February 19, 2015
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and Lucas Johnson —
The Movement, Remembered Forward

Wisdom for how we can move and heal our society in our time as the Civil Rights Movement galvanized its own. Lucas Johnson is bringing the art and practice of nonviolence into a new century, for new generations. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons was an original Black Power feminist and a grassroots leader of the Mississippi Freedom Summer.

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is assistant professor of religion at the University of Florida. She is also a member of the National Council of Elders. Her account of her work as an activist in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is featured in the book, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC.

Lucas Johnson

is international coordinator of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and an ordained Baptist minister.

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The killing of three college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina has shaken the Muslim community to its core. Omid Safi remembers the extraordinary human beings we lost and the pain that may lead to a new civil rights movement.

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After the rally inside of the North Carolina General Assembly building, occupants choosing not to be arrested gather on the sidewalks outside to demonstrate support for those being taken into custody. Protesters were encouraged to shout "thank you" loud enough so that those arrested inside the building can hear them.

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I was in the crm with a lot of other white southerners. No one has covered us as a group. I had friends from Alabama and Mississippi who picketed, marched, sat in, sang, and made friends in Chapel HIll, NC. Where we sat in at a crossroads of the two main drags is now half MLK Blvd. Where Joan Baez organized a march from Chapel Hill to Durham is now MLK Blvd. (She rode alongside in a VW). Another is in Eastern NC, near Fayetteville. In Asheville, NC, a white philosophy prof friend, Jim Pait, from Virginia Beach was a head of CORE. His wife left him and moved with a black woman to Roanoke, Va, where they lived together. It never occurred to me people might have thought that strange. My name was April White. A friend, Cordell Black and I used to lock arms and sing, "Black and white togetherrrr". Wonder where he is. He never graduated from UNC. Last time I saw him we were in France. At a party I met a young man who'd grown up a block or two away, but since we went to segregated schools we'd never met, unless playing together as children. I fell in love with him. He seemed to feel the same. He didn't ask for my phone number, and I didn't want to give it to him unless he asked, since he could be killed. So could I. White women were lynched in the South, but I thought of him, not me. At age 18 I picketed a segregated motel by myself, was cursed, spat at, things thrown. Best day of my life. It felt great to do the right thing! Not much. I always loved black people, Grew up with them. Miss them here in segregated NYC. Got the first African American a desk job in my building here. Everyone wasn't ecstatic. The North thinks racism is southern. Up here it's "racial profiling" not racism. Giuliani killed an unarmed black man every few weeks with his well named "street crimes unit" who did the street crime. A neighbor moved back south during Giuliani. Will there ever be an equal society here???? I hope so with all my heart!

Thank you for sharing your experience. The soul of the United States needs enlightenment and cleaning. May we all be true brothers and sisters.

Amen! While I think Cornel West is a provocative voice in America, agreeing with his more pragmatic approach, questioning if we are romanticizing the CRM [paraphrasing]: "Sanitize. Deodorize. etc. etc." there are areas I would challenge his mantra but it's a better one then the one expressed by the status quo (respectfully). We could start by empowering American educations anthropology and metaphysics re possible solutions' to a dumbed down education that stress our children, teachers, and parents. To be clear, I don't support Common Core but I don't support the attack on parent by some, not all, professionals in faith-based community initiatives. That's not a paradox; it's Christian hypocrisy to say the least.

In Bklyn where I grew up blacks were not allowed in our building.complex. They would picket outside and all the neighbors would say;" the N's are getting restless". I was called an N because I tanned really dark in the summer. I was a child and adults would come up to me and in my face laugh and say"You look just like a N.How do you get so tan? You look like a N." These were adults in Bklyn N.Y.circa 1960 to 1966.

