Kamayani Bali- Mahabal
Last year , I was honoured to be invited at the 50th anniversary of the Black civil rights movement at Chicago conference hosted by UIC’s Social Justice Initiative to mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer My great Host , was Professor Barbara Ransby, The Director of University of Illinois-Chicago,UIC’s social justice initiative and the author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Visionand a founder of the activist group Ella’s Daughters.
Prominent organizers, scholars, and artist led workshops, strategy sessions, and presentations on some of the most pressing social justice issue for 3 days May 28- May31,2014.
The historic 1964 civil rights campaign sought to increase voter registration among Mississippi’s African-American residents and expose the daily oppression they faced.
Below are few snapshots of the conference and videos
On June 23, 1964, President Johnson was receiving news that three civil rights workers–Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner–were missing in Mississippi. Throughout this day and the next week, Johnson continued to follow the case closely, holding over 40 recorded conversations. In this call, Johnson reached out to Senator James O. Eastland, a staunch segregationist from the Mississippi Delta. Eastland declared the episode a publicity stunt, denied the existence of organized white supremacy groups in that part of Mississippi, and ridiculed Fannie Lou Hamer.
Unknown to Johnson, the three workers had been murdered by a group of white supremacists that included local law enforcement officials. A massive manhunt turned up bodies, but not of the three workers. Only after a tip from a paid informant were they discovered–over six weeks later–in an earthen dam southwest of Philadelphia.
The summer of 1964 challenged Jim Crow segregation and a complacent America that had done little or nothing to ensure democracy for its black citizens. Nearly 1,000 young volunteers swept into Mississippi to register African-American voters. Even in the South, the state was notorious for its racist brutality toward blacks and white integrationists. Early that summer, white supremacists kidnapped and murdered three civil rights workers. By the end of that momentous summer, officials had found the remains of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination by Dr Robinn D. G. Kelley might be described as a history of the collective imagination of black radical social movements during the 20th century, focusing primarily on what people in particular movements dreamed of, what they thought they were fighting for, what they articulated as the “New World” or “New Land.” The book begins with the premise that the catalyst for political engagement has never been misery, poverty, and oppression but hope; the promise of constructing a new world radically different from the one we’ve inherited. It is a brief meditation on the black radical imagination, a kind of “third eye” view of history that attempts to recover the dreams of a new world that have yet to be realized. Focusing on “back-to-Africa” movements, socialism, Third World Liberation, Surrealism, radical feminism, and reparations, Robin Kelley argues that these renegade black intellectuals/activist /artists not only created a vision often more inclusive than their Euro-American counterparts, but in so doing produced theoretical insights that might have pushed Western radicalism in new directions. Freedom Dreams took up the challenge of writing about movements that “failed”, adopting an even longer and deeper view of ideas.
The scholar activist Robin D. G. Kelley said at Freedom Dreams, “you can’t imagine a world without oppression without understanding all the ways in which we’re oppressed. The everyday forms of resistance, all these daily actions, don’t really mean much without some sort of ideological intervention, political education. In other words, people learn a lot in process. They learn about what the weaknesses are in the system. But they’re not learning about whether or not they want another system or what’s wrong with that system. They may just see it as their personal problem. That’s why all these forms of activities have to be followed up with political education. How does the system work? How does the state of Mississippi work? Why are so many people in prison? How come wages aren’t going up, but CEO bonuses keep going up? Why is that? What are the answers to those questions? Those answers don’t come out of everyday forms of resistance. They come out of political engagement and conversation and information.
Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us”
― Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
The moral and political arc of movements for social justice is also very, very long. And this is why it is important to think beyond the march, “the speech,” the spectacle. To understand August 28, 1963 is to understand the entire era. It requires following those movements that fall outside the spotlight, the movements organized and led by the very women who were excluded from the mic on that incredibly hot and humid Washington afternoon. The work of social movements is not always sexy, nor is it necessarily inspiring. But they are the engines for change and the incubators of new dreams.
Dr. Angela Davis noted that one of her freedom dreams is: “…for us to develop what food justice activists call ‘a deep sense of place.’ That whatever we do, we never allow ourselves to forget the lasting effects of settler colonialism and its genocidal violence on the original inhabitants of this land.”
As Dr. Davis connected the dots between the civil rights and abolitionist movements and dropped truths about issues related to education, Palestine, mass criminalization, political prisoners, trans phobia and immigrant rights, her remarks spoke to the heart of the food justice and sovereignty movement: our quest for full liberation through the decolonization of our minds, schools, bodies, spirits, land, our people and even our palates. Some of the foods we crave most, by design, tend to lend to our greatest destruction as well as the destruction of our planet, the security of our food system, and the violation of almost every human right imaginable from child labor to harmful work conditions and worker exploitation to land theft.
As we struggle towards realizing freedom, let us never forget settler colonialism. Let us learn the ways of our ancestors and “compost the past,” reclaiming our power, turning destructive matter into healthful possibilities. And let us always remember that we are indeed a part of a long history of freedom fighters with a long history of freedom dreams. In the spirit of the recently transitioned Baba Chokwe Lumumba, Mabel Williams, Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, General Baker, Sam Greenlee, Vincent Harding, Stuart Hall, and Yuri Kochiyama…we will continue to be.