ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 There followed a dramatic caucus in a Negro church, where Roy

Wilkens, Walter Reuther, Wayne Morse, Martin Luther King, and Bayard

 Rustin came to urge the delegation of cotton-choppers and maids

to accept the two-seat compromise



Books by Jack Newfield


The Full Rudy: The Man, the Myth the Mania  /  RFK: Memoir Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King


American Rebels / American Monsters: 44 Rats, Blackhats, and Plutocrats


The American Government: Who Really Rules New York  /  City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York


Somebody's Gotta Tell It: A Journalist's Life on the Lines  / The Education of Jack Newfield


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Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

& the 1964 Democratic National Convention

A Perspective by Jack Newfield

from A Prophetic Minority


The coalition-versus-insurgent organizing issue was crystallized at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.  To honky-tonk Atlantic City came the anti-Establishment Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party: sixty-four poor rural Negroes and four white integrationists.  Their only credentials, as Murray Kempton wrote, were “their wounds and their faces.”  They came to challenge the right of the regular segregationist delegation and to represent Mississippi at the convention.  The MFDP said they represented the 850,000 unregistered Negroes of the Magnolia State.

At first it seemed as if the poor petitioners’ challenge would be brushed aside as a rude intrusion of Lyndon Johnson’s ceremonial coronation.  But forty-eight hours before the convention opened, the credentials committee held a nationally televised hearing that shamed the nation’s conscience, already in mourning for the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner.

Joseph Rauh, former leader of the ADA and the MFDP lawyer, told the committee, “I have only an hour to tell you a story of moral agony that could take years.”

Edward King, the oft-beaten white minister at Tougaloo College, said, “We do not apologize for not holding our convention in Neshoba County.”

Martin Luther King, Roy Wilkins, and James Farmer all testified for the Freedom Democrats.  Before the day was out liberal Democrats like Congresswoman Edith Green and Senator Wayne Morse had been won to the MFDP’s side.  The rude intrusion suddenly became a specter threatening to tear the Democratic Party open.

The intrigues of the next seventy-two hours are lost in the half truths of sleepless men.  While thousands of students and civil-rights workers kept vigil on the boardwalk, intricate negotiations were undertaken by Rauh, Hubert Humphrey (whose own vice presidential hopes were in the balance), and the national civil-rights leadership.  By Tuesday morning the President offered the MFDP two seats at-large plus a guarantee that all future convention delegations would be integrated.

There followed a dramatic caucus in a Negro church, where Roy Wilkens, Walter Reuther, Wayne Morse, Martin Luther King, and Bayard Rustin came to urge the delegation of cotton-choppers and maids to accept the two-seat compromise as an “incredible triumph.”  James Farmer took an agnostic position, while James Forman and Bob Parris of SNCC urged rejection of the “back-of-the-bus” compromise.  The delegates finally voted unanimously to reject the compromise.

The liberals, civil-rights leaders, and Social Democrats were shocked.  One of them said, “Those fools snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”  They suddenly realized the New Radicals were uncompromising Utopians who would not abide by all the rules of polite protest.  They realized there was revolutionary feeling within the movement, and that the anti-leader anarchism was real and ran deep.

For their part, SNCC and the MFDP discovered their liberal friends cared more about the threat of Goldwater and the ambitions of Humphrey than about the absolute morality of a cause; they discovered that even the best liberals, those who sometimes supported civil disobedience, would at some point divide politics and morality and bend their knees to reality.

In the months that followed, Atlantic City became an irrational watershed—or Krondtadt—for both the Social Democrats and the New Left.  People who had not been there, like Irving Howe and Nat Hentoff, chose up sides.  No one seemed to disagree with his political allies who had been there.  The decision against the compromise became a metaphor whereby everyone defined the emotional intensity of his radicalism.  Those who opposed the compromise were branded irrational, destructive, and nihilistic.  Those who supported it were labeled sell-outs, lackies of the President, betrayers of the radical creed.  The Socialists decided the students needed a political education about how to function in the grown-up world of realpolitik, and the students decided the Social Democrats’ coalition would always turn on the poor as it had in Atlantic City.

All of this was unnecessary and tragic.  There were good people on both sides of the dispute; there seems to be no right and wrong position, no great principle involved.  Certainly the great principle the New Left claims was at stake—decision-making by the poor—is a myth.  The SNCC workers almost handpicked the MFDP delegation in Mississippi, and controlled it while at the convention.

The unreal and unnecessary nature of the Atlantic City debate, I think, extends to most of the furor over coalition politics as opposed to what SDS calls “the creation of popular left opposition.”  Both are needed.

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Fannie Lou Hamer's speech at the 1964 DNC


Fannie Lou Hamer (born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity. Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist of civil rights. . . .

On August 23, 1962, Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a sermon in Ruleville, Mississippi and followed it with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote. . . . Hamer was the first volunteer. She later said, "I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little scared—but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it seemed they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember."

On August 31, she traveled on a rented bus with other attendees of Bevel's sermon to Indianola, Mississippi to register. In what would become a signature trait of Hamer's activist career, she began singing Christian hymns, such as "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "This Little Light of Mine," to the group in order to bolster their resolve. . . . Bob Moses . .. dispatched Charles McLaurin . . . to find "the lady who sings the hymns". McLaurin found and recruited Hamer. . . . On June 9, 1963, Hamer was on her way back from Charleston, South Carolina with other activists from a literacy workshop. Stopping in Winona, Mississippi, the group was arrested on a false charge and jailed. Once in jail, Hamer and her colleagues were beaten savagely by the police, almost to the point of death.

Released on June 12, she needed more than a month to recover. . . Hamer was invited, along with the rest of the MFDP [Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] officers, to address the Convention's Credentials Committee. She recounted the problems she had encountered in registration, and the ordeal of the jail in Winona, and, near tears, concluded: "All of this is on account we want to register to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings—in America?"

Senator Hubert Humphrey (who was campaigning for the Vice-Presidential nomination), [along with] Walter Mondale, and Walter Reuther, as well as J. Edgar Hoover . . . suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP  two non-voting seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer, invoking her Christian beliefs, sharply rebuked him:

"Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people's lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I'm going to pray to Jesus for you."

Future negotiations were conducted without Hamer, and the compromise was modified such that the Convention would select the two delegates to be seated, for fear the MFDP would appoint Hamer. In the end, the MFDP rejected the compromise, but had changed the debate to the point that the Democratic Party adopted a clause which demanded equality of representation from their states' delegations in 1968.—Wikipedia

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection.

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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story

of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government

By Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer

American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: (The economy is not an efficient machine. It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 5 May 2012




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