I enjoyed reading about Ella Baker this past week because I learned something new about Ella Baker’s lifetime and Civil Rights history. I had heard of Ella Baker in my Race & Revolution FSEM, but I didn’t really get a full understanding of her contributions to the movement until this week’s reading.
I found Baker’s presence to be captivating; she was a woman who didn’t back down or conform to what women were supposed to be like. There was a part in the reading where she claimed that becoming a teacher was something she didn’t want to be because she saw many of her schoolteacher peers conforming into ideals of femininity and subservience that she never wanted to be a part of. I found Baker’s zest for feminism and speaking-your-mind contagious, and it was clear that the biographer resonated with Baker’s spark just as much as I did.
Baker’s contributions to Black feminism (before Black feminism even had a term) fascinated me and also was well-seen throughout her activist ventures. She had squabbles with many male Civil Rights leaders, and she wasn’t going to let them take all the glory. What’s a bit unsettling about this is that Baker’s history wasn’t erased but it still wasn’t the prominent narrative of the Civil Rights story; her male counterparts/activists did overshadow her voice in the modern narrative. Baker fought hard to fight against that overshadowing even though it still occurred.
Lastly, I appreciated Baker’s tight-lipped opinions on her past. She didn’t tell too much about her personal life and she used that as a tool to fight against Black female oppression. I agreed with her sentiment that Black women’s activist voices get erased by their discussion of their personal lives because that tool can be used to attack and degrade women. Although not all personal narratives do this, Baker’s personal lives could’ve been detrimental to her activist life. I loved how Baker’s first passion in life was to protect her activist self; Baker’s identity was enraptured by the activist spirit.
I have begun compiling data on the teenage Freedom Riders (ages 13-17) and have collected video clips, images, and database information. I have started making a JS Story Map to show a timeline location of what Rides these Riders participated in.
I have also looked at the men and women of the Rides that I’d like to focus on, as well. I’ve skimmed down my list of Riders to make sure that the Project isn’t too lengthy. I’m going to compile a JS Story Map for these Rides, as well.
I’m also going to begin formatting my thesis on whether these voices were “lost” in the Rides, or if they were a part of a much larger movement.
I really enjoyed this week’s readings on Black Power and identity. The Black Power movement is such an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement that, in my opinion, gets overlooked in the larger, modern narrative of the CRM. The Black Power movement was seen as militant and like “the bad guys” of the CRM in comparison to the non-violent movement of the CRM. But what gets overlooked in the modern narrative is that the Black Power movement was connected to many of the big names of the non-violent movements and coalitions. The Black Power movement had practices that were directly correlated with non-violence, even though the entire movement did not call for direct action against violence.
I found the reading about Stokley Carmichael interesting, as well. Carmichael was a very complex activist, and his activism spoke volumes in the Black Power movement and Black Panther Party. I liked that his tenacity inspired many Black activists today, and I appreciated his sense of wit and dark humor that was interspersed with his speech and activism. Carmichael’s background and desire for change also spoke volumes in a larger-scale about the a theme of North/South Black activism in the CRM, as well.
The Living for the City reading and The Black Power Movement reading shared a similar viewpoint of hope that the Black Power movement had embedded within its foundation. Both readings discussed how hope was the main initiative of the Black Power movement, even though it’s militant approach overshadowed the zealousness of the movement. These readings similarly debunk the myth of aggravated militancy in a way that allows the true willpower of the Black Power movement hold prevalence.
This last set of readings exemplified the Freedom Ride movement’s perseverance. The Alabama and Mississippi authorities wouldn’t back down on their stance, even though there were receiving pressure from the Riders to change; the government was half-heartedly helping the Riders; and Thurgood Marshall and other activists claimed that the Riders weren’t doing enough to make the Freedom Ride movement broader. All of these different issues were affecting the Rider movement and the spirit of the activists behind the Rides amazes me.
The epilogue portion of the book discusses the Freedom Rider legacy on America, the end of the Civil Rights movement and how the movement is remembered in modern times.
For this particular journal, I’d like to address the spirit of the Freedom Riders and how their perseverance not only incited and inspired change for Blacks, but it incited and inspired change for all parts of the nation. Even though the support seemed to be dwindling near the end of the Ride movement, the Riders battled for a cause that they believed in-they were still uncertain of the final outcome. They were smart to still stick to their own tactics, not entirely trusting the wishy-washy political gains that General Kennedy (and the Kennedy administration as a whole) were trying to give to them. This portion of the book, to me, demonstrated just how savvy the activists behind the Rider movement, and the Riders themselves actually were.
On a different note, I’d like to say that this section of the book was the hardest for me to read and get through; I honestly enjoyed reading Arsenault’s account of the Rides. His documentation was full of interesting cut points and he did a fine job of remaining relatively unbiased throughout the book, until this portion (he half-heartedly shows his contempt for the Kennedy administration’s tactics). But I believe that this text not only accurately portrayed the Freedom Rides through a historical lens, but through an empathetic lens as well. Arsenault’s account of their legacy and the tribulations every activist group went is highlighted in this book, too-it’s hard letting go of their stories and finishing the book.
