highlander folk school

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What Happened To Black Lives Matter?
Donald Trump’s election and presidency has inspired the biggest outpouring of liberal activism in more than a decade. But Black Lives Matter seems less visible than a year ago. After a meteoric rise t
By Darren Sands

The Highlander Research and Education Center is one of the unsung mileposts of the struggle for civil rights. People like Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and Ralph Abernathy refined their organizing skills at Highlander. It was there, in 1957, that a young Martin Luther King Jr. first heard Pete Seeger sing “We Shall Overcome.” On his way to the airport after the anniversary of what was then known as the Highlander Folk School, King proclaimed, “There’s something about that song that haunts you.” Highlander has since moved farther east, but its mission remains the same.

That’s why shortly after the 2016 election, on November 18, several dozen Black Lives Matter leaders selected it as the place to gather.

Top activists in the movement — like Alicia Garza, cofounder of the Black Lives Matter network of organizations (a namesake group), Charlene Carruthers of the Black Youth Project 100, and others — met to privately discuss how to move forward in Trump’s America. Protests had already dominated the news for days. This would be the time for decisive action, undergirded by a clear strategy. Here, in the hills of Tennessee, the activists would come together for a meeting of groups involved in the Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group of organizations that want the same things, and devise a plan to address the new president, the shock of his election, the law and order he had promised during the campaign, and the devastating blow it all had delivered to generational movements about race and criminal justice policy in the United States. They would devise a plan — like the heroes of the civil rights movement once had decades before.

That good feeling didn’t last long. Few people want to talk about exactly what went wrong — how exactly the meeting devolved. But one problem, according to people who attended or were briefed on the meeting, was pretty simple: The ideas weren’t that good.

Some activists pitched things that had been pitched before. Someone pitched a plan that would require the recruitment of new groups into the fold, and leadership of the so-called resistance. And someone pitched a grand vision: the organization of 1 million black people. This last idea in particular infuriated people inside and outside the meeting. After years of organizing, local activists were cash-strapped, trying to keep their people motivated, and struggling to coordinate with other groups nationally while staying relevant at home. One million black people organized? Organized by whom? Organized for what? And this was the plan?

On top of that — people fumed over this — the meeting had done little to address the structural problems that had dragged down the movement since its meteoric rise from dispersed beginnings to national political influence. Many local activists felt they couldn’t get access to funding, and didn’t know who to take it up with. Organizers felt like they’d been lured in before by the promise of greater collaboration, the sharing of resources, and cultivation of a social community — only to feel left out, especially when it came to the Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group of organizations that want the same things. Many chafed at the tenet, repeated by the press, that Black Lives Matter was free from hierarchy and instead began to question the existence of tight control exercised by a small group of activists. “The hierarchy was clearer than ever, even though folks are sure there isn’t one on the outside,” said one person briefed on the meeting. For months during the campaign last year, key progressives had watched Black Lives Matter and kept wondering two things many activists on the inside were starting to wonder themselves: What is the movement’s strategy? What is the end goal?

Nobody resolved the structural issues at Highlander. There was no one big plan.

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Badass Black Women History Month:
Celebrating 28 Black Women Who Said,
“Fuck it, I’ll Do It!”

Day 13: Septima Poinsette Clark
1898-1987
“The Mother of the Movement”

Septima Poinsette Clark is one of the most important people in the Civil Rights Movement. She worked closely with MLK, Jr. and W.E.B. DuBois and was the first woman to gain a position on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference board. Septima was a teacher from South Carolina who believed education was the greatest tool marginalized groups had to fight systems of injustice. 

While MLK called her “The Mother of the Movement,” she faced sexism within the Civil Rights Movement. Her position was constantly questioned and her influence has largely been overshadowed by the men she worked with. That’s a damn shame though, because Septima was badder than all these dudes. Her father was born into slavery while her mother was a free woman from Haiti. Septima’s mother refused to ever serve any white person and raised her daughters with the same principals. They were never to be servants to anyone. 

