A year and a half ago, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post that I called “Will the Killing of Trayvon Martin Catalyze a Movement Like Emmett Till Did?” I pointed out that Rosa Parks was thinking about Emmett Till — a 14-year-old African American who was brutally murdered by two white thugs in Mississippi in August 1955 — when she refused to move to the back of the bus in December of that year and sparked the Montgomery bus boycott which, in turn, triggered the civil rights movement.
At the time, I hoped the answer to my question would be yes, but I wasn’t sure. I wondered whether the protests over the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman, would coalesce into a sustained movement.
Now we can see that, indeed, a movement for social and racial justice has emerged from the Trayvon Martin murder and more recent events —
The police stop a young man. An officer shoots, killing him. The officer claims self-defense, that the killing was warranted.
The community, having endured years of unequal treatment at the hands of law enforcement and other municipal agencies, responds in anger. Protests ensue. Hard feelings persist, as do demands for law-enforcement accountability.
Sound familiar? No, this is not the case of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The young man in question was Augustin Salcido, 17, and the incident occurred in Los Angeles more than six decades earlier. The Internet did not exist at that time and local television audiences were miniscule, so the Civil Rights Congress of Los Angeles produced a pamphlet, Justice for Salcido. In its introduction, author and civil rights advocate Carey McWilliams described the killing as part of a historical pattern of “continued suppression of the Mexican minority.”
“I question America ” — the famous words spoken by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer 50 years ago this week at the tumultuous Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City — is a fitting reflection of the soul-searching that the country is once again going through in the wake of the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri.
To understand both the progress America has made, and the many challenges it now faces, in terms of racial justice, it is useful to remind ourselves of the battle that occurred a half century ago and the life of Ms. Hamer, a sharecropper and activist from the Mississippi Delta who galvanized the country with her stirring words and her remarkable courage.
In her testimony before the credentials committee at the Democratic Party’s convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Hamer explained why the committee should recognize the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party over the state’s segregated official party delegation.