This week’s readings highlighted the role of women in the Rides, the struggle of being jailed for the Rides, and many other issues that the Riders faced time-and-time again. To me, what really stood out in this week’s readings was the fact that the readings correlated with last week’s Newspaper Coverage/Research journal. There were some similar themes found in my research that were mentioned in the book. In the middle of page 345, Arsenault discusses the contempt that the Freedom Rides/Riders were given (which is clearly highlighted throughout the book) and he describes the different regional critiques of the Rides, and many segregationist viewpoints.
E. James Dabney was a Texan segregationist who made a group called RAPE (“Resist All Pressures Endlessly”) whose main job was to “expose” the Riders and any infringements they had with law enforcement; any mistakes or humiliating issues that they had against them, etc. I thought that Dabney was a really interesting perspective because I had never known that there were people out to “expose” the Riders to sabotage them. I thought that the worse type of backlash the Riders received were perhaps mob scenes, or biased news coverage. Dabney’s efforts to reduce the support for the Rides seemed insidious in nature.
How this correlates with the Newspaper Research is that many of the articles that I found were somewhat biased; some newspapers covered the Freedom Rides from a negative viewpoint, only capturing the jailed Freedom Riders, the constant trials and court proceedings that occurred, and outside opinions from people who thought that the Rides were causing “trouble”. I feel like although the newspapers didn’t try to sensationalize the backgrounds of the people who were active participants of the Rides, they were similar to Dabney’s pursuits to make the Rides look bad in the public eye.
What I found interesting about researching the Freedom Rides for our newspaper project was the difference in the coverage between the Northern and Southern papers. Surprisingly, I found more information about the Rides in the Northern papers, even though the Southern papers gave sufficient amounts of data.
The paper that my group was assigned to research on-campus was the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune had a ton of articles that were similar to the coverage that I found in the Southern papers, but the Tribune also held its own in mentioning artifacts that a lot of other papers missed. For example, the Tribune mentioned more coverage about other ventures that Freedom Rides were connected to like Freedom Flights, where pilots helped protest in conjunction with the Rides. They also mentioned more in-depth issues designated to particular Freedom Riders, like certain Freedom Riders opinions about their jail experiences, or court trials. The Tribune also highlighted Riders that were from the Chicago area (of course) but I felt like the Tribune was supporting the Riders in a way; the tone of the articles were not pessimistic but instead slightly heroic.
This week’s readings made me question the entire construction of racism, in general. What I mean by that is the Freedom Riders and activists fought the equality and strength for Blacks, and they did everything in their power to resist violence against them and press on. When the Riders head to the Montgomery bus terminal and they immediately get attacked by whites from all walks of life, something just clicked in my brain as I read it: racism is a deep-rooted, internalized power struggle that inter-connects with all systems in life. The white rioters had hate deeply ingrained into their psyche that they couldn’t see the white Riders helping the Black Riders; they became sub-par humans in the eye of the riot. What also astonished me was the fact that Black taxi drivers would not want to give any of the white female Riders rides with the Black female riders. But as I kept reading, I realized why this is: in the context of the riot and the context of racism the Black taxi drivers wanted to protect themselves; they didn’t want to have any image misconstrued about why they were seen with whites. Montgomery is a primary example of Southern heritage co-mingling with white supremacy and white rights. Any threat to that archetype made all whites there feel challenged, and the brutal hostility that the Riders faced when arriving there was the challenge of oppression, heritage dynamics, and regional identity all in one.
Another interesting tidbit of knowledge that became clearer to me as I read this week were the other political systems at play, simultaneously helping and stopping the Freedom Rides. The interwoven Communism, the Cold War, and the Nazi party were all pivotal examples of historical details that when discussing the CRM they usually get left out. The American Nazi party symbolically “mocked” the Freedom Rides by having their own Hate Bus; and the political view of the Black activists in the eyes of the white segregationists was that the Freedom Riders were communistic trouble-makers, attacking ideals that shouldn’t be attacked.
This week’s readings irritated me but they also shed light into what it meant for racism as the Freedom Riders kept going through with the rides. Racism was being challenged in a way that threatened the integrity of the white segregationists and supremacists, and I feel like that narrative of what racism truly meant to heritage culture in the South is missing in the discussion of the CRM.
I really liked Alderman’s main thesis on “empathy” and trying to geographically teach the Civil Rights Movement in a more accurate light. I think being empathetic towards the CRM helps students connect with the members and fixtures of the movement in a way that cannot be possible by just skimming over it in a textbook. I think empathy requires in-depth research, and a considerable amount of time studying the movement; not just a couple questions here or there.
Alderman’s thesis really resonates with the class discussion we had last week about the revisionist historical accounts of the CRM that American students tend to get in class, and also in mainstream media. I also appreciated his explanation as to why this is: “extimacy” and “the quilting point”. I believe that the Lacanian viewpoint on his thesis made sense, and it connects so many different historical viewpoints together in the discussion of the CRM. The Communism scare, the Cold War, the JFK Presidency–all of these things were interconnected when discussing the strategies and foundations of the CRM, and the Lacanian ideals express and provide a concise example of how these different political and social ideals connect.