At the Atlanta Town Hall for "Finishing the Dream," 11 Alive anchor Brenda Wood asks panelists Bernice King, Andrew Young and Rev. Joseph Lowery whether anything has changed since the civil rights era.
Is the Work of the Civil Rights Movement Complete?
BRENDA WOOD: Good evening everyone, I’m Brenda Wood with 11 Alive in Atlanta, welcome to our Town Hall Meeting, Finishing the Dream, Learning from the Civil Rights Era.
It’s sponsored by NBC Learn and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. We’re in the Cosby Auditorium here in the beautiful campus of Spelman College, America’s oldest historically black college for women. For the next hour or so, we’re going to be taking a look at the legacy of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior and the modern Civil Rights Movement. We’ll explore several subjects from the start of the Civil Rights struggle to the election of the first African-American president in the United States.
And to walk us through this journey, we have a distinguished panel: Morehouse College Senior International Studies and Physics Major, Jacques Pape; the daughter of the Late Doctor Martin Luther King Junior and current SCLC president, Elder Bernice King; Atlanta Mayor, Kasim Reed; Civil Rights Leader and cofounder of the SCLC with Doctor Martin Luther King, Doctor Joseph Lowery; Spelman College President, Doctor Beverly Tatum; Ambassador, Andrew Young; the first African-American Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Judge Robert Benham; and to round out our panel, the Executive Director of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Doug Shipman.
Let’s give them a round of applause.
Our audience here is made up of students from all over metro Atlanta, middle school students, high school students, and college students; all of them are anxious to be a part of this and we’re going to hear from them as they ask the panelists their own questions on this subject tonight.
So, we begin by watching an overview of the Civil Rights Movement from NBC’s news archives.
RICH SAMUELS [in clip]: Emmett Till is buried in Chicago, his hometown, while Emmett was visiting a great-uncle in the Mississippi Delta in August 1955. He whistled at a white woman. That whistle cost him his life.
MAMIE MOBLEY, EMMETT TILL’S MOTHER [IN CLIP] : I hope that his death will certainly start a movement in the United States.
CHET HUNTLEY, NBC NEWS [IN CLIP] : Most Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama, are boycotting the city buses because of woman who refused to take a segregated seat, was fined and police probed.
REPORTER [IN CLIP] : Do you believe the majority of the Negro people of Montgomery will now go back to riding the buses?
DOCTOR MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. [IN CLIP] : Yes, I do. We must go back with a deep sense of love and dedication to the principle of nonviolence.
FRANK MCGEE [IN CLIP] : A multitude of Negroes and whites moved on Washington today in what is easily the most massive demonstration ever seen in the capital or in the nation.
FRED HAMPTON [IN CLIP]: If you dare to struggle, you dare to win, if you dare not to struggle, then you don’t deserve to win…you don’t deserve to win. We’re saying that you’ve got to get out here and got to involve yourself in the struggle.
MALCOLM X [IN CLIP]: Be a man. Earn what you need for your own family. Then your family respects you. They’re proud to say “that’s my father.”
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. [IN CLIP]: I have no moral conflict. I want to live in my own as anybody in this building, and sometimes I begin to doubt that I’m going to make it through. ‘Cause I don’t march because I like it. I march because I must, and because I’m a man, and because I’m a child of God.
BRENDA WOOD: That is moving. We’re going to begin with Elder King. I think it’s appropriate, seeing your father in those video-- in that video clip just there and knowing the work that he accomplished. What’s left undone?
ELDER BERNICE KING: Well, I think first and foremost when you think about what’s undone, Doctor King, my dad, left us a blueprint in his book that he wrote, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” that is available for people to read. And one of the things that he challenged us towards is a Radical Revolution of Values, as we move forward in this global society. And he said, “We must rapidly shift from a thing-oriented society to a people or person-centered society. We’re going to have to really look at our value system and our value structure and ensure that we’re putting people first and foremost instead of profit.
BRENDA WOOD: So, what I’m hearing you say-- what I’m hearing you say then that there is much work to be done. The answer to the question is, “No, the Civil Rights Movement has not been won yet.” Would you agree?
ELDER BERNICE KING: Oh, I-- I don’t it’s won. My mother said it best. In another way, she said, “A freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”
BRENDA WOOD: Reverend Lowery, what’s the problem-- what’s the problem, what’s the disconnect between the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties that you were so much a part of along with Doctor King and now, what’s the disconnect, what’s wrong?