I heard just the tail end of this story on NPR, but I understand from what I heard that Dr. Johnson is a pacifist. Here is my problem. The underlying assumption is that if we all become pacifists, then that will further world peace. And no peace activists seem to do any empirical study on war and peace to determine what it takes to made the world more peaceful--they only seem to make assumptions-- i.e.: persuade more people to be pacifists, encourage "social justice" and "tolerance", ban gun ownership, for example. And, most disturbing:, "peace" is defined by the American peace movement as no American troops engaged in wars outside the U.S. For example, the peace movement is relatively silent now that American troops are out of Iraq and are leaving Afghanistan. The peace movement, then, appears to be based on assumptions, and, with all due respect, a certain smugness and xenophobia. I did a study a few years ago of the political violence world wide since 1946 , taking the statistics from the Center for Systemic Peace ( their website is online). Here is what I found: the number of deaths from political violence worldwide spiked in 1980, were reduced somewhat during the 1980's, increased somewhat in the 1990's (remember Rwanda and Kosovo?), and was sharply reduced in the first decade of the 21st century. I calculated that in 1980, there were 17 deaths per 100,000 worldwide, and between 2001-2007, there was less than one death per 100,000 worldwide. World Peace, by empirical measurement, was essentially achieved during the years of the Bush administration--just the opposite from what peace activists assume. I am concerned that with the violence on the African continent and the Middle East, that the statistics are rising again. But, as I said above, the peace movement is basically silent. Achieving world peace is difficult work, but the difficult work of determining what it actually takes to achieve world peace does not seem to have ever been done by peace activists. It would be good for the intellectuals in the peace movement to set aside assumptions, and to do scientific study of war and peace--even if it explodes some myths, and makes peace activists uncomfortable. After all, world peace is an incredibly important goal, and comfortable assumptions are not deserving of such a noble goal.

This is not my field of study but, I smell logic error. First, extrapolating from one table that the world became more "peaceful" under former President Bush seems dubious. Further, suggesting that such a supposed outbreak of peace was fallout from his policies is, at minimum, unsubstantiated. Also, simply labeling the statements of others as "myths" doesn't prove the point.

I didn't say that the reduction in war was caused by President Bush. You can never prove cause and effect by demonstrating two events happened at the same time. It is a logical fallacy that many people fall into. I was merely trying to point out that the peace movement has never done any empirical research that I know of to determine what causes peace or war; they merely make what I would call incredible leaps of faith, that , in my observation, only result in "peace" demonstrations when American soldiers go to war, and vague articles about tolerance and other platitudes that are not particularly effective . If one is serious about peace, then one ought to study both war and peace. And I think the provocative statistics from the Center for Systemic Peace might be a start--not a conclusion.

I think you're addressing similar observation raised at 40. minutes (I commented prior and mistakenly cited 42.). My verge from context that question is the peace movement has become silenced would be re the ban of weapons. Although, my observation of why banning guns need to be thought through is understandable. We have a growing rate of uneducated populace. I don't see raising the question of gun ban as one advocating violence. More that what we need further understanding about is this is not a white or black issues; it's a race issue the is mutually shared by a up-tick trend in young men. I think material condition that empower people to experience their unique human dignity and the different ways their able to express and contribute is increasingly a form of oppression by the very groups skilled in meaningless rhetoric and group think. In contrast, the people who are experientially more skilled in group think--See: Thinking Fast Thinking Slow--are better skilled from embodied cognition in their pragmatic experience of daily life and could teach the leader promoting self-sufficiency. I don't writing this with joy; on the contrary to challenge leadership in their efforts, knowing they work very hard. I would suggest not effectively in the year 2014.

I thank the woman who at 42. minutes articulately and directly addressed "context" in the year 2014. It's not often I hear clarity re organized collaboration in continued efforts for human equality. Thank you for your frankness and well done!

One of the guests is a Sufi? As in Muslim? Wow! Had that not been mentioned during the question segment,that would not have been mentioned at all?

