Kwame Ture, Selma, Freedom Rider, and the Limitations of Liberalism

(Image of book cover “Ready For Revolution,”; Center image of myself (right) and J.e. Franklin; image of “Black Power” by Ture & Hamilton) This piece discusses two works: a popular film directed by Ava DuVernay, Selma, and a recently performed stage play Freedom Rider written by Ms. J.E. Franklin. It compares the different messages that each piece sends about the period. This piece looks at Selma mainly through the lens of one of the most influential organizers Kwame Ture (1941-1998), then known as Stokely Carmichael, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). While the Selma film looks at the Black freedom struggle through the Black bourgeoisie, Franklin’s play Freedom Rider looks at the freedom struggle through the lens of the Black working class. Carmichael’s presence was completely absent in the film DuVernay’s film even though without Ture’s organization as a member of SNCC, the Selma-to-Montgomery march would have never happened. This is no reason however to ignore the film. Selma must be seen. However, watching Selma should not be a substitute for reading and understanding the history of this Selma-to-Montgomery march: it should be a supplement. Clayborne Carson’s book In Struggle should be required reading before, during or after seeing Selma. Kwame Ture’s autobiography called Ready For Revolution edited by Ekwueme Michael Thelwell provides a necessary in-depth, first hand account of Selma from a SNCC member. Ture’s book that he co-authored with political scientist Charles V. Hamilton called Black Power, that was edited by Toni Morrison, provides a philosophical understanding of the work of SNCC in that time and must also be read. SNCC member Charles Cobb also has written two important books about the movement called On the Road to Freedom and This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed. Judy Richardson edited a collection of women’s experiences in SNCC called Hands On The Freedom Plow that should be read as well to get a deeper understanding. The nineteenth and twentieth chapters of Ture’s autobiography, called “Selma: Crisis, Chaos, Opportunity,” and “Lowndes County: The Roar of the Panther” mention the lessons learned from the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that the popular film Selma cannot provide. Ture begins his nineteenth chapter talking about Jack Minnis, the director of SNCC research and how he briefed Ture on the Alabama power structure, telling him “which capitalists owned what, their historical relationship to the terrorist network, and so on.” Ture wrote: “it was Jack…who would find the old Alabama law that would be the key to how we organized in Lowndes County” (442). Clayborne Carson in his book In Struggle wrote that this law that Ture was referring to “allowed for the formation of a political party at the county level. Residents of a county could nominate independent candidates simply by holding nominating convention” (164). Knowing this is what began the work in Selma which eventually, without King’s involvement, became the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Ture’s autobiography details the effort the SNCC members put into registering Black voters and encouraging them to vote for third-party candidates, members of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization who were outside the two-party mainstream. From its inception, SNCC was encouraging Black voters to vote their interests and to reject the two party-mainstream, which we still have to deal with today. The genius of SNCC was encouraging Black voters to vote for candidates outside the oppressive two party mainstream. Ture said of Selma that “the one thing SNCC did not have to do in Selma was identy and develop grassroots community leadership. As I said, this was a self contained community , and its Dallas County Voters League had a might impressive group of leaders” (444). The film Selma tells the story through the perspective of the Black bourgeoisie, specifically through Dr. King performed by David Oyelowo. King was leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which was a hierarchical organization composed largely of church leaders that depended on support from the white power structure. The oppressive white power structure preferred dealing with SCLC rather than a more consensus-based organization like SNCC. Paul Webb’s screenplay with DuVernay’s direction of Selma shows a very serious philosophical disagreement between SNCC and SCLC. Ture said: “the problem was in the SCLC approach of massive, temporary mobilization and press agentry as opposed to creating powerfully organized communities capable of sustaining political struggle” (445). The film Selma privileges temporary mobilization and press agentry as opposed to the long, drawn out process of creating powerfully organized communities capable of sustaining political struggle. Ture said the catalyst of the Selma to Montgomery march was the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson (1938-1965) who died the night that “an SCLC preacher came to speak…at a Perry County church, when the