Sunday, June 8, 2008

'hood niner

The law was clear. Ole Miss had to accept him – Bobby had to enforce the law.
James Meredith presented his case to the state and federal government, he simply asking them and then the fifth circuit court ordering them, to implement the law. James wrote a letter to the U.S. Dept of Justice on February 21st, 1961. He ask for their help using their power and influence to insure compliance with the law. In another letter to Thurgood Marshall, who was the head of the NAACP, he asked for help because “I anticipate encountering some difficulties”.

What the hell was Bobby waiting for? Was he not the head of the department of justice? Why was it taking him and Jack a so long to be brave! Not until August 31st 1962 did the case get to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and in ten short days, finally, on September 10th 1962 the Supreme Court ordered Ole Miss to admit James Meredith.

Governor of Mississippi Ross Barnett declares: "There is no case in history where the Caucasian race has survived social integration. We will not drink from the cup of genocide. ... We must either submit to the unlawful dictates of the Federal government or stand up like men and tell them never! No school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor”.

* * * * * *

Marie and I finally made it to the no name restaurant where the food was served family style and in heaps. We had to wait a little bit until the next seating and when she excused herself I picked up a paper at the door called New Musical Express from London and on the front page at the bottom was a small headline and article about a new group from Liverpool called The Beatles. They just signed a record contract with Parlophone Records for a song called “Love Me Do”. I had to wonder who are these guys and where do they come from (musically) and are they any good at what they do? Maybe that’s an irrelevant question because lotsa people think Pat Boone is good - he just charted again with an awful “Speedy Gonzales” followed by “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett. I must admit that the monster hit of 1962 is Seegers’ “If I had a Hammer” by Peter, Paul and Mary and it was at least good lyrics. I got a buddy back home who I’m sure is ecstatic ‘cause his folk music now rules; except for the teeny boppers who made Mashed Potatoes a #1 song – you had to hear it to believe it!
Here’s the thing, I can look back over the entire past two years and I’ve watched my heroes fade away. The 1962 charts had a couple of Elvis songs – slower tempos – and even a Chubby Checker song called “Slow Twistin” but where’s Little Richard, where’s Chuck Berry, where are all the original rockers whose roots have provided me with the diversity I can “feel”. And that’s it – I can only define a back beat – emphasis on 2 – 4 in a 4/4 bar. I know the music schools, here, Northwestern, Chicago teach and study classical music and some jazz and maybe that’s the way they should be. They’re training people for and subsidized by symphonic expressions. These are people who write books and have lectures and discussion groups about a single piece of music.
I care about the “rockabilly” music of Fred Maddox and the hard driving “Freight Train Boogie” by the Delmore Brothers of 1946. Their music is “untamed”. Is the best I can say is that I ‘feel’ its rhythms and can relate to the youthful, relevant poetry in its lyrics? Beethoven was filled with passion, but he refined it to the expressions of his era. Maybe that’s it; our great writers haven’t yet arrived.

maybe it’s our era that needs defining
Still in my hand is the music news from London; announcing a Carnegie Hall concert organized by Pete Seeger for September 22nd.

A new folksong writer by the name of Bob Dylan will be premiering a new song called 'A Hard Rains a' gonna Fall'.

* * * * * *
It’s September 13th and on statewide TV and radio, Governor Ross Barnett declares to the people of Mississippi “We will not surrender to the evil and illegal forces of tyranny”. Bobby hears about it and calls him immediately but can’t reach him because he’s too busy getting his back slapped by his redneck buddies while tryin to not spill his bourbon whiskey. So he finds Jack and they are trying hard to figure this out. Jack had talked to Governor Barnett two days before about the ruling and though the stand-off had a Civil War flavor he came away convinced that all Barnett wanted was a way to save face with the people of Mississippi; of course, integration was going to happen but ole Ross wasn’t going to make it look easy. The voters in his state would be after his ass. He needs an out! With all of his high-minded speeches about principles vs. expediency and moral degradation and the flowers of Southern womanhood, what he really needed was some cover so he could get re-elected. So on the 15th Bobby calls him up - during the next few days they exchange six or eight phone calls trying to come up with a scheme acceptable to both sides.
Then the Mississippi legislature jumps in with a measure supporting the Governor with a vote of confidence. The next day, the state circuit court tried James in abstentia and found him guilty of ‘moral turpitude’ and fined him one hundred dollars. Well now, the legislature quickly enacted a law forbidding anyone with a criminal offense admission to its’ state universities. James is determined to smash these barriers to his race. He readies himself and with U.S. Marshals surrounding him, he walks to the Lyceum Building to make his first attempt to register at Ole Miss in Oxford.
Ross Barnett, as self-appointed registrar, looks James in the eyes, personally blocks his way and says “No”. They stand a few moments; James looks to the marshals, but they are only there to protect him. They were purposely un-armed. James walks away, with them, and a growing crowd yells out some pretty nasty stuff.

This was the opening salvo of what forever will be known as ‘The Battle of Oxford Mississippi” –the last great battle of the civil war:

September 20th 1962.

* * * * * *

We at last were seated and though it seemed a long wait, there was only a moment before platters of food were sliding across the twelve foot wooden tables where hungry people showed no hesitation filling their plate. We sat across and watched each move made from fingertips to napkin to goblet to lips to eye to eye. A dissonant voice cut short our gazing as I jerked my body around to see right next to me a tall black man grab another at the collar, raise a fist in the air…….then bite his lip as he dropped the younger man to the floor. People rose up all around but there was no touching – just hard stares. The black man scooped up his books and on the way out spewed out “Pray you were as strong as Mr. James Meredith. God is watchin over him – not you” and threw a copy of the Northeastern News that carried a headline about Ole Miss. It landed right at the side of his head and pages sprayed into the air. Marie grabbed my arm as a couple guys were helping the young man to his feet and he said he was gonna get his black ass. She pulled me harder –

I’ve been here before.

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