the twit


    winterpost: SA oral history project + the jackson movement

    for ben guest

    1. SA oral history project

    over the past couple of months i've been helping out with an oral history project that's grown out of the work of a self-sustaining CRCL group that's started at st. andrew's episcopal school in jackson.

    (n.b. for those unaware with the acronym, CRCL stands for civil rights/civil liberties--and these are civil engagement high school groups dedicated to critical inquiry and intercommunity dialogue. throughout its four years of activity, the jim hill CRCL group has had members from jim hill, st. andrew's, murrah, lanier, and wingfield. murrah was the first school to attempt to start up its own building level group, but that didn't stick.)

    the st. andrew's oral history project will focus on the school's journey through external and internal changes in regards to race relations and access to education in the jackson metro area from the 1940s to the 1980s. this particular project grew out conversations starting last fall, wherein a small core of motivated st. andrew's students reached out to the winter institute in an effort to spark a critical dialogue on campus that would hopefully lay the groundwork for the development of a CRCL group there. some of the students had at one point been regulars at the jim hill meetings--and wanted to start a satellite at their own school so they could expose their peers to a more accessible CRCL and build a foundation before reaching back out to jim hill. others were students who knew about the jim hill CRCL but hadn't been able to make it over for a meeting.

    dialogue around the questions "what is the story about your community that isn't told," and "what is frustrating about the community you belong to" led to a couple realizations:
    (1) while st. andrew's is admirably diverse when it comes to race and ethnicity, students felt that economic and neighborhood diversity was lacking. furthermore, there seemed to be some connection between this set of observations and the post-segregation development of madison county, just north of jackson: which made the usual quick transition from farmland to a middle- and upper-middle- class suburb.

    (2) when it comes to race at st. andrew's, many students felt that the conversation begin and ends with "we're not a segregation academy," meaning st. andrew's wasn't established during the 1969-1973 emergence of private academies and white citizen council-developed "council schools" throughout mississippi--which effectively re-segregated schools (likewise, maintained age-old channels of social/political/economic capital) in nearly all communities that had significant black populations (i.e. somewhere over 25-30% i imagine; it's a statistical analysis i'd love to take the time to do); in mississippi that means a lot of communities. in many ways, this is the historical retort to the popular red herring that "90% of MS's school-age youth attend public school." that and the fact that white attendance is often front-loaded in elementary and middle school in areas where there is a significant black population; many academies (many of which are still or nearly all-white) don't start until 7th or 9th grade, simply because it's not economically or educationally viable for many communities and parents to develop a PK-12 private institution, though many certainly do exist. nevertheless, the trump card of "we're not jackson prep" seemed to gloss over a couple things in these student's minds: they had no sense of the circumstances surrounding st. andrew's admittance and graduation of its first african american student, no narrative of race relations at st. andrew's through the civil rights era, and no narrative of the relationship between desegregation and the development of st. andrew's school over time--which in the 1980s moved from a site in jackson proper to a site in madison county, a move planned sometime after acquiring "75 acres of open, rolling meadowland" in 1976.
    momentum from these conversations--participated in and encouraged by teachers and administrators--lead to the conclusion that these stories should be told, thus birthing an oral history project. armed with flipcams and a .ning site, the CRCL group has been steadily building a vision for the project, training themselves in oral history, and educating themselves on relevent historical context: the history of school desegregation in MS and general civil rights related history in the jackson area.

    a project description clip from some of the CRCL members themselves, shot on flipcam and uploaded to .ning:

    Find more videos like this on St. Andrew's - Winter Institute Project

    2. the jackson movement

    on the winter institute end, i've been advising students on the project, and developing oral history training and historical context materials/presentations. this brings us to the "for ben guest" header on the post: a few weeks ago i began to develop a condensed timeline of essential civil rights related history in the jackson area. surrounded by obsessively highlighted and tabbed books, i was on the hunt for any local civil rights activity as well as any national/regional civil events that passed through the jackson area. i had a sense of a couple obvious landmarks (though many of them i'd never really researched): the formation of the white citizen's council, the tougaloo nine, the woolworth's sit-in, the freedom riders arriving in jackson, the jackson state shootings, the march against fear, medgar evers' assassination, etc. what i didn't have a sense of was that there was a bona fida jackson movement, albeit short-lived, intense, and rather tragic--in the sense of organizational territory and politics draining local momentum (and in some way foreshadowing bigger meltdowns in the late 60s), and in the sense of the loss of someone as talented as medgar evers in the midst of an internecine maelstrom. on that note, over time i'm realizing more and more how important medgar was to mississippi civil rights veterans: after asking hollis watkins (the first local mississippi youth to join SNCC’s work in mccomb, and now president of southern echo, one of the best community organizing/empowerment and youth activism vehicles in the state) what he did for inauguration, he calmly replied, his eyes still with memory, "i went by medgar's house."

    synopsis of jackson movement:
    1961, march: the jackson NAACP youth council protests segregated libraries in jackson. given that they're "the only such group still active in the jackson area and composed mainly of black high school students," and given that direct action isn't usually the NAACP's cup of tea (litigation/legislation and voter registration is) here we've got a local initiative.

    1961, may: the SNCC freedom riders come into jackson, refuse to post bail upon arrest, and make the call for more buses to head to mississippi. 328 riders are arrested that summer, and many spend their time in parchman. once they get out of jail, we've got some lingering SNCC and CORE presence in MS.

    1962, december: the jackson NAACP youth council form a picket line outside of woolworth's in jackson, and try to initiate a city boycott of downtown merchants. they receive little support from SNCC (now drawn to greenwood), CORE (who feel like the boycott is started without sufficient community organization), and NAACP (again: they don't really do direct action). so, still a local initiative but now we've got some attempted coordination with regional/national organizations.

