On April 14, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at Stanford University. During this time, which was about one year before King’s death, Dr. King’s movement addressed a range of issues, including race, Vietnam, poverty, and economic justice. This speech at Stanford would become known as “The Other America” speech, and King would continue to give various speeches on the theme for the next year.
In the speech, King explained: “But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
Yet, near the end of the speech, King still spoke of hope. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward Justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right, “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right, “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne — Yet that scaffold sways the future.” With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
I long have been a fan of Caitlin Cary‘s music that includes her days as part of Whiskeytown (with Ryan Adams) and her solo career. One of her latest projects finds her joining her musical talents with others to make a statement. In 2013, Cary and singer-songwriter Jon Lindsay co-founded NC Music Love Army. The group is a collective of musicians with a connection to North Carolina who wanted to make a statement about regressive politics in the state. The artists released an album of protest songs in 2013 called We Are Not For Sale: Songs of Protest.
In 2014, as we approach election time, the group is releasing additional songs. Below, listen to Mary Johnson Rockers sing “Senator’s Lament,” a song about the land that sounds timeless while also being timely. After the song, you may listen to alternate versions on the player too.
In “Dear Mr. McCrory,” Lindsay wrote a song directed at the governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory. On the song about voter suppression in the state and civil rights, Lindsay is joined by Cary and BJ Barham (of American Aquarium).
In “Dear Mr. McCrory,” Lindsay asks a question we wonder about for many politicians, “When you were a young man did you wanna be / This person here before us today?” Check it out.
You may download “Dear Mr. McCrory,” “Senator’s Lament,” and other songs through NC Music Love Army’s website. [October 29, 2014 Update: Check out the latest release through NC Music Love Army of “Train Coming” by Dasan Ahanu and Jrusalam.] Leave your two cents in the comments.
While recently enjoying Ken Burns’s excellent documentary episodes The Roosevelts (2014), one of the stories about Theodore Roosevelt made me want to find out more. The narrator mentioned President Teddy Roosevelt’s handling of a black regiment in Brownsville, Texas. Roosevelt gave a dishonorable discharge to a black sergeant who had once shared his food rations with Roosevelt in Cuba. I became curious to find out more about this unnamed man who was treated so poorly. And with a little research I soon found his name was Mingo Sanders.
Sanders’ Early Service
Mingo Sanders, who had been born in March 1858 in Marion, S.C., enlisted in the Army on May 16, 1881. In 1888, he went to Missoula, Montana (there are conflicting stories whether or not he was married yet, in which case he brought his wife Luella). There, he served with Company B of the 25th Infantry.
In 1897, the 39-year-old Sergeant Sanders played an important role in helping Lt. James A. Moss test the military use of bicycles on a trip between Missoula and St. Louis. Sanders was older than the other men and was partially blind from an explosion during his long military service. But he earned the admiration of his men on the difficult 41-day journey.
Sanders Encounters Theodore Roosevelt in Cuba
Not long after the trip, the Spanish-American War broke out and the 25th Infantry’s commission in Missoula ended. Many of the men, including Sanders, were sent to Cuba.
Sanders and his colleagues would play a brave and important role in the capture of San Juan Hill, the battle that made Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders famous. Despite all the credit given to Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, black soldiers made up about 25% of the U.S. forces in Cuba and played an important role in the battles.
It was in Cuba where Sanders first crossed paths with Roosevelt. On one occasion, Roosevelt went to Sanders and asked Sanders to give some of his unit’s hardtack rations to the Rough Riders.
Sanders continued to have a distinguished career. Eight years after his efforts in Cuba, he rescued five white prisoners during a conflict between the United States and the First Philippine Republic. For his work, he received a medal of honor.
The Dishonorable Discharge
Unfortunately for Sanders, his life would cross paths with Roosevelt’s responsibilities once again. In 1906, Sanders had served in the military for 26 years and was near retirement. That year, the 25th Infantry was stationed in Brownsville, Texas, where the town was not welcoming of the black soldiers. After some arguments in the town, on Aug. 13, 1906, someone or some people fired shots, killing a white bartender and wounding a police officer.
Some of the townspeople blamed the black soldiers. But their white officers insisted the men were all at the barracks at Fort Brown at the time of the shooting.
At this time Theodore Roosevelt was president. Amid rising racial tensions in the Brownsville area, he sent officers to conduct an inquiry. Through interviews with the men of the 25th Infantry, they found no witnesses.
Without any type of trial, President Roosevelt ordered the men to be given dishonorable discharges. Among the men was Mingo Sanders, the man who had once shared his food with Roosevelt. President Roosevelt waited until after Congressional elections in November 1906 to order the discharge, so that black voters would not abandon the party.
After the Discharge
In later elections, though, many used the Brownsville decision against Roosevelt. President Taft had even appointed Sanders to federal positions as sort of an anti-Roosevelt reminder. Sanders settled in Washington, D.C. with his wife, eventually dying on August 23, 1929 and then being buried at Arlington Cemetery, where his wife Luella was also buried in 1942.
