1/21/2002

 

MLK, Jr. Day is For All Who Fought For Rights

 

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and while he has become the symbol of the civil rights movement, and well deserved, I’m sure he would welcome acknowledging some of the other people that were important in it.

 

There were some unlikely players, like Fannie Lou Hamer. A little old dynamo for civil rights who was deeply involved throughout, suffering arrests and persecutions but never yielding in her struggle. Successful blacks like Lena Horne risked their relative success, and their health, by being active in the movement.

 

A couple of the more interesting people were the Evers brothers, Charles and Medgar. They spent years struggling for civil rights, from long before it was popular, until, in Charles case, he became the first black mayor in a racially mixed Southern town since the Reconstruction. Charles is quite a character, and no saint, as he himself will say. An entrepreneur, a hell-raiser, someone who won’t be told what to do by whites trying to oppress, or by blacks he disagreed with in the movement. His business ventures included taxis for blacks (since the white taxis wouldn’t take blacks), bars he owned, and the prostitutes who worked in those bars.

 

But in the movement their bravery was amazing, and long suffering. For years they and their families often slept on the floor with tables turned on their sides toward the front of the house so if anyone shot-up the house at night they’d be less likely to be hit.

 

One of the bravest moves they made was to go to the courthouse to vote. This was in 1946, long before the movement was at its height. This was also after they’d come home as veterans yet couldn’t vote in the country they’d fought for. They had already made waves just by registering to vote. So when election day came there were over 200 Klan types at the courthouse with their guns. They blocked all the doors. After a lot of posturing and facing each other down the Evers simply decided the heck with the danger and literally pushed their way past the men and guns to get inside.

 

Afterward they were warned by several truck loads of men that they were going to get them that night. The Evers told them to come on. They waited at their home that night. Didn’t go off and hide, but held their ground. No one showed up.

 

For all his service to the country and bravery Medgar was, years later, rewarded with a bullet in the back from a cowardly assassin hiding in the dark in the bushes when he came home.

 

These were brave people standing up for principles that are basic to our country, and our country is better off for it. I think a day of commemoration is well deserved.

 

If you’d like to read about them check out “Have No Fear” about Charles Evers, and “This Little Light Of Mine” about Fannie Lou Hamer.