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.
Part 1, By Minnie Ruffin
I have been a social activist since 1960. I was inspired by the four freshman students at my school, North Carolina A & T State University, who initiated the student sit-ins at a Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. In fact, the majority of the student body was inspired. Many of us joined this movement and others supported it, including many of our teachers.
After lunch counters were integrated, we marched to integrate movie theaters. It was during those demonstrations in 1963 that I participated in my first act of civil disobedience, along with a vast number of other students.
Those were inspirational times. I had been raised as the daughter of sharecroppers, who was always reminded where my “place” was as a human being—a place different from that of the children of the farm owners. It’s hard to explain how much it meant to me and other students at my college to be given a glimmer of hope that through our actions perhaps we could change our unprivileged status and become fully equal American citizens.
The seeds of activism planted during those undergraduate days stayed with me through graduate school and I stepped up my social activism again in the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations at the University of California at Berkeley. As a nutrition major, I also volunteered to help in the Black Panther Party’s Breakfast for Children Program in Oakland, California. (By the way, their program preceded the USDA’s breakfast program.)
Those events all took place during the 1960’s and 1970’s. I did not participate in the freedom rides and the civil rights demonstrations in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, etc., although I did support those actions.
We as Americans made great progress during the 60’s and 70’s. The Civil Rights Act was passed, the Voting Rights Act was passed, and the war in Vietnam ended. The mistake we made during the succeeding years was that we were not vigilant in making sure we nurtured and strengthened these achievements. So I’m afraid that since the 1980’s, hard fought gains have been gradually disappearing. The Voting Rights Act is in limbo; voter suppression is being practiced in over half of the states; the poverty rate is increasing; the homeless rate is increasing; the gap between the very rich and the rest of us is growing; racial, gender, immigrant, and gay discrimination still exists; the environment is being increasingly polluted; and we seem to be at war either openly or secretly in several countries.
So we still have a lot of work to do. It’s going to require all of us to join the struggle. However, I am encouraged that young people seem to be awakening and becoming actively involved. They remind me of the youth of the 1960’s when I was so inspired. This gives me hope for the future.
|Minnie Ruffin is a member of Metro Atlanta DSA, Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace and Moral Monday Georgia, and is active in the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, convened by Dr. Martin Luther King’s associate, Dr. Joseph E. Lowery.|
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