The March Remembered

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march1963c.jpg

Fifty years ago, on the evening of August 27, 1963, I boarded a chartered bus in Rochester, New York, to travel overnight to the March on Washington. I was in Rochester for the summer as a student programmer. The press was worried about the March – maybe there would be clashes between the marchers and white racists. The New York Times begged the organizers to call off the March. President Kennedy also tried to get it canceled, and only reluctantly endorsed it when the organizers refused to cancel.

We ground through the night on the two-lane roads south from Rochester and down along the Susquehanna River through central Pennsylvania – no freeways on that route then. There was little talking, most of us were desperately, and unsuccessfully, trying to get some sleep. Little talking, but I imagine a lot us were worrying. Was this event going to bring out only a few people? Would there be clashes with police or racist opponents?

In the morning we reached the outskirts of Baltimore and went down the road to Washington. As the bus entered Washington, some other roads merged with ours. On them I noticed another bus, then another. After I had seen several more it hit me: all these buses were headed in the same direction! There were no buses going the other way. Then more and more and more buses. The Mall near the White House was filled with every bus in the eastern U.S., it seemed. We were directed to a parking place, chosen by some unknown plan. We got off the bus. I bought a pin (I still have it, see the image here), a straw hat that didn’t fit to protect me against the sun, and I was handed a sign to carry: “For an FEPC”. I vaguely knew that that was some sort of call for an equal employment commission, and only realized later how worthwhile that was.

We walked toward the Washington Monument, where a big crowd was gathering on its east side. It was becoming clear that there were lots of people. There was a stage set up near there and lots of people addressed us: A. Philip Randolph, the founder and head of the Pullman Porters Union was one. Folk singers, including Joan Baez led us in song, which was unintentionally funny. The crowd was so big that as we sang along, the people at the back of the crowd were singing one syllable while the people at the front sang the next, so singing in unison didn’t work.

About the time the marching was to start the crowd started moving up the hill towards and past the Washington Monument, down the slope behind it, and along the Reflecting Pool toward the Lincoln Memorial. Everyone just walked along until the density of the crowd stopped them. I was nearly at the large planter on the left front of the Lincoln Memorial. Nearly forty years later I was walking with my brother Lee near the Lincoln Memorial and he proudly pointed out where he had stood on that day. Until then, I had not known he had been there. We both came there, stood not 200 feet apart, and then he went back to Philadelphia and I went back to Rochester, and for years neither of us knew the other had been there.

The crowd was in a good mood, since the March was a success, the police were unobtrusive and no klansmen had turned up. Thousands upon thousands of African-American trade unionists in white “garrison caps”, delegations from African-American churches, white supporters like me. The main dangers were sunburn, heat exhaustion, or failing to find your bus at the end. The speeches started. Of course today the whole civil rights movement is remembered as one speech by one person: Martin Luther King said “I have a dream”, and then everything was OK. But I remember two good speeches that day. The other was by John Lewis, the head of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. It was a militant speech – later we found out that its most pointed criticisms of the two political parties had been censored.

Organizations like SNCC, CORE, and the SCLC sponsored organizers, many of them African-American college students. They led voter registration drives, attempts to desegregate businesses, defense of people who had been jailed, and protests against attacks on the African-American community throughout the South. The participants in those efforts were mostly local members of the African-American community. They did this at incredible cost: they were risking arrest, attacks, arson, bombings, loss of their livelihoods and loss of their lives. Those hundreds of thousands of people were the true heroes of that day, and most of them couldn’t be there at all. They were a mass movement, not just one man making a speech.

The event was over, and miraculously I found my bus. Near midnight we arrived back in Rochester. I remember the event fondly, but I am much more deeply moved by all the people, mostly in the South, who got arrested, beaten, murdered, burned out of their houses or businesses, fired from their jobs, or forced to move away from their hometowns. And the larger number of people who went ahead anyway, knowing they might face that. They had a dream.

42 Comments

Great remembrane, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

The main dangers were sunburn, heat exhaustion, or failing to find your bus at the end.

Some things never change; AFAIK, during the summer months the park service rangers stationed on the mall and ellipse still deal with an average of several cases of (tourists collapsing from) heat exhaustion per day. Evidently we can make progress eliminating racism, but learning to stay properly hydrated is beyond us as a species ;)

Joe. what a wonderful essay. and the part about Lee having been there too is just fabulous. I remember being in Massachusetts working as a mother’s helper, but reading the news about this event and being inspired by it. Those were such turbulent years, and only later did history sort things out. This march turned out to be truly momentous. Bravo for the Price-Felsensteins for having a sense that this was something not to miss.

You were part of a social revolution that changed our country for the better. My classroom this morning was filled with black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and mixed race students. All sitting and laughing together. Hopefully all learning about science together.

Thanks.

There’s a lot of work yet to be done, though.

The breakthroughs of the civil rights era can’t be understated. Before that time, arbitrary ethnic discrimination was not only legal, but, in many places, required by law.

Today, we face a more subtle situation, in which unemployment, incarceration, premature morbidity and mortality, and a variety of other negative outcomes correlate strongly with income, and even within income brackets, with ethnicity.

harold said:

The breakthroughs of the civil rights era can’t be understated. Before that time, arbitrary ethnic discrimination was not only legal, but, in many places, required by law.