people left the church after the speech, the state troopers ran amok, just chasing and whipping people everywhere” (447). The film shows Jimmie, his grandfather and mother marching in an alley before Jackson was murdered by an Alabama state trooper but in reality they were running from “a Perry County Church,” into a café before the murder. Ture, like the film, tells the story of three marches. The first march in the Selma film was without Dr. King and ended in the Alabama state troopers attacking marchers in a bloody melee that was televised and covered. The film’s most important indictment of the federal government came in the way it showed federal agents support of abuse of Black citizens by the Klan and by Alabama state troopers. During the bloody march, federal agents were reporting to their authorities the organized masses’ agreement with King’s critiques of American society instead of trying to stop the troopers’ naked attack of the Selma marchers. This film shows them as individuals who ultimately upheld the system of social control and the system of white supremacy that sanctioned the unfettered abuse by state troopers. The first march was the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march that took place on March 7, 1965. Ture said that he did not support this march because it was not planned properly. There were no plans made for the security of the marchers. The bloody attacks by troopers on the nonviolent marchers raise the importance of violent protest. Following the bloody melee, Ture said that “the scene in Brown chapel was like a wake in a MASH unit” and the film depicts this. When one of the protestors decide to retaliate against the troopers, seeks a gun, and asks who will join him. A young Andrew Young played by Andre Holland quickly dissuades this violent protestor from retaliating violently by telling him about the superior military power that the state troopers had and the futility of violent retaliation. This speaks to the kind of response and reaction to white racism that the SCLC, the producers, and the U.S. film industry endorses: a nonviolent passive response that continues to reinforce white supremacy. In her 1959 keynote address at the American Society for African Culture (AMSAC, which turned out to be a CIA front group according to Mary Helen Washington), Lorraine Hansberry said that one of the illusions that the mainstream media perpetuates is that “radicals are infantile, adolescent, or senile” (“The Other Blacklist” by Mary Helen Washington, p.262). The film Selma shows the radical thinker who wanted to retaliate with a gun as infantile after Andrew Young talked him out of it. This popular film does not show the development of the radical thinker in a realistic light. Radical thinkers were those who allowed King a base with which to march from Selma to Montgomery. The film improperly suggests that the masses came together simply as a result of King’s charismatic leadership. This is not true. The masses were built by SNCC with the perspectives of people like Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, and Kwame Ture. During the second march on Tuesday March 9th, Dr. King marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, this time with a larger number of white clergy. The Alabama state troopers hear orders from Jim Clark to let the marchers pass. However, before the march completely crosses the bridge, King stops the march, kneels, prays and decides to turn all the marchers back. Thelwell, the editor of Ture’s autobiography includes a first hand account of this second march from director of the SNCC Alabama project, Silas Norman: “The march proceeded to turn around. Well, Jim Forman was close to me. We were all sort of baffled. Jim kept saying, ‘what’s going one? What’s happening? We had no idea. We discovered later that there had been some agreement with Robert Kennedy, with the government, that the march was not to proceed. Personally I did not participate in that march again. I felt we’d been betrayed and I no longer wanted to participate.” (451). The film shows LBJ and his staff disapproving of King’s ambition to march, but according to Norman’s account, King had by the time of the second march already acquiesced to the demands of LBJ’s administration and called off the strike in the disguise of a prayer. The film showed an incensed reaction by SNCC to King calling off this second march mainly through the lines of James Forman played very convincingly in the film by Trai Byers. The film showed two very sympathetic whites watching the first “Bloody Sunday” march: Catholic laywoman Viola Liuzzo and Methodist Reverend James Reeb. After the second march in the film, a federal agent starts a conversation with Reverend Reeb about his reasons for leaving the North to visit Selma. As two hostile white men start attacking him for being a “ni—er lover,” the federal agent starts to run away and, like their sanction of the troopers’ bloody beating of the marchers, the film shows this agent sanctioning the murder of Reverend James Reeb. The third march on Wednesday, March 17th was charged with the memory of Jimmie Lee Jackson and with