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The First ‘Black Power’ Flyer?

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Rider Joan Mulholland emailed me the exquisite document above recently:

Here’s a scan of a handbill (from Canton?) I came across in my “stuff” the other day — something I’d forgotten about over the years. I got it on the Meredith March, which I joined at Tougaloo for the last day. It had been folded to fit in the back of the little New Testament (along with a copy of my birth certificate — for identification purposes, living or dead) which I always had with me on demonstrations.

I’m thinking it must be one of the earliest “printed” (as in flyer, poster, etc.) references to Black Power.

It’s easy to see why it sure seems like the first.

The flyer was created just days after Stokely Carmichael unveiled his new phrase — “Black Power” — on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, MS. Carmichael was speaking to the protesters walking in the March Against Fear (aka, the Meredith March). He was one of several movement leaders who had rushed in to save the march when its instigator, James Meredith, was gunned down just two days into a planned solo walk from Memphis to Jackson.

Earlier that Thursday, Carmichael had been arrested and charged with trespassing after arguing with police about where the marchers, now several hundred, could set up their tents for the night. Once released from jail he went straight to the customary evening rally and spoke:

This is the twenty-seventh time that I’ve been arrested. I ain’t going to jail no more. The only way to we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over. What we’re going to start saying now is Black Power!

It was a contentious phrase within the movement, and a provocative one outside it. Its debut presaged a major evolutionary moment for the movement.

Eight days later — Friday, June 24 — the march reached Canton. Again there was a dispute about where the marchers could set camp for the night.

This time, however, in addition to a few arrests, authorities staged a tear-gas raid on the marchers’ evening rally, while Martin Luther King was speaking. David Garrow describes the scene in Bearing the Cross:

Suddenly, there was a loud noise and clouds billowed from a canister that had landed near the flatbed truck [on which the speakers stood]. “It’s tear gas. Everybody put a handkerchief over your face,” King bellowed. “Nobody leave. Nobody fight back. We’re going to stand our ground.” More canisters began to fall and as the tear gas welled up, King’s efforts to lead the crowd in singing “We Shall Overcome” failed. Choking and gagging, scores of marchers fled. The patrolmen advanced across the fields, swing their billyclubs at those who had not yet left.

King called the attack “one of the best expressions of a police state I have ever seen.”

Harry Benson was there and made this amazing photo.

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[Last year Benson told blogger Tim Nokes: “It was a very nasty night in Canton, Mississippi, at the height of the civil rights protests.”

[The entire] march was traumatic. You didn’t know from one day to the next what the hell would happen. You would see young kids from all over America — this was where they spent their summer holidays. There was violence on every march, but the Meredith march was the biggest. It was the one that really began to galvanise the country.]

The next day the local leaders in Canton — the Madison County Movement — declared a boycott on white-owned city businesses and spread the word via the flyer above, making prominent use of the new slogan.

(1) Black Out for Black Power

(2) Work Stop for Black Power

(3) Register to Vote for Black Power

Joan Mulholland got her copy on Sunday, June 26, when the march ended with an eight-mile walk from the Tougaloo campus to the state capitol in downtown Jackson.

The March Against Fear was over, but the struggle between Carmichael’s and King’s competing visions, between “Black Power” and “Freedom Now,” had only begun.

States’ Rights Now, States’ Rights Tomorrow, States’ Rights Forever

States’ Rights! has once again become the go-to response for those eager to contest actions by the federal government. The phrase’s breakout moment came early last year, during the stimulus fight, when governors Mark Sanford and Rick Perry, among others, began giving voice to the Southern grito. More recently it have been the basis for lawsuits that various state attorneys general have filed against health-care reform.

Though I’ve read very little of what is being written and said on behalf of states’ rights, I will still say that no one is arguing the case more floridly and fervently than this fellow:

State sovereignty is already being ravished by a trend toward a federal court dictatorship.

That’s MacDonald Gallion, the attorney general of Alabama, speaking on June 8, 1961, just days after mobs had, um, ravished the Freedom Riders in three attacks in his state.

Gallion delivered his speech, “CORE and Freedom Riders — Red Shadow Over America,” at the State Coliseum (which I think is this building in Montgomery). Luckily for us, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission put a copy of it in its files, and we can read it today.

Gallion hits the usual marks of the day: the Freedom Riders are “so-called”; they are “meddlers” and “misfits”; he is in possession of “vital” information that will reveal the the Riders as Communist dupes.

The so-called “freedom riders” who have been swarming into Alabama and the Southland may be, in large part, a foolish group of meddlers, bleeding hearts, publicity seekers and assorted misfits, but make no mistake about it, those who are actually directing this assault are aware of the cause they serve.

I charge here and now that the cause they serve is not the cause of freedom – it is not the cause of democracy – it is not the cause of religion – and it is NOT the cause of Americanism.

