Chapter 4; 1950s Uneasy Peace
We emerged as the superpower of the world,
Whipped Germany and Japan,
A five-star general was the chief in command
While Bill Levitt pioneered the modern suburbs,
Our standard of living was becoming the true American dream
with highways and byways spreading across the U.S
Supermarkets, shopping centers and the family TV were the newest novelties representing fashionable middle class life.
But black and brown were challenged to behave as if we were satisfied,
While we were denied full access to everything,
We were expected to be quiet and live in compliance with a moral grounding that simply did not exist.
An Alabama attorney shut the NAACP down,
Had a judge to declare it illegal
Based on the grounds of not paying a fee
Members from five different states filed a suit against the Board of Ed,
And sharecroppers made their legal claim
That’s when people lost their jobs,
Their credit went bad,
They lost their farm
Making it seem like standing up for what was right did more harm than good
As homes and churches were bombed
American denied there was anything wrong.
Under the façade of wholesome conformity, a tinge of turbulence was alive;
While China and Greece were fighting civil wars, Russia and Britain dissected Europe;
But we became afraid when Russia seemed to invade too much territory
When they launched the sputnik satellite into outer space
We feared their demands would have to be met,
Then they became close friends with Castro
Putting our own interests under threat and the red scare was born,
The Cold War was on;
Iron curtains and forbidden walls locked people in and locked people out;
loyalty was supervised by panels of paranoid officials to weed out anyone with open beliefs;
anyone who spoke of equality and peace,
anyone who thought that all people should be free.
While the CIA conducted a sneaky program,
Using drugs as a mind control tool,
Thurgood Marshall marched up the Supreme Court steps and challenged the law on segregated schools,
Rosa Parks had had enough riding the bus and had the strength to stay in her seat.
People were slowly rising up and confronting American hypocrisy.
Ray Charles shocked the church with What’d I Say,
Nat King Cole got his own show,
Sidney Poitier’s hit Blackboard Jungle,
And the Metropolitan Opera was blessed with Marion Anderson.
But it was hard to smile—
When we saw Emmett Till in Jet magazine,
Then the violence the Little Rock Nine endured,
We oscillated between anger and fear
As black bodies disappeared
Without anyone saying one single word.
Even white kids grew tired and bored
With comfortable lives their parents were able to afford,
They created an underworld of beatniks attempting to create a more meaningful way to live.
Northern cities were segregated,
Southern towns Jim Crowed,
Dr. King was at the genesis of his mission
The pot was beginning to boil,
Baby boomer babies were growing up
And they would soon take over the world.
Our cities were bursting with music,
No matter where you were,
Cool cats with shades and berets took jazz off the dance floor,
Yard bird and Dizzy; Miles and Monk were impresarios of a restless nation on the cusp of momentous change,
While folks were trying to understand be-bop and Birth of the Cool,
Charles Hamilton Hurston was building his case to grind out segregation in schools,
Courts were deciding who was a patriot,
And who was not
Joe McCarthy accused almost everyone of being a communist,
Putting people out of work because their names were on the blacklist while black folks were on the air;
We were happy with Beulah,
Had contempt for Amos and Andy
Satisfied with smooth Nat King Cole,
But he didn’t last long because nobody wanted to sponsor his show,
And I know you know why.
Vinyl replaced shellac, perfect for the new 45s
Carrying tunes of rock and roll,
Jazz was getting old
But Bird Lives,
Thank you for the Good times Prez,
Rest in peace Lady Day,
Jackie Wilson and Little Richard were now paving the way
To a new and exciting change in music.
His blood was from the delta, but he grew up Chi-Town style,
When his Uncle Mose invited him to visit down home for a little while,
It was late August, cotton season had begun,
Emmett worked the field with his cousins and took time to have some fun,
Later on his uncle took everybody to the local store
To buy sodas, candy and bubble gum.
Now, his mother had warned him about the south;
She told him to never look at white folks in the eye,
She told him to be cool and watch his mouth,
Don’t go showing off in front of the guys.
She told him it ain’t like Chicago;
No bright lights and big streets, just dirt roads and fields of cotton,
But all of her warnings and alerts were soon forgotten when he whistled at a white woman who owned the store.
Scared his cousins half to death because they knew it was trouble for sure.
Well sir; Three days later, about 2:30 am
Big burly white men were looking for the boy;
Wanted to know who did all that talking the other day Down the way at Bryant’s store.
Emmett was snatched away in the darkness,
About two midnights deep,
He wasn’t seen anymore,
Until the Tallahatchie River exposed his feet.
He had been weighed down with a cotton gin fan
Bob wire around his neck,
Meanwhile his mother Mamie was beside herself
And the entire city of Chicago was angry and upset.
Don’t you know, Mississippi officials had the nerve to make the mortician promise not to open the crate;
So, Sister Mamie opened it up herself and examined her son’s decomposed state.
Through the stench of death, she saw;
His eye was midway his cheek,
Tongue had been choked out,
His nose was blown open wide,
She said he had a hole to his head so big,
You could see daylight from the other side.
When she was asked what she would want to have done,
She emphatically stated, “No touch ups please!
Because I want the world to see what they did to my son.”
Delta blacks knew what they had to do;
Hide what they think,
Hide what they know
Because the consequences were all too real,
And the upcoming trial was certain to be a life or death show.
And in 100-degree heat, Bryant and Milam were acquitted;
And then four months later they sold their story to Look Magazine and gave every detail on how they did it!
They were paid four thousand dollars
And knew they could never again be tried,
For the murder of Emmet Till
In Money, Mississippi,
The one in Pa.,
The place where white post-war families were able to get a new start,
Clean streets, new schools and safe parks
Far away from the grime of inner city life,
All measures were firmly in place and every effort was made
To keep it all white.
