The Storm Is Passing Over

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What’s happening to America and Americans?

The storm that blew through the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday has not passed. What America will be and who we will be in the midst of the storm are always the questions on Martin Luther King Day, but this year the choice will be clearer.

Life on the stormy sea

Thunder and Lightning on MLK Weekend

If intelligence reports come to pass, the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, Aryan Brotherhood, and other well-armed White nationalist groups will again storm through the nation’s Capitol to “liberate” their country, as did the Wolverine Watchmen who gathered in Lansing, burst into the Michigan Capitol, and would have kidnapped, tried, and executed Governor Gretchen Whitmer had the FBI not foiled the plot with advance intelligence.

Freedom and the Covenant of Mutual Responsibility

Will we be a people preoccupied by the pernicious insistence on unaccountable individual freedom? “You can’t make me wear a mask!” Will we confuse liberty with freedom from restraint, or will we place freedom where it belongs — within the context of a social covenant, a Constitutional republic — that holds the indivisible tension between freedom and responsibility for our neighbors?

The Blue Note Gospel and the Storm Passing Over

The Black church in America lives out that tension of freedom and covenant, individual liberty and community. It has a history and tradition few others share. The descendants of slavery can teach us about living in the storm while the storm passes over. They neither deny the storm nor succumb to it. As Otis Moss III describes it, the Black church preaches “the Blue-Note gospel” born of the cross of Jesus and can “Shouts the Gospel shout” because it knows the blues.

This morning, we share the soulful sound of resilience in the midst of the storm.

The Storm Is Passing Over, Detroit Mass Choir

Martin Luther King and the Storm

This Martin Luther King Weekend the storm of America’s original sin will sweep through, and the resilience of the Blue-Note Gospel will carry us through.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 10, 2021.

The Movement Made the Man (MLK)

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not make the civil rights movement. As Elizabeth Myer Boulton reminds us, it was the movement that made the man. Without the movement there would have been no “I Have a Dream Speech”.

Elizabeth (Liz) Myer Boulton’s spouse, Matthew Myer Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary, hosted five McCormick Theological Seminary classmates this past week, including Steve Shoemaker and me.

I returned from Indianapolis and found Liz’s powerful sermon. It reminded me of Kay and my month in Saint Augustine.  It was the unsung local heroes who built the movement, paid the price, and drove the buses to the Poor People’s March on Washington. Martin represented them all.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 23, 2015.

The Road to Civil Rights in America’s Oldest City

INTRODUCTION: Views from the Edges earlier post from 40th ACCORD referred the KKK kidnapping of four civil rights activists in St. Augustine, FL. Yesterday Francis (“Tate”) Floyd said otherwise.

“No,” said Tate,  who was visiting next door, “they weren’t kidnapped. They got caught at a KKK rally downtown and got their asses kicked.”

Below is more complete information posted by The St. Augustine Record on May 17 , 2014 by Matt Soerge. “Views from the Edge” has added the bolded print and photographs to the text.

Civil rights: 50 years later, the memory is still clear

Purcell Maurice Conway

Purcell Maurice Conway

In 1964 St. Augustine, Purcell Conway, a black 15-year-old, held hands with a white nun during a civil-rights demonstration that drew the angry attention of a white mob from the Ancient City and beyond.

The mob surged forward. Conway was attacked, and so was the nun. They tore off her headdress. They dragged her to the ground by her hair. They kicked her.

Fifty years later, the memory is still clear: How can people be so cruel, so petty? he asks, How silly, he says, that there is so much hate over the color of one’s skin.

Conway traveled Wednesday to Tallahassee, where he reunited with other activists from what he calls the “teenage rebellion” — the civil rights demonstrations that rocked St. Augustine from 1963 until the summer of 1964, when the Civil Rights Act became law.

They went to the Capitol building to see Robert B. Hayling inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. His portrait will go up there along with those of the other inductees, the late James Weldon Johnson and A. Philip Randolph, both of whom grew up in Jacksonville.

Hayling, 84, still sharp and witty, was a dentist who inspired and led the youthful demonstrators in St. Augustine.

Now in their late 60s and early 70s, most of them grew up together in the largely black neighborhoods of Lincolnville and West Augustine.