When Septima decided to become a teacher, she noticed the baffling inequality she and her students were subjected to. She was paid $35 per week to teach 132 black students with only one other teacher. The white school across the street only had 3 students and 1 teacher who was paid $85 per week. This inspired Septima to join the NAACP where she fought for equal pay. After 40 years of employment in the Charleston school system, she was fired from her teaching position due to her political involvement with the NAACP. She lost her pension and was seen as a pariah in the community. Even at a fundraiser designed to help her, people refused to have their picture taken with her for fear that they would lose their own jobs.

This ended up being a blessing for Septima. She moved to Tennessee where she joined the Highlander Folk School. There, Septima focused on adult education and literacy. She was inspired by her own father who could not write his name growing up. Septima realized the best way to fight the racist voting rules of the south was to arm people with knowledge. She established her own “Citizenship Schools” that gave black people self-pride, cultural-pride, literacy, and a sense of one’s citizenship rights. Over 10,000 teachers would train in her Citizenship Schools and open their own chapters, teaching over 25,000 people by 1961.

By 1958, 37 of Septima’s students were able to pass the voter registration test. By 1969, 700,000 black people were able to become registered voters thanks to Septima’s work. 

anonymous asked:

Ya re rosa parks one of the reasons why people saying 'oh this trans person is only popular because they're hot' or 'this black gay guy is rich and cis' well, yes, humans are lazy and afraid. They often need the more 'acceptable' types to ease into new ideas. It sucks, and we should fight for everyone, but not while sacrificing the 'safe' activists and examples. They may have more support and risk less, but they are risking too.

Well… okay. I think I get what you’re saying. But let me say this about the idea of Rosa Parks being chosen to be the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, rather than Claudette Colvin, or any of the the 3 other sisters arrested on a Montgomery City bus that same year, 1955:

WARNING: I’m about to type a whole lot of information that isn’t necessarily in answer to what you say above, but is certainly inspired by it. In other words, I’m about to make this a teachable moment.

The choice of Parks was based on legal and political strategy, so there were lots of factors that NAACP leaders and others considered. In our modern-day, tumblr-politics-informed world all things are considered equal so a lot of us feel Colvin should’ve been chosen since she was put off the bus in January of that year, and Parks’ arrest didn’t happen until December of that year. Newsflash: the real adult world doesn’t work like that. Consider what the stakes were:

  • the intent was to ask the Black folks of Montgomery to boycott the buses INDEFINITELY, to present a legal challenge to and make a political point about the injustice and immorality of Jim Crow segregation in Alabama and, therefore, the entire South
  • so… what did the majority of Black folks in Montgomery have in common? They were socially conservative Baptist Christians. Most of the leaders of the activist community there were also church leaders and elders. so whoever was to be chosen to represent the case, had to meet certain criteria.
  • that person would have to be acceptable to the churchgoing Black folks of Montgomery. and most important of all: they would need to be able to withstand scrutiny and criticism from white folks, who would surely try to attack the claimant and tear down their credibility to derail the possibility of that person’s arrest evolving into a supreme-court case.
  • it would also help to have the claimant be a person with some experience in these matters, who had a known history of activism on behalf of Black people in Montgomery, and who could defend and explain not only their personal reasons for objecting to being arrested but the objectives of non-violent resistance. now…

Claudette Colvin was a 15-year-old girl who, when asked to giver up her seat, refused. Fact. She was also reported to have not gotten off the bus quietly, but had to be dragged off by police officers, while kicking screaming and cursing the officers out. Her parents were domestic workers from “the wrong side of the tracks” (as even Black folks thought of it, back then), rather than so-called middle-class respectable. Even then, the NAACP DID CONSIDER USING HER at first, but as they were working with her and her family, she became pregnant. Out of wedlock. By a married man. Now remember: the goal was to ask the conservative Baptist Christian community of Montgomery to boycott the busses, in support of said person. A person who would be scrutinized by white folks for legitimacy and credibility. During a test case to prove the immorality of Jim Crow segregation. 

Do you not see how the politics of respectability legitimately MATTERED at that time and under those circumstances?

