The Civil Rights Movement's Impact on Our Lives: Part 2

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DSA activists remember how their lives were impacted by Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.

 “You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of the slums. . . . There must be a better distribution of wealth . . .And maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speech to the SCLC staff, Frogmore, S.C., November 14, 1966

In 1962 I graduated from Raleigh’s all-white Broughton High School; in 1963 I walked out of the all-white White Memorial Presbyterian Church. Race was the constant subtext of growing up in Raleigh. My mother worked as a nurse in a doctor’s office with “white” and “colored” waiting areas; we – like most middle income white families – had an African American maid once a week. It was probably the fight at the church that had the biggest impact. Our young adults’ class proposed a series of actions to challenge religious segregation; all were rejected by church elders. Our last idea was that our church members and their black counterparts attend each other's services. Also rejected. In response, a young woman a year older than I, stood up and said, “I guess the church will be the last segregated institution in the South.” She walked out; we followed. Two years later I joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

-- Bill Barclay, co-chair, Chicago DSA

In April 1967 I was teaching at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. Student protests over inhumane conditions in dormitories and cafeterias led to a general uprising against apartheid Louisiana. As one of the few white instructors, I was able to use my safe position to help facilitate the forbidden presence of SNCC activists and Black Power advocate Stokely Carmichael on the campus. It became evident that my activist role demanded my return to the North.  I was guided by the great sermon Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered at the Riverside Church that month. Dr. King ended the silence of the civil rights movement on the Vietnam War, making what remains a prophetic and courageous indictment of the oppressive structure of U.S. imperialism, linked to poverty and racial oppression in the USA. When I returned to the North, I joined the movement against the Vietnam War and became a draft resister.

-- Paul Garver, member of Boston DSA and the DSA National Political Committee

Martin Luther King Day is one of my favorite holidays. Every year, I look forward to MLK Day programs, where I’m guaranteed an opportunity to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” -- the black national anthem. I also look forward to seeing well-meaning white people feign knowing all three verses of the song. I enjoy the many panels and community service events which surround the holiday. Most of all, I enjoy that the holiday is a rare opportunity for radical blackness to be celebrated. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an anti-capitalist black man, who was not afraid to confront white supremacy or capitalism. For me, celebrating King feels subversive. It’s a chance for me to publicly align myself with a man who opposed the worst aspects of the United States. The holiday is a time where I meditate on how I can help to dismantle these lingering systems of oppression.

-- Brandon Hicks, member of DSA's Anti-Racist Working Group, is 25 years old and from Charlotte, NC

When I arrived at Vassar for my freshman year (1959-60) I was disappointed that there were no progressive organizations on campus ­ until that spring, when students sat in at the Greensboro, NC Woolworths. The four (!) black students at Vassar organized about 100 of us to hold a solidarity picket in front of the Poughkeepsie Woolworths. I was thrilled by the realization that my actions, however small, could make a difference. A few weeks later I attended a meeting of northern student sit-in supporters, where I met my future husband, a democratic socialist who was working with Bayard Rustin¹s Committee to Defend Martin Luther King (King was being harassed by the IRS). I went on to start a Vassar chapter of Students for a Democratic Society and helped organize volunteers for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I was hooked on activism.

-- Barbara Joye is secretary of Metro Atlanta DSA and a member of the National Political Committee

The flickering images on the small television screen brought the brutal beatings of Freedom Riders into our living room. I was 14, living in central Pennsylvania and ready to join the noble cause. My parents approved, in theory, but two years later, they were too scared to let my brother and me get on the bus to the March on Washington. I didn't hear Martin Luther King in person until a year before his death. . . When a college classmate asked me in 1967 to take part in Vietnam Summer, I said that I only wanted to focus on civil rights.  Had I heard about King's speech at Riverside Church? he asked. If we didn't stop the war, we couldn't expect progress on civil rights. I was in. King's interconnected vision carried me from sweltering vigils on the steps of the Pennsylvania state capitol building to further activism.  

-- Maxine Phillips, former national director of DSA, member of the National Political Committee and volunteer editor of  Democratic Left

At age ten in 1964, at a drive-in movie in Virginia, I inadvertently went to the “colored only” bathroom. My father then explained to me that I did nothing wrong, but that if I had been black and had inadvertently gone to the “white only” bathroom I might be dead. When I looked at him incredulously, he told me the story of Emmett Till. Later on during that same vacation, in North Carolina, an elderly black man three times refused my father’s polite invitation to jump ahead in line so he could pay for his tin of chewing tobacco before my dad paid for a ton of groceries.  Did the man refuse out of deference and/or fear of what local whites might do to him? Those experiences provided me with some understanding of why my black friends in the late 1960s were so drawn to the Black Power movement. It’s only 50 years since the legal barriers to people of color exercising their humanity were overthrown; the fight to build a society where all humans are truly equal remains.

-- Joseph M. Schwartz, professor of political science at Temple University, a DSA National Vice-Chair and member of Philadelphia DSA and the National Political Committee

As a teenager in St. Louis Park, MN (I was born in 1946), I had only a very indirect relationship to the Civil Rights Movement.  But I remember one moment vividly. The adult leaders of my local Presbyterian church youth group introduced us to the movement. Integration was a fairly abstract issue; the first African American in my high school of 2100 students arrived in 1963. I had Japanese American friends whose families settled when released from internment camps. My first experience of being the only white person was their youth group meeting. But Asian American mobilization was several years in the future. The moment: I was going door-to-door in my 99% white community, collecting money for some civil rights cause -- I think to support Freedom Summer 1964. One person answering the door responded, "I think we should let Southerners handle it themselves."  Until then, I had naively assumed that everyone in the North supported civil rights.  

-- Peg Strobel, member of Chicago DSA and co-chair of DSA’s Feminist Commission

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 35 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.


Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 51 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.


Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.


DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 42 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 68 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 17 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.