Sunday, August 25, 2013

Massachusetts, Memphis, and the March on Washington DC

The March on Washington yesterday began our 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington that culminated in Martin Luther King, Jr’s. “I Have a Dream” speech. This coming Wednesday, the precise anniversary of the original march, President Obama will address the nation from the Lincoln Memorial.  Barack Obama will be standing on the same spot from which King’s speech convinced our lawmakers to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). 

Today, we find ourselves slipping backwards in regard to these areas of social equality, and our voting rights are under great threat (thanks to an unconscionably flawed decision by our Supreme Court). At the same time, these past fifty years have not seen great strides in the area of jobs, especially considering that the official name for the 1963 event was “The March for Jobs and Freedom.”

The following photographs augment yesterday’s march and the events that will culminate in President Obama’s Wednesday address. They reveal the overarching issue of civil rights as treated by the famous American artist and illustrator, Norman Rockwell (who lived in Massachusetts), as seen in some of the displays of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee (now under renovation, so inaccessible), and in the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC. All three sets of images offer insights and generate pride in this great country of ours.




Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA:

In his later years, Norman Rockwell would look back on his artistic work and opine: “For 47 years, I portrayed the best of all possible worlds – grandfathers, puppy dogs – things like that. That kind of stuff is dead now, and I think it’s about time.”  The art historian, Karal Ann Marling also notes that the decade of the 1960s saw a "'new' Norman Rockwell committed to the cause of desegregation and racial justice."  Nevertheless, the seeds for his new, more socially-charged work were planted by June of 1943, according to Jack Doyle, "when Roderick Stephens, an African-American activist and head of the Bronx Interracial Conference, wrote to Rockwell urging him to do a series of paintings to promote interracial relations."

Here are two works of art the reveal the "new" Norman Rockwell.


Norman Rockwell, Murder in Mississippi, 1965, Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA


Norman Rockwell, The Problem We All Live With, 1964, Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA

The top painting is a study that Rockwell did for Look magazine about the murder of three young civil rights activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. Deputy Sheriff Price and several Klan members kidnapped them, shot and buried them under tons of dirt at a rural dam site.  Rockwell only shows the victims, leaving the deputy and klansmen mere silhouettes on the ground, lit by their torches.

This painting is also titled, "Southern Justice," the title of the Look article that it accompanied.  It is interesting to note that the irony of this phrase, in which "justice" is anything but just, also could be seen yesterday at the Washington March.  The New York Times reported that people were wearing T-shirts depicting Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie accompanied by the phrase, "American Justice."  

The bottom painting, which appeared in Look magazine  centerfold, depicts six-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted by federal marshalls into the newly de-segregated New Orleans William Frantz Elementary School in 1960. A tomato "bomb" and the N-word have decorated the wall behind Ruby. In the summer of 2011, President Obama displayed this painting, temporarily, just outside the oval office in the West Wing of the White House.




National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee:


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Entrance


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Room 306 and Cars


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Boarding House Bathroom and View to Room 306

These first four photographs set the stage for King's assassination on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The fourth photograph shows the window through which James Earl Ray took aim with his rifle.


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Historical Display


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Jim Crow & Plessy v. Ferguson Historical Displays

These two photographs provide some of the early history of civil rights, including the quotation from Frederick Douglass, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."  

As to the racial segregation that became known as "Jim Crow" and suppressed black Americans in so many ways, we now seem to be enabling its invidious re-entry into our social fabric in our imbalanced incarceration of black Americans, suppression of speech by certain groups (even during yesterday's march), and in the attempts by many states to disenfranchise black and hispanic voters.  As Hillary Clinton recently declared, “Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.”


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Rosa Parks on the Bus

Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back of her bus on December 1, 1955 and her subsequent arrest for disregarding Jim Crow laws initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted more than a year and ended racial segregation on all Montgomery, Alabama public buses.


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Civil Disobedience at the Lunch Counter

The Nashville, TN lunch counter sit-in is powerfully recreated in the Lee Daniels movie (just released), The Butler.  Go see it.



National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Model of Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama

On this bridge, on March 7, 1965, peaceful marchers for civil rights were attacked by a mob of white citizens as well as police in what became known as "Bloody Sunday."  it became a major turning point for public support of the Civil Rights Movement and showed the effectiveness of Martin Luther King's strategy of non-violence.



National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Freedom Riders, Burned-out Greyhound Bus

Here is the burned Greyhound Bus carrying the Freedom Riders, who were testing interstate bus segregation, when it was stopped in Anniston, Georgia. A crowd set the bus on fire and beat up the occupants, including seven members of the Congress of Racial Equality.  The movie, The Butler, also re-enacts this event.


National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Sanitation Workers' Strike, Memphis, TN

Martin Luther King came to Memphis in support of the sanitation workers, and it was while here that he was killed. The strike began on February 11, 1968. King was murdered on April 4 of that year. The strike ended on April 16, 1968, resulting in union recognition and wage increases.



National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King's Jail Cell, Montgomery, AL

It was from this cell that King wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham" defending the strategy of non-violent resistance, even as he stood firm in his demands: "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." His letter was written on April 16, 1963.




National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, Gate to Boarding House  Section

On April 3, 1958, the evening before he was murdered, Martin Luther King gave his "Mountaintop Speech," in which he uttered these words:  "I may not get there with you but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the Promised Land." The words structure this gate.



National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, I Have a Dream Speech, Video Display



Martin Luther King, Jr. National Monument, Washington, DC:



Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011 


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011 


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011, Wall of Quotations 


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011, Wall of Quotations, Montgomery, 1955


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011, Wall of Quotations, Washington, 1959


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011, Wall of Quotations, Strength to Love, 1963


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011, Wall of Quotations, Washington, 1968


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011, Wall of Quotations, Norway, 1964 


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011, Wall of Quotations, Georgia, 1967


Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington DC, Lei Yixin, 2011, "A Stone of Hope" 


This selection of some of king's quotations should suffice as inspiration to all of us, whether Americans or citizens of the world.



Washington DC, Storefront Mural, H Street, NE


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