tv Lectures in History 1960s African American Voter Registration CSPAN February 19, 2022 8:01pm-8:51pm EST
so as you know. on monday we ended with the freedom rides and those freedom writers were being funneled into parchment prison as a way to try to hush them up. to hush them up quietly without the cameras rolling because remember that visual image was absolutely essential for movement. to be able to see the violence of jim crow. but that didn't mean that this moment was over. and and bobby kennedy knew it. and jack kennedy knew it. so jack kennedy is giving his state of the union address. and president kennedy is all. we are fighting for democracy and freedom, and there is an opportunity for what is
happening here on the globe because we have all of these people it was the middle of decolonization africans asians arabs latinos. those nations are becoming getting free. imperial bonds are loosening and he sees this as an incredible moment. for freedom in the global south but he didn't mention. the american south in this freedom struggle that's kind of silence there. but he needed that silence because what he was dealing with he had just come back from that vienna summit. remember the one that is his brother was really trying to get the freedom riders to like quiet out on and well that vienna summer didn't go so well. he met with khrushchev.
and cruise ship took him to school. i mean, oh in that land of oh, this wasn't pretty and it was kennedy's fault. he acknowledged that later on. he thought that what he could do because he's gotten by own charm. is he could just walk in there? and charm you know one of those charm fellows charm. nikita khrushchev khrushchev who has been in the war khrushchev who has survived joseph stalin i love ariana's face right there. she's like yeah survive that so he thinks that he can just charm him so he wasn't prepared. so imagine going into a summit meeting. with the head of the soviet union and you haven't done your homework. have you ever walked in to okay,
let me see the heads already not. and he just wasn't ready. and afterwards he told a new york times reporter cruise ship beat the hell out of me. yeah. because there was the bay of pigs that debacle where the us had tried to invade cuba. after fidel castro had taken over the island knocked out batista and the bay of pigs. mmm. went about as well as the vienna summit. so he's got stuff on him. and so he's trying to figure out how do i begin to rethink read talk about reestablish? authority re-establish democracy reestablished strength as emanating out of the us after i've had the bay of pigs. and vienna well, there was a
problem with that wanting to reestablish was because you also had the south blowing up. black folks struggling to be free and refusing to be quiet. about jim crow. and the brutality of jim crow so bobby's got to figure out something. and what bobby figures out? is that i've got to find a way to find the sweet spot. that thing that allows my brother. to be presidential for america to be calm to resonate that aura of strength democracy and freedom. while also providing something to the civil rights folks so
that they feel that they are being heard and their needs are being met. what on earth could there be? what could i do? offer them that is so hmm vital and essential but boring really boring so that no cameras will want to be there that nothing's going to jump off. and you know what he came up with. registered in black folks to vote in, mississippi let's talk about that. so this is where you know, you've got this kind of disjuncture. between policymakers and what they think is happening. and what is really going on on the ground? because if you had really spent a minute thinking through it, you're saying wait a minute if
i'm seeing folks getting burned up. because they're trying to ride a bus. i mean just ride a bus. then what am i going to see happening? when they're trying to vote or even register to vote. and remember so much of the power of the south. was predicated on disfranchisement massive disfranchisement. this is why you have the power of the southern democrats in congress because they're getting elected over and over and over and moving up the ranks in terms of seniority. because they only have to be responsive to a small band. of the electorate in the south and so you're pretty much almost assured of getting it reelected and reelected and reelected and reelected and re-elected and
re-elected and re-elected, right? and so that kind of power. not gonna give it up easily. but he's thinking okay. we've got this we've got this and so he sets up in arrangement where the the irs is going to to fund a new organization provide tax-exempt status for a new organization dealing with with voting rights and he's going to try to funnel four of the big civil rights organizations under under the heading of this organization. this would be the voter education project. and it sounds brilliant on paper. because again what it's designed to do is to provide something that the civil rights workers want.
while apparently being boring enough because you're just registering folks to vote and you know, and you've got this image think about registering folks to vote. there's a table there's some registration cards, right? if you think about it the way we think about it now or not quite right now. but you just do it. but remember, this is, mississippi. remember we have the poll tax we have the literacy test. we have the understanding clause. we've got election day terrorism. we have the power. sitting there to in fact reinforce massive disfranchisement and so just registering folks to vote is not going to be that easy.