Specifically, in the South public accommodations (water fountains, toilets, lunch counters, drinking fountains) were segregated, with “Whites only” and “Colored”. Schools and hospitals were segregated. African-Americans in five southern states could not vote. There were laws against mixed race marriage. Even in the North, housing discrimination and employment discrimination were widespread.

For a very vivid depiction of the terror under which rural African-Americans lived in the South, see Isabel Wilkerson’s magnificant book on the Great Migration The Warmth of Other Suns.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Specifically, in the South public accommodations (water fountains, toilets, lunch counters, drinking fountains) were segregated, with “Whites only” and “Colored”. Schools and hospitals were segregated. …

As well as public transportation. When you spoke of all the buses heading into Washington I was immediately reminded of the Freedom Riders. Truth be told it wasn’t until several years ago I learned of them. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to catch the PBS American Experience documentary. It’s two hours long but well worth the time. It’s available online if anyone would like to see it.

American Experience: Freedom Riders

Thanks for sharing your experience Joe, it was a pleasure to read.

For those who want a more direct and vivid account of what the civil rights movement was like in the South day-to-day, I highly recommend a website of recollections by

Civil Rights Movement Veterans

National Public Radio said today that the passage of the Civil Rights Act was a direct result of Martin Luther King’s speech. This website will give you a real feel for why that is a totally wrong assessment, why much much more was involved.

[The Civil Rights Movement Veterans website often responds with a Service Unavailable message. If you get this, you should try again, it will respond properly on a second or third try.]

Joe Felsenstein said:

Specifically, in the South public accommodations (water fountains, toilets, lunch counters, drinking fountains) were segregated, with “Whites only” and “Colored”. Schools and hospitals were segregated. African-Americans in five southern states could not vote. There were laws against mixed race marriage. Even in the North, housing discrimination and employment discrimination were widespread.

Lest we forget – all of that was was justified, and even mandated, by a literal reading of the BIBLE, in the view of the practitioners and many thousands of their PASTORS.

Some still see it that way.

Just Bob wrote:

Lest we forget – all of that was was justified, and even mandated, by a literal reading of the BIBLE, in the view of the practitioners and many thousands of their PASTORS.

Some still see it that way.

So was a lot of the civil rights activism. In the South there were African-American congregations acting as major supports for civil rights campaigns, there were other congregations avoiding activism, there were many Southern white congregations opposed to civil rights, there were northern liberal congregations giving support to civil rights campaigns. It’s an excellent case for arguing that the existing social, economic, and political forces can all end up expressing themselves in terms of religion, and all arguing that they derive their views directly from the same religious texts.

Joe Felsenstein said: …and all arguing that they derive their views directly from the same religious texts.

And all, or at least most, sure that those who don’t derive the SAME views, are on the fast track to Hell.

Lest we forget – all of that was was justified, and even mandated, by a literal reading of the BIBLE, in the view of the practitioners and many thousands of their PASTORS.

I hope you realize that Martin Luther King was a clergyman! You know, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

1) People and/or cultures start with their biases and interests and then mold a religion to match those biases and interests.

2) Having said that, post-modern fundamentalist distortions notwithstanding, I will note, as a completely non-religious person, that there are ethical tenets expressed in both the Old and New Testament. While anyone can say that Christianity or the Bible supports anything, some such claims are less far-fetched than others.

3) The civil rights movement is not at all irrelevant to the struggle for decent science teaching in schools. The civil rights movement brought progressive economics and full support for human rights together under one political tent. That allowed supporters of harsh right wing economic policy (who have always been with us, but tend to be a small minority) to make common cause with, and pander to the biases of, those who were freaked out by the weakening of the implied ethnic and gender hierarchy. Organized political science denial, in all its forms (evolution denial, climate change denial, smoking/disease denial - a favorite of Ayn Rand, HIV denial, etc) is strongly related to the second trend.

Joe Felsenstein said: Specifically, in the South public accommodations (water fountains, toilets, lunch counters, drinking fountains) were segregated, with “Whites only” and “Colored”.

It wasn’t just the “Deep” south. In the early 1960’s, I was working at a US Navy base 25 miles south of Washington DC, in Charles County, Maryland - which I used to describe as being a hundred years south of DC. The locker rooms / rest rooms were racially segregated - “White” and “Colored” clearly labeled. On a US Navy base!

Outside the Navy base, smaller stores and other commercial establishments had separate “White” and “Colored” entrances. The private beaches on the Chesapeake Bay had signs: “White Gentiles Only.” My in-laws had a summer cottage on Cobb Island, about 45 miles south of DC in Charles County - one of the rules was that all “colored” had to be off the island by sunset.

It was a different world.

Paul Burnett said:

It was a different world.

The Mason-Dixon line, the northern border of “Dixie”, is the southern border of Pennsylvania. I remember seeing a segregated lunch counter in the Baltimore railroad station about 1960. There were bitter struggles over school desegregation in rural counties of Maryland. And the town of Beach Haven, New Jersey used to have a map in its tourist brochure showing that if the Mason-Dixon line were extended eastward, it would reach the ocean north of them. This was a not-so-subtle way of saying “no Negroes”.

All that being said, the rural Deep South was another world yet again, with African-Americans often in fear of their lives.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Paul Burnett said:

It was a different world.

