Tag Archives: Trayvon Martin

Marches on Washington, Then and Now

Laurie says:

The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is today got me thinking about an earlier march.  It was May 17th, 1957.  I was 15 and although I’d been doing activist work, it had all been near my home in NYC. My friend Pat and I had heard about the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom.   Her father, an activist, was editor of the UAW magazine Ammunition.  He made the connections so that we could go down on the night bus with the Jamaica (Queens) NAACP.  I don’t remember sleeping much. The crowd was  by far the largest I’d ever been in.  We were asked to wave handkerchiefs instead of applauding the speakers because it was a religious event.  The intensity of the suppressed energy of the silent applause is still with me.

The speakers that I remember vividly are Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr. ( Powell speaks powerfully on the video in the link below, but he’s not mentioned in any of the limited materials I found.)

A web search found the following from The Civil Rights Digital Library.  There is a brief video of the event here; it really is worth watching.

The Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington for Freedom took place on May 17, 1957, when a crowd of over thirty thousand nonviolent demonstrators, from more than thirty states, gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the third anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In addition to celebrating the three-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to end segregation in public education, the Prayer Pilgrimage also dramatized and politicized the failure of most southern states to work toward or implement the court-ordered desegregation of their schools. The pilgrimage was organized by A. Philip Randolph, a noted leader of the Civil Rights movement who gained recognition in 1941 when his plan for a mass gathering in Washington to draw attention to discrimination in the war defense industry, prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to desegregate the nation’s munitions factories and establish the Fair Employment Practices Commission.  The demonstration’s three-hour program featured addresses, prayers, songs and scripture recitations led Mahalia Jackson, Roy Wilkins and Mordecai Johnson, as well as, Martin Luther King Jr.’s first address before a national audience…. at the time it occurred, the march earned the distinction of being the largest organized demonstration for Civil Rights, and was instrumental in laying the groundwork for future marches on the nation’s capitol.

On this past July 20th I was at the San Francisco vigil, part of the 100 City Vigil for Trayvon Martin.  It got me thinking about how much and how little things have changed since I was fifteen.  Emmett Till was murdered when I was 13. Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012 when I was 70.  It enrages and saddens me that still white men escape any penalty murdering young black men.  Emmett Till was 14 and Trayvon Martin was  17.  I know that many things have changed, but I am deeply unhappy about the things that haven’t changed or haven’t changed nearly enough.

But I feel hopeful about a renewed civil rights movement as exemplified by the Dreamers in Florida and the very recent immigrant rights demonstrators in Phoenix.  And by the people fighting yet another time for the vote.  As I heard Martin Luther King say in 1957:  Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the Federal Government about our basic rights. And despite an African-American president and an African-American Attorney General – it’s a long time coming.

Tough Women Make the News

Debbie says:

Laurie and I don’t usually get our blogging sources from mainstream politics, but this week I found myself watching two clips from TV news, both of which I think have resonances for Body Impolitic readers.

Rachel Jeantel was a key witness in the Trayvon Martin case. The video showing a widely-reported moment in her testimony is proprietary and can’t be embedded. It features her saying, quietly and without heat, “That’s real retarded, sir,” when the defense attorney asks her for the second time if Martin might have been lying to her when he told her where he was just before he ended the call, and minutes before he died.

Jeantel’s like is almost never seen on television. In the days since she testified, there has been a firestorm of anti-Jeantel tweets, blog posts and blog comments, exactly as to be expected, as well as a substantial outbreak of pro-Jeantel commentary. The marvelous Crunk Feminist Collective is collecting online thank-you notes for her. I was delighted to send one. Of course, Jeantel’s race and class work against her in the courtroom. She is being criticized for her looks (surprise!), her language (meaning that she sounds like who she is, Caribbean-American and Florida street), and her “attitude.” Commenters have called her “Precious,” referring to the character played by Gabourey Sidibe in the movie of that name. She does look somewhat like Sidibe, but the reference is often not complimentary.

I wanted to call her out here for courage–simply stepping into a courtroom is an act of valor for a young woman who lives in a completely different world–and for grace under pressure. And whatever comes of the case (I don’t have much hope that Zimmerman will lose), she stands as an image that so many young women need, in a world that does everything it can to make the Rachel Jeantel’s invisible. Being a figure of fun sucks, but in many ways it’s better than being disappeared.


Then there’s Tammy Duckworth.The Democratic U.S. Representative from Illinois made a lot of news when she won in November. She has a Purple Heart after losing both legs, and use of her right arm, in Iraq. She’s also a woman of color, and a native of Thailand.

In a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Duckworth finds herself with the opportunity to speak with Braulio Castillo, a man who injured his ankle as a teenager in a U.S. Military Preparatory School, went on to play football in college, and now runs a company which has relied on substantial investment from the U.S., because he qualifies as a disabled vet. In fact, his ankle disability is rated at 30% disability, while Duckworth’s arm (which she may still lose) is rated at 20% disability.

Watch how kind Duckworth is to him at the beginning, and how she transitions to her take-no-prisoners climax. Listen to how clear she is about her own disability and how it affects her every day. Even the notorious Darrell Issa, right-wing chair of the committee, calls it “time well spent” (after, of course, he calls Duckworth “the young lady”). Duckworth is being attacked for her treatment of Castillo in the right-wing blogosphere (where one position is that she’s right that folks like Castillo should not be getting government “handouts,” but she treated him unfairly nonetheless).

As long as strong women like these two speaking their minds in difficult situations make the news, we get to see and hear them, imprint their images on our minds, and judge for ourselves.