Reverend James Reeb. Ture wrote that LBJ was “moved to send a message of condolence to Mrs. Reeb, with a government plane to transport the widow and corpse home…the march had been called, remember, in response to a local Africa man’s murder. Where was LBJ’s and the nation’s response then?” The film gives credit to King for this critique of LBJ, but it originally came from Ture. The third march successfully went all the way to Montgomery after a legal challenge to SCLC from the state of Alabama who sought an injunction against the march. A federal judge federalized the Alabama National Guard on March 20th, three days after the march in order to protect the marchers and allow them to reach Montgomery safely. The film ends with LBJ vowing to sign the Voting Rights Act, however it misleads viewers into thinking that the right to vote was achieved by three factors: one, top down hierarchical leadership; two, court decisions, and three, presidential executive action. The film misleads viewers into thinking that these factors caused the signing of the Voting Rights Act. In reality, it was much more. King’s influential hierarchical leadership could not have had any influence had SNCC not been there years earlier. LBJ’s decision to sign the Voting Rights Act also was reluctant and was recently reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 in their Shelby v. Holder case. The film betrays the reality that voting rights are not in fact bolstered by the courts or executive action. The work of SNCC after the completion of the Selma to Montgomery march point most directly to the futility of depending the federal government or its electoral system for voting rights or responsible political leadership. The work of SNCC in helping to establish the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) that built strength off of the momentum of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. In Black Power, Ture & Hamilton (T&H) write that “the two major political parties in this country have become non-viable entities for the legitimate representation of the real needs of the masses, especially Blacks—in this country” (42). The film ends by suggesting false hope in the two major political parties, especially in the narrative of success it presents in its summaries of each of the actual individuals that the film was based on, namely the narrative of Andrew Young who it says became mayor of Atlanta “twice.” The film betrays the very hard work that organizing requires by focusing on King. In her biography of Ella Baker, Dr. Barbara Ransby writes that Ella Baker believed that King did not identify closely enough with the people he sought to lead. The film shows him in a slightly more pedestrian manner, showing him taking out the garbage and voicing concern about how his physical appearance makes him look too high and mighty. Ultimately the film shows his actions confirming this belief by Baker (Ransby, 180-192). T&H write that “civil rights leaders” like King who rely on passage of civil rights legislation “reveal the fact that they are operating from a powerless base” (78). T&H write that dependence on civil rights leaders, promoted by Selma, create essentially a fantasy where “all problems would be solved by forming coalitions with labor, churches, reform clubs, and especially liberal Democrats.” T&H write that “the building of an independent force is necessary; that Black Power is necessary” (78). They define Black Power as a system that “means proper representation and sharing of control. It means the creation of power bases of strength from which Black people can press to change local or nationwide patterns of oppression” (42). The film provides a very incomplete picture of Black Power. The book Black Power essentially shows the futility of depending on the electoral system that the film Selma celebrates through two organizations: the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and especially the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) fought, as Ture said, to replace the original all white male delegates of the Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. They were offered two symbolic seats from the Johnson administration which they rejected. Ture described this rejection of liberalism at the convention as a triumph: “they saw through the blandishments of the snake-oil salesmen…I was also especially proud that among the strongest and clearest were my ladies from the Second Congressional District—the Delta” (410). King and Rustin were “civil rights leaders” that encouraged the MFDP to accept the two seat compromise, which the MFDP voted to reject. They were celebrated in the Selma film as civil rights leaders. