History …Plus Here’s a Special Morning News Item
posted by January 29 at 7:06 AMon
Malcolm X was always pretty good at being macho. Here he is circa 1963 putting down the wimpy civil rights movement:
An old woman can sit. An old man can sit. A chump can sit. A coward can sit. Anything can sit. Well, you and I been sitting long enough. And it’s time today for us to start doing some standing. And some fighting to back that up.
Of course, in his bombast, Malcolm X missed the significance of the sit-in movement. Namely: You bet anyone can sit. That is precisely why the civil rights movement—built on sitting down at lunch counters and on buses—was so powerful.
I’m sick of the conventional “contrarian” wisdom—among hipsters, anyway— that casts the early civil rights movement as soft, while the post-civil rights/Black Power crowd was supposedly the real deal.
You see: You didn’t have to be Muhammad Ali to bring the fight. You could, in fact, be a small woman. In particular, you could be Diane Nash—one of my all-time heroes from American history.
And so, I was thrilled to see this article about Nash and her former civil rights comrades ( James Lawson, John Lewis and Jim Zwerg) in today’s NYT.
Zwerg, Lawson, and particularly Lewis and Nash (both college students at the time), were superstars of the Freedom Rides during the summer of 1961, when groups of integrated activists rode from bus station to bus station in the South to compel the federal government to enforce the 1946 and 1960 US Supreme Court rulings which had supposedly desegregated interstate bus travel. (Speaking of macho: Lewis and Zwerg, who was white, withstood bloodthirsty mob beatings when their group arrived in Montgomery, Alabama.)
This past weekend, taking along busloads of students, Nash and her aging colleagues retraced the route of the 1961 Freedom Rides as a rolling history lesson.
Nash, no chump nor coward, is also noteworthy for being one of few women who emerged as a leader in the civil rights movement.
That’s Nash second from the right (wearing glasses), sitting down at a lunch counter.
If any of this piques your interest, here’s a great book about the Freedom Rides.