of Law” in the South. Interestingly enough, when we demonstrated, we were arrested for “inciting a riot.” Instruction on how to demonstrate was also part of the training. These organizing initiatives were very much ridiculed by many adults for the primary reason that these young students’ lives were on the line for destruction and/or jail time. However, these young people had an enthusiasm for freedom. The term “justice” at that time did not have relevance. Why this was so, is another story to be told. I would just add, “justice” in the South for Blacks meant “stay in your place and be according to the ‘Rule of Law.’”

Today, the mantra is “No justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter.” In addition, the media on all fronts use the term “protests.” Does it have meaning? I would agree it has meaning, however there is that important application of “educating our participants” on the various strategies of “direct action.”

The “Rule of Law” in our society and/or culture has its own ethics of violence. This is a fact of historical truths of the very founding of this nation. Conceptually, we use violence to bring peace, which is an illusion and an outright lie. Our nation’s justice is not peace it is oppression upon the poor and people of color. Peace, under the “Rule of Law” is oppression in the USA. Just maybe it is we need to reevaluate our “Rules of Law” with a need to change our laws that manifest equality, not competition but cooperation. Before we get equality we must be free and cooperate in designing the “Rules of Law.” Here is my “mantra” for the protest: No new Rules of Law, no justice. No nonviolence, no peace. All Human Lives Matter.

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