The Right of Jim Crow to Defend Itself
by Mark Chmiel
“We do not believe the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza,” [Hilary] Clinton told reporters at a news conference with the visiting foreign minister of the Philippines. “We think that it’s not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke action by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”
–reported by Matthew Lee, Associated Press, Thursday 23 June 2011
Increasingly, a political-moral link is being made between the soon to embark Gaza Flotilla and the 1961 Freedom Riders.
Imagine a local or national politician, Southern or Northern, for that matter, saying the following in 1961: “We do not believe that the so-called Freedom Ride is a necessary or useful effort to assist the Negroes in the South.” Back then, paternalistic politicians would object to direct action being taken by mere citizens, black or white. “Necessary” and “useful” action, by definition, would be that taken by elected officials, who know better, know more, and ought to be trusted by the people they represent.
Then, imagine the politician (governor, senator, administration official) claiming: “It’s not helpful for there to be Freedom Rides that try to provoke action by integrating those buses on Southern highways and creating a situation in which the whites have the right to defend themselves.”
Some whites did “defend” themselves, firebombing one of the buses at Anniston. They further defended themselves when the Freedom Riders arrived at the Birmingham bus station. Whites used baseball bats and iron pipes to teach a lesson to these provocateurs. An FBI informant contributed to the beating. White activists were singled out by the provoked Klansmen for special attention; for instance, Jim Peck required over fifty stitches to deal with wounds he suffered on his head.
In his study of the civil rights years, historian Taylor Branch noted that in a second State of the Union address in May 1961, President Kennedy spoke of his “freedom doctrine,” in words that will sound quite familiar to people today: “The great battleground for the defense and expansion of freedom today is the whole southern half of the globe—Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, the lands of the rising peoples. Their revolution is the greatest in human history. They seek an end to injustice, tyranny, and exploitation.” Unmentioned by Kennedy in his address was either the injustice/tyranny toward blacks in the U.S. south, or the efforts of the Freedom Riders.
The Freedom Riders decided they were not going to be deterred by the violence in Alabama and, so, they continued on to Mississippi, the New York Times stated, “They are challenging not only long-held customs, but passionately held feelings. Non-violence that deliberately provokes violence is a logical contradiction.” According to a Gallup poll that summer, 63% of the American population did not approve of the Freedom Rides.
The Gaza Flotilla is likewise challenging long-held customs and passionately held feelings, such as those of Hilary Clinton and the Obama Administration that Israel can get away with injustice, tyranny, and exploitation against the Palestinians.
And as for the allegedly provocative non-violence of the Flotilla activists, they may be quite familiar with these words from a famous letter by Martin Luther King, Jr. a couple years after the sit-ins and Freedom Rides began to dismantle Jim Crow: “Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
For the governments of the United States and Israel, such exposure by the flotilla internationals in solidarity with the Palestinian people is unnecessary, not useful, and, obviously, harmful.
Alabama governor George Wallace said in 1962, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
In so many words and by so many actions, Hilary Clinton and the Obama Administration has likewise proclaimed, unity with Israel today, unity with Israel tomorrow, and unity with Israel forever. Translated: The Gaza Flotilla be damned.
Now, as then, there’s the agenda to maintain domination, pursued by such people as George Wallace, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and Hilary Clinton.
Now, as then, there’s the agenda to struggle for freedom, pursued by people like Dianne Nash, Jim Peck, Hedy Epstein, and Alice Walker.