By R.L. Nave
Less than a week before her famous act of defiance, Rosa Parks attended a meeting at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church about a lynching in neighboring Mississippi.
Earlier that summer, in August 1955, a 14-year-old Chicago boy named Emmett Till went to a store in the Mississippi Delta with his cousins to buy candy. The store owner, a white woman named Carolyn Bryant, said later that Till flirted and grabbed her by the hips. For that, in the final judgment of Bryant’s husband and his half-brother, Till had to be executed (years later she told a writer that Till never grabbed her).
Parks, a long-time NAACP organizer, recalled later that the young Till was on her mind when she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Spend enough time talking to folks who came of age in that era and many will point to Till’s gruesome extrajudicial killing as the moment that broke open their political consciousness.
Although Black people have resisted racial terror since we were first enslaved and brought to these shores in 1619, Till’s murder and the Bus Boycott are generally considered the start of the modern Civil Rights Movement — 65 years ago this year.
In that movement, giants arose: Fannie Lou Hamer, Stokely Carmichael, Ella Baker, Fred Shuttlesworth, Medgar Evers, Septima Clark, Coretta Scott King, C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, just to name a tiny fraction of them.
The movement and its soldiers affected the outcome of presidential elections and led to landmark legislation.
Most importantly, it birthed many more movements.
In fact, I write this on the 6th anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown, just 18, by a white police officer barely a mile from my grandmother’s home in Ferguson, Mo. I say it often, but it’s worth repeating: There would be no Ferguson, no Black Lives Matter, no 2020 uprisings had Southern activists and regular folks not carved out movements a half-century ago in Little Rock, Memphis, Greenwood, Biloxi, Selma, St. Augustine, Nashville and Atlanta.
As long as I’ve been in journalism, I’ve never been terribly interested in analysis and punditry about political contests. Rather, I’m fascinated by storylines of power, powerful institutions, movements and people working and fighting to take back power for themselves and their communities.
In our lifetime, we’ve seen some epic elections and the rise of powerful movements. But I don’t know that we’ve seen them collide in quite the way they are right now.
That’s why Reckon made the decision to do something different in the months ahead. Instead of just covering politics, we’re dedicating this season of the award-winning Reckon Interview podcast to the movement and coalition builders and observers across the South who are educating voters on issues and fighting to make sure every eligible voter has access to the ballot.
In short: We’re focusing on the people writing the South’s next chapters.
John Hammontree, the Reckon Interview’s creator and executive producer, has graciously allowed me to co-host this season. Some of the guests we have scheduled you’ve heard of; others you may not have. As we say in the trailer, we really want to shine a light on folks on the ground in communities all over the South preparing our people for these historic elections.
This morning, in the first episode of Season 3, John spoke to the dynamic Carol Anderson, an African-American studies professor at Emory University, and Jessica Huseman, who covers voting rights for the nonprofit news organization ProPublica.