Monday, September 08, 2008

In Honor of Community Organizing

H/T Kevin and Sylvia.

When I first heard, via tweets from mattt, Donna, and Kevin, how the Republicans snarkily maligned community organizing to attack one prominent former community organizer, I was floored.

As a historian of African Americans in the American South, my respect for community organizers is measureless. These were the people that got tired of the status quo and shook things up, who kicked Jim Crow’s ass mercilessly after he had beaten them down for decades. For the organizers who came from the communities seeking change, there was not even the little bit of escape that organizers from outside the communities had—there would be no going home (or back north) to rest your weary body or regroup. Your home might have been firebombed or riddled with bullets or you might have been evicted from it.

And yet, because they were “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” they persevered.

So here is some suggested reading about the power and effect of community organizing:

Aldon Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change

Charles Payne, I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

And here are two community organizers, women I love, historical figures whom I highly revere.

Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer:

She grew tired of a life dictated by sharecropping and white supremacy and decided to make a change. She tried to register to vote and took some members of her community with her. After being arrested and evicted, she kept on. She worked to register voters. She was arrested again and beaten. She helped organize Freedom Summer. She, along with other delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, appeared at the Democratic National Convention to show the other Democratic Mississippi delegation as a farce--it only represented white Mississippians. After the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, she didn't stop working for her community. From Wikipedia:

She continued to work on other projects, including grassroots-level Head Start programs, the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign.
I don't think that's anything to make fun of.

And here is Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark:

I know her most for her work with adults, teaching them to read and about citizenship education, through the Highlander Folk School. From the AT&T South Carolina African-American History calendar:
Long before sit-in demonstrations and bus boycotts, Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark waged a personal war against racism. in the early 1920s, she was involved in efforts to allow blacks to teach in public schools in Charleston. But after she was named vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP, she was barred from teaching in South Carolina public schools. She was firm in her resolve and never wavered in her support of the NAACP. Mrs. Clark spent all of her life to insure a better lifestyle for all people. She worked with the YWCA, the Tuberculosis Association, and the Charleston Health Department.

She provided valuable training to the residents of the Carolina sea islands. She also established schools for illiterate adults. Septima Clark's national prominence came as a result of their work to establish citizenship schools throughout the 11 states of the Deep South. When legislation called for Americans to be able to read and interpret portions of the Constitution in order to register to vote, Mrs. Clark devoted her time to teaching these skills to thousands of southern blacks. Based on her experiences at the Highlander Folk School near Chattanooga, Tennessee, the citizenship schools were formed to teach blacks to read, write and understand the basic structure of the government.
So this idea that community organizers are somehow not valid, that community organizing is not important, honorable work? Lots of people are calling bullshit on that today. Kevin has a list of them.


Unknown said...

Excellent information! Thank you for participating in our 'Day of Blogging for Justice: Community Organizers'...

peace, Villager

Unknown said...

Excellent post! Thanks for the information.
I think the organizers of today's blogging effort should be applauded for getting the word out about this Blogging Day For Justice! I am honored to join the ranks of other Community workers to let our voice be heard! I am proud to be a Community Worker and Community Organizer!

Courtney said...

I would argue that this nation's history is full of community organizers (certainly from the CR movement, but also elsewhere.) How about Jane Addams and other Settlement House movement workers? Could we even say that Sam Adams was a community organizer?

Anonymous said...

The problem is precisely that community organizers *are* honorable, serious, powerful, etc., and a lot of famous ones are Black.
The GOP is being racist here, etc. They are trying to disable and discredit, and raise in whites the fear of nonwhite persons. What if they finally get equality? Oh no no no, vote Republican.

elle said...

thanks for stopping in, all.

Welcome, Regina and Villager.

Quinn, I put Sam Adams in the "rabble-rouser" category. :-p j/k

Profacero, I agree.

Kevin Andre Elliott said...

I haven't read I've Got the Light of Freedom. I'll be trying to get my hands on a copy tomorrow.

@Profacero: Yep, this shit is racist and classist to the core.

Yobachi said...

I've read a good bit of the origins of the civil rights movement; it's a great book so far.

I added your post to my round up

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...