In the middle of the expectant ‘Arab Spring’ in most unlikely places for embracing democracy, like Egypt, Syria and Libya, it’s difficult to believe how close in time the American blacks had their ‘American spring’. It was the time when the almost 200-year old Declaration of Independence did not hold self-evident truths, not even the most famous and nerve-touching line:
“...We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men...”OK, it talks about men but perhaps we should allow the benefit of the doubt and accept that also the womenfolk were to be included.
The problem is that after a considerable time has passed these old texts gather a mythical dust over themselves obscuring the real meaning, which may not be at all as self-evidently universal as one would be willing to understand. Think of Magna Charta, which only guaranteed rights against the King for the landowning class and not much rights at all to the peasants who slaved their toils without as much as a freedom to eat. But, hey, in a couple of years or so that is already 800 years behind us so let’s forget the whole thing.
Equally difficult is to imagine that USA (the government by the people for the people), in the middle of the 20th century and less than 20 years after being part in winning the war against aggression, genocide and racism, still allowed segregation of its coloured and white citizens in public transportation and in education, including Universities.
And not only segregation but beatings, killings without punishment, hounding by law, and public raving about inferiority of the blacks and other coloured folk compared to the giants of intelligence such as the Alabama and Mississippi Governors.
Picture: Stokely Carmichael in his Freedom Riders mug shot
In 1961 the Freedom Riders were taking busses in Alabama and Mississippi and were beaten by police and jailed for their journeys.
The Freedom Riders-movie shows also the Kennedys (John and Bob) in a new, non-flattering light. New Camelot seemed to have windows with shut curtains on the issue of equality. Not even Martin Luther King, according to this film, come out of these few weeks in May of 1961 without dents in his shining armour.