In our first local Town Hall of the NBC Learn "Finishing the Dream" series, community leaders in Chicago talk to students about what they can learn from the achievements of the civil rights generation and how they can work to improve their own communities.
What Can Students Learn from the Civil Rights Movement?
MARION BROOKS: Welcome to “Finishing the Dream: Learning from the Civil Rights Movement.”
LESTER HOLT: We’re featuring six topics tonight each kicked off with a brief historical clip leading into panel discussions and then some questions from our audience. The first clip is a brief history of the Civil Rights movement, showcasing some of the more memorable moments. Let’s watch.
RICH SAMUELS, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] Emmett Till is buried near 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 a woman who refused to take a segregated seat was fined and police probed.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: [IN CLIP] I said, “I’m sorry, our management does not allow us to serve niggers in here.”
FRANK MCGEE, NBC NEWS: [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.
JESSE JACKSON: [IN CLIP] I said, “Doctor King,” and just as he straightened up. I said, “Doctor King,” and the bullet just exploded in his face.
MARION BROOKS: Doctor Finney I’d like to start with you. Your initial reaction to seeing that and where we might have come from it this far.
DR. LEON FINNEY, METROPOLITAN APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY CHURCH: Clearly that was a time of extreme racism that we were dealing with, but also there was a diversity of approaches. We were, I think, together but there were different voices and different approaches to being together. The one genius, I believe, of Doctor King was to set forth a framework out of which we could all work together to alleviate the serious challenge of racism in this country.
CLIFF KELLEY, TALK SHOW HOST, WVON RADIO: I think that thing too and I agree with what Leon is saying. But I think what I remember the most and what really started the movement was seeing the body of Emmett Till. I was there. My dad made sure that I went. And when you see it, that’s something that you would never forget and that really started people saying, “Listen, we got to do something about this.”
DR. CAROL ADAMS, C.E.O., DUSABLE MUSEUM: I think what resonates with me about it was that we believed at that time that we could make change happen. So that no matter what was going on you had the urge and the compulsion to act. And I think that’s what important for students to understand and to be inspired by, the fact that you can make a situation change by your organization, by your action, by your made-up mind.
DOROTHY TILLMAN, ALDERMAN AND ACTIVIST: I had another kind of feel about this, especially looking at the children because I was their age when I was involved in this movement. And change happened not because of our parents but because of the children. Our parents supported us, but we were willing to die, willing to go to jail because we didn’t have the hang-ups that our parents had. We could do that. So when I saw that I thought about where are we today and what do we need to do to get our children engaged so that we can continue the dream.
LESTER HOLT: Well, talk about that, because you’ve got young people here who may look at these clips and say to themselves, “This is not reflective of the world I live in. We have come so far. In fact, we’ve come so far we’ve arrived.” How do you tell young people that we haven’t necessarily arrived and that there’s more to do?
CLIFF KELLY: Lester, I think they should see that. We have as much racism going on in the day that we always have. It’s just not as overt. We are in bad shape. In fact, we’re going backward. And unless the young people come up – because there are those leaders – quote-unquote – that are not really taking care of the business.
DR. CAROL ADAMS: I feel there’s another message for young people though. And that is that sometimes they have to wrest the leadership away from the usual suspects. There are folks in leadership who’ve been in it a very long time. And when we were young people coming up, we made moves on our own. I mean, Stokely Carmichael didn’t ask Roy Wilkins was it okay if he organized. You know, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale didn’t ask Whitney Young was it okay for them to organize. They saw a situation, and they organized, and they moved. And I think that young people today are capable of doing that. They have an example. We will certainly support them in doing it. You know, rise up.
LESTER HOLT: Let’s go to the audience. We have a question?
JEREMIAH TILLMAN: My name is Jeremiah Tillman. And I’m a senior at Northwestern University. What can the youth and the current leaders of Chicago and all communities today take away from your advice as to how they should go about caring for the lesser, or the ones that don’t have as much?
CLIFF KELLEY: I think it’s obvious unfortunately that people have gotten to the point, Mister Tillman, that people don’t care about those who don’t have. One percent of the people in this country make thirty percent of the money. And those who have that don’t care about anybody else. So your question is, we’ve got to turn this thing around before it’s too late. I’ll tell you if it continues –
DR. CAROL ADAMS: I want respond a little bit to the question that he raised about what we do about the current gap in terms of the services that are provided. Because one of the things we’ve been doing on this panel is sort of reminiscing about “back in the day.” And what was good about back in the day was extended family and was the sense of taking care of each other and the sense of connectedness. So at the same time as we have to fight for our fair share of services we also have to reach out to each other and to the very members of our family who may need our services.
LESTER HOLT: Let’s get another question from the audience if we can. Young man?
RYAN JOHNSON: Total different question. I’m sorry I don’t mean to change the mood, but I got a little emotional when I saw the video. Okay, my name is Ryan Johnson. I’m a student and a senior at Percy L. Julian. And, like, I take a whole total different view. And I want to – to just answer your question. I don’t believe our bus have arrived yet. And reason why I say this is, right now I am at a point till I’m dodging strays from frustrated youth, right? I am at a point right now where I’m hearing on the NBC and Channel 7 and all these other broadcasting stations and they ask them about the National Guards to come in, right and to come into our city and turn it around and put it back to its original state, right? I want to know, individually, what is your outlook on that? What is your intake on it and what can we do as you to make sure that our neighborhoods and communities be better?
DOROTHY TILLMAN: To you, young man, I don’t think that the National Guard should come in our community and turn our community into a police state. But what you need to understand that in the city of Chicago, the police department is under the direction of the mayor. And under the direction of the mayor they have five white males – that’s really irresponsible – running the police department. And then when you look at, on the police department, thirteen hundred sergeants, maybe two hundred blacks, two hundred lieutenants, less than twenty blacks. Well, you don’t have representation. Those are the stats and the data we need to give our children. Homelessness among our people, unemployment among our people, all of the things you do have a right to fight for. I just want you to know that.
DR. LEON FINNEY: Hold on. Hold on. You cannot do that. Here’s the deal. Nobody gave Doctor King, not those of you that were in Selma, Alabama, anything. As a matter of fact, most often you didn’t have anything.
DOROTHY TILLMAN: But we fought for the resources
DR. LEON FINNEY: But wait a minute, wait a minute. But you used yourselves in order to start a movement. The whole idea that we have to wait on somebody – Mister Charlie, whomever – to give us something when we have ourselves and each other to make it happen is where I have to go. Because I believe that at the end of the day that no matter who is in the White House, or who is in the black house, it depends upon us and the African-American community to take over our communities and make life better there ourselves for ourselves.
Grassroots activism is a group of like-minded citizens working together for a common cause. Anyone from any socioeconomic background, of any race, in any area of the country, and at any age can be an activist.
Civil Rights Movement, African Americans, Blacks, Chicago, Illinois, Martin Luther King, Jr., DuSable Museum, Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, Leon Finney, Cliff Kelley, Carol Adams, Dorothy Tillman, Activism, Organizing, Social Justice, Racism, Violence, Emmett Till, Students, Poverty, Jeremiah Tillman, Ryan Johnson