I'm an atheist mystic Buddhista - at times. When I listen to Bach, especially the B Minor Mass, I'm Christian. Best thing I ever heard on radio was The Jerusalem Project. Couldn't tell if it was Sephardic Jewish, Arabic, or some kind of Christian. Turned out to be all three. All marvelous! And no record of it. No cd, no download. Why not? I want to grab it and hold it. It sort of bothers me that Dr Cornell West, a hero of mine, has become angry with Obama, not seeing the other side. Obama hasn't started a war that hadn't already been there. He got US out of Iraq, which is now falling apart. Put together by a British woman with Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds. Hopefully we'll leave Afghanistan as well. A good book is "Violent Politics" by William Polk, about how counterinsurgencies only work on your own soil; begins with our revolution. Yes, I hate the drones and see them as counterproductive. But does Dr West's anger increase or decrease the negativity? That's a genuine question. I don't know the answer. I feel better when I love than when i hate. The Dalai Lama says "Kindness is my religion." And "if you see someone coming towards you with a gun, turn around and run away as fast as you can!" Who am I to judge.

Thanks for putting the focus on the real story - what happened on the ground of the civil rights movement. I have just written a chronicle of the movement in Chicago to give long over due attention to the grass root leaders who made the difference. To Dick Gregory who got arrested for leading a group of marchers to Mayor Daley's home neighborhood to protest defacto segregation in housing; to Al Raby who gave up his position as a school teacher to lead the Chicago Coalition of Community Organizations; to Tim Black Jr who organized demonstrations that convinced major corporations that the time had come to stop discriminating and to start hiring minorities; to Alex Poinsett who from his post at Ebony became the Thomas Paine of the Movement; and to the Rev Al Pitcher who served as "guy Friday", willing to undertake any chore that needed to be done. These individuals (plus Jesse Jackson who needs no introduction) created a movement that convinced Rev Martin Luther King that when it was time (1965-66) to take SCLC to the North that Chicago was the right city.

It is so interesting that you started this podcast with a comment about our sanitizing of the civil rights movement. When I gave a children's sermon this Sunday on Martin Luther King Jr and asked the children why we remember him, their responses all had to do with his speeches. They did not know about the struggle, the threats that he and his family received, the true sacrifice and danger that people involved in civil rights experienced. I wonder if they can truly understand the Civil Rights movement then and the Human Rights movement that we still need if they only understand the "pretty" parts. Thank you for raising this question.

Having my personal religious beliefs rooted in eastern philosophy, I was touched by the discussion of non-violence not being a passive approach but a great presence of love in the face of hate. Truly touching. Thank you for the beautiful program.

Thank you for this incredibly honest discussion of the new movement. I teach in the once home of Frederick Douglass and Susan B Anthony, of so many notable African American firsts - yet Rochester now has the distinction of having the third highest poverty rate in the entire nation, first in New York State. In Rev. Lucas's words, our students are trapped, I want to set them free, and I will take the advice of Professor Simmons - to love them first. I am excited to share this movement with my 10th and 11th graders. I am also going to reach out to both Rev. Lucas and Professor Simmons to see if they would be willing to Skype with my students. Thank you!

I found this On Being episode as I find any I listen to, powerful beyond measure. I often listen a few times again to catch more. This episode is no exception. I went to college during the 1980's and although I am not an African American, I was part of the Black Student's Association and helped via sit-in's get our college to divest funds in Apartheid. I was active in the Gospel Choir and in the movement in general on campus to produce more conversation around the issues affecting the African American community. I was welcomed into the movement and some of my closest friendships in college grew out of this involvement. Where injustice reigns, we ALL suffer. I loved this On Being for the light it shines on the history of the Civil Rights movement and it's relevance to today's continued evolution of humanity. So much is just getting together face to face, one conversation at a time and seeing ourselves in the other. We are not all facing the same struggles but we ALL DO struggle and so we know the emotion behind that. These connections tie us together and allow for us to support each other in bringing more understanding and empathy into the world.

