25 September 2009

Moments to Be Proud of in American History

Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus displays the front page of the
Manchester, N.H. Union Leader to illustrate what "northern
papers" are saying about President Eisenhower's use of
federal troops to enforce integration in Little Rock. He charged
the president with using unprecedented "police state methods."

Here is the face of Southern Racism, Orval Faubus, abetted by the product of Northern Racism - the incredibly right-wing Manchester Union Leader - protesting forced racial integration of Central High School in Little Rock. The nine black students attended their first day of class there on this date a half century ago. The alliance of northern and southern reactionaries spoke vehemently about their right to discriminate in 'Free' America. Not much has changed - ask the 'birthers,' 'teabaggers,' border 'militias,' and their enablers in the media (Dobbs, Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and even lesser lights).

Of course, Faubus was simply the elected face of racist violence in this episode, as this portrait of the citizens of Little Rock makes clear. This is a segregationist rally at the Arkansas Sate Capital in 1957. Orval addressed the crowd. The really nice touch is the placard reading "Stop the Race Mixing March of the Anti-Christ"!

Photograph: John Bledsoe for USN&WR/Library of Congress.

So, what is there to be proud of in all this? There are, of course, the nine students who first integrated Central High and who bore the ongoing brunt of racist retaliation first hand. But there were others who spoke out too. One exceptionally eloquent reply to Orval and his ilk was this tune:

Charles Mingus ~ "Fables of Faubus" from Mingus Ah Um (Columbia Records, 1959).*

"Fables of Faubus" by Charles Mingus, published
by the Jazz Workshop, Inc.~
From the collection at The Library of Congress.

So, today is one marker in the articulate perseverance of Black Americans who have resisted the paroxysms of violent bigotry that seem rarely to abate in our country.
* Not everyone was at the time (or since) as bold as Mingus. In Myself When I am Real: The Life & Music of Charles Mingus (Oxford UP, 2000) Gene Santoro reports - pages 154, 173 - Mingus's claim that the folks at Columbia Records would not allow him to record the mocking lyrics to Fables of Faubus.

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