The Mason-Dixon line, the northern border of “Dixie”, is the southern border of Pennsylvania. I remember seeing a segregated lunch counter in the Baltimore railroad station about 1960. There were bitter struggles over school desegregation in rural counties of Maryland. And the town of Beach Haven, New Jersey used to have a map in its tourist brochure showing that if the Mason-Dixon line were extended eastward, it would reach the ocean north of them. This was a not-so-subtle way of saying “no Negroes”.

All that being said, the rural Deep South was another world yet again, with African-Americans often in fear of their lives.

Not that things were all that pleasant in the North. I can recall a relative of mine who was a high-ranking police officer, who told me that if an African-American would happen to move into my home town, he would make a friendly call to let them know - not that *he* had any objection, but that others would not be welcoming, and they might want to reconsider the wisdom of living here.

IMHO, one of the bizarre notions of American slave-owning, and later segregation, was (and in some quarters still is) that the Bible specifically assigns to African blacks the roles of ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ and their [white i.e.northern European] brothers’ servants.

When the rules for slave capturing, owning, buying, and selling were promulgated among the Hebrews and later enumerated in the Pentateuch, I would wager that those Hebrew priests, tribal elders, or whatever, did NOT have sub-Saharan Africans in mind. Their slaves were other middle-eastern tribes, including their fellow Hebrews. If they ever encountered black African slaves, they might have been captives of the Egyptians.

In NT (Roman) times, when the Bible exhorts slaves to obey their masters, the Romans probably had a few exotic black slaves, but the great majority of those addressed by Paul would have been Mediterranean peoples, with a heavy salting of white northern Europeans, i.e. ‘barbarian’ war captives: Gauls, Celts, Germans, Britons, etc.

IOW, the people the Hebrews and later the Apostles considered proper material for chattel slavery – inheritors of the ‘curse of Ham’ – were NOT black Africans, but the very people whose descendants, in the American South, were sure that the Bible condoned and commanded THEM to enslave Africans exclusively.

Paul Burnett said:

The private beaches on the Chesapeake Bay had signs: “White Gentiles Only.”

I was a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1960s, and apparently somebody forgot to tell me the codes. Does “Gentiles” refer to non-Jews?

It is interesting that the English word “slave” is related to the word “Slav”. See the Wiktionary etymology https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/slave#Etymology

Sadly, slavery is alive and well today. It exists in many forms, from trafficking women to kidnapping children who are fed drugs and forced to be soldiers.

Carl Drews said:

Does “Gentiles” refer to non-Jews?

It does unless you’re a Mormon. Then it refers to EVERYBODY ELSE, even, amazingly, Jews.

Utah is the only place in the world where the Jews are Gentiles.

Carl Drews said:

Paul Burnett said:

The private beaches on the Chesapeake Bay had signs: “White Gentiles Only.”

I was a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1960s, and apparently somebody forgot to tell me the codes. Does “Gentiles” refer to non-Jews?

Yes. Although I believe that in the US, anti-Jewish discrimination was never government-required like segregation (that was probably a private beach), it was extremely common and had its own euphemism. I’m not old enough to have witnessed it, but I believe institutions were described as “restricted” if they excluded Jews. The blatant nature of that sign may reflect southern locale; both New York City and NJ would have had plenty of institutions of this nature, but they would nearly always have used the euphemistic term “restricted” rather than openly using a term like “gentile”.

Carl Drews said:

Paul Burnett said:

The private beaches on the Chesapeake Bay had signs: “White Gentiles Only.”

I was a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1960s, and apparently somebody forgot to tell me the codes. Does “Gentiles” refer to non-Jews?

Yes. My Father was stationed for a time near Boca Raton FL. That base is now the grounds of Lynn University. He ran into that quite a bit back then. Funny how times have changed.

A story told to me that stuck in my mind the most, was when my father met a black friend (he played football for a neighboring high school in the Bronx) on a Bus and he sat down next to him. The Bus driver had a cow.

You see, it wasn’t just that blacks had to sit in the back, whites could not sit next to them either. So the Bus Driver objected when my father sat next to his friend. He went to where my Dad was sitting and told him to move up. My father protested and then the Bus Driver threatened him, at which point my father stood up. The Bus driver then realizing an altercation would not profit him, then refused to drive the Bus. His friend did not want him to get in trouble so he eventually moved to the front.

For my Dad, the South was a real eye-opener. He underwent basic training in San Antonio Texas. That might well have been on Mars. “Where yer horns jewboy? “ etc..

My 90-year-old father grew up in East Texas, and he says he fell in love with a beautiful black girl. They attended segregated schools, but she would come in the shoe store where he worked after school and flirt with him. He said that his heart would pound like mad, but of course he didn’t dare to ask her out. If he had, the whole town would have roasted the two of them.

Joe Felsenstein said:

For those who want a more direct and vivid account of what the civil rights movement was like in the South day-to-day, I highly recommend a website of recollections by

Civil Rights Movement Veterans

National Public Radio said today that the passage of the Civil Rights Act was a direct result of Martin Luther King’s speech. This website will give you a real feel for why that is a totally wrong assessment, why much much more was involved.

