On Reality Asserts Itself, Mr. Moses recounts the story of challenging the racist Dixiecrats at the ’64 Democratic Convention; says what’s needed now is black and white workers to create a ‘We the People’ force to challenge the elites in both parties
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself.
Now, if you’ve been following this series of interviews with Bob Moses, we’re going to jump ahead now and kind of have a more overall thematic conversation. But Bob’s promised to come back, and we’re going to pick up the story from 1964 on in detail.
But, for now, joining us again in the studio is Bob Moses.
Thanks for joining us again, Bob.
BOB MOSES, EDUCATOR AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Right.
JAY: So, one more time, Bob’s an educator, a civil rights activist. During 1960s he was a field secretary for SNCC. He was one of the main organizers of the Mississippi Freedom Summer project. He was a very outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.
And thanks for joining us again.
And I should add you’re the founder of the Algebra Project, which, when you come back, we’ll talk more about.
JAY: But I want to talk kind of much more broadly. Do you think, going right back to voter registration, the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party–like, if you register, if the issue is to register people for a vote and, you know, in the final analysis if there’s going to be a change in who has power, it’s–and in the United States it’s going to happen through elections in some form or another–that the movement for black liberation in the United States, and, frankly, for people’s liberation and United States, has been so wedded to the Democratic Party and has not yet found a way either to successfully wage a real struggle within the Democratic Party so it isn’t, as it is now, mostly run by Wall Street and develop some kind of independent politics, because if the equation is just, you know, corporate Democrats versus corporate Republicans–and I’m not saying there’s a difference; there is a difference. But we’re in Baltimore. We’re in a state that’s primarily Democratic. And, you know, Baltimore is one of the cities in the country that has some of the worst chronic poverty and the worst crime and some of the worst social problems and a City Council that’s mostly black. So some of the achievements has also given rise to, you know, what Glen Ford and some others talk about: you know, a black elite that’s emerged has taken advantage of some of the victories of the civil rights movement, but for, you know, the majority of African Americans, life has changed a little, but certainly not a lot. And does there not need to be some reckoning with a different kind of politics?
MOSES: Yeah. So this is–so if you look at–there’s data out that the Southern Education Foundation has put out a particularly striking data set which is looking at the top quartile of the economic distribution versus the bottom quartile around the question of what percent actually got BAs, right? Not who went to college, but who actually got a BA. So from 1970 to 2010, 40 years, right, the percent of the top quartile that got a BA doubled from 40 to 80 percent. The percent of the bottom quartile went from 7 to 9–it didn’t budge, right? So the country has abandoned the bottom quartile of its economic distribution, right? And so that includes most of black people, right?
JAY: Although it’s important to add: not only black people, ’cause poor white people have been abandoned as well.
MOSES: Well, that’s the issue. It’s the bottom quartile. There are more white people in the bottom quartile than black people. But most of the black people are in the bottom quartile, right, on this issue, right? So the issue is whether there’s going to be a force–it has to be a We the People force, right? That’s–I mean, you have these three forces, right? You have the federal force, right, you have the states’ rights force, and you have the We the People force in terms of the constitution, right, of the country. So unless there’s a We the People force that actually gets organized, not just mobilized but organized around these issues, there is no–I don’t see any way in which we move from the current situation, which really is the elites, both Democrats and Republicans, that are really running a government that serves their interests. Right? So how that happens–so there is going on in Mississippi this summer this ballot initiative.
You know, on the issue of education, I mean, one thing we could say is that the movement in the ’60s got Jim Crow, this slavery by another name, out of three distinct areas of American life: public accommodations, access to the vote, and the national Democratic Party structure. We didn’t get it out of education, right? So there is this ballot initiative in Mississippi to fully fund education in Mississippi. They need to collect a couple of hundred thousand signatures. So that at least is a small beginning in Mississippi around this We the People force.
There is the question whether–I mean, Fannie Lou Hamer, right, so, you know, at the national Democratic convention in ’64, when MFDP went and challenged the Mississippi regulars, Johnson was not afraid of King. Right? So King was going to testify. But it was when Fannie Lou Hamer took the stand to testify that Johnson decided–.
JAY: This is testifying before the credentials committee at the Democratic Party convention.
JAY: And King actually agrees to the deal that’s offered at that point, to take a couple of seats at large but leave the white delegation alone.
MOSES: Yeah. So King tells the delegation that if he was in their shoes, he would probably vote like they voted.
JAY: Which was not to accept a compromise.
MOSES: Which was not to accept it, right? But he’s taking the stance that he has to look out for the party, for the country, right, and it’s–.
JAY: His fear was Goldwater could be elected if this was allowed to go through.
MOSES: Well, I think actually his fear was that Reuther would withdraw his support from SCLC. I mean, I was in the meeting when–.
JAY: Reuther from United Auto Workers.
MOSES: Yeah. So Walter Reuther (who’s head of the United Auto Workers), Hubert Humphrey, and Bayard Rustin come to deliver the news. So King, Andy Young, Mrs. Hamer, Ed King, Aaron Henry, myself, right, are in the room, and they’re delivering the news. And what Walter Reuther tells King is that you are risking the support that we have been giving you.