IT IS A COLD, CALCULATED, DELIBERATE ATTACK UPON AMERICA ITSELF — UPON THE VITAL ORGANS OF OUR FORM OF GOVERNMENT – UPON AMERICAN PRESTIGE IN THE WORLD – AND UPON THE VERY EXISTENCE OF AMERICA AS THE LAST GREAT BULWARK ACROSS THE PATH OF ATHEIST COMMUNISM IN THE WORLD.

According to Gallion, the Communists were cleverly exploiting the race issue, promoting certain goals that would soften the United States and prepare it “for deliverance to the Red cause.” What were these goals?

School desegregation, desegregation in churches, in eating places, on buses and in parks, equal employment and membership in integrated trade unions, interracial housing and intermarriage.

It is frightening to note that in less than forty years, almost all of these goals have been achieved.

Frightening indeed. And here we not quite 50 years after Gallion’s dire warning, living in a Communist dictatorship. Fortunately, an Islamic takeover is expected soon.

The bulk of Gallion’s speech is a rather tedious red-baiting of one Rider in particular, Walter Bergman, a World War II veteran and professor.

Bergman was 61 when he rode the bus from Atlanta to Birmingham on May 14, 1961. It was Sunday, Mother’s Day. After the bus reached Alabama, Klansman on board took it on themselves to rearrange the passengers to their liking: whites up front, blacks in the back. When Bergman protested, the Klansmen stomped him unconscious, in front of his wife, Frances, also a Freedom Rider.

Along with several other riders, notably James Peck, Bergman was beaten again by the mob that was waiting for them — with police permission — at the bus station in Birmingham. Ten days later, he had a stroke. Bergman spent the rest of his life in a wheel chair.

Walter Bergman, Champion Of Civil Liberties, Dies at 100” read the headline on his New York Times obituary, in 1999.

Finished with Bergman, Gallion moves on to his big finish:

I am firmly convinced that the South stands today as the last great bulwark of strength – the last bastion of defense – across this dangerous march to the left, and we have had our set-backs all the way from Virginia to New Orleans, to Little Rock, and here right in Montgomery, but let me further say that this is no time to stop fighting, this is no time to become discouraged. It is no time to bow our heads in object defeat.

ON THE CONTRARY, IT IS THE TIME TO FIGHT WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF THE LAW WITH ALL THE DETERMINATION AND WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE WISDOM THAT WE CAN MUSTER AT OUR COMMAND.

If we don’t, ladies and gentlemen, we will simply be stampeded, and unless the brakes are applied, constitutional government as originally contemplated in our scheme of government will be totally a thing of the past.

State sovereignty is already being ravished by a trend toward a federal court dictatorship.

But the hour is getting late and the hands of the clock move on.

A surreptitious and camouflaged tool in the scheme to destroy American democracy as we have known it, is the exploitation of the racial issue. More terrifying, are indications of federal sponsorship.

To my way of thinking, the race issue is a side issue to the real issue involved – that is the issue of maintaining the integrity of state sovereignty and our American way of life, as opposed to Communistic inroads.

We, the people of the State of Alabama, have been handed down a great heritage and the mandate to maintain our constitutional form of government as was originally intended by our founding fathers.

We, as Alabamians, as Southerners, and as Americans, must continue our fight for the integrity of state sovereignty and that original form of constitutional government, which has made this the greatest Nation on the face of the earth.

In this, I know we will not – we must not fail!

Recall that this stirring call to fight “within the bounds of the law” comes from the chief law enforcement officer of a state that had only days before outsourced the defense of “constitutional government” to the Klan and told police to look the other away. (The FBI looked away, on purpose, as well.)

And to think we are still arguing about what presidential candidate Ronald Reagan could have possibly meant when he uttered the phrase “states’ rights” nineteen years later in Philadelphia, MS.

The full text of Gallion’s speech after the jump. The original text is here.

[Read more →]

Percy Sutton, 1920-2009

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On June 8, 1961, a Thursday, Percy Sutton flew from Montgomery, AL, to Jackson, MS. Traveling with him was Mark Lane, then a New York state assemblyman. On arrival at the Jackson airport, the two were arrested “as they entered white rest room facilities,” according to an account in a local paper. Sutton was 40 years old.

From the New York Times obituary:

Percy Sutton, who displayed fierce intelligence and exquisite polish in becoming one of the nation’s most prominent black political and business leaders, died on Saturday, The Associated Press reported. He was 89. . . .

Mr. Sutton stood proudly at the center of his race’s epochal struggle for equal rights. He was arrested as a freedom rider; represented Malcolm X as young lawyer; rescued the fabled Apollo Theater in Harlem; and became a millionaire tycoon in the communications business to give public voice to African Americans.

He was also an eminent politician in New York City, rising from the Democratic clubhouses of Harlem to become the longest serving Manhattan borough president and, for more than a decade, the highest black official in the city. In 1977, he was the first seriously regarded black candidate for mayor.

Read the rest.

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