Thursday, November 21, 2013

Singing "We Shall Overcome" Did Not Defeat Jim and Jane Crow: A Conversation With Professor Mark Grimsley About How the American Civil Rights Movement Was a Type of Military Insurgency

The Civil Rights Movement and the Black Freedom Struggle did not defeat Jim and Jane Crow and formal White Supremacy in America by just singing songs such as "I Shall Overcome", and accepting public, wholesale, butt whoopings by the forces of American Apartheid.

The triumph of a several centuries-long struggle to remake American society in order to extend full citizenship to people of color was the result of the efforts by strategically and tactically minded people to move public opinion, while also challenging white elites to act in the latter's own long-term self-interest.

Ultimately, the visual of non-violent protesters fighting for civil rights dominates American public memory.

Likewise, a story about tired old ladies such as Rosa Parks--who in reality was relatively young, a secretary for the local chapter of the NAACP, and an agent who was part of a planned protest--dominates how many Americans remember and think about the Civil Rights Movement.

A more critical read of the struggle by Black Americans and their allies to win full citizenship rights reveals a much more complicated reality wherein those day-to-day struggles for freedom existed in the context of the Cold War, sophisticated planning by its leaders and participants, and what was for all intents and purposes, a type of military insurgency against the forces of racial terrorism and totalitarianism embodied by American Apartheid and Jim and Jane Crow.

In this newest episode of the podcast series here on We Are Respectable Negroes, I was lucky to talk with Mark Grimsley, professor of American History at Ohio State University. He is a scholar of military history and author of seven books including The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865.

I was compelled to reflect upon the "hidden history" of the long Black Freedom Struggle because the language of war is common to how so many of us think about the how African-Americans (and others) resisted white supremacy in the United States.

Words and phrases such as "resistance", "opposition", and "struggle" dominate that discourse. Moreover, given how violence was used against the Black and Brown Freedom Struggle by the forces of racial state, I am struck by how the dynamic nature of the Civil Rights Movement, one that combined the carrot and the stick, has been systematically erased from public memory.

Professor Grimsley does some great work here in locating the Black Freedom Struggle and Civil Rights Movement within a larger American tradition of dignity, struggle, resistance, and agency. Black Americans and our allies were sophisticated strategic and tactical thinkers who were engaged in (many cases) a literal war for freedom. Mark's work is invaluable as it serves as a corrective to a flattened version of history, and also validates what many people of color know, knew, and instinctively understand, about the full range of resistance that was marshaled against American Apartheid.

My conversation with Dr. Grimsley is central to many of the issues we have talked about here on We Are Respectable Negroes since its inception about race, citizenship, struggle, and resistance.

I do hope you enjoy the conversation.

3:30 How did you discover your interest in military history?
6:22 What was it like to go to the United Kingdom to study military history and then develop that into your research on the American Civil War?
8:22 Given the current college environment where the customer must be pleased at all costs and the importance of evaluations, what is it like to deal with students who think they know something about war and and conflict and you then have to challenge their assumptions?
12:18 How is history being taught in high schools? How is standard testing hurting the teaching of history in college? What are some common misunderstandings held by hobbyists about the causes of the Civil War and black slavery?
16:03 Why do some many people find the American Civil War so fascinating? How did the Civil War come to be some important to your own research and scholarly interests?
18:46 What are your thoughts on American Civil War reenactors? What is your professional opinion about the accuracy of movies such as "Glory?"
23:15 Is "Glory" an "accurate" movie about the tactics and strategies deployed by the forces fighting in the American Civil War? As an expert what do you think of the movie?
28:45 How is the long Black Freedom Struggle and Civil Rights Movement a type of military insurgency? How do you qualify your analysis?
33:45 What was the light bulb moment when you realized that theories of military science could be applied to the American Civil Rights Movement?
37:04 What was the response to your theories? Why did some scholars respond negatively to the suggestion that the American Civil Rights Movement was a type of insurgency?
40:11 When did the American Civil Rights Movement begin? Was it just in the 1950s or did it begin much earlier? How can we better understand Jim and Jane Crow as military domination and violence against Black Americans?
48:18 If the American Civil Rights Movement can be understood within a military science framework, how do you locate the Colfax Massacre and the events in Albany, Georgia within that narrative?
53:45 Why didn't the defenders of Jim and Jane Crow learn from what happened in Albany in order to defang and defeat the American Civil Rights Movement? Why did the forces of White Supremacy so grossly underestimate the sophistication of the forces working against them? Arrogance? Bigotry?
57:28 Why isn't the martial and armed resistance aspect of the Black Freedom Struggle and American Civil Rights Movement discussed more in the public discourse? How are black shepherds of the memory of the Black Freedom Struggle complicit in suppressing this aspect of the narrative?
64:54 Is the election of President Barack Obama a strategic or tactical victory for the Black Freedom Struggle and the American Civil Rights Movement? How do you qualify and locate his election within your theoretical frameworks?
69:14 What texts would you suggest for those listeners who are interested in learning more about the role of armed resistance and how the American Civil Rights Movement was a type of insurgency?
70:14 What books would you suggest for interested listeners who want to learn more about military history, both in terms of the United States, and globally?
72:30 Where can listeners find you online? What are your future projects?