yeah, but this is the name of the organization. the council of federated organizations and what he's going to do and it's going to be tricky. he's going to try to bring selc the southern christian leadership conference. and the naacp together now there's already a bit of because the naacp big dog we've been here since 1909. all right, and and you know and roy wilkins. had been with the naacp since the early 1930s. and he waited his time did his work moved his way up the organizational ladder and finally in 1955.
became the head of the naacp. what else happened in 1955? emmett till those apart rosa parks the montgomery bus boycott who was heading up the montgomery improvement association? martin luther king martin luther king so imagine you've waited 20 some years to be head of the civil rights movement leadership. and within the moment the year that you become the head there comes this guy out of montgomery, alabama. that all of a sudden the media is flocking all around. talking about who the leader the leader. so there was this kind of rivalry there. wilkins would help king out of numerous jams. don't get me wrong. but we also have to take into
account when we're talking about alliances. we're also talking about the kind of real deal stuff about people and organizations working together and the frictions that happen when you're dealing with people who believe that they should be here. and somebody else is getting something that they should have. so kennedy was also going to have to try to work through this relationship between sclc and the n-double-a-cp, but what he really wanted. was to diffuse the power of the student shock troops. coming out of snick and core. because students are fearless. and you think about that moment after that beating at the bus station and it looked like the freedom rides were over. and core is just like and diane nash out of snakes like we got this.
a sense of more students down you don't stop us simply because you're going to beat somebody. we're stronger than that democracy is stronger than that. and the students kept coming. kennedy's looking up going. okay, so we've got them in parchment prison right now, but that's only a stopgap measure. there are more students in parchment can even hold. and we have got to figure out how to defuse the power and the energy of these students. so something happened. that was going to help with that conversation. and that's something was members of sclc and snick met with bobby kennedy at the department of justice because remember he's the attorney general. and they are demanding protection from the federal government. for freedom writers and
protection does not mean shepherding them into parchment prison. this means real protection and they are you know, they're on it and he's coming back. right and there are and he's left and and what they're dealing with here, you know, so finally he's like look. and you know when you get look. and he's like look. freedom rise aren't working. not working. am i clear? but there's something that will work. you want real civil rights? you want real freedom you want real protection that comes from the vote? let me see your fight for the vote. we're going to help you fight for the vote. we have this wonderful organization that we've just created.
the council of federated organizations and we are going to help you in terms of providing protection and resources for you to go into mississippi and register black folks to vote. what do you think? he's like well, you didn't answer that quite the way i was hoping you'd answer. so let me help you with that. you know, we've got this war going on. mmm, right now you have deferments. i'll see too that you keep your deferments. you go to mississippi. you don't go to mississippi. you're going to vietnam. now i want you to think about that. as 18 19 year olds right now. i'm just assuming all of y'all about 1819. you're like the 29 year olds going. yeah, i'll take that.
vietnam mississippi which one of you choosing vietnam? wait, mississippi to be honest though. it ain't really good in mississippi. either. you're like, yeah, right vietnam. did you hear she's like to be honest, so it ain't really good in mississippi either. so this is what you're choosing between vietnam and mississippi. so then you're having to make another choice. where do i think i can do the most good? when that's the parameter. where do i think i can be the change agent? they chose, mississippi. wow, yes. use vietnam. yeah, not i know of. not that i know of that's not to
say it didn't happen. but while this debate is going on. there's a snick member up in massachusetts harvard trained philosopher bob moses. and moses had an aura status and snick because he had what i call quiet power. you know that thing where you know, it's not the one who's blustering the most it's not the one who's hollering the most it's not the one who's the flash is, but there's just something. yeah. quiet power and moses had chairs like yeah, i got quiet about. i saw that. and moses had been asked.
by the head of the naacp down in macomb, mississippi to come down to mississippi and help register folks to vote. so even separate from what's called? kofo, right separate from the bobby kennedy organization. moses is on his way down. and he gets to macomb mississippi with about 12,000 residents and only 250 african americans registered to vote yes, like volunteering or is he like on some? okay these volunteering? okay. that's moses. and this is a man who will be appropriately named. yeah, he he went down to mccomb, mississippi and begin setting up civic education classes. because and because one of the things remember when we're talking about like the schools.