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization, organized by SNCC was able to run candidates in the May 3, 1966 election for sheriff, coroner, tax assessor, tax collector, and three seats on the Board of Education. Black citizens were punished by the white power structure for voting. By the end of 1965, T&H write that “some twenty families were evicted and spent the rest of the winter living in tents, with temperatures often blow freezing…despite the ever-present threat of loss of home and job and even possibly life, the Black people of Lowndes County continued to build. Mass meetings were held weekly, each time in a different part of the county. Unity and strength, already developing over the winter [of 1965-6] grew” (107). However on the day of the election, T&H write that “white plantation owners were bringing in ‘their ni—ers’ by the truckload.” The LCFO basically lost each seat they ran candidates in, and T&H attributed this to the voters brought in by white plantation owners who voted in the interests of these owners. They (T&H) write: “there will always be those Black people who will vote for whites against Blacks because they fear economic and physical reprisal, because of an embedded belief that politics and voting are indeed ‘white folks business.’” (119). In the historic look at the MFDP and the LCFO, T&H show what the film Selma could not show, that reliance on voting rights and electoral system is a dilemma for the Black working class because they will either be plagued by token compromises like the Johnson administration supported by token Blacks who support the endemic racism within the electoral system or they will be plagued by an overwhelming number of Black voters who will vote to keep the status quo against their own interests. In his 1992 afterword of this book, Ture writes that “Africans are more integrated into the Democratic Party today than ever before; they have more elected officials than any other ethnic group, yet they have no power at all in the Democratic Party! They represent powerless visibility” (190). Obama and Holder’s inability to prosecute the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, and Eric Garner prove Ture’s point. Ture makes crystal clear his point in Black Power: “one must not assume that because the MFDP did not succeed in displacing racism, exploitation and corruption from the body politic of U.S. capitalism that the struggle diminished. One must not assume that because LCFO-BPP did not achieve independent party status, the struggle was diminished. On the contrary, Revolutionary history shows that the People do not nurse their wounds. After defeat, they begin immediately planning the next step in the forward ever march…it is crystal clear to the African masses worldwide that capitalism cannot be reformed; it must be destroyed.” (198). Freedom Rider is an incredible drama for the stage written by the J.e. Franklin (writer of the 1970 play Black Girl) that shows the arc of one ambitious Black female college student named Clarissa who comes to Harmony, Mississippi, in 1964 in order to “destroy everything segregated” that she can find. This production ran from October 17th to November 2nd, 2014, at the Dwyer Cultural Center and was directed by Eric Coleman. The arc that Clarissa travels during this play shows the harsh reality of a Northern Black activist trying to achieve social change in the Jim Crow South. This is an arc that the Selma film showed a much milder version of. Clarissa, played by Kayla Ross, is portrayed as a young, naïve organizer from the North who, like Carmichael in 1965, faces the harsh realities of the Jim Crow South. The family that Clarissa is sent to, by Northern organizers, is the home of Hank and Agnes played, respectively, by Sean Turner and Malika Nzinga. The entire play takes place on the porch of the home of Hank & Agnes. Hank is in charge of assigning Northern field workers to homes in Harmony. Hank’s Aunt Flora, performed unforgettably by Vinie Burrows, plays a key role as a healer, adviser and inquisitive aunt. The play opens with Clarissa trying to convince Hank, a settled Black southerner, on the virtues of integration, but Hank is not sold. Like SNCC organizers, Franklin’s Hank character also calls King “De Lawd,”although the context in which he describes King is much less derisive. Hank says that rather than integration, “we just want the same respect that gived to the white man, that’s all.” By the second scene, Aunt Flora chastises Hank for assigning her to host white women Freedom Riders when she preferred to host Clarissa. At this moment, the entire four person cast hears on the radio that the bodies of three missing civil rights workers (Andrew Schwerner, James Chaney, and Michael Goodman) were found in an earthen dam. Clarissa says she met them “at a non-violent training camp in Oxford, Ohio.” She reiterates to Aunt Flora her conviction that she came down to Harmony to “destroy everything segregated” and that she won’t rest until she does that. Aunt Flora is upset with Hank for assigning her white field workers instead of a Black field worker like Clarissa. In the third scene, Agnes and Clarissa have a very intense conversation about Clarissa’s motives for coming to Harmony. Clarissa tells Agnes that “most of the field workers agree with Nancy and Susan” that “while the FBI is down here, we should strike while the iron is hot!” Clarissa is unaware of the ways that FBI agents cooperated with the Klan to dissuade, terrorize and murder local Blacks who choose to defy the Jim Crow order. Agnes responds: “so, you done fell under