This reminds me of the first MLK Jr. national holiday. I was in the Navy and stationed temporarily at the Great Lakes Navy base in Illinois. We (a church group) had heard of a big presentation honoring Doctor Martin Luther King Junior in a large church auditorium in Chicago and most of us decided to attend. There were about 20 of us, mixed races, mostly white. The place was bigger than we had imagined, with many thousands of attendees, all black (excepting us). The presentation as well done with slides, recordings and was very informative. It covered his biography and notable speeches. THEN, the original presentation ended and everything changed. The first speaker left and a young, skinny, black man, with a buzz cut, bowtie, and glasses got on the podium. He commenced giving the most evil, racist, and hate filled speech I had ever heard, directly contradicting everything that had been put out in the MLK presentation. He repeatedly called for violence against “whitey” and claimed that blacks were somehow entitled to everything white people had. We were stunned. Then, when the brain dead mob around us started cheering and shouting “Amen, brother!” to this vile person, we decided to carefully withdraw from the procedings.I am not sure, but suspect the man was Farrakhan.

Joe– I did not know you had been at this historic event. Thanks fro sharing your recollections. Greg Mayer

As someone who is slowly discarding my dislike of history I had in school and being born long after 1963 (I’m an 80s child), I’ve noticed there are a lot of unsung heroes and heroines from the Civil Rights movement. I admired Eleanor Roosevelt how she, for example, not only backed the Tuskegee Airmen but even took a flight with one of their pilots. Toward the end of her life, she went to a Civil Rights workshop in Tennessee despite death threats; she decided to go against the strong discouragement voiced from the Secret Service.

Karen S. said:

Lest we forget – all of that was was justified, and even mandated, by a literal reading of the BIBLE, in the view of the practitioners and many thousands of their PASTORS.

I hope you realize that Martin Luther King was a clergyman! You know, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

Possibly even an evolution-denier at the time. Though I strongly suspect that today he’s support, possibly even sign the “clergy letter” endorsing evolution.

It won’t be in our lifetimes, but ironically what will finally defeat ID/creationism will not be evolution or science, but the simple phrase “thou shalt not bear false witness.” To be clear, by “defeat” I don’t mean that no one will believe any of the mutually-contradictory literal interpretations of Genesis. That will likely remain the case for ~1/4 of adult Americans for many generations. But the practice of misrepresenting evolution to promote unreasonable doubt - which as much as 3/4 of adult Americans now has - will slowly go extinct.

Frank J said:

Karen S. said:

Lest we forget – all of that was was justified, and even mandated, by a literal reading of the BIBLE, in the view of the practitioners and many thousands of their PASTORS.

I hope you realize that Martin Luther King was a clergyman! You know, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

Possibly even an evolution-denier at the time.

NO. MLK was theologically liberal, called himself a liberal, and criticized fundamentalism as anti-scientific because it was anti-evolution. I’ll get you the reference.

Creationists were always more racist than evolutionists.

Let’s not forget that Jerry Falwell, William F. Buckley, and Rousas Rushdoony were all creationist and all OPPOSED the civil rights movement.

MLK, SJ Gould and Joe F participated in the civil rights movement that creationists mostly opposed.

The Epperson vs. Arkansas federal case over the ban on teaching evolution in public schools took place in Little Rock, AR a few years after the desegregation fight, and the same racists who opposed desegregation opposed evolution. Racist Gov. Orval Faubus supported the creationists. There’s an article at the NCSE website about the racism in the Epperson case. Contemporary anti-evolutionists at the time connected their anti-evolution to their support for racial segregation.

As for that racist Farrakhan, the antisemitic Nation of Islam is creationist, although their bizarre creation myth is not the book of Genesis.

This reality will not stop creationists from asserting that Charles Darwin is to blame for the racism invented and perfected by Christendom.

diogeneslamp0 Wrote:

NO. MLK was theologically liberal, called himself a liberal, and criticized fundamentalism as anti-scientific because it was anti-evolution. I’ll get you the reference.

That’s good to know. I purposely added that I think that he’d reject today’s anti-evolution activism. I’ll add that I don’t think he would have bought into the anti-evolution activism of the 60s either. That’s when “creationism” completed its “evolution” from “honest, if confused belief” to full-blown pseudoscience. By “evolution denier” I only meant that he might have innocently found one of the mutually contradictory Genesis accounts convincing, based on not having the time or interest to consider the “convergence, neither sought nor fabricated” of evidence for evolution. As you know, that phrase I keep quoting was from Pope John Paul II, who was far from liberal in terms of theology or ideology.

diogeneslamp0 said:

Frank J said:

Karen S. said:

Lest we forget – all of that was was justified, and even mandated, by a literal reading of the BIBLE, in the view of the practitioners and many thousands of their PASTORS.

I hope you realize that Martin Luther King was a clergyman! You know, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

Possibly even an evolution-denier at the time.

NO. MLK was theologically liberal, called himself a liberal, and criticized fundamentalism as anti-scientific because it was anti-evolution. I’ll get you the reference.

Creationists were always more racist than evolutionists.

Let’s not forget that Jerry Falwell, William F. Buckley, and Rousas Rushdoony were all creationist and all OPPOSED the civil rights movement.

MLK, SJ Gould and Joe F participated in the civil rights movement that creationists mostly opposed.

