Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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Rants & Reason

People to remember at Thanksgiving


Among people to be thankful for this Thanksgiving are Viola Liuzzo, Alberta Jones and Peter Norman. Their lives and deaths testify to the importance and the risks of protests — one reason the First Amendment includes our right to seek “a redress of grievances.”

Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo (1925-1965) was a Detroit mother of five, a civil rights activist murdered by Ku Klux Klan members in March 1965 near Montgomery, Alabama, just after the Selma-to-Montgomery march.

Alberta Jones (1930-1965) was murdered five months later in August, in Louisville, Kentucky. She was the first black woman prosecutor in Kentucky. She put white men in jail for beating their wives and also was an attorney for boxer Cassius Clay before he became Muhammad Ali. She helped organize the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

Peter Norman (1942-2006) was a great Australian sprinter who committed career suicide at the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City. Although he was second in the 200-meter final and had set an Olympic record of 20.06 in his heat — still the Australian record — his track career was over. He stood with John Carlos and Tommie Smith of the U.S. on the victory stand, wearing the badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights in protest of racism. His act outraged Australians, just as many in the U.S. condemned Carlos and Smith for their Black Power salute.

Liuzzo, Jones and Norman — like hundreds, thousands of others — sacrificed their lives and careers to fight for freedoms we often take for granted. Such activists are seldom mentioned as we offer prayers in church for the armed forces who protect the freedoms brought about by protests. Different sides of the same coin, really. Yet some would have you believe civil rights activists and those in the armed forces are as different as, say, black and white.

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Many of us do take literally the phrase “home of the free” in our anthem and the “one nation …indivisible with liberty and justice for all” in our pledge of allegiance. For others — like those using the singing of the national anthem as a protest platform — those words are at worst a taunt and at best still something to aspire to.

In similar protests more than 150 years ago, the abolitionist editor, William Lloyd Garrison, burned the U.S. Constitution at Fourth of July observances because the document condoned slavery. He upset people who wished he’d just shut up or protest some place where he could be ignored or not have much of an audience to hear his concerns.

Tom Joad was a kindred spirit to Liuzzo, Jones, Norman and even Garrison.

Tom — in John Steinbeck’s novel “Grapes of Wrath” — puts it this way: “…maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it — I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look — wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad…”

Yes, some protests are hate-filled or ego-driven, fit more to be condemned than commended. But, again, please consider the fate of many who protest for human rights.

• Three Klansmen were convicted in the murder of Liuzzo, but a fourth had been an FBI informant; he testified against the others, was moved and given a new identity. Liuzzo’s name is inscribed on a civil rights monument in Montgomery designed by Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C.

• Jones was beaten with a brick and tossed off a bridge into the Ohio River and drowned. No one was ever charged in her death despite evidence that seemed worth pursuing. There is a campaign to re-open her case. The Hometown Heroes program in Louisville recognized Jones for her pioneering work in civil rights — just a month ago.

• Norman wasn’t invited to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney by Australia but attended as a guest of the U.S. Track and Field Federation. In 2012 members of the Australian Parliament apologized for his de facto banishment. There is a push now to erect a Peter Norman monument in Melbourne.

Those three and others like them ought to be in our thoughts and prayers this Thanksgiving. ♦

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants and Reason column for CITYVIEW.

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