REV. JOSEPH LOWERY: It’s that-- I brought that answer but I left it on the dresser. [Laughter] I think there is a disconnect, but there’s also a connect. And I think that more and more people are realizing, particularly young people as they come into adulthood is that we’ve come a long way, but we still have many, many miles to go before we sleep, as Frost put it, but change has come, everything has changed. And on the other hand, nothing has changed.
BRENDA WOOD: Dr Tatum, would you agree that nothing has changed?
DR. BEVERLY TATUM: Oh, I see certainly a lot of change in terms of, we think back to 1954 which is the year I was born, the year of Brown versus Board of Education, the segregation signs that Elder King referred to are gone, access to education has expanded certainly. But at the same time, we do know that there’re still access to high-quality education for all students is not yet available. Many children of color are trapped in schools that can be described as dropout factories. There are limitations to the access to opportunity that I think Doctor King and all of that generation struggled for that we still have not quite achieved. But there’s no question as I look at my parents are in the audience, and as I look at the experience of my parents and the access to education that they had versus what I’ve had or my children who are now near twenties have had, it’s clear that change has taken place.
BRENDA WOOD: I’ve to get to the take from Ambassador Young. You were there right in the thick of it in the center of the movement. Has-- Has anything changed?
REV. ANDREW YOUNG: Well, Doctor Lowery, I think was the one I credit with authoring the slogan of SCLC to “redeem the soul of America from the triple evils of racism, war, and poverty.” Now frankly, we’ve made excellent progress in racism. I think, we’ve made progress in dealing with war, but we’ve gone backwards in dealing with poverty. Now, when I was in sixth grade, my sixth grade teacher took me to see Thurgood Marshall, a tall skinny man confront the Federal Courts of Louisiana about the equalization of teacher salaries. And so as a result of the war that was raised through the courts, we have Judge Benham on the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia. That’s got to be a change, but economically, we know that if we’re in a democracy and can’t vote, we’re slaved, but you-- if you’re in a free enterprise economy or capitalist economy without access to capital, that’s another form of slavery which we’ve yet to confront. I don’t write recommendations to people to go to law school any more. I encourage PhDs in economics. And that’s where the battle is. But it’s not just a local battle, it’s a battle that we’re now engaged in with Europe, with India, with China as the one who we owe the most money to. And then, there is the African continent, that is virtually the richest continent on the face of the earth that is economically underdeveloped. So, when we begin to understand economics in Africa, I think we’ll solve many of our problems.
BRENDA WOOD: All right, we’ve a question from a student.
NATALIE COOK: Hello everyone, my name is Natalie Cook, I’m a senior at Dekalb School of the Arts and a contributing writer for Vox Newspaper and the question I’ve for you all this evening is, Do you feel that the Civil Rights struggle is over?
BRENDA WOOD: I’d like to add-- ask Doug Shipman if he would answer that question. I-- I asked Bernice something similar, so if you can give us your take on it?
DOUG SHIPMAN: I think the resounding answer is no, it’s not over and it’s not only not over specifically as you’ve heard. There are specific issues that were dealt with or tried to be dealt with during the Civil Rights Movement that are not over. But as the spirit, it’s not over. The Civil Rights Movement was about freedom. It was about self-determination. It was about what’s best of humanity in best in the individual. And if we look at these issues on an international basis, if we expand the discussions specifically to women’s right, you’re going to see the same sorts of struggles going on. So call it Civil Rights, call it Human Rights, it’s absolutely not over. And I love the quote from you mom, which says, “It’s never over, it’s always won each generation.” It’s like a garden you have to continue to tend or weeds will overgrow the fruit, but if you pick it, you can get better fruit each year and I think, that’s where we’ll always be.
BRENDA WOOD: All right, thank you.
At a robust 87 years of age, Dolores Huerta speaks with the rapidity, clarity and conviction of her younger self. During the civil rights era, Huerta co-founded what is now the United Farm Workers union, resolutely dedicating her life to securing the rights of immigrant farmworkers and to combatting the fierce racism underlying their mistreatment. In today’s political climate, she sees the fundamental freedoms of her fellow Americans freshly imperiled, and has come forward to share her story with a new generation of activists seeking to effect change.