the white-girl spell, too, huh? Is it ‘cause they went to a high-falutin’ school up north, or ‘cause they white…” Franklin deals with the white supremacist education that teaches social Darwinist notions, like the idea that Blacks are unable to want to vote or know how to vote without the assistance of whites educated in the traditional Western education. Hank & Agnes completely shatter this stereotype. Clarissa responds to Agnes’ charge saying about her fellow white female organizers Nancy and Susan: “they’re the only ones of us who’ve done political work for their senators, their councilmen, their congressmen.” “Only”? Did Clarissa ask if Hank and Agnes did political work for their senators or, if they didn’t, did she try to find out why they were unable to? Clarissa completely assumes that Hank and Agnes have done no work for their senators and, typical of Western education, privileges the experiences of white organizers over those of Black organizers. She is one who uncritically accepts the social Darwinist-based education that privileges meaning making experiences of her white counterparts simply because theyre white. T&H challenge this way of thinking in their book Black Power when he describes running Black candidates for office in the LCFO: “it was the old game of putting Black people on the defensive, making the Black man question his ability, his talents, himself. No one seriously questioned Wallace’s qualifications to be governor, of Jim Clark’s to be sheriff of Dallas County… For that matter, in the 1770s, the American colonists did not spend sleepless nights worrying whether they could rule themselves. This point bears emphasis, for white Western “civilization” is always projecting itself as ready whereas the Black man must prepare himself” (107). Clarissa speaks of her fellow organizers Nancy and Susan in these terms. She does not question their qualifications to be serious organizers in the South simply because they have done work with white politicians within the power structure that supports white supremacy. Agnes completely challenges Clarissa’s assumptions of traditional Western education in a way that the characters of John Lewis and James Forman as SNCC members are unable to do before King in Paul Webb’s screenplay of Selma. When Clarissa, Nancy and Susan joined Hank and Agnes in their traditional circling with their local Shaman, we learn that Nancy and Susan walk out of the circle because they felt uncomfortable. Clarissa defends them, saying “those girls came all the way from St. Louis to help us get our freedom…” Agnes rejects the idea that white organizers from the North along with Black organizers who support them, could help them get freedom: “All I see ‘em doing is questioning everybody…just fishing, fishing! What they gonna do, write a book about us, give it to the White Sheets!” Hank gets furious after he learns that Clarissa’s group of organizers have a list of addresses of local residents without clearance from the Jackson office. He says: “You think we don’t wanna vote? It ain’t just ‘cause its dangerous. People need a break! You know what we get put through when we try to register? Test after test!” Then Agnes asks Clarissa, in a tone that mocks the kind of white registrar we saw in the Selma film that denied Annie Lee Cooper the vote: “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” Hank plays along and adds: “I know you can’t answer that ‘cause ya’ll don’t bathe, do you gal?” When Clarissa tells Hank that her group’s ultimate plan is to register thousands of Black voters for the MFDP, he doubts the plan out of fear that voters may be killed like Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. Although he is helping to place Northern activists in sympathetic homes, the recent murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney brings doubt into Hank’s mind about the Clarissa’s purpose of registering voters and his overall role in it. Agnes supports Hank. Aunt Flora altogether disapproves of any more voter registration work. When Hank and Agnes describe and perform the ugly reality of Klan thought and behavior, Clarissa listens to them, however, with some doubt. Until it visits her. Two days later after this exchange, Aunt Flora visits Hank and Agnes demanding they read to her pages in an apparent diary of Nancy or Susan that she took while they left her house that morning. Hank reads something in this diary he does not reveal to Aunt Flora, Agnes, or the audience and quickly leaves. We learn from Agnes that Clarissa joined Nancy and Susan on a ride into town where they went into a white restaurant to be served. Agnes tells Aunt Flora and the audience that Clarissa, Nancy and Susan were beaten and stomped on. Nancy and Susan were jailed while Clarissa is brought back to Hank and Agnes home to be treated for injuries. Clarissa was not only beaten, but tarred and feathered. The healer side of Aunt Flora emerges as she orders Agnes to get some kerosene and some spiderwebs to place on Clarissa’s wounds and tells Clarissa: “got me round here bragging ‘bout you! Only time Colored can go in them places is if they taking care-a white chil’luns…take your food in a paper-sack, you can set right there and eat til the chil’lun finish…ain’t nothing but educated fools, all of you!” Aunt Flora tells Clarissa “they done kicked something loose inside you, child!” And hints that Clarissa’s beating may have, like Fannie Lou Hamer’s visit to a Mississippi doctor to remove “a bit on her stomach,” made her infertile. When Hank asks Clarissa if she remembers anything they said to her, she replied: “Ni—er…ni—er…ni—er! It’s a question of mind over matter! We don’t mind, and you don’t matter!” Aunt Flora instructs Hank to bring Nancy and Susan to her house. Agnes tells Clarissa what Aunt Flora’s little Cyrus found in the diary of Nancy and Susan; that one of them wrote: “’I now realize Negroes are just people.’ Just people?! What the hell did she think we was before she got here?” Clarissa yet again justifies the racist beliefs of Nancy and Susan, to which Agnes responds: “I know how it is when you have a dream and don’t wanna lose it…but we already tried loving these people.” This is exactly the sentiment of Kwame Ture who was one of the few SNCC organizers who developed in his revolutionary thought enough to know that the Clarissa’s methods of ending Jim Crow and institutionalized racism will not happen nonviolently. Agnes reassures that Aunt Flora in her broad history and knowledge as a former domestic to the powerful whites in Harmony who knows all their secrets, will not let them keep Nancy and Susan in jail. Act two begins two months later after the attack against Clarissa, during which time Clarissa is recovering from her injuries, and during which time the MFDP rejected the insulting Johnson compromise. Agnes and Clarissa discuss this rejection and celebrate it. The film Selma instead encourages acceptance of liberalism by selling the myth that lobbying executive leadership is the key to achieving social change. Aunt Flora tells Hank in private that she received a two thousand dollar check from the parents of Nancy and Susan for getting them out of jail. She wants to use the money to build a Freedom school and tells Hank to keep her plans a secret. When Aunt Flora leaves, Hank celebrates her in front of Agnes and Clarissa and the tricks she employed to get young Hank out of trouble: “after Mother ‘Dear died and daddy was killed my auntie was the only one in the family that wanted me. I ain’t never told her how much I ‘preciate what she did for me.” Hank leaves the scene towards Aunt Flora, and Clarissa and Agnes converse about the nature of Jim Crow. Agnes tells Clarissa: “white folks hate us ‘cause we the cause of them gonna have to be human-people!” Clarissa tells Agnes that she was hurt when she learned that Susan and Nancy wrote to William and he wrote back, revealing her hopes for a relationship with William. Agnes tells her that Nancy and Susan were trying to get poor whites to join Ms. Hamer but got run out because they were having sex “with some woman’s husband.” Clarissa also tells Agnes what Aunt Flora suspected: that she would not be able to have children because of the beating. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was also deprived of the opportunity to have children without her consent, Clarissa sacrificed her life in order to make meaningful steps to end Jim Crow segregation. Agnes shares with Clarissa that she had a nine year old son who died of a fever the day that Aunt Flora was midwifing elsewhere. Both women share the loss of children. Agnes tells Clarissa that Hank got the local children in the Harmony community to do a dance called “The Mind Over the Matter,” as a way to invert the racist meaning of Clarissa’s attackers, however Clarissa is unimpressed: “A dance? I don’t wanna see that! I don’t even wanna hear those words ever again in this life! That ain’t nothing to be dancing to! How could they…?! I don’t want it, Miss Agnes…I don’t!” The film Selma also shows a reverse appropriation. LBJ in announcing that he plans to (he took five months to follow through on his promise) sign the Voting Rights Act, said “and we shall overcome.” He appropriates the language that white and Black SNCC organizers in the South use in nonviolent marches and sit-ins while they are being beaten by white attackers. LBJ gives the false impression that executive and legislative leaders of the U.S. government, that represent the interests of staunch segregationists, actually want to end the laws that have maintained their power. They use the language of nonviolent struggle to essentially sanction and continue violent struggle against protesters. Clarissa in Freedom Rider thought her lone visit would end centuries of white supremacy. Franklin’s stage directions tell us that she “is too choked with tears to respond” to Aunt Flora’s question of whether she decided to stay in Harmony or leave. Agnes tells Aunt Flora: “she’s upset ‘cause she couldn’t fix these white people,” to which Aunt Flora says: “Fix white people? That’s what you come here for, girl? We ain’t need you here for that! Didn’t I tell you to leave these white folks to God and just keep praying for ‘em!” Aunt Flora tells Clarissa that although she may not