Thanks for revisiting this program from last year. I didn't hear the whole program but what I heard was a good remembrance for me. Dr. Simmons and I are about the same age (b 1944) and were both freshmen in college in 1962. I was a white Southern boy also reared Southern Baptist, and I went to Florida State University as a Music Education major. I was not a very good music major, howevr, because i, like she, got involved in the movement -- much more serious than school, it seems. I think most people now don't realize how disorganized everything was at the time. Only later did the shape of the Sixties take form. In addition to the crm there was a peace/anti-war movement and the beginnings of women's liberation (which I regarded as a men's liberation movement as well). I joined a group at FSU called the Liberal Forum which that fall began picketing three segregated restaurants adjacent to the campus. FSU had accepted a black grad student (or students) a year or two before, but in 1962 we had the first black freshman. Her name was Carmen, I believe, which someone in the music school associated with the black musical "Carmen Jones" -- a black echo of Bizet's opera.

My second year I was put out of my apartment when they learned I was part of that group of students, and learned that I was also not welcome at any of the places to which the preacher at the First Baptist Church referred me. I finally shared a place with another student and together we did what students do to stir things up. There was a "march on Tallahassee"that second year for which we made a big "Discrimination Must Go" banner with a bed sheet and two sticks. We didn't know about cutting little air vents to let the wind through until we got to the assembly area. I recall cutting them at the time. I also remember that the route was deliberately changed from the capital to a segregated black stadium when two busloads of NAACP big shots came up and basically took over. Jacksonville was rioting at the time and they were being cautious and didn't want to lat that break out in Tallahassee. It was my first time in an all-black stadium and it turned out to be mostly an NAACP rally and fund-raiser. It was also my first time seeing a "chicken sandwich" which was a piece of fried chicken, bone-in, between two pieces of white bread.

I could rattle on for pages about those days, but now they are nothing but the jabbering of an old guy about stuff that's no longer all that interesting. But at the time, my life was being formed in a very important way. When I went home that second summer I made application to have my draft status changed from 1A to 1A-0 (conscientious objector in uniform) and was drafted in 1965 into the Army Medical Service Corps. (All COs become Army medics and have modified basic training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. With two years in a marching band I could not be in an army band because it is technically a "combat position" -- sidearms issued.)

Toward the late Sixties I got the feeling that white people were being politely invited out of the movement, and I was facing the need to repay loans and finish college, so I mostly became something of a cheer leader and fellow traveler. I was in class at Georgia State University when the Kent State killings took place and recall students marching through the halls chanting "Kent State! Kent State!" and really wanting to get back into the fray. But I was too afraid.

Looking back my main regret is that I was too cowardly to be more active than I was. I would love to be able to brag about having spent at least one night in jail, but I was never that brave. I can only say that I have spent the rest of my life doing all I can as an ordinary citizen to fight discrimination, and will die knowing that I have done as much as I could manage and still support a family.

And like Dr. Simmons I never expected to see a black family in the White House. In the days after the election I couldn't watch the TV for long (about that story) without getting tears in my eyes. The Obama family has exceeded all expectations.

Thanks again for this program.

Listen to your program every Sunday on WNPR.....this morning you made me remember the struggles of the 1960's.....many people suffered...some lost their lives....we learned a great deal about ourselves as Americans...things long hidden came out into the open for all to see ........... but is The Struggle still going on?
How has it changed since the '60s? If MLK were still alive, what would he be saying now?

This is an extraordinary interview from our local NPR program ~
one black educator and one white educator are paired and assigned by the state to sell school integration in the hostile environments of North Carolina. It's a surprising account of unsung heroes ~ who discovered a way to sing their way through the KKK and Black Panthers.

Or Google: Meet Dudley Flood, Champion Of Desegregation In North Carolina
NPR-2.16.15 Click to listen to the full inspirational story ~~~

Ooh, I would love to hear Zoharah talk for at least an hour about what she learned as a Sufi about our soul purpose and her struggle between the inward journey of her Sufi practice and her outward civil rights activities.