Posts tagged civil rights
Posts tagged civil rights
“I feel so blessed that the government protects my wife and me from the dangers of gay marriage so we can safely go buy some assault weapons.”
— Will Ferrell irony
Fred Korematsu with Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks. Photo by Shirley Nakao, courtesy of the Korematsu Institute.In 1942, a 23-year-old welder from Oakland, California, refused to be incarcerated in a government camp because of his ethnicity. Fred Korematsu, the American-born son of Japanese immigrants, defied a presidential mandate during wartime and took a stand against racism—a fight that lasted for decades and earned him a legacy as a civil rights pioneer.
Korematsu’s story is not widely known, though three state governments are helping to change that by declaring January 30 Fred Korematsu Day—the first such holiday honoring an Asian American.
The United States officially entered World War II after Japanese fighters bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941; the country had been at war for more than a year when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 giving U.S. armed forces broad powers to incarcerate anyone in the name of military defense. The government overwhelmingly used this power to imprison Japanese Americans for having “foreign enemy ancestry” (though German Americans, Italian Americans, and Jewish Americans were also detained, in smaller numbers). Ultimately, the military kept 120,000 innocent people under armed guard in isolated areas of the West, forcing them to leave their homes, businesses, possessions, and normal lives behind—for years.
When the incarcerations began, Korematsu chose to defy the executive order and live as an ordinary American, changing his name and even undergoing minor plastic surgery on his eyes in an attempt to hide his ethnicity. Still, he was arrested in May 1942, convicted in a federal court, and held against his will at a “relocation center” until the end of the war.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all Humanity.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
Graphic image of Emmett Till’s body (bust) at burial behind link: [x]-56 years ago Emmett Till was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman… his mother refused to let his murder be be swept under the rug by having and open casket televised funeral…”Look what they did to my boy,” you’ll forever be remembered Emmett RIP
- Emmett Till, a black boy from a Chicago, was visiting his grandfather and grand-uncle Mose Wright in the town of Money, Mississippi, population about 360. Although warned by his mother not to talk to whites, he disregarded that warning, saying “Bye, baby” to Carolyn Bryant, a white woman working at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. Till and his cousin, Curtis Jones, were told to leave town. They did not. One week later, J. W. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant arrived at Wright’s house, and abducted the “nigger here from Chicago.” They beat him to death, gouging out one of his eyes, and dumped his weighted body into the Tallahatchee River. An all-white jury found the two not guilty. Emmett’s mother, Mamie, insisted on an open-casket funeral where his beaten, pulpy face was visible to the public, hoping her child did not die in vain.
“Look what they did to my boy.”
Hey, neo-Confederates, THIS is your “heritage, not hate” bullshit history is REALLY about!
Know his name. Do not let his story be forgotten.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail, April 1963.
On Monday many Americans, including myself, will celebrate January 16th as Martin Luther King Day not just to honor Martin Luther King Jr., but to honor what he stood for and the change in our society he died trying to bring about. As an atheist and a secular humanist, I join millions of other atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers who celebrate this national holiday on an annual basis.
Why, you may ask, do we non-believers take a moment out of our lives once a year to honor a man who is popularly known as a devout Christian who became a civil rights hero?
Although it is common knowledge that Dr. King and many of his fellow Christians played an important role in fighting for social justice and human rights for African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, many admirers of King are unaware of the fact that the good reverend was highly influenced by the black humanist movement and several black atheist leaders of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Norm Allen, in his speech for the Center for Inquiry titled Martin Luther King, Jr. from a Humanist Perspective, acknowledges the fact that the church became the natural breeding grounds for Black activism because of its role as one of the few institutions in which Blacks had the opportunity to organize for positive change; however, he goes on to explain how Black humanists influenced the Civil Rights Movement:
Asa Philip Randolph is widely regarded as the “Grandfather of the Civil Rights Movement.” He was an atheist, a pacifist, and a socialist. He and the Black activist Chandler Owen published a newspaper in which they were highly critical of religion. (Ironically, however, Randolph later had a lifetime honorary membership in a church. He discovered that it was difficult to organize African Americans for social protest and criticize religion at the same time.)
Randolph was the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, one of the nation’s largest labor unions. He proposed a major march on Washington in 1941. In 1963, the march was finally realized and Randolph—along with King—was one of its major speakers. He was a lifelong advocate of civil disobedience, and in 1973, he signed Humanist Manifesto II.
James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.). He was one of the “Big Four” civil rights leaders. He participated in Freedom Rides in the American South and was brutally beaten. He suffered serious injuries, many of them leading to physical complications throughout his life. He lost sight in one eye as the result of a beating, and he later developed diabetes, which led him to become a double amputee. In his later years he also signed Humanist Manifesto II, and became a member of African Americans for Humanism.
