Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.

A categorized index of all work that has appeared on this site is available by looking under the current month in the Blog Archive section and selecting Index.

This site is listed in BlogCatalog and
Literature Blogs
Literature blog

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

March in Cicero

By the summer of 1966 many Americans, moved by the moral clarity of the photos in Life magazine, were sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement’s struggle for voting rights and against Jim Crow. But that year Martin Luther King came north, and, with a grand rally in Chicago’s Soldiers Field, launched a series of open housing marches that provoked a fierce racist reaction, forcing many to recognize that the legacy of slavery was not peculiar to the South.

At the same time, the movement was itself evolving. Earlier that year in Greenwood, Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) raised the cry of Black Power. That same summer he sent his white progressive allies out of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and into their own communities, and the righteous old liberal-radical-religious coalition against racism was shaken.

After marchers were attacked on Chicago’s west and southwest sides, King decided not to venture into Cicero, where a black man had been killed when he stopped to make a telephone call. Bob Lucas, the local leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (at that time still a genuine civil rights organization) led the march. The National Guard was called out to protect the small group of demonstrators.

The marchers included black ministers and long-time activists singing “Eyes on the Prize,” but there were also restless members of Chicago’s powerful youth gangs, as well as at least two college students from an affluent, all-white suburb. The roar of the mob of counter-demonstrators was audible long before we passed under the rail line that marks the city’s western boundary. As soon as we emerged in Cicero we saw the twisted faces of the white working class youth screaming insults. The minuscule band of cranks in the local branch of the American Nazi Party had seized their opportunity and had distributed racist posters with huge swastikas and slogans like White Power. Some of the Cicero residents folded the posters to obscure the Nazi symbol their fathers had fought to defeat in WWII, but others waved it unabashed.

The National Guard looked frightened (and the students at South Carolina State and Kent State were to learn how dangerous a frightened Guardsman or cop with a gun can be). They were doing their best to hold the counter-demonstrators back under a barrage of rocks and firecrackers from the tops of buildings and the rear of the crowd. The more volatile marchers surged toward the sidelines, and macho challenges and obscene taunts went both ways.

It would be difficult to claim that anything was settled that day, but history moved, perhaps, a bit of a step forward. We knew that civil rights had come north, and that the Black Liberation Movement was being born. And American racism was further unmasked: in Cicero it was potent enough that some people waved fascist emblems while others were mobilized, educated, and radicalized. The struggle continues.

1 comment:

  1. Students were killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State in May of 1970.
    Later in the same month, Mississippi state police killed students at Jackson State College.
    State police were also responsible for the shooting deaths of students at South Carolina State in 1968.
    The 1970 incidents were both related to Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
    The 1968 killings were in response to student protests related to segregation at a local bowling alley.