The Epperson vs. Arkansas federal case over the ban on teaching evolution in public schools took place in Little Rock, AR a few years after the desegregation fight, and the same racists who opposed desegregation opposed evolution. Racist Gov. Orval Faubus supported the creationists. There’s an article at the NCSE website about the racism in the Epperson case. Contemporary anti-evolutionists at the time connected their anti-evolution to their support for racial segregation.

As for that racist Farrakhan, the antisemitic Nation of Islam is creationist, although their bizarre creation myth is not the book of Genesis.

This reality will not stop creationists from asserting that Charles Darwin is to blame for the racism invented and perfected by Christendom.

Thank you for taking care of this. I was going to post something similar.

diogeneslamp0 said:

Frank J said:

Karen S. said:

Lest we forget – all of that was was justified, and even mandated, by a literal reading of the BIBLE, in the view of the practitioners and many thousands of their PASTORS.

I hope you realize that Martin Luther King was a clergyman! You know, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

Possibly even an evolution-denier at the time.

NO. MLK was theologically liberal, called himself a liberal, and criticized fundamentalism as anti-scientific because it was anti-evolution. I’ll get you the reference.

Creationists were always more racist than evolutionists.

Let’s not forget that Jerry Falwell, William F. Buckley, and Rousas Rushdoony were all creationist and all OPPOSED the civil rights movement.

MLK, SJ Gould and Joe F participated in the civil rights movement that creationists mostly opposed.

The Epperson vs. Arkansas federal case over the ban on teaching evolution in public schools took place in Little Rock, AR a few years after the desegregation fight, and the same racists who opposed desegregation opposed evolution. Racist Gov. Orval Faubus supported the creationists. There’s an article at the NCSE website about the racism in the Epperson case. Contemporary anti-evolutionists at the time connected their anti-evolution to their support for racial segregation.

As for that racist Farrakhan, the antisemitic Nation of Islam is creationist, although their bizarre creation myth is not the book of Genesis.

This reality will not stop creationists from asserting that Charles Darwin is to blame for the racism invented and perfected by Christendom.

Also, the connection you describe is almost certainly still in existence.

However, there has been an “evolution” of language.

Figures who opposed the civil rights movement and denied science in the 1950’s were, at least, sometimes blunt and plainspoken in expressing their views. Today, other than in anonymous internet comments sections, such bluntness tends to be found only among members of prison-centered gangs, or among the obviously mentally ill who are attracted to “neo-“ movements.

Today, evolution denial is frequently expressed in the convoluted code of “ID”. And for racism, there exists a similar vocabulary of dogwhistle code. In my observation, those who use one are disproportionately likely to use the other, as well.

harold Wrote:

Today, evolution denial is frequently expressed in the convoluted code of “ID”. And for racism, there exists a similar vocabulary of dogwhistle code. In my observation, those who use one are disproportionately likely to use the other, as well.

To use one of your words that I steal at every opportunity, the common thread of those activists who oppose evolution, and undermine civil rights (or would given the chance) despite avoiding any hint of opposing it, is that they are authoritarians. Sure, most are religious fundamentalists, but that seems secondary to their relentless pursuit of an authoritarian society.

harold said:

diogeneslamp0 said:

Frank J said:

Karen S. said:

Lest we forget – all of that was was justified, and even mandated, by a literal reading of the BIBLE, in the view of the practitioners and many thousands of their PASTORS.

I hope you realize that Martin Luther King was a clergyman! You know, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

Possibly even an evolution-denier at the time.

NO. MLK was theologically liberal, called himself a liberal, and criticized fundamentalism as anti-scientific because it was anti-evolution. I’ll get you the reference.

Creationists were always more racist than evolutionists.

Let’s not forget that Jerry Falwell, William F. Buckley, and Rousas Rushdoony were all creationist and all OPPOSED the civil rights movement.

MLK, SJ Gould and Joe F participated in the civil rights movement that creationists mostly opposed.

The Epperson vs. Arkansas federal case over the ban on teaching evolution in public schools took place in Little Rock, AR a few years after the desegregation fight, and the same racists who opposed desegregation opposed evolution. Racist Gov. Orval Faubus supported the creationists. There’s an article at the NCSE website about the racism in the Epperson case. Contemporary anti-evolutionists at the time connected their anti-evolution to their support for racial segregation.

As for that racist Farrakhan, the antisemitic Nation of Islam is creationist, although their bizarre creation myth is not the book of Genesis.

This reality will not stop creationists from asserting that Charles Darwin is to blame for the racism invented and perfected by Christendom.

Also, the connection you describe is almost certainly still in existence.

However, there has been an “evolution” of language.

Figures who opposed the civil rights movement and denied science in the 1950’s were, at least, sometimes blunt and plainspoken in expressing their views. Today, other than in anonymous internet comments sections, such bluntness tends to be found only among members of prison-centered gangs, or among the obviously mentally ill who are attracted to “neo-“ movements.

Today, evolution denial is frequently expressed in the convoluted code of “ID”. And for racism, there exists a similar vocabulary of dogwhistle code. In my observation, those who use one are disproportionately likely to use the other, as well.

