JuicyLesson 133: Eyes on the Prize: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the United States

Yesterday’s JL finished with a few words concerning a new federal law in the Excited States which legalizes same sex marriage across the country by providing equal status before the law for same sex and heterosexual couples. The implication here is that regardless of one’s sexual orientation, one has certain inalienable rights and protections.

I also stated in yesterday’s JuicyLesson that the fact that this legislation is classified as a federal law is very significant due to the fact that as such it must be adhered to by all fifty American States as well as by the District of Columbia (D.C.) or face the consequences as happened around fifty years ago when the American Supreme Court declared that segregation based on skin colour – racial segregation in other words – was unconstitutional and therefore illegal. In the process, the Court also chucked the notion of “separate but equal” stating in no uncertain terms that this idea was unconstitutional and impossible to achieve due to the extreme poverty in which many in the Afro-American community of the day were living. Since the resources which each of the two communities – Afro-American and White – had to draw upon for educational purposes were very unequal, the idea of “separate but equal” was a sham and impossible to achieve. The core of the matter was this: the whites had employed that idea to justify and rationalize segregation in schools, communities, train and bus stations, restaurants and lunch counters, water fountains, etc. Apartheid it was even though it wasn’t called that at least in the U.S.A. it wasn’t.

Blacks did have the right to vote but literacy tests served to disenfranchise many of them. These tests were made more difficult for blacks to be successful on than was the case for whites. Whereas white potential voters would be asked to write their names, blacks, in order to gain the right to vote, had to complete tasks which were more difficult. “Separate but equal” was bullshit according to the American Supreme Court.

Anyway, when the Supreme Court in the States came down with this decision, certain southern law-makers as well as the Governors of Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia took exception to the Court’s decision. George Wallace, Alabama governor and later third party presidential candidate* stood outside one of the buildings at the University of Alabama with a shotgun and the following declaration: any nigger who wants to register at this university will have to go through me first, or words to that effect.

Maddox, soon to be the Governor of Georgia, stood in front of a restaurant he owned, with an axe and made a statement similar to Wallace’s about any black person who would try to get into this now integrated eatery. Maddox and Wallace were very popular in the South, so much so that *Wallace was planning to run for President in 1972 as a third party candidate – his group was called the A.I.P., the American Independence Party – and certainly would have had something to say about the election outcome had he not been shot and put in a wheelchair.

By the way, it was the 1972 election which returned the Republican Richard Milhous Nixon to the a White House for his second term from which he resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal. The fact that Wallace had enough support to think of making a run at the Presidency speaks to how fucked up that country was and, to some extent, still is. The man Nixon soundly thrashed in 1972 was the Democrat, George McGovern, who only managed to carry a meagre two States.

On top of Wallace and Maddox, we have Arkansas Governor (Yes, Arkansas, the state where William Jefferson Clinton served as Governor prior to his accession to the Presidency) Orville Faubus stated that he would refuse to enforce the new law – “Segregation now. Segregation forever” – and this provoked President Kennedy to take action. What he did and a brief discussion about bussing in Boston will be the subjects of tomorrow’s JL.

Take care and peace to all of you.


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