A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
They Shoot Blacks, Don't They?
June 6, 2002
by Wilhelmina Sims
Literacy questions (?)
THE PRESIDENT asked a question.
While an "adoring" (my observation) Condoleezza Rice looks on, he asks, an "astonished" Fernando Henrique, President of Brazil, "Do they have blacks here, too?"
Cut to 1956 Neshoba County, Mississippi. Cornelius Steele, a black landowner was making his 5th attempt to register to vote. First, Mr. Steele had to pass a voting literacy test question. Literacy test questions were particularly loathsome and they made no pretense of fairness. "Test" questions were posed by the white clerk and the potential "negro" voter "passed" at his discretion. They were a flexible tool in the South to disenfranchise the black vote at the all important ballot box. "How many bubbles in a bar of soap?" the laughing poll worker asked Cornelius Steele. In 1955, the clerk almost let him past the roadblocks of a test question: "Tell you what, Cornelius, if I let you register, will you tell them other niggers?" Cornelius said he would. He wasn't registered.
The literacy test did not just exclude voting age black men who could not read. It excluded almost all black men, one, who would go on to receive the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, and, another, who would have a New York City College named after him. Both, shot and killed.
This most formidable voting barrier, the literacy test, and it's ugly pattern of denial, sent a message to southerners and their conspirators. The message went out to: law enforcement, terrorists (KKK), merchants, paid spies, as well as the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government. The message, "fight" for the "southern way of life" -- by "any means necessary." Use every tool, local law, state legislation, favorable decisions by judges and juries. Preserve the white power structure by blocking blacks from voting. And, if all else fails, resort to threats, coercions, violence, physical violence. Use rocks, chains, bottles, razors, water hoses, dogs, fire bombs, ropes attached to trees, GUNS.
James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman got in the way of that "southern way of life." In 1964 they ended up under a dam.
James Chaney was a 21-year-old black native of Meridian, Mississippi. Andrew Goodman, 21, was a white student from New York. Michael Schwerner was a 24-year-old white social worker from New York. Michael Schwerner, who was Jewish, had a nickname, "Goatee," because of the shape of his beard.
Schwerner and Chaney were on the staff of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil-rights organization founded in 1942 and dedicated to black voter registration in the south. Goodman was a volunteer for the Mississippi Summer Project.
The Mississippi Summer Project had many objectives, but the emphasis was on black voter registration (and those dammed questions). Michael Schwerner had been in Mississippi for six months and he was starting to rile Klan members who saw him as an outsider, a trouble maker, and a "nigger" lover. Michael would hold "training sessions" for volunteers who wanted to come to Mississippi and "tutor" blacks, attempting to register to vote, with those "test" questions that were required. Most left the clerk's office defeated, humiliated and dejected. There was no Condoleezza Rice to turn to. In spite of weeks, days, and hours of struggling to memorize the Mississippi State Constitution, they failed their "literacy tests" and were denied the right to register. It was monumental rank insult.
The death warrants had just been sealed for Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. On June, 21, 1964, Goodman's very first day in Mississippi, the three young men drove into Neshoba County to look into the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church. They had planned to use this church for their beloved freedom school. All three men knew they were living on the edge and that they were being watched. KKK radar and roadblocks were now in place. That "good-old" racist network was about to do their "duty" to protect that "southern way of life."
Literacy "test" questions no longer mattered for Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, at least in the minds of the bold and brazen "evil doers," the south's good old boys (and girls). In Philadelphia, the county seat, they were arrested on "speeding" charges. When they failed to return, as expected, or contact CORE offices, according to a set protocol, alarm bells went off. Field workers started making frantic telephone queries and soon FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, at the urging of President Lyndon Johnson, was in Jackson, Mississippi to set up an FBI office for agents to handle the case. Rivers, swamps, and lakes were dredged. Bodies of black men were found, but not the bodies of the three civil rights workers. Their deaths were not deemed worthy even of a mention in the news. The FBI decided that someone would "talk" in that southern "lexicon" way of life if large amounts of green -- green dollars, that is -- was offered. That effort "paid" off and the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were found on August 4, underneath a dam. All three shot.
A review of this history is a subject that has been avoided by the news media. It is now 2002, and, like it or not, we are in an election "crisis." Perhaps what occurred during the 2000 Presidential election in Florida could help shed some light on the magnitude of suppressed votes. Not just black votes, ALL VOTES.
Did the "good ole boys" network consisting of Republican officials, including the President's brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, a millionaire heiress of a Florida citrus tycoon, use their influence to obstruct African Americans from casting their ballot, or having them counted, by "any means necessary"?
Presidential candidates don't require "literacy" tests. However, it is the voters, us, who must "ask" questions. And, we must demand answers. Let us not forget James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and the mob violence, barbarism, and savagery that ended their lives for the sake of "white" supremacy. Let us remind our elected officials that these men are heroes and election reform is needed NOW!
Oh, by the way, I have a question for President Bush. What two civil rights leaders, individually, won a Nobel Peace Prize and had a New York City College named after them?
Is Condi in the house?
For more information about Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner:
Wilhelmina Sims may be contacted at email@example.com.
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