remember we're talking about the textbooks in the schools. and in these jim crow schools the textbooks for a black children did not mention that there was a 13th amendment. a fourteenth amendment or 15th amendment. and so if what you're reading is what you know then you don't have a full sense. that slavery has been abolished that you have equal protection under the law. with due process and birthright citizenship and the right to vote so when you begin to set up the civic education classes. it begins to help the folks understand. they're not just mississippi citizens. the citizens of the united states of america with a whole range of rights that the state
of mississippi has not yet fully acknowledged for african-americans. and you know, it's one of those things once you begin to to see it's like your vistas just widen up. and you're thinking oh whoa wow. then he sets up registration classes. what is it going to take to get through a literacy test? because we again remember. about half of black adults in mississippi have five or fewer years. a formal education a formal jim crow education, so being able to read a constitution and then interpret it like you've got a harvard jd. and there was moses. sitting down with the folk
working them through how do you get through the literacy exams? yeah, you begin to see the power this thing. yeah. emory so he's like in church or because if it's if mississippi and a lot of these i'm made to understand a lot of these people were working class where he's like night courses morning courses lunch court order. he was going whenever and wherever you know, that's one of the things about movement building is that you go where the people are. you go when they are you go where they are. and so with all of these courses and and literacy tests and and helping folks with the civic education classes and voter registration classes. he begins to try to register black folk to vote.
there was a young man down in mississippi named hollis watkins. and hollis's noticing the work. that moses is doing hollis is impressed. he's about 17 at the time. he's like this guy coming down here. from harvard doing this work. and then he says to moses, but you know. if you really want to be about it. mccomb is easy. where you really need to go? is to amity and walthall counties because there's about one black person registered to vote between the two counties. and what moses knew was that if he took the easy route and understand what i'm saying? easy? i've got that in like big quotes. he knew that in order to fully
gain the trust. because movement building is also about trust. in order to gain the trust of black mississippians he was half. he was going to have they live. so he went into amity county. it got almost like quiet and he almost here like don't. okay. he started doing the civic education classes started doing the voter education classes, and then he went to go register some folks to vote. he got arrested. now think about that you just got arrested. for registering american citizens to vote but he knows
that he has the protection now of the federal government. so he calls. john door who is an assistant in bobby kennedy's office and he calls john door with that one phone call that he gets and he calls john door and he's like i need you to know. i have just been arrested. for registering black people to vote i believe that's what that federal protection is all about and john doors like why thank you so much for conveying that information. two days later the naacp bails bob moses out of jail moses goes back. he continues to work with the people.
then he finds another group and they go to register to vote now part of the problem. is that where moses had been staying was right across the street from state representative? eh hurst eh hurst was a segregationist white supremacist of the first magnitude. and moses was staying right across the street from him. but even worse than ea church, and that's bad. was his son-in-law billy jack caston billy jack had terrorized black people as long as billy jacket terrorize black people and he saw what moses was doing. and you begin to think how this threatens the power structure. when you have counties that are 50% black.
but you've only got like one registered voter there. if you can get all of them registered and voting all of a sudden you have different officials. which means you're getting different policies? which means oh, i don't know maybe eh hurst is gonna be a state representative for too long. this is really going after a segregationist white supremacist power structure. yeah, the hills like yeah. so moses goes down to the courthouse. he's got a couple of guys with him. they're going up the steps to go register black folk to vote. and billy jack caston shows up. pulls out a knife turns the handle around and bam. it's moses. moses staggers billy jack's not
done. he starts wailing on him. well in on him and remember nonviolence. is that you learn how to take the blows? because what you know, remember we've talked about these ethnic notions what you know, is that the moment you swing back. becomes justifiable homicide when they kill you. multiple reasons for nonviolence as a strategy and so well and on them well and on them and moses just goes into his zone. that that kind of zen zone that kind of hmm. the two black guys who were with him who he was going to help register to vote? they saw billy jack and they took off running. so it is just yeah. yeah, you know when your boys up just up and leave you. and so when billy jack is done, i mean moses is a bloody poppy mess.
village x really proud of what he's done. he and his boys walk away like when they're gone moses stands up. bleeding just bleeding. two guys who had run away. they're like looking and most like you ready to go register to vote. yeah. i mean you see that kind of strength. that's that quiet power leading. he calls john door. they couldn't register that as our recall janika. he calls john door when he gets back to the house across from eh church going i want to report to you a beating. i was beaten. and doris says yes, i know. he's like, you know. he's like, yes, i know. um, i've already got the fbi
report here, but i'll come down and i'll see what i can do. what's going on. well j edgar hoover was the head of the fbi. j edgar hoover was not mmm, how does one say he was so not feeling the civil rights movement civil rights leaders civil rights gold civil rights civil civil new. that's j edgar, you know as far as he was concerned they were calmness. just communist. and so when door has this fbi report that says yeah. he then gets down to mississippi and he sees. moses bruised that's not what the fbi report said.