Now, Claudette Colvin’s account of what happened and how she comported herself the day she was arrested has changed over the years. I’m not outright saying that she has lied about her status and role in history as it relates to this episode, but I can honestly say that I’ve read her accounts of that year from the first to the last. She was interviewed numerous times throughout the years, and her recollections changed each time she was interviewed. By the time of her last interviews (which can be found on NPR btw), she claims that she refused to get up because she was thinking about Black women historical figures from days past and what they had gone though and, therefore, she decided to take a stand that day for her people’s rights. Yeah… okay. That’s not how folks on the bus the day she was arrested remembered it. Also, reading her interviews, she was clearly bitter about Rosa Parks getting all that historical shine and her arrest not being the one chosen to represent the movement. So those things obviously have ‘colored’ her later-day accounts of her actions at that time.

Was it true that they chose Rosa Parks over her due to complexion, as Claudette Colvin would later claim? Possibly. Is that outright colorism. Yes and no; NAACP leaders ranged in complexion from light-bright-damned-near-white to Black-as-the-ace-of-spades, so if they were considering complexion (highly unlikely) they did so based on their understanding of how many Black folks at the time were under the sway of colorism, not their own hang-ups with complexion. BLACK FOLKS OF ALL COMPLEXIONS, MIND YOU. This modern-day tumblr understanding of how colorism affects Black folks (colorism is a problem lightskinned Blacks have with darkskinned Blacks) is juvenile and historically false. Just as many darkskinned Black folks as not would be reluctant to rally behind a darkskinned brother or sister, especially if there was a lighter alternative. Darkskinned Black people are just as much mentally damaged and enthralled by colorism as lightskinned ones. So there was that too to be considered. As for Rosa Parks…

Rosa and Raymond Parks (yes, she was married) had been long-time NAACP members. Rosa Parks was 42 years old, versus a 15-year-old Colvin, so it was believed that she would have the maturity to endure what would come her way with such a legal challenge. When she wasn’t working her job as a seamstress, she shared duties with another woman as the NAACP secretary, and NAACP Youth Program director. She was trained in civil disobedience tactics at the Highlander Folks School and, as such, knew and was known to other activists throughout the South. Just the year before, 1954, she was on the radar of Montgomery’s white political leaders, after taking a group of NAACP Youth to a city museum that would normally have been closed to them due to segregation but, due to a traveling exhibit on display there from the National Archives, was technically open to everyone. Rosa Parks already understand state law versus federal. 

When Parks was told by the bus driver on that December day in 1955 that he would call the police and have her arrested if she didn’t get off the bus, her response was “You may do that.” Not ‘Nah’ or ‘Hell no’ or none of that childish shit floating around in social media meme form. She didn’t have to be dragged off the bus kicking screaming and cursing, like Colvin. Now…

Strategically speaking, if you were in the leadership of the NAACP, knowing all that was at stake and how ruthlessly white folks would go at the claimant to destroy their credibility, and knowing all that you did about the conservative nature of the Black Christian community in Montgomery whom you were going ask to sacrifice (for longer than a year, it turned out)… Who would you have chosen to represent the boycott, Claudette Colvin or Rosa Parks? 

In a society that believes that respectability matters, sometimes it does matter.

Ram Manohar Lohia was an Indian freedom fighter and member of parliament who went to jail to fight Jim Crow.

In 1951, he lectured at Fisk University and at the Highlander Folk School activist training center, encouraging African Americans to use nonviolent civil disobedience.

Nico Slate describes Lohia’s 1964 return to the U.S. in Colored Cosmopolitanism:

On May 28, 1964, more than a decade after he had traveled through the American encouraging African-Americans to embrace Gandhian civil disobedience, Rammanohar Lohia, now a prominent member of the Indian Parliament, himself offered satyagraha in Jackson, Mississippi. Lohia relished the opportunity to be arrested for confronting Jim Crow. He had been turned away from Morrison cafeteria the night before his arrest and chose to return in order to court arrest. In dressed in sparkling-white clothes that distinguished him as Indian, Lohia attempted to enter the restaurant for the second time…The police arrested him, put him in a paddy wagon, and drove him away from the restaurant before releasing him. The State Department promptly sent a formal apology to the Indian ambassador. Decrying his treatment as “tyranny against the United States Constitution,” Lohia told reporters that both the State Department and the Indian Embassy “may go to hell.” Segregation was a moral issue, he stressed, not a political one. When told that the American ambassador to the United Nations…would offer his apologies, Lohia replied that Stevenson should apologize to the State of Liberty.

