Civil rights reaching milestone anniversary

Mac Gordon

Mac Gordon

This country has been in the grips of a 10-year remembrance of the attacks that rocked our nation on Sept. 11, 2001. We have undergone a heartfelt, gut-wrenching recollection of those events, all fully warranted.

In America, we remember anniversaries of this sort with fervor. Occasions like July 4th, Armistice Day (Nov. 11), Memorial Day (last Monday in May), Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) and D-Day (June 6), among others, remind us of the sacrifices made by millions of Americans toward the freedoms that we enjoy today.

Nine-11, of course, represents an attack by outside forces against the American mainland. Thousands who that day had arisen simply to go to work died along with hundreds of courageous emergency first responders.

It was entirely proper on this particular 10th year anniversary of 9-11-01 to recall the gallantry exhibited by so Americans — those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and those who lived to tell it — who never once thought they would be thrust into such violence.

We do not shy from honoring such anniversaries. Many churches devote entire services to these occasions. Newscasts scan the nation for highlights of parades and memorial events. Newspapers devote whole sections (and easily sell the ads to pay for them) to the celebrations.

Another series of important anniversaries in our history — reflecting on events that took place a half-century ago — has begun in 2011: the ramping up of the American Civil Rights Movement which, in time, would cast American against American.

There had been rumblings of such an uprising before 1961 due to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling to desegregate the nation’s public schools; the killing of a 14-year-old black Chicago youth, Emmett Till, in my native Mississippi and Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the city bus in Montgomery, both in 1955; the Little Rock school crisis of 1957, and the first sit-ins at white lunch counters by a group of black North Carolina college students in 1960. That last item led to further protests designed to speed integration of public facilities like swimming pools and libraries and privately-run restaurants.

In 1961, the movement arrived full bore as corps of “Freedom Riders” boarded buses to test new edicts to desegregate interstate travel. The year 1962 saw riots at my University of Mississippi over the enrollment of its first black student, James H. Meredith. The next year, 1963, brought more murders: civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi and four young black girls whose Birmingham church was bombed while they attended Sunday school.

The movement hit full stride in 1964 as college students from across the country came south to aid black voter registration efforts. More killings and bombings ensued, but the drive was fruitful as millions of blacks began to vote and the integration of schools and other public facilities was completed. And, yes, Albany was a major battleground in these endeavors.

These are hush-hush anniversaries to many people in the South, mostly whites who want it kept under the table, who don’t always want to recall the past.

But these, too, were important events in American history, and you will rightly be hearing more about them, here 50 years later.

Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.