what door was expecting where it was maybe a bruise here? he wasn't expecting. what he saw? any step back? any thought this has got i got to begin to kind of rethink the the fbi's commitment. to civil rights protection here because what this report is saying is not what the evidence is. and so what moses tells him. he's like, yeah, i'll be all right. i just wanted you to know the depth of the violence. and the depth of the violence is going to get worse because there is a man who has been helping me. name herbert lee. and herbert has been driving around. driving me from place to place from house to house anybody live out in the country.
own it. yes, okay, and you know houses houses aren't like they are in the city where they just like right up against each other and you can look right in the window. you can see what your neighbors fixing for dinner, you know, right? it's not like that. i mean you've got acres between these homes, and so walking them is not always the most efficient way if you're trying to get something done so herbert lee was driving moses to these homes. helping folk with civic class civic education classes remember moses is living right across the street from eh hurst. ehrcs was happening ehrc's herbert lee facilitating. voter registration in mississippi moses tells door
protect herbert lee. a fear for his life protect him protect him protect him doses, okay. will do. gets on a plane flies back to dc to protect him, you know work on some stuff the moment he gets there. he sees the notice. herbert lee has been found shot to death. eh hurst shotting state representative. eh hurst shotting hearst claimed that how do you say this? it was self-defense. so i'm going to i'm going to walk you through this like we walk through scottsboro. so herbert lee drove up in his truck.
got out of his truck with a tire iron. swinging it and mississippi state representative. eh hurst now all who believe that story. please raise your hand. what are you saying? it lacks credibility? it does. but he had witnesses. oh, of course, you're like, oh, yeah the sunil man. timothy that looked like what named lewis allen who said? yeah, it happened just the way representative. her said it happened. he got out of the truck swinging a tire iron at him and and so representative hurst had to
protect himself and so he shot him. bob moses is listening to this it's going you know what that's not adding up. that's really not adding up. let's see what we can do here. and so he begins to talk to lewis allen. it's going. is that how it really happened? yes. no, really, is that how it really happened? yes. is that how it really happened? no. and lewis allen was a for his life. so he would leave, mississippi. but before he left he promised bob moses, he would come back and tell the truth. in the truth was that herbert lee drove up the moment he got out of his truck. ehr shot him then took a tire
iron and planted it under his body. louis allen would come back to mississippi because he missed, mississippi. his business was in mississippi. he was in lumbering right lumber and he would come back and then louis allen suffered three shotgun blasts to the face on this last trip back to mississippi bob moses took that death. on his shoulders and in his heart and in his soul because he's like lewis allen if i hadn't talked to him if i hadn't
convinced him to tell the truth. that man was still be alive. but one of the things that became really clear to him. what became really clear to him? was that it was going to take more than what snick had been able to do. to bring voting rights to mississippi it was going to take more than this structure. of of colorful council of federated organizations because there are bodies. piling up and nothing is moving. nothing is changing. how do you create change? but moses comes up with is freedom summer?
and freedom summer will be that moment where he's saying we have to bring in. students you know, you're fearless. students from around the nation to come to mississippi set up freedom schools. and register folks to vote. now the people that he's bringing in. black students and white students and not just white students white students from the ivies whose fathers and mothers are judges. in senators you begin to think
through strategy. he thought even mississippi is not crazy enough. to do damage to these students and we can get some work done here in changing the power structure. any questions okay. wow, really? emery who's how are the finances looking select? how are they going to all these volunteers and all the i'm good there is he's asking about finances and so fundraising for the movement is always precarious. and so this is where you have one you have celebrities.
like harry belafonte fully engaged in in fundraising you have a man named stanley levinson that j edgar hoover was convinced was a communist and and levinson worked hand in hand with martin luther king and fundraising particularly up north. there is a wonderful article. who funded king? and it talks about that fund raising effort because money is always tight. yeah. mark so you said that the the sentiment was that even mississippi wasn't crazy enough to damage the students that they were bringing him. but every time we seem to say that in this course, it seems like mississippi is crazy enough. so what are you wanting a spoiler alert?
is this what i'm hearing here? i'm just that's going to be next week's lecture. yes, emily. um did each first ever like face repercussions or did he just kind of walk away scott free? that's what i said. he walked. yeah, remember, you know and so remember this is that where we've been dealing with is the the lack of value on black life the black life has no value. and and so gunning down a black man. who's trying to help register people to vote. has no value. yeah, josh. i was wondering how bob moses attracted white students from the north and other places with substantial background.