Asked to describe the St. Augustine of his youth, Shed Dawson, who was arrested nine times, gave a long pause before speaking.

“Scary. Very challenging. Dangerous. Sad.”

Dr. Robert B. Hayling and Mr. James Jackson

Dr. Robert B. Hayling and Mr. James Jackson

You had to be careful, said James Jackson, who was captured and beaten by the Ku Klux Klan.

“You didn’t want to go and get caught out alone at night, especially outside of your comfort zone, outside of Lincolnville.”

Jackson knew many of the Klansmen by sight. He’d see them going about their business during the day, on the streets downtown.

And as the Civil Rights Act moved through Congress, the Klan rallied, openly, on St. Augustine’s quaint downtown streets, in robes that exposed their faces for all to see.

Houses were firebombed. Grenades were thrown at juke joints. Shots were fired.

One white man, with a loaded shotgun on his lap, was shot and killed as the car he was in cruised through a black neighborhood one night. In his death convulsion, he fired shots of his own through the floor of the car.

Young blacks from St. Augustine picketed outside stores, sat at lunch counters where they could not be served. And they marched through the city’s streets, past churches that would not admit them.

One sign asked: “Are you proud of your 400 yrs history of slavery & segregation.”

Demonstrators were threatened and beaten. They were arrested and jailed for attempting to integrate the beaches, lunch counters, hotels.

Many of the black demonstrators were trained in nonviolent ways of protesting and pledged to never strike back.

Others made it clear that they were armed and would defend themselves, their families and their community if called to do so.

Conway says two things united the young black demonstrators: They were fed up with the status quo, where they were permanent second-class citizens. And they were inspired by the civil-rights struggles elsewhere.

Why not St. Augustine too?

“It gets to a point in your life that you’ve been stepped on, mistreated, seen your family members mistreated,” he said. “Forget about the fear — you will die to see this changed.”

‘A mean lady’

At 12, Conway had a white friend, a fellow paperboy, and when they each ordered milk shakes at the lunch counter at the McCrory’s store, he couldn’t understand why the woman there let his friend eat inside, but insisted he go outside.

His friend joined him on the sidewalk. “She’s a mean lady,” he said.

At 14, Conway was mowing the lawn of a white woman who offered him a sandwich and a drink. She left it for him on her garage floor, next to the dog’s bowl.

As a child, he’d been naive. But now his eyes were open — and he chafed as he saw how his parents had to call white people “Mister” or “Miss,” while they were simply called by their first names, George and Julia.

So he was ready, at 14, to join the Movement. That’s what he and his friends called it.

Conway recalled that black teenagers would go the swimming pool at Florida Memorial College, a black Baptist school that moved to Miami a few years later.

College students would tell the teenagers about the Movement. They’d talk about what was happening around the South, about why action was needed in St. Augustine.

By 1964, the Movement drew Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent black leaders to the city.

It drew the support of many white college students from elsewhere, who were beaten and threatened alongside the young black demonstrators.

It drew the support of rabbis and priests and nuns and 72-year-old Mary Elizabeth Peabody, mother of the governor of Massachusetts, who was jailed after supporting the demonstrators.

And it drew national and international coverage to a tourist city preparing for its 400th anniversary.

Tourists stayed away. In 1965, a state legislative report on the unpleasantness in St. Augustine would note that the city lost $5 million in tourism, which meant the state lost taxes, too.

“Which means that all citizens of Florida indirectly paid for Martin Luther King’s visitation to America’s oldest city,” the report said, before fretting about the “devastating barrage of unfavorable publicity” from “purported” news accounts.

“Despite massive propaganda to the contrary,” the state report said, “Negroes and whites have lived together amicably in St. Augustine for centuries.”

‘I was afraid’

Maude Burrows Jackso

Maude Burrows Jackso

Maude Burroughs Jackson knew unfairness as she grew up in the small black community of Hill Top in Middleburg. Still, she was relatively sheltered, there in the country.

She came to St. Augustine in 1960 to go to Florida Memorial College. The city, she said, felt hostile. Discrimination was open.

“It seemed like a mean place,” she said. “Things have really changed over the years. But I was afraid many times.”

She got involved in the Movement after going to Hayling’s dental office with a toothache.