JAY: The union movement.
MOSES: The union movement has been giving you. Right? So they were pulling all the strings, right?
JAY: Just quickly, just if–we touched on this in an earlier episode, but just to make sure I’m framing this correctly, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party came and said, we should be the delegation from Mississippi in 1964. What there is is a Dixiecrat, white, racist delegation. The party leadership offered this compromise, which–you could have two at-large nonvoting seats. But Fannie Lou Hamer and the others in the leadership of the Freedom Democratic Party said no. And part of the story, which I had never heard before, is you actually have a sit-in right in the convention, is that right?
MOSES: Yeah. Right. Yes. So we need to express ourselves, right, publicly about what it is, how we feel about this.
JAY: This is after King has said he would accept a compromise–you then have a sit-in.
MOSES: Yeah. So what happens is the convention is about to open, and just before the night the convention opens, we have this meeting. Ruth and Bayard and Humphrey come and meet and give us the deal, right, that this is what’s going to go down, right? And what we say is, well, the delegation is going to have to meet, right, around this issue, right? But the delegation, the meeting for the delegation is to be the next day, right, but the convention’s going to open that night. And so some of us, some of the people in the delegation and myself, we get together and decide that we’re going to have a sit-in that night, right? And so I go around and I get–there are a few blacks from the Midwest who are delegates, right, and they loaned me their badges. And I find a side door, right? And we begin–I just make several trips in and out until–.
JAY: Several trips with the same badges.
MOSES: Yes, with the same badges. We just have three or so badges. So we’re taking them in a few at a time, right? And then, when we get enough, they actually go and sit in the Mississippi seats, right? And, of course, the white people from Mississippi, there weren’t that many of them there, actually, right? They leave, right? And so we have our sit-in that night. The next day, when we have the big meeting–.
JAY: At some point you’re surrounded by FBI.
MOSES: Well, what happens is they don’t bother us that night, right, ’cause they’re really taken by surprise. And so what are you going to do? ‘Cause all the cameras are right on there, right? So you can’t do anything in front of all these TV cameras, right, that are right–looking at this sit-it, right?
And so the next day we have our big meeting with the whole delegation and the Democratic leadership, right, coming to convince the delegation. So part of when I get a chance to talk, I ask King if he agrees with the nonviolent direct action that we did last night, right? And so King has to agree, right, that this is okay to have a nonviolent direct action.
So the next night, we repeat it. But they’re ready for us. They’ve removed all the seats and they have a cordon of FBI agents surrounding–they’re protecting the area, right?
JAY: These empty chairs.
MOSES: And–no, no chairs. They took all the chairs away.
JAY: Oh. Just the space.
MOSES: Just the space, right? And they’re sitting around this–they’re standing around this space. And so we have our little prayer circle, right, next to the Mississippi space.
So, actually, we had Bayard Rustin in ’64 brings King and Andy Young and Ella Baker to Mississippi to talk about this, right? And the question is whether King is going to support us at the convention. And Bayard wants to know whether we are going to actually recruit the nationalists in Philadelphia and New York and storm the convention, right, and if we are, King shouldn’t support us. Right? And we’re not interested in doing that, but we do say that if–we’re not saying we won’t do direct action, but if we do, it will be the delegation, right, that they’re entitled to express themselves in that way at the convention. So all of that had been agreed upon in Mississippi before we actually go to Atlantic City.
JAY: And you could say that kind of deal or compromise in the final analysis with the leaders of the union movement, with the leaders in the Democratic Party, is kind of–right to this day there’s–has yet to be a way for the movement to find a way to, one, fight corporate leadership of the Democratic Party without electing Republicans and constantly in that bind. But you do have, as I say, like, places like Baltimore where there isn’t a Republican. You can’t elect a Republican as a dogcatcher here. But there’s no serious challenge here to the machine either.
MOSES: Yeah, no. And I think–so we got our first glimpse [incompr.] you know, Chokwe Lumumba ran for mayor.
JAY: Jackson, Mississippi.
MOSES: In Jackson, Mississippi.
JAY: He just died a few weeks ago.
MOSES: He just died. Right. But he ran as a Fannie Lou Hamer Democrat, right, and he ran a grassroots campaign. He actually had people knocking on doors, right, ’cause he didn’t have any real money. And they put a lot of money in another candidate to try to beat him. But he actually ran.
JAY: And he won.
MOSES: And he won, right? So that’s part of the question, whether–and you’re not looking at the presidential level; you’re looking at the grassroots level–whether there will be in the coming, say, next 25 years, right,–
JAY: Some breakthroughs in cities.
MOSES: –yes, a real resurgence, right, at the grassroots level, where people decide–. And it’s got to–it can’t be just black people, right? It’s good to be working-class people, right? Working-class people have got to figure out where their bread and butter lies, right? ‘Cause it doesn’t lie in racial subordination.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
MOSES: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So this is the end of this series of Reality Asserts Itself, but it’s just barely a beginning of this conversation. And Bob’s–as I said, will come back soon, and we’ll pick up on it then.
So thanks very much for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself and The Real News Network.
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