Radicals -- and Troops -- in the South, and Other Things

john hunter gray hunterbear at SPAMif.rmci.net
Thu Nov 23 18:22:19 MST 2000

It's personally  very difficult to write on this
topic with brevity and I'll touch on just a few high spots. My wife, Eldri, and
I spent six years, very deeply involved in the Movement,  in various parts
of the hard-core South:  1961 well into 1967 -- a time period that covered
a great deal of courage, sacrifice, blood,  funerals, and eventually some
sunlight.  Initially, I was a professor at Tougaloo College, Advisor to the
Jackson Youth Council of NAACP, a prime organizer of the massive Jackson
Movement of 1962-63 and its strategy committee chair; later I was  a
grassroots Field Organizer for the  radical Southern Conference Educational
Fund; and then, in the very final period of our Southern sojourn, an organizer
of militant grassroots anti-poverty campaigns.  I was arrested and beaten
-- along with many many others  indeed -- on numerous occasions.  My
home was shot up and I was seriously injured and almost killed in a rigged auto
wreck. ( Although I practiced tactical non-violence, I certainly make no
apologies to anyone for carrying my faithful .38 Special Smith & Wesson
revolver.)  Into the Southern Movement of the 1950s and 1960s came earlier
activist and some  left radical legacies: Wobbly traditions in the very old
days, the sharecropper unions and CIO efforts in the 1930s, the then continuing
Mine-Mill [I.U.M.M.S.W.] legacy from the 1930s onward (particularly in the iron
mining sections of Alabama), the Southern Conference for Human Welfare
(predecessor of SCEF) in the '30s and '40s especially, and much more.  Some
of the people who soldiered in the emergent Southern Movement of mid-century
were old-time left radicals, and  some were much newer and  much
younger aspirants (in due course, some  Red Diapers). The great majority of
the people in the Movement -- wherever they came from, locally or otherwise --
had no especially radical background but many certainly had those instincts --
had to have them! -- and some, as the struggles and the Sixties moved on, did
emerge as consciously -- but usually non-sectarian -- left radicals. (In the
cruel and valiant realities of the Southern Struggle, an ecumenical perspective
(radical or religious or both) made damn good sense.
Most of those -- consciously radical or otherwise -- who were actually on
the front lines (as well as some canny and experienced observers elsewhere) had
either no faith in the Federal government or had very, very limited confidence
in it.  Little Rock was before my Southern time but the Eisenhower
administration was, after all, the outfit which failed -- indeed, almost always
refused -- to enforce the 1954 Brown desegregation decision and thus
gave the white Citizens' Council and Klan movements the breathing and moving
room to organize  widespread and oft-bloody massive resistance.  The
Eisenhower action at Little Rock came belatedly; and stemmed in part from
Federal fears of an out-of-control racial fire and  also from the concerns
of "sophisticated" business interests vis-a-vis "a bad business
image" for Arkansas.  In the 1962 Ole Miss (University of Mississippi)
situtation -- the admission of the first Black student (Mr. Jim Meredith) 
to any previously all-White Mississippi educational institution at any level --
the Kennedys, who had dragged their feet again and again on the Southern civil
rights issues, dallied endlessly in a game of political patty-cake with utterly
racist Governor Ross R. Barnett and his circle of hard-line segs.  The
result was a rapidly insurrectionary Mississippi which saw many killings of
Blacks in the summer and fall of 1962, as the crisis at the University moved to
a sanguinary climax.  I, myself, saw the rapidly growing armed White mobs
milling at Jackson in mid and late September, harangued by Council fire-brands
-- climaxing as an armed throng of many thousands in downtown Jackson just hours
before the bloody Ole Miss riot erupted at Oxford to the north.  Federal
marshals and thousands of Federal troops came too late to prevent the deaths of
two, injuries to hundreds, the destruction of much of the University.  With
their eye on the '64 elections, the Kennedys dragged their feet on civil rights
issues thereafter and, in the very bloody Jackson Movement days in the spring of
1963 (the most massive  grassroots upheaval in the state's history) did
everything they could -- through the Justice Department and the utterly and
consistently vicious FBI -- to undercut the militantcy of the Jackson
campaign.  The Johnson administration was certainly no better.
There were very positive changes which eventually emerged: breaking the
hard-lines of resistance to social change, the achievement of the right to
organize and dissent and the  development of widespread local leadership,
the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965,  the beginnings of desegregation
and some integration, widespread Black political participation and activism, an
end to most open terrorism, a basis for interracial and democratic
But the really radical promise of the Southern Movement of the 1950s and
1960s -- the emergence of bona fide socialism did not, of course,
materialize.  The social class dichotomies of the Southern Movement, 
joined by the integrationist/separatist debates -- all of this in the context of
these initial positive victories, much tokenism, and continuing massive economic
poverty -- combined to fragment much of the solidarity which had initially
characterized the Movement in its springtime.  Behind the scenes, the
never-ending manipulative maneuvers of stratospheric corporate liberalism and
its more localized appendages, the War,  the machiavellian usage of the
Economic Opportunity Act -- and  the FBI and its Cointelpro poisoning and
hatch-jobbing -- all had an extraordinarily destructive impact. Much of this all
was certainly going on nationally on a myriad of fronts.
When the grassroots organization, extraordinary  courage and
sacrifice, and the solidarity  and militancy  of the Southern Movement
created massive pressures on the status quo,  "cost
factors" forced the Southern economic power structure [which was
always, even in the more provincial settings such as Mississippi, involved with
all sorts of national and international capitalist dimensions] to make grudging
concessions to the 20th Century,  and forced the Federal government into
taking some positive action.  All of us involved in the Southern Movement
-- and all of those who really supported us, whatever their brand of radicalism
or whatever might be -- helped to directly make a very substantial beginning and
helped ignite and fan all sorts of other movements.  But there is a long
way to go on all social justice fronts -- and certainly to the goal of bona fide
socialism.  Every movement -- Native rights, radical, labor, civil rights
and all others reaching to the Sun -- is  built on the wreckage and remains
of its predecessors. 
It's time now to look ahead -- "many looks to the future." The
Enemy remains the same and very much at hand;  and the Goal -- genuine
democracy and socialism -- shines Over The Mountains Yonder.  And we can
all get there -- and I'm confident that we will.
Hunter Gray (Hunter Bear)    My own book -- under my
original name of John R. Salter, Jr. -- on an important part of the Southern
struggle is Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and
Schism (Krieger, 1987.)  I'll be happy to recommend many other solid
ones should anyone wish to contact me directly.
 Hunter Gray (Hunterbear)

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