She went to wade-ins at segregated beaches, and between classes she sat at lunch counters or picketed. She was jailed three times.

One night, in Hayling’s office, she made dinner for King — steak and toast and salad. “He’d come in late that night, and with the situation being the way it was, you couldn’t just go outside and eat.”

‘All right, that’s enough’

KKK rally, St. Augustine, FL

KKK rally, St. Augustine, FL

James Jackson said he tries to find the humor in every situation. So he laughs, still, about the night the Ku Klux Klan caught him, Hayling and two other black men, James Hauser and Clyde Jenkins.

He said he stayed calm through talk about getting killed, about getting set on fire. But when the Klan got to talking about castration? “I said, ‘I got to get out of here.’”

Jackson and his companions had gone to eavesdrop on a Klan rally that drew hundreds to St. Augustine, and figured they could spy safely from a back road. That was almost a fatal error. They were beaten, severely.

Jackson shows off a scar on his forehead, courtesy of a lug wrench. And the Klansmen paid particular attention, he said, to the hands of Hayling, a dentist: How could he practice his profession with broken hands?

“We were lucky as hell to get out of their with out lives,” Jackson said.

The story he heard later was that a preacher in the crowd sneaked away to alert police. Sometime later, an officer walked up to the rally. “He said, ‘All right, that’s enough,’” Jackson recounted.

He took them to the hospital, and then to the sheriff’s office. There, bloodied and bruised, they were charged with assault.

After the Civil Rights Act was signed, Jackson remembers coming out of a hardware store and running into Halstead “Hoss” Manucy, one of the prominent white segregationists in town. Manucy had hurled many insults at Jackson, but apparently didn’t recognize him when they bumped into each other.

“Now I’m not a tall man, but he was shorter than me, and he looked up at me and said, ‘Excuse me sir.’”

Jackson laughed. “Excuse me sir! The biggest smile came over my face.”

‘Shell shock’

Shed Dawson, St. Augustine Movement

Shed Dawson, St. Augustine Movement

 Dawson graduated from R.J. Murray High School just a few weeks before the Civil Rights Act was passed. But he was already a civil-rights veteran; he was arrested nine times and spent at least 90 days in jail.

So within a day or two of the act’s passage, he and three other black teens went to a barbecue place on U.S. 1 to “test” the bill.

They squeezed their car into a tight space at the front door. As they approached the door, a group of 25 to 30 men and women came from behind the building, almost as if they were waiting for them.

They had bricks and beer bottles and baseball bats — “their own little personal weapons,” Dawson said.

The four friends split up and ran. Dawson made it to some nearby woods. “Because I was 18 and they were half-drunk, they couldn’t catch me.”

Frustrated, the mob returned to their truck. Perhaps 15 minutes later, Dawson came out of the woods and saw the truck approaching, with people crowded into the back of it — still looking for him.

He ran back in the woods, hiding there for more than two hours. Finally, he crept out and saw a highway patrol car parked in front of another restaurant. Now, he thought, he would be safe.

Dawson went into the restaurant, where the manager stopped him brusquely: “What do you want?”

Dawson’s shirt and tie were filthy, his best pants were muddy and his good shoes were caked with mud. He said he needed to talk to the trooper, who sat, just a few feet away, ignoring him.

“He’s eating lunch,” the manager said.

Dawson insisted. Eventually the trooper got up, locked Dawson in his car, and resumed his meal.

As he ate, a crowd of whites assembled around the car, rocking it back and forth, pounding on the windshield, calling Dawson names.

The trooper, frustrated, came out, started the engine, and got on the radio. “I found the n—– y’all are looking for,” he said.

At the station, they took Dawson’s mug shot, took his fingerprints, but eventually didn’t charge him. The trooper then took him to the headquarters of the Movement, where Dawson’s disappearance was big news.

“He (the trooper) was a hero,” Dawson said. “Everybody was cheering — yeah yeah yeah — and shaking his hands. He was soaking it up.”

King spoke that night at a church, and invited Dawson to sit with him at the pulpit. So he did, still in his filthy clothes.

Dawson ended up traveling the world as a civil servant for the Navy, working on aircraft carriers — a life that would have seemed impossible to him as a teenager. Before things changed, he might have been a cook or a yard man. If lucky, he could perhaps have been a brick mason or a plumber’s helper.