be able to have children, “h’its plenty chil’lun in Harmony. If you got a mind to stay…you’ll find mercy here.” Aunt Flora leaves, but Clarissa tries to make one last point: “I wasn’t trying to fix them…I just wanted all of us to love one another like Jesus and Dr. King told us to…to love them and them love us so the hate would stop…so we could get our liberation…!” Franklin’s stage directions tell us that “AUNT FLORA whips around and lets off a blast of anger which shocks both women: “THEY AIN’T GOT NO LOVE TO GIVE TO US, GIRL! NOW, WE EITHER GONNA KEEP ON LOVING THEM, OR WE CAN JUST STOP! BUT THEY AIN’T GOT NO LOVE TO GIVE US! THEY AIN’T ABLE! They just ain’t! They can’t!” The capital letters in these lines indicate emphasis which Vinie Burrows’ performance delivers. She notices Clarissa’s reaction and responds more in kind: “Do you understand that, child?” Clarissa replies: “Yes-mam Aunt Flora…I understand.” When first Hank and then Agnes invite Clarissa to see the local children do their dance at the play’s end, the stage directions tell us “Clarissa just shrugs and remains non-committal.” The play shows how Clarissa’s ambition to “destroy segregation” has been tempered by her experience at the hands of an angry white mob in Harmony, Mississippi. The second to last sentence of the play’s final stage directions say: “she collects herself, dries her eyes and hurries out to join the others.” Ultimately Clarissa decides to join Hank and Agnes to see how the local children, the younger generation re-appropriate the words of a white racist mob in order to assert their own power to live boldly and continually break down the barriers of Jim Crow. The film Selma ends with a false hope in the federal government while the play Freedom Rider ends with the promise of the younger generation vowing to challenge the Jim Crow that did not end in 1965. Michelle Alexander’s popular book The New Jim Crow has closed the argument that Jim Crow essentially died. Kwame Ture in Black Power and in his autobiography Ready For Revolution has shown how Jim Crow has expanded in new forms in terms of the growth of the military-prison-industrial complex that kills unarmed Black men at will, like the white troopers did to the Selma marchers, and like the white attackers did to Clarissa. As Ture said, meaningful change will only come about by revolution of the capitalist order. Both Franklin’s play and Webb’s screenplay do not seriously engage a revolutionary response to the Jim Crow order. This is a call to action to fulfill more of what Lorraine Hansberry said in that 1959 speech. She said the Negro writer must discuss issues of war and peace, and wage a war against the romance of the Black bourgeoisie. Franklin’s play does a better job at dispelling this romance than Paul Webb’s script which is intended for a mainstream audience. Franklin’s play shows Clarissa as an individual who believes that liberation will come by cooperating with a culture that is based on the denigration of African people and their labor. Aunt Flora in her decades of wit and wisdom states clearly that they have no more love to give. She and Ture suggest that the real work for revolution must not be led by sympathetic whites, but by devoted Blacks. Malcolm said that revolution should not be in the vocabulary of any individual not prepared to die for it. Franklin’s Agnes and Clarissa have the conversation that Selma is unable to have. The romance of the Black bourgeoisie is a big barrier not only for Hansberry but also for Kwame Ture, whose enduring message in his autobiography is: “Question everything. Challenge every authority. Always seek information and organize, organize, organize. And never, ever despair. Trust yourself. Trust the people. Never settle for less. Never give up, organize, organize, organize. History is full of surprises. Especially for exploiters. Organize, organize, organize. Stand ready for revolution” (773). All quotes of Freedom Rider by J.E. Franklin come from the book “To Break Every Yoke” which is a collection of Ms. Franklin’s plays: Freedom Rider; Mother, Dear Mother; I Reckon That’s Why They Calls Us Colored…Bless They Hearts; and Black Girl. (New York: Xlibris, 2013).

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Author: Dr. Rhone Fraser

Dr. Rhone Fraser is an independent writer and journalist born of Jamaican immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, on October 12, 1979. He moved to Florida in 1989 and graduated from Zephyrhills (FL) High School in 1997. He graduated from Yale University in 2001, after which time he taught in the public school systems in New Haven (CT) and the Bronx for three years. He then began writing independently and finished a documentary play on the life of Fannie Lou Hamer entitled, "Living Sacrifice," for which he still seeks publication. He earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple as of August 31, 2012. His dissertation was a literary and historical analysis of Pauline Hopkins, A. Philip Randolph and Paul Robeson. He also is a freelance editor and radio producer, and is currently producer of WPEB's Freedom Readers on 88.1 FM in Philadelphia.