of harvard, he's brilliant. he's got that quiet power. charisma. and this is a moment in the 60s. where students believe that they can make a real difference. where they can change the course of this nation's history. and they're ready to do that work. you know, so you take that sense of fearlessness and you mix it with that kind of visionary zeal. and a cause they flocked. down to mississippi and again, yeah. yeah, freedom. summer is going to be something. yes, nate. i'm going back a little bit did. was j edgar hoover ever like confronted about the falsified fbi report?
like what happened? yes, but this specific case didn't anything happen. jay edgar hoover was interesting hmm this one, right? that's the best with a good was that good. okay. so with j edgar hoover like hoover. period period i mean wanted him gone. there was a meeting that hoover had with kennedy jack kennedy one-on-one just those two. after that meeting the you are hereby fired notice was rescinded. hoover really didn't face the consequences of a lot of the bad stuff that he did. and he was in power.
until some looking back at steve early 70s he died somewhere in the middle of watergate. he came into power around 1920. right? right, so he came into power during the first red scare. you know, so right around the end of the first world war. and died during watergate. somewhere in that era so long. yes, he put his stamp on that organization daniel. um, if you're able to can you tell us more about what actually happened in that meeting and were there any other attempts on behalf of the community administration to undermine the work that hoover was doing okay, so the rumors have it that. kennedy liked women a lot and
that there was evidence. about how much? that's a rumor. so note because there was nobody else in that meeting. it's really hard to tell. and it appears that again rumor. that one of the women that he liked a lot. here, this is a g-rated show here of people. may have been compromised in terms of being a spy. oh, wow, that's why you just i mean did you did you emery just said why did he just stay faithful every last one of y'all in here remember that?
okay, so i mean but again, these are rumors these are these these little pieces that folks are trying to put together, but what you know, is that he could not stand hoover and bobby couldn't stand him. and bobby kennedy is actually hoover's boss. because bobby kennedy is the attorney general. and those two clashed. bobby wanted him gone. after that meeting hoover state yeah. sabine you said that the voter education project was like some of kennedy's reasoning behind that specific thing was that it would have less press coverage and therefore i kind of like on the down low be helping the civil rights movement, but without too much press did there end up? what was the media coverage like because there ended up being violence? the media coverage was not as high profile at this moment.
but it would be during freedom summer. so that background yes. yes, so when we get to freedom summer the press is going to really come in because the killings are going to be horrific. yeah. joshua i was wondering i'm doing the voter education and i guess a lot more into the freedom summer like how did local mississippians respond and overcome like terrorism in their fears of this to work with folks like almost so you had a great so when you say so you mean how did african americans in mississippi especially if they see like lewis allen and like herbert lee fannie lou hamer out of mississippi been reading right? yes. okay good. fanny lou hamer says when you get sick and tired of being sick and tired. you know, there comes that moment where you're just not going to take it. so not everybody stood up.
but you had enough folks in mississippi. you had like vera piggy down in clarksdale, mississippi. who was using her independent business? she was a hairdresser. she was using that as the spot where people were organizing. and because she did black women's hair. and she owned her shop. she wasn't dependent. upon anyone else for her financial well-being that economic independence allowed her now wasn't like she didn't get harassed and her daughter didn't get harassed. but she was just yeah, so you had folks who just we're sick and tired of being sick and tired. and we're ready to put it on the line for a better future. and i and i'm and when you think about it, that's what we keep talking the movement. we don't have everybody standing up.
but we have enough people. standing up okay, thank you. oh, yes, alex. what was bobby kennedy up to? well, the voter education project just wasn't happening in, mississippi. it's a great question. i'm not quite sure except i know that they weren't getting the protection that bobby had promised. and that lack of protection that he had promised was then sending. moses into a direction that bobby really didn't think this thing was going to go so backfire. yeah. okay. thank you. don't you dare? that's okay.
join us next weekend for more lectures and history with university of minnesota professor sage mathew who teaches a class about how the us viewed itself as the defender of democracy yet face criticism for how it treated its own dissenters and minorities during world war one american history tv is on social media follow us at cspanhistory. well from time to time here on american history tv, we like to look at what we call history in the news and one of those historic topics that is part of our current political debate is the senate filibuster. where did it start? where is it going? should it remain in its current form? well joining us to help look at the history of the filibuster is scott bomboy of the national constitution center in philadelphia, mr. bombboy. how long is the filibuster been a part of the american? political system well,