The struggle was worth it, he said, although when he returns to his hometown, the past sometimes feels far too close.

“I’ve been all around the world and I’m OK,” he said. “But when I got back to St. Augustine, to a restaurant, I feel fear, like flashbacks, like the soldiers had. Shell shock. I guess it will never go away.”

Views from the Edge Note: Click HERE for hour-long Library of Congress interview with Purcell Conway.

New Legislators, Selma and MLK

Verse – Advice to New Legislators

Support each capital IDEA
(notice the capital letters)
made in the State Capital
(but not always in the CapitOl building)
which will gain financial capital
(if it garners enough political capital)
by making good use of social capital
(without wasting natural capital)
and be sure to capitalize on it.

-Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 14, 2015

This hour of history - The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This hour of history – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life America celebrates this weekend, had a different IDEA. His was of a world “in which men no longer take necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.

A mutual friend who marched with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery and had just seen “Selma” sent the line, reminding us of “the lessons that are severe, easily forgotten amidst the King mythology, but as relevant today as they were when he first voiced them.

Irony of Ironies: MLK and Syria?

The same day America honored the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington most remembered for Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, America’s first black President appeared on the Newshour to discuss military strikes in Syria.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was as deeply committed to peace and to NON-VIOLENT, non-military solutions to global problems as he was to ending racism. As his analysis of the national, international, and human condition continued to develop, he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, capitalism, and imperialism.  He grasped as well as any public figure of his time the institutional power of an unelected, undemocratic web of the economic-military-corporate power at work behind the scenes of American public life.

I was proud of President Obama’s speech from the same spot where where Dr. King had stood 50 years before at the March on Washington.  I can’t put that together with his entertainment of military action in Syria.  For whatever reason, the media did not seem to notice the incongruity.

Last night’s PBS Newhour featured a conversation about the advisability of “punishing” Syria. University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer’s statements, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head. “Stay out militarily.”  Click HERE to listen to the conversation. 

The military-industrial-technological-corporate complex feeds of mistakes like Iraq and Afghanistan. Martin Luther King, Jr. never lunched on their food. Nor should we. 

MLK Assassination: A Memory

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Forty-four years ago today the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Read this morning’s Washington Post story.I was with about 200 teenagers from “the projects” in Decatur, Illinois when the news broke. First Presbyterian Church and the Office of Economic Opportunity had partnered to create a youth program at the church. Charles Johnson, a former Blackstone Ranger from Chicago, and I (the 29-year-old Assistant Pastor) jointly administered the program.

We were in the church basement when the voice rang out from the steps, “Dr. King’s been shot! Dr. King’s been shot!” The room was filled with shock and anger. Some of the kids preferred Malcolm X to Dr. King, but on that night it didn’t matter. The room was united, overwhelmed by tragedy, another violent act of racial hatred.

Dr. King’s assassination came two months after the release of the report of the President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the “Kerner Commission”) that had concluded:

Our nation Is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

The conclusion of the Kerner Report about police violence had been demonstrated on the church parking lot two weeks before Dr. King’s assassination. On that night Decatur police officers, without warning, had stormed into the crowd of black kids in the church parking lot at the end of the evening program. They came waving billy clubs and spraying mace. I was there. I saw it. Forty store windows in downtown Decatur were broken out that night. A number of the kids were arrested.

While the Decatur Chief of Police and I squared off with our different accounts of the events on the front page of The Decatur Herald, the board of First Presbyterian Church, which included a prominent sitting Judge, stood united and firm. We would not close the program, as the Chief was demanding.

First Presbyterian Church, Decatur, IL

When the voice announced that Dr. King had been shot, the adult leaders of the program had reason to fear the worst. Quickly we rounded up tape recorders. We made an announcement inviting the kids into smaller circles, spread out throughout the church building, that would give each and all of them time to talk.  We announced that, in light of what had happened two weeks before, we wanted their voices to be heard by the Chief, the Mayor, and the members of the Decatur City Council. We were all outraged; the feelings needed to be spoken and shared.There was no violence in Decatur that night. There was no riot.

The tapes were edited and played for the city officials.

The program continued without further interruption.

The Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. prevailed. And it still does.