On a related note, Ted Beale, aka Vox Day, creationist blogger, WND columnist, conservative rape philosopher and Hitler lookalike, was just expelled from the Science Fiction Writers Association due in part to his racist mental meltdown and to being a fascist prick. He’s written many racist columns using the usual dog whistle terms, like demographic changes, homogeneous society, etc. along with creationism, anti-vaccine myths, defendng violence against women, global warming denial, etc. Recently dissected at Sensuous Curmudgeon.

diogeneslamp0 said:

Creationists were always more racist than evolutionists.

Let’s not forget that Jerry Falwell, William F. Buckley, and Rousas Rushdoony were all creationist and all OPPOSED the civil rights movement.

The Epperson vs. Arkansas federal case over the ban on teaching evolution in public schools took place in Little Rock, AR a few years after the desegregation fight, and the same racists who opposed desegregation opposed evolution. Racist Gov. Orval Faubus supported the creationists. There’s an article at the NCSE website about the racism in the Epperson case. Contemporary anti-evolutionists at the time connected their anti-evolution to their support for racial segregation.

Within the civil rights movement, the leadership in the South was drawn heavily from young people at “historically black” colleges and from young ministers in relatively-mainstream African-American churches. They might be less likely to be conservative evangelicals. Northern supporters came mostly from the political left, ranging from liberals to radicals (in my parents’ case, Communists). They also included lots of liberal church people. As for the rank and file in the South, the people who marched to the local courthouse and got beaten up, probably most of them you would count as evangelicals and fundamentalists. But that was partly because that was what most rural African-Americans were. What is less clear is whether, among local African-American people the participants in the civil rights struggles were more likely to be evangelicals than non-participants were. Probably someone somewhere has done a masters’ thesis on this, but if so, I don’t know of it.

Let me add also one fascinating (and relatively-unknown) case. When I was growing up in Philadelphia in the 1950s my parents were actively involved in opposing segregated housing and other forms of local racism. They knew some of the local African-American leaders including the famous Reverend Leon Sullivan.

Some of the people for whom they had the greatest respect were the leaders of the local Mennonite church. The Mennonites were one of the main churches of Pennsylvania Dutch people in Southeastern Pennsylvania. But they also had African-American congregations in inner-city Philadelphia: African-American people who wanted their children to have a strict traditional upbringing. The Mennonites then had no use for evolution (this is not quite as true now).

Most denominations in those days that had both white and African-American congregations went to a great deal of trouble to make sure that the two groups of members never met. This is an aspect of church politics that the histories of these denominations probably don’t emphasize.

The Mennonites, at least in Philadelphia, were a remarkable exception. They went to a great deal of trouble to make sure that they met. The inner-city African-American kids were taken out to the beautiful farms of the white congregants to experience farm life and meet the farmers. That really impressed my folks and impresses me still. Creationists or no, the Mennonite Church did a great job.

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

The Mennonites then had no use for evolution (this is not quite as true now).

I also grew up in Philly (1954-67), and have lived near there most of time since. Since you mentioned “Mennonite,” for what it’s worth I remember driving by a church just north of the city circa 2000 and seeing a sign for “Refuting Evolution.” It looked like they were giving away copies (for a donation?) of the Jonathan Sarfati book.

Frank J said:

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

The Mennonites then had no use for evolution (this is not quite as true now).

I also grew up in Philly (1954-67), and have lived near there most of time since. Since you mentioned “Mennonite,” for what it’s worth I remember driving by a church just north of the city circa 2000 and seeing a sign for “Refuting Evolution.” It looked like they were giving away copies (for a donation?) of the Jonathan Sarfati book.

Nevertheless Mennonites are not all rejecting evolution, some are wavering. See this entry from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.

One of the few reasons (the only one?) that I haven’t lost interest in “creation/evolution” is that I see a huge, and growing disconnect between the leaders and followers of the movement. I realize that there are “transitionals” e.g. activists-in-training, but as with biological species, a superficial look makes it look like separate “kinds.” So it’s frustrating to constantly see innocent Biblical literalists on the street, and the activists who exploit them, all lumped under a blanket term of “creationist.”

Before “creationism” became a pseudoscience, people just believed the origins stories in the Bible because they sounded plausible. Belief in a creator/designer is a separate issue from “what the creator/designer did, where, when and how.” Theistic evolutionists and Omphalos creationists ironically both understand that, even thought the latter choose to believe what they admit the evidence does not fit (God is testing our faith, etc.).

The practice of seeking and fabricating evidence that either “supports” (when taken out of context) one of the mutually-contradictory literal interpretations of Genesis, or at least (as is increasingly common in recent decades) makes evolution look “weak,” is where the line is crossed. Sure, some people innocently repeat those arguments, because they are deliberately “designed” to sound convincing. And most people - maybe leaders of that Mennotite church I referred to above? - just don’t bother to (or are afraid to?) check how they have been misled. And they don’t realize that a true faith in a creator, or even regarding “what the creator did when…” does not require validation with independent evidence. But it’s very different for the anti-evolution activists, especially of the ID variety. At the very least, their faith is not strong enough because they constantly seek and fabricate evidence to support their case. And when they are refuted, just look for other arguments - or other audiences that they can fool.

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

Nevertheless Mennonites are not all rejecting evolution, some are wavering. See this entry from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.

