Post by guest blogger, Courtney Zellars, a recent graduate of Howard University who majored in Print Journalism with a minor in Afro-American Studies.
1963 is arguably the most pivotal year in the Civil Rights Movement. From the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington, the year was filled with events and people who were crucial to the movement’s success.
Fifty years later, the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Andrew Young Foundation and CRP, Inc., sought to commemorate that year on Monday, Aug. 26, at the law offices of Hogan Lovells through a program featuring Ambassador Andrew Young, famed civil rights pioneer and icon. The discussion was moderated by Dr. J. C. Hayward, D.C.’s first female news anchor and now Vice President of Media Outreach at W-USA TV-9.
Titled “1963: Raising the Conscience of a Nation,” the evening debuted Part One of the documentary 1963: The Tipping Point produced by Young. The film focused on the movement in Alabama during that tumultuous year, in particular the impact made by the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in Birmingham.
“The program exceeded my expectations,” said attendee Eric Chambers. “I thought I knew everything about the Civil Rights Movement but I learned a lot -- in particular about the movement in Albany that Mr. Young described as a failure.”
In the documentary Young admitted initial civil rights activity in Albany, Ga.., went unnoticed by most of America due to lack of media coverage until Dr. King decided to participate. Yet, even with Dr. King’s involvement, the Albany Movement had limited success. Almost a year of demonstrations resulted in very few concessions made to desegregation, and most of those were abandoned once King left. When Shuttlesworth invited King to Birmingham, King and other leaders hoped to apply the lessons he learned from Albany to the demonstrations there. Birmingham City Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor became the symbol of racism in Birmingham. Connor’s vicious use of dogs and firehouses in thedemonstration in Kelly Ingram Park composed primarily of high school students spurred national outcry. It is believed that the Birmingham Movement led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Young, then a 31-year-old pastor in Atlanta, Ga., and member of the SCLC, participated with Shuttlesworth and King in the Alabama movements. During the program, he admitted that what’s missing by most historical recollections of the time was the anxiety that most of his friends and clergy felt.
“We made it look fun,” Young said. “But, most people thought going to Birmingham was a death sentence…. None of us thought we’d see forty.”
Following the Civil Rights Movement, Young served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1973 to 1977, was appointed Ambassador to the United States by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, and then served as the mayor of Atlanta from 1982-1990. Even now, he is still involved in social and political issues and feels progress is still to be made, in particular in the economic and judicial arenas.
Like Young, many attendees of the program agreed that progress still needs to be made.
“I wasn’t oblivious to racism,” said H. Clifton Grandy of his experiences as a child. “I tasted it but I didn’t have to taste the full bitterness of it.”
Grandy, coordinator of the National Consortium of Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts and third-generation Washingtonian, was a child during the 1963 movement and is amazed at how his parents protected him from the harshness of racism. But he concedes there is still more to do.
“One of today’s tipping points is that the work for fairness and equality in the court system continues,” he said. “We need an examination of the justice system, of Trayvon Martin’s case, of implicit bias.”
Nancy Lucas, of Ward 4, is motivated by civil rights because both her parents attended the 1963 March on Washington. But she said she’s still waiting to be judged by the content of her character and not the color of her skin.
“[African-Americans] are still not well represented in any large body, especially the educational system,” said Lucas.
Humanities Council Chair Bradford Grant is optimistic. The recent 50-year anniversary March on Washington has brightened his hopes of the future.
“During the first March on Washington, women weren’t allowed to speak,” said Grant. “And we weren’t even about to bring up LGBT issues. But this past weekend was so inclusive. That’s how it’s becoming. Now you no longer have to think to include a group.”
Guest attendees included members of the Young family including his wife, Carolyn; his daughter, Andrea, who is Executive Director of the Andrew Young Foundation; Councilmember Anita Bonds, and George Turner, Chief of Police of the Atlanta Police Department.