    1963, may: NAACP switches course and makes jackson boycotts a priotity. reasoning: mlk's recent success in birmingham; roy wilkins is worried that jackson will be SCLC's next target. an ultimatum is made to jackson mayor allen thompson, negotiate or else face mass demonstration. after waffling for a bit, the mayor rejects all demands. the next day is the woolworth's sit-in by jackson NAACP youth council and moderator: a three hour, very violent affair. picketing increases dramatically; high school students begin walk outs and marches, with violent police response. we've got momentum, but we've got ulterior motives.

    1963, june: increased activism has drawn in staff from national NAACP, but this results in a shift in the movement coordinating committee from an activist, youth-oriented aproach to a more conservative, NAACP/black minister & businessmen-led effort to broker a deal. right when direct action begins to escalate into a snowballing youth movement, mass marches and protests are halted, community momentum is lost, and attendance at nightly meetings declines. june 6: the city of jackson obtains an injunction forbidding further demonstrations. june 8: first day without demonstration or picket line. afterward: a "coalition of national NAACP officials and the traditional middle-class leadership of jackson [agree]... that although the boycott should continue, there [will] be no further mass demonstrations and that the movement should initiate another voter registration drive in the jackson area." june 11, medgar evers assassinated (more below). after his funeral procession, several hundred young people begin singing freedom songs and walking towards capitol street area. they are met with police, and, for the first time, fight back. a riot is only narrowly avoided. june 18, the movement's strategy committee announces a deal struck with mayor thompson, which amounts to a set of concessions previously rejected by black leaders: an agreement to hire six black policemen, a handful of promotions in the sanitation department, and a promise to "continue to hear black grievances." in essence, jackson remains a jim crow city. we've got ideological shifts that cut the legs out from under the movement, which crumbles: taking medgar evers and leaving nominal progress and entrenched segregation.

    aftermath: jackson continues as a central headquarters for civil rights organizations in the state, but never again sustains a movement of it's own. we've got a locally initiated movement that gets coopted by national interests, leaving a community in the dust.
    throughout the entire jackson movement, NAACP field secretary medgar evers "[straddles] the divide" between the direct action campaign of the jackson NAACP youth council and the hesitant involvement of the national NAACP. in the process, evers becomes the "acknowledged leader" of the jackson movement, "the one who [stands] up to mayor thompson, who [negotiates the young people's] bail, who [receives] nearly all the death threats." on tuesday, june 11, the day "john kennedy gave the strongest civil rights speech of his administration," evers is at a poorly attended mass meeting, where "instead of singing inspiring freedom songs and listening to fiery oratory, the audience [hears] staff members promote the sale of NAACP t-shirts." he returns home after midnight, extra t-shirts in hand. as his wife myrlie and his children come to meet him at the door, evers is shot in the back by greenwood citizen's council member byron de la beckwith. he dies that evening.

    other stuff medgar had been involved in: investigating the emmett till murder, attempting to enroll at ole miss (and thus setting the stage for legal campaign culminating in james meredith), assisting with organizing on the gulf coast--site of an early mississippi direct action campaign (the wade-ins) and voter registration push, filing a school desegregation lawsuit against the jackson public schools, which culminated in a freedom of choice ruling in 1964: a crack in the wall that leads up to the 1969 forced desegregation victory.
    expanded text, with source list, included here.


    prosepost: dream: two rats & twenty and sixty snakes

    in line at a movie theater with mother, brothers, sister. have a hard time finding the ticket; stumble through pockets in my jacket and pants, and eventually come upon it: nondescript, red, "admit one." hand it over to the ticket collector, an older black woman, large, dressed as a bellhop, blue and gold. takes the ticket, hands over a styrofoam cup of hot water, and points to the refreshments area.

    supposed to use the cup of hot water to make coffee. a week earlier, i went to the movies with my father and brother. the coffee stand only had a fully-automatic espresso machine and a hot water spigot; all "coffees" were actually americanos, and for each drink the attendant would walk from the automatic espresso machine to an otherwise unused industrial-size percolator, which would dispense hot water. told to take one the small plates of food spread out on a cafeteria table with a white table cloth. all of the plates have french fries on them.

    reach out to a plate, but my sister warns there are rats on the table. look across and see two portly rats wandering around, trying to get some french fries. stuck now between stopping sarah from petting the rats carley told me she had a pet rat as a child and stopping rats from stealing french fries. little success.

    one of the rats--the yellow one; the other is the usual dusty gray--does not have a face. has a mouth, but nose and eyes are reduced to a fleshy twig. try to scare the faceless rat away with a lighter i had failed to get a fire started two evenings in a row but, disinterested, it grabs a french fry and ambles away.

    french fry plate in hand and turn to go to the movie. take a sip of coffee: something moving in my mouth. try to wash it down with more coffee. more things in my mouth. purse my lips and pull at something barely fixed between thumb and forefinger. a tiny snake; thin, about three-inches long. fling it away and another appears--tail just breaching my lips. frantically pull about twenty out. look into my coffee cup. just below the thinly brown water: tangled, dormant coils.

    later. at a child's birthday party in the party room of a party warehouse. talking to a young latino boy--chocolate hair, caramel skin, t-shirt, jeans. in the midst of conversation, picks up a cup of coffee. warn him of the snakes. doesn't seem to mind; tells me he'll just eat them. after drinking a bit of the coffee, smiles at me with a tangle of purpley snake heads and tails in his mouth. a dramatic munching gesture, smiles again, and says "60."