James Forman was the leader of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was a major spokesperson and civil rights activist. Ingersoll and other freethinkers influenced his thinking. He gave a major speech at Riverside Baptist Church in New York in which he demanded that White synagogues and churches pay reparations to African Americans for their role in the slave trade. News of the speech was carried on the front page of the New York Times and other major publications. In 1992 Forman addressed a conference held by the Council for Secular Humanism in Orlando, Florida.
King’s most famous speech is “I Have a Dream.” Before King, however, humanists had a similar dream. Ingersoll made a speech that is remarkably similar to King’s. Ingersoll dreamt of a world in which all people got along regardless of color, nationality, and so forth.
Langston Hughes was a major poet during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He was non-religious and was highly critical of religion. Some of his poems were deemed blasphemous, and some religionists harshly criticized him for his views. Hughes wrote a poem titled “I, Too, Dream America,” that inspired King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Another aspect of Dr. King that many people are not aware of–including some of my fellow secularists—is that Martin was also a strong proponent of the separation of church and state and was a tireless peace activist and opponent of the Vietnam war.
Susan Jacoby, in her book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism , relates a story I found interesting in which her friend once ask Dr. King what his views on Bible reading and prayer in schools were and he replied that “it would be very nice if the school day across America could begin with a reading of the Bill of Rights, after all we Negroes know our Bible.”
When asked how he felt about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision ruling school prayer unconstitutional during a 1965 interview with Playboy, King replied:
I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally, or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision.
Personally, the more I read about Martin Luther King Jr., the more I discover his humanism. All Kings Accomplishments are geared towards human needs and human rights. Although his speeches and writings were often framed in religious language, his actions focused on making this world a better place for people to live in. King fought for justice now. He encouraged his followers not to be satisfied that their suffering would be rewarded in the heaven that their religion promised, but to stand up and take their destiny into their own hands and to struggle for justice now.
Although much progress has been made regarding the civil rights of African Americans since Dr. King’s death, racism still lurks beneath a thin veil of tolerance among many niches in America and often rears its ugly head in our media and our political discourse. I think if King was alive today, he would not only be a tireless advocate of eradicating every last vestige of racism from our culture but he would also be at the forefront of other civil rights movements, advocating equality for both gays and atheists.
Great strides have been made in the last couple of years regarding civil rights for gays; however, much work is still needed. The advances made for racial, gender and sexual equality in the last few decades gives me hope for the ‘salvation of the soul of America and the human race’ as Rev. King might phrase it but what would Dr. King think about the poverty of civil rights for non-believers?
Atheists and other secular Americans are still openly discriminated against in schools, the workplace, the courtrooms, the government, the military, the media and the market place. According to the latest Pew study atheists are the most reviled minority in America.
The billboard below says volumes about how we are viewed by the majority of our fellow citizens.
I think Dr. King would be appalled by the discrimination experienced by non-believers in the 21st century and he would be right by our side in our own struggle for equality as many atheists and secular humanists marched by his side in the fight against racial injustice.
So for those of you who ask why we atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers take a moment out of our lives once a year to honor Martin Luther King Jr., it is not because of his “Christian morals” but because of his humanism and his belief in justice for all.
There is so much more to be said about this subject but for now I will leave you with a few words from MLK on science and some related links for you to peruse at your convenience.
“Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism.”
Note: Updated from a piece I wrote last year.
Those who believe in American exceptionalism should contemplate upon the fact that this isn’t ancient history. We have a lot of skeletons in our closet, so to speak.
King said in an interview that this photograph was taken as he tried to explain to his daughter Yolanda why she could not go to Funtown, a whites-only amusement park in Atlanta. King claims to have been tongue-tied when speaking to her. “One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky.”
Just something to contemplate on this MLK Day weekend.
Derrick Bell, a long-standing civil-rights advocate and legal scholar, died Wednesday in Manhattan of carcinoid cancer. He was 80 years old. Bell was the first tenured black professor at Harvard Law School, and his 1973 book, Race, Racism and American Law, became and remains a staple at law schools nationwide.
But as The New York Times noted in his obituary, Bell “was perhaps better known for resigning from prestigious jobs than for accepting them.” As a young man, he quit the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department rather than obey an order to resign from the NAACP. Later, he resigned as dean of the University of Oregon School of Law when that school failed to offer a faculty position to an Asian-American woman. And during his second stint at Harvard, in 1990, he took an unpaid leave of absence and vowed not to return until the school added a black woman to its tenured faculty.
Eventually, Harvard refused to extend his leave; Bell, by then, was teaching at New York University School of Law, where he taught until his death. Fresh Air’s Terry Gross spoke with Bell in 1992, two years into his protest against Harvard — and six years before Harvard Law School would finally grant tenure to a female black professor. Excerpts from that conversation are below.
The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a pioneer of the civil rights movement, died Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala. Shuttlesworth led Birmingham’s battle against segregation — a battle that focused the national spotlight on the violent resistance to equal rights in the South and forced change. He was 89.
“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” Thomas Jefferson