Week 49. Historical Events. Describe a memorable national historical event from your childhood. How old were you and how did you process this event? How did it affect your family?
|Me in the upper left corner. News photos from 1963.|
In 1963 I was 16 and a junior at Northwestern High School in Detroit. In the news were pictures of dogs attacking people who were peacefully demonstrating, high pressure hoses being used on people who were peacefully demonstrating, bombings of homes and churches, people being abused while sitting at lunch counters, people being arrested. Governor George Wallace of Alabama, stood in the door to block the integration of the University of Alabama. Women were dragged from demonstrations to the paddy wagon. Medgar Evers was murdered in Jackson, MS in front of his home. Four girls were blown up while attending Sunday school in Birmingham, Alabama. Two teenage boys were killed during the rioting afterwards. There were two gigantic demonstrations that year, the Detroit Walk to Freedom followed by the March on Washington. Both drew over 100,000. President Kennedy was assassinated. Lee Harvey Oswald was killed, Cassius Clay who had not yet become Muhammad Ali was winning fight after fight. Malcolm X was speaking out and Martin Luther King, Jr was arrested in Birmingham, AL. Here and there people began to wear their hair in afros. In Detroit, the Freedom Now Party was seeking petitions to get on the ballot for the 1964 election and Malcolm X spoke at the Grassroots Conference.
How did all of this affect me and my family? I was angry but I also felt I was part of the struggle of the black community. I wondered why the federal government didn't send troops down south to protect people who wanted to vote. I wrote revolutionary poetry. It wasn't very good poetry. My family talked about everything that was happening. They were publishing the Illustrated News during that time and wrote about changes that had to come and the movement of the struggle from the south to the north and what the differences would be as this happened. Ossie and Ruby Davis, James Baldwin, John O. Killens, Clarence Jones, Odetta, and others formed the Association of Artists for Freedom, which called for a Christmas boycott to protest the church bombing, and asked that people, instead of buying gifts, make Christmas contributions to civil rights organizations. I remember we participated in the boycott but I don't remember anything else about that Christmas. I will have to ask around and see if anybody else remembers what we did on Christmas Day, 1963. To be continued.