In school rooms across America, kids like mine are coloring pictures of Martin Luther King and watching slide shows about Ms. Rosa Parks. It’s Black History Month again–“the shortest month of the year,” a friend of mine wryly observes. But it’s amazing how broadly we celebrate those who sat-in, marched, and cried out for justice in America 50 years ago. No one in America today can argue that King doesn’t matter. He’s standing on the National Mall, memorialized in stone.
But remembering our history matters little if it doesn’t reshape how we see the present. While communities across America are telling neat and clean stories about the 1960s, most of the mainstream media is ignoring the biggest broad-based organizing effort in the South since that time.
When historians tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement, they note how 1960 was a key turning point because, beginning in Greensboro, NC, some 2,000 people sat-in and were arrested that year. Their experience was a spring board for the Freedom Rides, which led the Movement into Alabama and Mississppi where the struggle for Civil Rights and Voting Rights was won.
Right here in North Carolina, a direct action campaign started again in 2013. 945 people were arrested at 13 consecutive Moral Mondays. Over a hundred thousand people rallied at North Carolina’s General Assembly through the summer, growing out of a grassroots coalition that the NC chapter of the NAACP has been organizing since 2006.
Then, on the second Saturday in Black History Month, our coalition came together to show the nation what this movement looks like. Over 80,000 people marched on Raleigh on a cold, rainy day.
But the New York Times didn’t cover it. CNN didn’t cover it. The major news magazines ignored the largest march in the South since Selma.
Why? I think of Gandhi’s dictum: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Such is the nature of things in general. But NC’s Foreward Together Movement hasn’t been ignored. The campaign this past summer got decent coverage–much of it accurate and focused on the issues that organizers cared about. TIME Magazine interviewed the NC NAACP’s Rev. William Barber for their story on the African-American community’s response to the Trayvon Martin verdict.
The absence of national coverage of this historic Moral March is noteworthy then. It almost feels like orchestrated silence.
Interestingly, Rev. Barber has been in the news the past couple of weeks. Honing in on a comment he made about Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, conservative pundits have moved from ignoring and laughing to fighting. The head of the GOP in North Carolina held a news conference to call for Rev. Barber’s resignation.
And the media has followed. Rather than report on the mass action of 80K plus, they have reported on the disdain of the Tea Party for one of their chief critics.
This, too, we must tell our children is part of black history. We know from FBI files that were released through the Freedom of Information Act that J. Edgar Hoover’s office distributed press released to discredit Martin Luther King. Most of the people we now celebrate were labeled as suspicious or as “known subversives.”
When those in power cannot defend their actions, they always move to change the subject. And if history tells us anything, they will do it “by any means necessary.”
But the Freedom Movement knows that none of these tactics work. Yes, they may prolong the inevitable. Yes, they convince some. And yes, they hurt many. But truth has a way of getting out, no matter how hard evil works to cover it up.
People are hearing that 80K folks marched in the streets. And they are asking why. When they learn what’s happening, they are joining us. More will come.
Then, we will win.