Thanks! This was of particular interest:

No Mennonite has taken a prominent role in creation-science but Mennonites have been seen as prime targets for recruitment by creationist leaders. A survey of beliefs among Mennonite Brethren conducted in 1972 and repeated in 1982 indicates that about 90 percent believe in the flood of Noah as literally true, only about 50 percent believe that creation occurred in six days.

I never saw that sign again on the church I mentioned above, so it’s most likely that some activists “recruited” (I’d say “scammed”) the church leaders, who were then caught off guard when congregation members noted the fallacies and erroneous facts in the book. The other thing of interest that I keep pointing out is that, of the “Biblical literalists on the street” less than half are strict young-earthers. Yet most abridged criticisms of “creationists” tend to suggest that most or all - leaders and followers alike - are YECs. Everyone cites the poll where ~45% say that “humans were created in their present form in the last 10,000 years.” But another poll that asks the age of the earth has only ~20% saying less than 10,000. At least that many think the sun goes around the earth!

I promised a reference for Martin Luther King supporting evolution and opposing fundamentalism.

King’s emphasis here on experience, “His [the liberal’s] certainties about religion are not found in a set of dogma but in vital experience”, perfectly encapsulates his own beliefs about religion. His description of the “liberal’s” beliefs matches his own, thus this passage identifies him as a liberal, even though he presents both sides. His final conclusion, that fundamentalists seek “to preserve certain ancient ideas even though they are contrary to science”, certainly accords with our position toward fundamentalists.

Martin Luther King wrote:

As we look through the arena of contemporary history we are immediately struck by the salient changes which have taken place in modern society. Any serious observer can notice, with a deal of facility, the changes in the social, economic, and scientific realms of modern life. Whether these changes have been for the best or for the worse, it is not mine to discuss at this point, but the fact remains that they have come about…

Also notice the continual rise of the scientific spirit in modern culture. Ever since the days of the Renaissance men have continually subpoenaed ideas and theories to appear before the judgment seat of the scientific method. As Bacon would say, “they are taught to weigh and consider.” Modern man is forever standing before the store-house {of nature} with his inevitable interrogative, what? As the new scientific method began to develope [sic] many of its decoveries were found to be contradictory to the old ways of thinking which had been basic for religious belief. Newtonian science reduced Providence to the reign of the natural law; Copernicus eliminated man fron the center of the universe and posited a heliocentric theory of the universe. In his theory of organic evolution Dawin [sic, Darwin] placed supernatural man within the natural order. In philosophy positivism emerged in Comte. This scientific spirit invaded the whole of modern life. It seems that the renaissance deviated man’s thinking from a theocentric world-view to an antropocentric cosmology. Modern man turned away from metaphysical speculation and decided to worship at the shrine of empiricism.

The question immediately arises, why these propaedeutic concerns in a paper which deals with the sources of fundamentalism and liberalism? The answer of this question lies in the fact that liberalism and fundamentalism grew out of these changing conditions. Whenever man finds himself amid a changing society, his thinking goes in one of two directions. Either he attempts to adjust his thinking to the changing conditions or he attempts to hold to old dogmatic ideas amid the new. Fundamentalism chose the latter while liberalism chose the former. In other words, the changing cultural conditions described above gave rise to both liberalism and fundamentalism; these conditions caused one group to seek adjustment and the other to revolt…

As implied above liberalism is a progressive movement which came into being in an attempt to adjust religion to all new truth. …the modern liberal attempts to wed theology to the dominant thought pattern of his day, viz., science. The liberal doesn’t mind changing old world views to fit the scientific world view. As Dr. Aubrey succinctly stated, “the Christian liberal attempts to incarnate in history the meaning of God’s will, as Christ Himself did, by keeping faith relevant to man’s expanding knowledge and his common struggles.”\[Footnote:] {E. E. Aubrey, “Our Liberal Heritage,” The Chronicle, October, 1944.}\

It is of greatest importance to state at the outset that liberalism is a method not a creed. “Liberals are united not by a set of dogma agreed upon but by a common spirit, a common purpose, and a freedom for all.”\[Footnote:] T. G. Soares, Three Typical Beliefs, p. 111.\ To be sure, the beliefs of the liberal are individual and, in any case, they are subject to constant revision. His certainties about religion are not found in a set of dogma but in vital experience… The liberal method is first historical. Its historical study is directed at recapturing the human experiences out of which the classic doctrines arose. He realizes that before the doctrine was formulated there was an experience, and that the experience is more lasting than the expression of the experience.\[Footnote:] H. E. Fosdick, Modern Use of the Bible, p. 55.\ From this it is quite evident that the liberal stresses the primacy of experience. The liberal starts with experience and constantly returns to experience to test his findings. For an instance, the authority of the Golden Rule is not that Jesus proclaimed it. On the contrary, its authority lies in the fact that it has received raison d’être in the experences of life. Of course, that Jesus uttered it, and more because he lived it, enhances our moral estimate of him.

The liberal would insist that he can never speak in terms of the absolute… Moreover, he sees that we do not have an infallible science therefore truth must be discovered from age to age.\[Footnote:] Sores, op. cit., p. 72.\ The liberal does not discard old beliefs neither does he discard the Bible. On the contrary, he seeks the truth that is in them. With supreme reverence he joyously cherishes the religious heritage of the past. Only he feels free to bring it to all critical examination of the modern historical method. …The liberal does not see the Bible as the only source of truth, but he finds truth in numerous other realms of life. He would insist that truth is not a one-act drama that appeared once and for all on the Biblical stage, but it is a drama of many acts continually appearing as the curtains of history continue to open… God is working through history.