Winifred said...

Thank you for this! I am an anthropology professor and teach a course on war and militarization, and this has given me some wonderful resources for this class and new insights. Many thanks.

SabrinaBee said...

I was just thinking about this in light of Oprah's recent comments. I came here because I thought you might have something on that. Better to see this, which I am surely going to read/give a listen to when I get home.

chauncey devega said...

Thank Dr. Grimsley. He was so generous with his time. I am going to be getting some of the books he suggested as his model is akin to something I have been thinking about for some time. I am glad to hear that the podcast is of use. Much appreciated.

chauncey devega said...

Thank you. Meh on the Oprah stuff for now. There are so many more important things to talk about. I will be explaining my evolving thoughts on "racism chasing" next week or the week after.

Bryan Ortez said...

That was a great podcast. Thank you both for having such an insightful discussion.

SabrinaBee said...

Interesting. So the whole Civil Rights movement could have turned out very differently. I've been listening to the book American Theocracy by Kevin Philips, during my drive and in the second chapter, the author outlines how after the civil war, the pro-slavery southerners turned their tactics towards nullifying the results by being elected to office. By doing that they worked to undermine Reconstruction. In that sense, I view the Civil Rights victory (tactical though it may have been) as a part of where we wanted to be. As your guest mentioned, MLK still had not been able to achieve economic equality and the results, among the other covert actions from the "southerners," show today, in the various studies as well as books put out by Tim Wise and Michelle Alexander. BTW, have you read Tim Wise's Between Barack and a Hard Place? I saw a Youtube video where he gave a talk and points out ways in which Obama is being, through either hypocrisy or willful ignorance, misleading about the state of race today. You think Oprah is a racism chaser? Not that I'm any great fan but, she did hit on a point. It has only been 48 years since civil rights, many of those people, a lot lawmakers, still inhabit the office in many states, as well as congress. And minds certainly don't change overnight. I think, those factors, have much to do with everything important that pertains to us.

SabrinaBee said...

Too easy? How so? In terms of washing his hands? This is the first I have read of him. Of course, there is a bent with him and that is the religious aspect. I am going between he, Alexander and Racist America by Joe R. Feegin.

chauncey devega said...

"Of course, there is a bent with him and that is the religious aspect."

Meaning? He is deeply critical of Christian dominionism and evangelicalism and its dangerous impact on American politics--thus the title "American Theocracy".

chauncey devega said...

Thank you for listening. Do share with friends and colleagues so we get more folks on board. What did you find most interesting or compelling about the conversation?

Bryan Ortez said...

Well, I listened to it twice, not quite through to the end the second time while doing things around my house. I wanted to listen again when I get a chance.

I thought the discussion about the Civil War was interesting, the reenactors, the causes and conflicts in contemporary society of those causes.

I was thinking about why people choose to reenact the Civil War.

I think they do it because it is the only one which pits Americans against Americans. Much of the battle regalia is also more relevant to contemporary Americans.

There is perhaps also a 'heritage' aspect for some seeking to celebrate their past.

I read the American Iliad to get a better idea about the Civil War time period. It's pretty good. I am currently reading A Slave No More about to different slaves who escaped during the Civil War conflict. It provides a very good perspective from the viewpoint of people who are enslaved and desire freedom. That freedom seems to have been closely related to Union victories.

I had also never thought about the Civil Rights Movement as a prolonged insurgency. I wanted to go back and listen to that again.

That Washington Post journalist Cohen admitted to not understanding the brutality of slavery or something like that. I am pretty sure that is very common. It is also somehow, some way of pointing to this as a thing of our distant past (it's not that distant) and not recognizing the manner in which whites continued to systematically exclude and control people of color in the United States.