The latest “missionary” move is the “War on Poverty.” It was never intended to end poverty. That would require a total reconstruction of the system of ownership, production, & distribution of wealth.
—  Don West, Romantic Appalachia; or, Poverty Pays If You Ain’t Poor (1969)
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Myles Horton is, in my mind, one of the greatest people to ever live. 

Consider, for instance, the case of Rosa Parks, the heroine of the U.S. civil rights movement. The public myth around her figure suggests that she spontaneously refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery to a white man and by so doing she single-handedly gave birth to the civil rights efforts. The reality is that before sitting in that bus, Rosa Parks had spent more than a decade as a community organizer at the local NAACP chapter. In the summer of 1965, a few months before the bus incident, she attended a workshop at Highlander where she expanded her realm of experience by meeting an older generation of civil rights activists of different races. Although her action on the bus was not prearranged and she acted on an individual basis, Rosa Parks knew that she was contributing to the civil rights cause when she refused to move, and her action was the result of many years of assimilative learning. At the same time, although she was not new to the civil rights movement when she attended the Highlander workshop, the experience made an impact on her and provided her with new insights. This is how Rosa Parks described her first Highlander workshop: “At Highlander, I found for the first time in my adult life that this could be a unified society, that there was such a thing as people of different races and backgrounds meeting together in workshops, and living together in peace and harmony. It was a place I was very reluctant to leave. I gained there the strength to persevere in my work for freedom, not just for blacks, but for all oppressed people” (cited in Horton, 1998: 150).

Daniel Schugurensky, “Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics: The Pedagogical Dimension of Participatory Democracy and Social Action”, Expanding the Boundaries of Transformative Learning (2002)

Fortunately, the Negro has been willing to grapple with a new and powerful approach to his problem in the South, namely, nonviolence.

It is my great hope that as the Negro plunges deeper into the quest for freedom, he will plunge deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence. As a race we must struggle passionately and unrelentingly to the goal of justice, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice; we must never become bitter. We must never succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, for if this happens unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

I realize that this approach will mean suffering and sacrifice. Some will ask, “What if these acts of violence continue and increase as a result of the Negro following this method? What then can be his defense?” His defense is to meet every act of violence toward an individual Negro with the fact that there are thousands of others who will present themselves in his place as potential victims. The oppressors bomb the home of one Negro for his courage, then this must be met by the fact that they will be required to bomb the homes of hundreds and thousands of Negroes. If they deny bread and milk to Negro children whose parents want them to be free, then they must be required to deny these children every necessity of life: water and air itself. This dynamic unity, this amazing self-respect, this willingness to suffer and this refusal to hit back will soon cause the oppressor to become ashamed of his own methods. You will leave him glutted with his own barbarity; you will force him to stand before the world and his God splattered with the blood and reeking with the stench of his Negro brother. This, it seems to me, is the only valid answer.

—  Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech titled “A Look to the Future” delivered Sept. 2, 1957, at the 25th anniversary meeting at the Highlander Folk School, Monteagle, Tenn.

Billboards claiming to identify Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a communist training school stand on the route from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery taken by civil rights marchers, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., protesting racial discrimination in voter rolls. This is actually a picture of Dr. King at the Highlander Folk School at Mount Eagle in the 1940s.

“When people criticize me for not having any respect for existing structures and institutions, I protest. I say I give institutions and structures and traditions all the respect that I think they deserve. That’s usually mighty little, but there are things that I do respect. They have to earn that respect. They have to earn it by serving people. They don’t earn it just by age or legality or tradition.” 

  – Myles Horton, We Make the Road by Walking