The liberal does not agree with the orthodox views of human nature. For him there never was a fall of man. Rather than a fall of man he speaks of an upward (evolutionary) movement of man.

…From this brief discussion it seems quite obvious that Liberal theology resulted from mans attempt to answer new problems of cultural and social change. It was an attempt to bring religion up intellectually. Frieddrick Schleiermacher, the ninteenth century theologian, has been called the precursor of the liberal movement. When Schleiermacher stressed the primacy of experience over any external authority he was sounding a note that would ring aloud in the twentieth century.

Unlike liberalism, fundamentalism is essentially a reactionary protest, frighting to preserve the old faith in a changing milieu. In a sense we may say that fundamentalism is as old as the Reformation, but as an organized movement it is of recent origin. We may date the beginning of the fundamentalist movement in 1909 with the Publication of The Fundamentals…

These men argued that there could be no compromise on the unchanging fundamentals of the Christian faith. To gain support for their stand, the fundamentalist claimed that they were reaffirming the faith as Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Wesley held it…

The use of the critical method in approaching the Bible is to the fundamentalist downright heresy. He sees the Bible as the infallible word of God, from the dotting of an “i” to the crossing of a “T”… Upon this first proposition (the infallibility of the Bible) all other fundamentalist views depend…

When the fundamentalist comes to the nature of man he finds all of his answers in the Bible. The story of man in the garden of Eden gives a conclusive answer. Man was created by a direct act of God. Moreover, he was created in the image of God, but through the workings of the devil man {was} lead into disobedience… The fundamentalist is quite aware of the fact that scholars regard the garden of Eden and the serpent Satan and the hell of fire as myths analogous to those found in other oriental religions. He knows also that his beliefs are the center of redicule by many. But this does not shake his faith–rather it convinces him more of the existence of the devil. The critics, says the fundamentalist, would never indulge in such skeptical thinking if the devil hadn’t influenced them…

Others doctrines such as a supernatural plan of salvation, the Trinity, the substitutionary theory of the atonement, and the second coming of Christ are all quite prominant in fundamentalist thinking. Such are the views of the fundamentalist and they reveal that he is oppose [sic] to theological adaptation to social and cultural change. He sees a progressive scientific age as a retrogressive spiritual age. Amid change all around he was {is} willing to preserve certain ancient ideas even though they are contrary to science.

[Martin Luther King, “The Sources of Fundamentalism and Liberalism Considered Historically and Psychologically”, 13 September-23 November 1949]

I previously mentioned the case of Epperson vs. Arkansas, in Little Rock. Here is the NCSE report racist attitudes among creationist opponents in the Epperson case.

In 1965, Susan Epperson was a young biology teacher at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was deeply troubled by the fact that it was against the law for her to teach evolution, despite the fact that evolution is biology’s unifying principle. Much of the mail that she received regarding her case was supportive; for example, John Roberts wrote to her on December 9, 1965: “I hope you win your case because students should know the truth.” Yet despite issuing a statement affirming her Christianity, Epperson was attacked by many people as antireligious. Central High School, the site of racial turmoil in the late 1950s, was still seething with racism when she announced that she would test the state’s anti-evolution law (Moore 2002a)…

Others [opponents of evolution], though, apparently fearing that Epperson was an intellectual carpetbagger intent on forcing a new type of academic reconstruction on Arkansas’s public schools, connected evolution with antiracism. The link was pointed out explicitly in an editorial entitled “Arkansas begins fight for freedom to teach” that appeared in The Ohio State Lantern on January 21, 1966:

‘And as for [Governor] Faubus - who used National Guard troops to prevent integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1958 - he probably finds the theory [of evolution] distasteful because, among other reasons, it implies that Negroes and Caucasians came from the same ancestor’ [The Ohio State Lantern on January 21, 1966]

The antiracism implications of evolution upset many people. Here’s a portion of an anonymous letter to Epperson dated December 9, 1966:

‘If … them cocoanut-heads [sic] up there want to believe there [sic] foreFathers [sic] are monkeys, apes, or gorillas, its [sic] OK, but don’t let them shove it down our throat like Johnson did the Civil Rights law … If I was a teacher, the first nigger that walked in my classroom I would walk out … and don’t think I wouldn’t.’

A similar link between racism and Epperson’s lawsuit was made in a letter to Epperson dated May 1, 1966:

‘I can imagine, you refer to the Negroes … One of many things [that] makes me mad at the Welfare Department. Pays Negroes to increase their population by leaps and bounds… [If] this actually enters court, it will sure scramble the Civil Rights Bill, I hope.’

Others made more subtle, yet equally revealing, statements about the link they assumed between racism and evolution. For example, one letter writer closed his “Easter Sunday 1966” missive attacking Epperson with a telling postscript: “P.S. I’m white, too.”

[Racism and the Public’s Perception of Evolution. Randy Moore. Reports of the National Center for Science Education. Volume: 22 Issue: 3 Year: 2002 Date: May–June. Page(s): 16–18, 23–25.]

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Felsenstein published on August 27, 2013 10:40 PM.

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