I think the assassination of MLK is pretty telling in how the civil rights movement, which occupies the 50's and 60's in the standard historic framework, was abruptly cut short and how whites in America would continue to not question their dominance over blacks and the resulting inequalities of increased segregation, particularly by income once residential restrictions were challenged and fought.

Bryan Ortez said...

Controlling the narrative is something that I am familiar with. Paulo Freire discusses it in his work "Educating for Critical Consciousness."

I think activism should focus on controlling the historic narrative. Often I feel that people treat history as though the outcomes were inevitable. As if individuals put themselves into their positions by some outstanding quality and is not viewed as individual life decisions amid cultural institutions that some people have more or less access to.

Examining the differences in narratives that do exist; ie. states rights v. slavery as cause for the Civil War, I picked up a copy of Patriot's History of America.

I had to keep myself from throwing it away several times and when I finished their section on Indian Wars of the late 1800's I put it down and haven't picked it back up. I haven't read their section on the civil rights section, but I am looking at it a little right now. There are two chapters here that look at the 1950's through to 1974.
The first chapter is titled: America's "Happy Days" 1946-1959
The second chapter is titled: The Age of Upheaval, 1960-1974.

The second paragraph to "The Age of Upheaval" states:

"the 1960's changed American life and culture more profoundly than any other ten-year period in the twentieth century. Modern society continues to deal with many of the pathologies generated by the era of 'free love,' 'tune in, turn on, and drop out,' and rebellion. Every aspect of America's fabric, from national image and reputation to family life, experienced distasteful side effects from the upheaval that began when John F. Kennedy won the presidential election of Richard Nixon."

The language I am getting from this era, one of the most important times in the struggle to end overt oppression in America in the 20th century, is that largely these organizations were bad for Americans.

After talking elections, foreign conflicts, communism/militarism, he gets to a few parts titled: Race, Rights, and the War on Poverty; Origins of Welfare Dependency; Three streams converge; Red-Diaper Babies; Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll; Protests, Mobs and the Media.

Here is a common way of presenting riots in American history.

In their section on Race, Rights, and the War on Poverty they say:
"Yet less than two weeks after the first of the civil rights acts passed, the first large scale race riots occurred, in Harlem. Further rioting followed in Rochester, Paterson, Philadelphia, Chicago, with one of the worst episodes of violence occurring in Watts, California."

Here they just list off cities where violence occurred at the hands of black people without really dissecting those issues further. I wonder if they would give the same treatment to whites for the many, many, many ways they terrorized black families wherever they happened to go. Looking back at their section on segregation, which occurs in the 1940's and 50's and apparently does not start earlier, they don't really.

They do talk about racism, the KKK and a few other white supremacist organizations, they really give 'white elite liberals from New York and Hollywood' a bad name for the segregation in those cities.

In their section about the Civil War, they actually trivialize the importance of blacks to Union success at the end of the war. They complain some revisionist historians have gone in and tried to over emphasize their involvement in the final battles against the Confederacy.

SabrinaBee said...

A very myopic view of America prevails now and accounts for all this nostalgia of times past and returning to them. Needless to say, this does not make black feel especially confident that we are not one majority vote away from reenacting Jim Crow. They've done their work expertly as the left slept or was bought off or convinced. Sometimes I can't help but shake my head at the irony because, the hippie/ anti Vietnam era was a result of that free college education they were passing out back then to all except blacks, or the huge overflow of drug use into suburbia, likely an off shoot of allowing drugs to be funneled into inner cities. Or the illegal sales of guns to inner city youth, a tactic they employ to unsettle other nations, resulting in mass shootings in their own havens. I suppose they are willing to accept a few casualties so long as they get to advance the narrative that blacks are bad, I daresay, incapable of governing themselves and therefore should be forced back into separation.

Bryan Ortez said...

To be honest, I have a hard time holding conversations with conservatives. Just the other day a member in an online group posted a video of Ruby Bridges integrating in New Orleans.

Another member said, "Ancient history!"

I'm shocked, Ruby Bridges is still alive. B. J. Guillot, white Catholic woman who organized protests of integration calling themselves the Cheerleaders, is still alive.
Guillot was excommunicated from the Catholic church, along with her husband. She has yet to reform her ideology and gain acceptance back to her church.

Frank said...

Thank you.

chauncey devega said...

Thank you for listening! How are things?

chauncey devega said...

I learned so much. It was a pleasure for me. I hear you on the compelling nature of the American Civil War. I just don't get how anyone of decent or fair mindedness or who doesn't want to just feel dirty can play the CSA except out of a sense of obligation for balance sake.