Favorite

Remembering Civil Rights battles 

As golden jubilees go, the gathering of the '60s Freedom Riders and lunch-counter demonstrators over the weekend was unexceptional: the usual hugs, mutual compliments, nostalgia and jokes about the ravages of age.

But someone lifted straight from the hot streets of 1961 or 1965 — maybe even Amis Guthridge or Rev. Wesley Pruden, the white supremacists who led the counter-demonstrations — would have to remark how forbearing and tender were these "outside agitators" and "communists," as even newspaper editors in those days sometimes called them.

Soft and mellow were not qualities anyone would have associated with William W. Hansen Jr., John Curtis Raines, Howard Himmelbaum or any of the others, except perhaps by people who actually knew them, but you could detect no hardness or rancor in the reminiscences of the men and women who had come south and west to provide a cover for young African Americans who were demonstrating for their right to show up where only white people were allowed and to cast a vote and have it counted.

No one could fail to be impressed by John Raines's affecting accounts of how his first freedom ride and his first destination, the Trailways bus waiting room at Louisiana and Markham Streets, on July 10, 1961, had changed his life. He was a young minister, the son of immense privilege, but vague stirrings of altruism caused him to sign up for a freedom ride. The Congress on Racial Equality figured that to get the attention of the country, including the media, Northerners and Easterners, principally white, should be brought to the civil rights struggles. The media ignored the efforts of black Southerners, even their murders, but they would not ignore the misfortunes of the white students and ministers from the East.

Raines offered no hard words but only gratitude for the city, the cops and the judge who jailed him or the townspeople who jeered him. It seemed heartfelt. People owed him nothing, he said, but he owed everything to Little Rock and the other Southern cities on his journeys and especially the young African Americans who were in real peril for educating him on what the world was like for people who by mere accident of birth faced far different lives from his own.

What would have surprised those who hated them is that these "outsiders" were scared. Laura Foner, who left school in New York to go to Gould to teach at a freedom school, said she was frightened and naïve. She was not apt to get much law-enforcement protection. J. Edgar Hoover had the FBI watch her because her father was a labor historian.

But Bill Hansen, the child of a Catholic working couple in Cincinnati, was not so afraid. He had his jaw crushed and ribs broken in a Georgia prison, where he was tossed for demonstrating. Arkansas, which had a smaller reputation for violence, was solace for him.

Before last weekend, the last image Arkansans had of Hansen was a picture on the front page of the Arkansas Gazette on March 12, 1965. It was of a crowd huddled around his crumpled form on a sidewalk outside the state Capitol. He had been whacked by troopers, dragged up the basement steps by his heels and tossed on the concrete outside the southern portal.

A few weeks earlier, Gov. Faubus and the secretary of state, Kelly Bryant, had the cafeteria in the Capitol basement turned into a private club to keep blacks out. White people were automatically members, but a black person could not join.

Hansen, Himmelbaum and a band of students, mostly from Philander Smith College, marched to the Capitol soon after noon on March 11, the last day of the legislative session, to have lunch and maybe visit the governor.

The governor's executive secretary told the group they were not members and could not enter. They returned later to try again. Maj. Mack Thompson of the State Police and a cadre of troopers met the group when they wedged into the hallway outside the cafeteria.

Thompson, recalling the beatings in Montgomery and Selma, told the students: "We don't want to have no Alabama here and I don't think you people do, but we propose to have one if we have to."

Hansen was knocked cold in the melee that followed, Himmelbaum was burned by mustard gas and a newspaper reporter whom the troopers mistook for a demonstrator had to have a few stitches in his chin. A young Gazette reporter whose office policy was to wear a suit and tie went unscathed.

What is not much understood is that the protests worked. The next round of freedom riders were allowed to integrate the waiting room at the Greyhound station. The lunch-counter sit-ins produced secret negotiations with merchants, who quietly agreed to integrate the downtown stores, including the lunch counters, and to hire a few African Americans. One month after the Capitol melee, a Republican federal judge, J. Smith Henley, ruled that the private club was a fraud. The 14th amendment, he said, does not allow the government through any ruse to open its facilities to white people but not to black.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of...

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • Not leaders

    As soon as I saw the Notre Dame graduates walking out of their own commencement ceremony as Vice President Mike Pence began to speak, I thought, "Oh no, here we go again."

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Trump unfit

    • And now, although it is probably too late on this feed - the horrible bomber…

    • on May 24, 2017
  • Re: Trump unfit

    • Sorry, sorry - I mis-spoke or mis-wrote - the ACTUAL headline on the article was…

    • on May 23, 2017
  • Re: Trump unfit

    • Sez who, Al? All Trump said is that he has the right as President, to…

    • on May 23, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation