Sunday, 19 July 2020 22:51

Mourning the Deaths of Civil Rights Icons

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Mourning the Deaths of John Robert Lewis and C.T. Vivian

What a horrible unexpected blow! During this time of the invisible enemy (COVID-19), life deals those who believe in equality and freedom a very visible blow – two extraordinary figures of the civil and human rights era are gone. While we are obsessed with what seems permanent street rebellions against racism and classism, we have lost two men who dedicated their lives to challenging those two evils.

It was not long ago that two of the founding members of Stand Up! for Democracy in DC (Free DC) were arrested for shouting a protest against congressional action in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives. No doubt because we naturally felt the action was illegitimate because DC residents had (and still have) no say-so on the matter. We got increasingly nervous because we could not get an answer from the arresting officers as to how long we would be held in the cells we had been placed after our arrest. We feared we were on our way to “Central Cell Bloc.” There was no large crowd of supporters waiting for us, or to advocate for us. This act was not planned, but spontaneous, borne out of anger. The lack of rights for DC residents made us angry, and we were compelled to act! Somehow we felt that a call to our nonvoting Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton would make a difference. So, we called her and she came to speak with the officers who had arrested us and we heard her say “Let them go, they were only doing what we used to do.” This former member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee actually pleaded for our release (but we had to appear in court later).

It should not have surprised us that her appeals worked. Although, we were facing no water hoses or dogs or cops with clubs at that time, there were many people in the 1960s who very courageously did. They risked their lives to ensure that America became more than just a few words in the Constitution, that America became the beacon of equal rights no matter where you lived or what color your skin. Delegate Norton was right. With the opponents of DC Home Rule, and later DC statehood, at that time being mainly Southern Democrats, such as John McMillan (South Carolina) and Lauch Faircloth (North Carolina), we were convinced we were in a racially motivated fight for our civil rights. So, we used the tactics of that era – nonviolent direct action – blocking the congressional streets and disrupting congressional hearings and votes.

We hope that our actions helped propel forward the DC Statehood movement somewhat as the fearless actions of Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. C.T. Vivian did. We have no doubt that they were as supportive of our actions as Delegate Norton was that day when we asked for her help. The people who began to practice this tactic grew larger in numbers, though it has not grown to the overwhelming numbers that Congressman Lewis and C.T. Vivian led in the south, but we have hope that the people of DC will realize that with the passing of these great iconic figures, we will implement the tactics of boycotts and direct action that quieted those dogs and dried up the water hoses in that dangerous era.

Both Lewis and Vivian were strong supporters of DC statehood. In his speech at the 1963 March on Washington, Lewis said what DC residents should feel after 200 years of oppression. To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!

Read 928 times Last modified on Friday, 16 October 2020 15:03

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