These Stories Must be Told
Sometime ago, those of us who entered political movements for change walked on our first picket line or marched in our first demonstration. At some point we got hooked on concepts like “Freedom”, “Direct Action” and “Resistance” to get rid of Jim Crow racism. Eventually we came to learn how to spend time in jail, survive police and vigilante violence; to organize poor and working class black people; to extract perks and building blocks from federal programs and build coalitions among unpredictable community groups; to fight city hall; to negotiate agreements that produced opportunities and skill development for community development; and to manage campaigns to elect black politicians.
But then one day we looked around and realized that many of our friends (and enemies) who made that journey, or similar journeys, were no longer with us….to laugh with, relive old conquests, or just tell lies. Too many have moved to places unknown, gotten sick, or passed on to the next life.
So many of our collective stories go untold. This is true of stories about the Southern Movement, and especially the resistance movements that took place in the North.
Veterans of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) took it upon themselves to remedy this collective act of cultural amnesia by establishing the SNCC Legacy Project at Duke University. They have collected the stories and documents, celebrated the organizations and individuals that make the Southern Civil Rights and Black Power Movements come alive. Because of them, the world knows more about black resistance in places like Selma Alabama, Memphis Tennessee, and Macomb, Mississippi. But there were struggles in the North in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Newark, throughout the 1950s and into the 1970s. Some of these were based upon the principals of non-violence, but others were headline producing and destructive mass rebellions, as in Los Angeles, Detroit and hundreds of other cities.
These stories must be told, and hence the evolution of this project entitled, The North: Civil Rights and Beyond in Urban America. When Komozi Woodard, Bill Strickland and I sat down to first conceptualize this project, we had two things in mind: to capture the voices of the foot soldiers of the North who fought for empowerment of black people in cities like Newark, Detroit, Chicago and Oakland. And to pass these stories onto the next generation of young people who must continue to struggle. “One day we’ll get old and can’t fight anymore, but we’ll stand up and fight anyhow”….and part of that phase of struggle is to pass the knowledge forward. Conceptually, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Therefore this story must contain the stories and knowledge gained by those who came before the 1960s as well.
When we think about the youth, we see those who are now coming into their own as thinking, feeling individuals; conscious but unsure about the world around them, and the people and institutions that create and direct their future. Few of them see the connection between history and their own range of coping and escape strategies from the negative forces that bind them. They go to school, where they read books, listen to their teachers, but the vast majority receives most of their information from the media and the Internet. For better or worse, this is how they are educated (or miseducated).
And so, inspired by the SNCC Legacy Project, we decided to expand our group of colleagues from the Movement and other supporters to put together “The North”. We have built a powerful multimedia, interactive website, the front door to which you are about to enter. It is a new teaching tool for all people, but primarily for young people in grade school through college and beyond, to research and preserve the record of those people who were “foot soldiers” in the Civil Rights and other Movements in the North, starting with Newark, NJ; but continuing to places such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia to name just a few.
This project will engage adults, college and grade school students, teachers, researchers and students of history to develop a critical theory of race and class as it played out in the challenges, successes, and failures of urban black politics based on the stories and analysis of northern and urban movements for black empowerment in the period stretching from the 1950s to the present, but with particular emphasis on the 1960s and 70s in the first stage; and through the remainder of the 20th century to the year 2015 in stage two. We even offer a brief glimpse of the journey taken by African Americans and their supporters and detractors from the colonial period to the 1950s.
“The North” identifies and highlights organizations and individuals who were instrumental in advancing the cause of black empowerment in each city studied; and the opposition they faced in critical steps along the way. It offers a critical resource for the teaching of black political history at the grade school level, college and for those currently on the new front lines of struggle such as Black Lives Matter.
This first episode (Newark) is presented in partnership with Rutgers University Newark, Washington University of St. Louis, the Newark Public Schools, the City of Newark, The Turrell Fund, Fund for Newark’s Future and other partners as set forth in our section on partnerships and supporters. As you will see, it is a site built for this generation: mobile friendly, socially optimized, social media friendly, with sharable content. It is a site built for the not so young as well because it is simply designed, user friendly and completely searchable.
We hope you enjoy become engaged, and join in the research by telling your story, offering suggestions, and sharing your pictures and other materials from this period through the portal provided. Let’s stay in touch.
Mary Johnson Wood
October 22, 2016 @ 11:55 pm
I can certainly appreciate those who will make a stand. I notice that you only mention these areas, Northern audiences, Oakland, Chicago and the like. I am convinced you probably migrated north to escape this ‘brainwashed’, conservative, bigoted south. Since you are from Virginia, is there a branch here? Most of my friends from college were from the North or had seen enough to not accept complacency about their future.
I lived through the Civil Rights era as you did and thoroughly remember it and was able to assess it’s value and consequences early. I was just not one to think ‘everything’ had changed for the’ good’, but rather much of the ‘evil’ still exists until today, but a little more subtle. Working in the criminal justice system for 7 years really was a further enlightenment. Those who never worked in it, probably can’t even phantom the abnormalities of ‘justice’ that ‘really’ exists in an ‘unjust’ system. Believe it or not some of our folks that we elect know as well, the grand injustices and continue to ‘play politics.’ remember this November 8. Black like me doesn’t unequivocally mean ‘ act like’ or’ for me’
In the last 8 years with the election of our first American President of African heritage, it has been very clear, where I and many others stand. It’s quite unfortunate that many think Civil Rights Movement was the ‘cure’ and began to sit and be quiet, afraid to embrace the narratives of King, Carmichael, Malcom, James Weldon Johnson, Frederick Douglas etc. to stand tall and realize how great we are.
Complacency has set in because our leaders are sometimes ‘not leaders’ at all, but a vessel which creates this ‘caste system’, amongst us, as well as many relying on ‘the system’ to do the right thing. We need to be aware of how ‘this system’ really works and to put credence in yourself and God, a ‘little’ help along the way from friends.
As I have looked back, I do believe an experience at Luray Caverns, at age 14, made me know and feel that I will never accept a feeling ‘beneath’ anyone, as God made me and he never makes mistakes. He wouldn’t create ‘worthless, criminal, lazy, stupid people. At 14, I realized somebody tried to make me feel different by having ;white’ and ‘colored’ bathroom signs posted at Luray Caverns. My question to my Sunday School teacher was; Why are those Indians (India) going to the restrooms that say ‘white’? ‘They’re dark like me’. I believe at that moment. I realized someone was treating me different. and through God’s mercy, questioned why. This propelled me to learn who I really was and who I could be and it led to me excelling in whatever I did. This I thank God for.
The sad truth is until today many of us don’t research their ‘real history’ and continue to believe someone else is responsible for their ‘well-being’ This is exactly why our climate is what it is. People are afraid to stand up to the ‘oppressor’ and ‘what is right’ . I hope that you will continue to inspire our youth to step up for those who come later and for those of us left. The youth must realize as we did;, in masses we can turn this thing around, but only if they really know their potential and who they really are; descendants of kings and queens-ROYALTY.
I applaud those who are taking a stand, but pray that it is more organized and they have the ‘information’ to make it work. Information is the key. What they ‘see happening’ and ‘what is really happening’ are two different things. Knowledge is Power. I SPEAK