In 1972, Congress would reopen the case of the Brownsville shooting. It absolved Mingo Sanders and his fellow soldiers of the shooting. President Richard M. Nixon signed a bill giving the men honorable discharges.
The following video from Montana PBS recounts the story of Sanders’s Montana unit that tested out the use of bicycles for soldiers. It also tells about Roosevelt’s order discharging Sanders and the other men. Check out The Bicycle Corps: America’s Black Army On Wheels (2000).
Screenshot via YouTube. Leave your two cents in the comments.
On September 25, 1960, Clyde Kennard was arrested in Mississippi and charged with stealing $25 worth of chicken feed. An all-white jury then convicted the black man of the crime, and he was sentenced to seven years of hard labor at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, otherwise known as “Parchman Farm.” Kennard eventually would be released from prison after he was diagnosed with cancer and was near death, and he died on July 4, 1963. What makes the story especially tragic, though, is that Kennard had been framed with the theft only because he had tried to go to a white college.
Kennard Sought an Education
Clyde Kennard had been born in 1927 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. After serving for seven years in the military, he completed three years of college at the University of Chicago.
After three years into his political science major, though, his father died. So, Kennard returned home to Mississippi to help his mother run the family farm.
Back in Mississippi, Kennard wanted to complete his degree but he needed to go to a school near to the farm so he could help his mother. The only nearby college was the the all-white, Mississippi Southern College. And state officials did not want a black man challenging the status quo. Officials realized they might lose any challenge due to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Applications to Mississippi Southern College
Kennard first applied to Mississippi Southern College in 1955. But he was rejected on technical grounds because he did not have letters of support from prior graduates.
Kennard applied to the school again in 1958. This second time he withdrew his application after civil rights leaders persuaded him to withdraw. They had concluded it was not the right time to try to integrate the school.
Then, Kennard tried again to apply to the school in September 1959. The school president again rejected him on a technicality.
Kennard’s Arrests and Prosecution
After this attempt to get admitted to Mississippi Southern College, as Kennard was leaving a meeting at the school, he was arrested. The alleged charges were speeding and possessing alcohol, even though he did not drink.
Kennard did not give up. He wrote letters to a newspaper, stating that he would go to federal court if necessary to get in the school. Then, in September 1960 he was framed for a chicken-feed theft and sent to prison. At the prison, he endured horrible treatment and had to work in the fields picking cotton.
Cancer Diagnosis and Death
When Kennard was diagnosed with cancer, state officials first refused to release him from prison. But pressure from civil rights leaders like Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. led state officials to fear having a martyr die in their prison system.
So in February 1963, officials released the very sick Kennard. He died died several months later on July 4, 1963.
Decades later, a reporter would get the “witness” to the chicken-feed theft to recant the story. The “witness” explained that the charges had to do with Kennard’s attempts to go to school.
Newly discovered documents support Kennard’s innocence too. And in 2006 the Circuit Court of Forrest County, Mississippi exonerated Kennard. Thus, it became clear what everyone knew at the time: Kennard had committed no crime. He was just a man who wanted to go to school.
“We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”
The tragic story of Clyde Kennard reminds me of one of the great African-American spirituals, “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Like many spirituals, the song connects the struggles of American slaves to the plight of the Jewish people in ancient Egypt. “Jacob’s Ladder” uses the Biblical image of the ladder climbing to heaven that Jacob dreamed about.
Clyde Kennard knew it is a long ladder that he helped climb. In response to the song’s question, “Children do you want your freedom?,” Kennard responded with a resounding “yes.” And for that and for his sacrifice, we should remember him.
In one of the final newspaper letters Kennard wrote before he was sentenced to prison, he wrote, ““If there is one quality of Americans which would set them apart from almost any other peoples, it is the history of their struggle for liberty and justice under the law.”
Every rung goes higher, higher; Every rung goes higher, higher; Every rung goes higher, higher; Soldiers of the cross.
Photo via public domain. Leave your two cents in the comments.
On September 15, 1963, racists exploded a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, injuring several people and killing four little girls aged 11-14: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. The incident is largely seen as a turning point that helped inspire the Civil Rights Movement.
In Spike Lee’s excellent documentary about the incident, 4 Little Girls (1997), many of the people who knew or were related to the girls give moving stories about the events surrounding the bombing.
It would be decades before some of those involved in the bombing would be brought to justice. The movie interviews former Alabama Attorney General William Baxley, who reopened an investigation into the bombing in the early 1970s, resulting in the conviction one of the men involved in the bombing in 1977.
Baxley had long been interested in pursuing justice in the case even before he was attorney general. In the movie, he explains how he used to listen to Joan Baez’s song “Birmingham Sunday” every day.
“Birmingham Sunday,” which was written by Richard Fariña, appeared on Baez’s album, Joan Baez/5 (1964). It was released in the year after the bombing.
The way the song helped inspire Baxley through the years to help bring some justice to the tragedy helps show the power of song. Spike Lee’s movie 4 Little Girls also shows the power of film.
Photo of church window at 16th Street Baptist Church, donated by the people of Wales after the bombing, via public domain.