I just finished reading Walking With The Wind, A Memoir of the Movement by Congressman John Lewis. I'm embarrassed to admit how much I didn't know about the Civil Rights movement in the US. I'd blame it on a loophole that allowed me to skip the 2nd year of US History in High School (and by loophole I mean I lied my way out of the class), but I doubt my early 80s history textbook would have covered it in any detail. So I probably would have been just as ignorant even with the A in history.
Do you know who else is ignorant? Every single white person that believes blacks have equal opportunity today, and that racism isn't still a problem today. Odds are not one of them has read this book. High schools should just skip the damn textbooks and read biographies all year. The kids would learn a lot more, and probably be a lot more interested as books like this are 1000X more interesting than textbooks. Reading Lewis' first hand account of Selma is bound to have just a little bit more impact than memorizing the date of the protest while reading a few white-washed paragraphs about it.
Back to the bad ass thing. Lewis discovered MLK and Ghandi around age 18, and become a lifelong advocate of non-violent change from that point. He was arrested over 40 times, and he was beat by both private citizens and law enforcement just as often. Yet not once did he raise his hand in violence to fight back. He walked into dangerous, life threatening situations over and over again, knowing he was going to beat, knowing law enforcement would not help him and would likely be participating, and he just took it every time.
That is a bad ass in every possible interpretation of the phrase.
A few other things I found interesting. The Democratic party really was no friend of the Civil Rights movement. LBJ did eventually sign the Civil Rights Act, but only after Selma forced him. He was never out in front on the issue. JFK tried to avoid the whole mess, and Lewis basically considers Jimmy Carter a sell out on the issue as President. Also, I hadn't realized that people like Maynard Jackson and Marion Barry were fairly major players in the protests. It's too bad they eventually sold out for the power, but maybe after what they went through I can sort of understand how they wanted to take advantage of the spoils of power once they got it. Doesn't make it right, obviously, but maybe understandable. I also can't help but wonder how history may have played out if Bobby Kennedy had not been assassinated, and instead had lived and became President.
One more thing that I found interesting, and particularly relevant given recent events in Indiana. The arguments white Christians are making today to justify discriminating against the GBLT community are exactly the same arguments they used pre-Civil Right Act to justify segregation. In the 60s they used the Bible and slippery slope arguments about what would be next if blacks and whites freely mixed. Today? They use the Bible and absurd concerns of man-dog marriages being next. Maybe the GBLT community should start staging sit-ins at any business that discriminates. Sadly, the black churches that were so instrumental in the Civil Rights movement are on the wrong side of the debate in 2015. I guess that isn't really surprising as the history of ethic or race relations in America is a story of groups struggling to overcome institutionalized discrimination, only to celebrate their legally equal status by discriminating against the next group fighting for equal rights. People suck sometimes.
Read the book.