Then William and Daisy moved in,
An invasion to the lily-white dream
Petitions went flying about,
Meetings were held, they screamed and complained
Determined to do whatever it took
To get that black couple out of
43 Deepgreen Lane.
William Myers was an engineer
And could well afford to live where he pleased,
He wanted a nice home for his wife
and to live a quiet and peaceful life,
instead there were death threats screaming through the phone,
mobs surrounded the house that was pelted with rocks and stones,
the local police dragged their feet
having little interest in the Myers safety needs,
state patrol had to take control in order to clear the street,
The Myers kept their cool and dignity intact,
Even while they looked out the window
And saw that dreaded confederate flag.
The air shrieked with awful names
And carried the funk of cross burning smoke,
And for days, the Myers endured Levittown rage;
The oil man was chased away,
Milk and bread never came,
They had to walk through the fire of hatred just to get to the store.
Their windows were broken out,
They continued to hear those awful shouts
Of red meat anger day and night.
Quiet sympathizers wouldn’t dare stand by the Myers side
Because they too would be vilified and chased out of town.
After a while it simmered down
But there is a big difference between order and peace,
The Myers didn’t leave because they had a right to stay,
And quietly stood their ground
in the dog days of August 1957,
just before The Little Rock Nine had to pay the same dues,
All of this so we can choose
where we live, work and go to school
Because this is America.
It was all for the best,
Just a gentile effort to preserve respect,
The media was persuaded that all was well
By a commission few knew existed,
And so, it was hard to tell the truth from a lie,
From a panel of men who reigned supreme within the state line.
It was about 1958,
When a public relations campaign
Felt the extra need to control the state,
And so, they began a spy program
To seek out the enemy,
Who may try to vote, protest or belong to NAACP.
It was called the Sovereignty Commission,
It was meant to preserve the races
Outlawing any signs of integration,
Keeping their Negroes locked in their places.
A Korean War vet, named Clyde Kennard
Was found to be quite an agitator,
He attended college in the north
Chicago to be exact;
He was the exemplar of manhood and tried to attend Mississippi State,
Well, that put him on the radar for a systematic attack,
But nothing was found because he did no wrong so they had to create
A crime by planting chicken feed on his mother’s farm.
That poor man wasn’t released until just before he died,
He did seven years at Parchman because he wanted an education,
Spent seven years in prison based on a chicken feed lie.
Freedom summer was in 1964,
The same year the Civil Rights bill was passed,
The same year the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party pulled its muscle
To challenge that all were equal under the law.
The commission expanded to the Klan
masquerading as police,
Writing down tag numbers of those attending Civil Rights meetings,
Listing their names in the paper so people were afraid,
Because they were now subject to wire taps, murder and random night raids.
That’s how the churches were bombed,
How the freedom boys were tracked down;
That’s how somebody knew that they were killed
And knew exactly where the bodies could be found.
It became even more successful when agents of color were hired,
To attend these activities and then report back;
The power of money and maybe personal slights
Were enough for traders to leak the facts,
And sell out the strategies for Civil Rights.
Laws were passed in 1964 and 65
And that made it difficult for the commission to stay alive,
So, they changed their name
Changed their plan,
To control radical groups and keep the peace
But by the seventies the commission activities had ceased,
The files were tucked away and safely hidden for at least fifty years,
Figuring they would long be dead before any of their names were discovered and any documents could be read.
Just another page of American secrecy,
In the name of national security.
It has always been a part of American defense,
Ordinary citizens fighting for justice at the mercy of nefarious agents.
A Price to Pay
We had Sam Cooke and Mahalia,
Ella and Billie,
We had Nat and Louis,
Jordan that is,
To articulate the dissonance that plagued our soul
And let us know that somewhere
We are heard and understood.
We had our food and prayer,
Avenues reserved just for us to shop and play,
A couple of movie stars made us proud
A few more athletes left their mark
But we still suffered in the darkness of exclusion
Neither citizens nor immigrants,
While others feared the end of their way of life was certain and near
If we became their coworker and neighbor
And our children became classmates.
Labor unions made sure that the better paying jobs
Were well out of reach for black and brown,
Laws were firmly in place to keep the peace,
Realtors sealed the traps with red ink maps,
Second rate homes were ours to buy or lease,
So, while our culture was strong
Our mobility was little to none,
Stuck with low pay, let go at anytime
Playgrounds and schools dispossessed,
We had to be careful which street to cross
That’s why we began to march
For the same issues we’re fighting for today,
Better schools, better homes, health care and decent pay.
Laws were passed over time.
Slowly and painfully we crossed the threshold
Of seeming prosperity,
Our schools and zip codes
Paychecks and fine clothes,
Defined the fruits of our long, hard and tremendous fight.
With this freedom,
We didn’t need Miss Cora to sew up our dress
Because we could buy a new one,
We didn’t need the doctor’s office
Or the corner store meat
Caused we moved to a place where brand new supermarkets
Took care of all our needs.
Our new careers,
Our children’s new school
This middle-class house
Had to be insured,
Not with premiums from the policy man
But insured with social currency
To guarantee our position in this new land of equality,
Or so we thought.
We threw away our past,
Didn’t want to look back
Our neighbors, family and friends who were our allies through hard times
Were left to fend for themselves.
As other sought out finer pastures to lead new, prosperous lives.
The culture that sustained our hope and strength
As many strived to mix in,
To enjoy life and go to places we had never been
until we realized
We were had once again.
So now we’re longing to resurrect our culture from the past
When we cared, and shared for each and every one,
We’re trying to get that spirit back
That we lost for integration.