Gregg Ivers

  • April 3, 2018
    Guest Post

    Gregg Ivers, Professor of Government, American University. He is currently working on a book, Swingin’ at Jim Crow: How Jazz Became a Civil Rights Movement.

    Linda Brown, who passed away early last week, became the most famous school-age child in American history when, in September 1950, her father, Oliver, attempted to enroll her at the all-white Sumner School in Topeka, Kansas. Although the Browns lived just a few blocks from Sumner, Linda was not permitted to attend school with white children. The Browns lived in an integrated neighborhood and played with white children who attended Sumner. But, like all black children, Linda was required by law to attend the all-black Monroe School, located about a mile and a half further away. Linda literally walked by Sumner to catch a bus, if it showed up, to get to Monroe. If not, Linda would walk to Monroe, whether in the bitter cold of winter or the oppressive heat of late summer. Less than a year later, Oliver Brown would take the witness stand in a federal courtroom after the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which had been carefully recruiting African American plaintiffs around the country to challenge racial segregation in elementary and secondary public education, made him the principal litigant in what would become, less than three years later, the most famous case ever decided by the Supreme Court.

  • February 22, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Gregg Ivers, Professor of Government, American University

    Battered, bruised and demoralized – literally and figuratively – by an unsuccessful two-year campaign to desegregate Albany, Georgia, a small southwestern town near the Alabama border, the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) convened in January 1963 to assess its mistakes and plan a way forward. Frustrated by Albany Police Chief Leslie Pritchett’s clever response to the Albany campaign – he never publicly used violent tactics to arrest demonstrators – Martin Luther King, Jr. needed a success to recover the momentum in the civil rights movement that had stalled by December 1962. The prominent African American journalist Louis Lomax observed that King’s public image as a flawless strategist had taken a serious hit. “The next town he visits,” Lomax wrote, “to inspire those who are ready to suffer for their rights, he will find people saying, ‘Remember Albany.’”

  • November 3, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Gregg Ivers is Professor of Government at American University. He is currently working on a book, Swingin’ at Jim Crow: How Jazz Became a Civil Rights Movement.

    In September 1962, Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett was looking for something – anything – that would boost his sagging political fortunes. Just three years before, Barnett had barely prevailed in a four-way contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination, winning just 35 percent of the vote, barely one percent more than his closest rival. While Barnett would win handily in the subsequent run-off and run unopposed in the 1959 general election, by mid-1961 his autocratic and less-than-honest governing style had rubbed many white Mississippians the wrong way. Sure, he was among the founders of the state’s first Citizens’ Council, an organization of suit-and-tie businessmen set up after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education to maintain Mississippi’s unparalleled commitment to racial apartheid in every aspect of public and private life. And, yes, Barnett had shown the Freedom Riders who was boss the previous spring, when he sent the remainder of those who had survived their harrowing May 1961 ordeal in Birmingham and Montgomery to Parchman Farm, the state’s most notorious prison, after their arrival in Jackson for violating the state’s segregation laws.

  • October 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Gregg Ivers, Professor of Government, American University

    In early September 1957, Central High School in Little Rock became the focus of world-wide attention when Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus decided to deploy the National Guard to prevent the nine African American students who had applied and been chosen to integrate the school from entering the building. For a three week period, the Central High grounds resembled the set of a science fiction film of the era – upright American soldiers with bayonet-tipped rifles protecting innocent children from an alien force in their midst. Finally, on September 25th, the Little Rock Nine, now with the support of a federalized Arkansas National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division – activated and sent to Little Rock by President Dwight D. Eisenhower – were escorted into Central High to begin a school year that they and everyone else in Little Rock would never forget.

    The Little Rock crisis did not escape the attention of former Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson. Just over nine years before, Robinson entered, almost overnight, into the lives of white America when he became the first African American to penetrate one of the most sacrosanct citadels of white supremacy – professional baseball. On April 15th, 1947, when Robinson jogged to first base on Opening Day at Ebbets Field, he did more than just break the color barrier in what was then America’s most popular sport. He destroyed it.

  • July 15, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Gregg Ivers, Professor of Government, American University @Givers1023

    For much of white America, the phrase Black Lives Matter elicits thoughts of confusion, anger and resentment. Confusion, anger and resentment over the perception that the phrase, Black Lives Matter, somehow suggests that Black Lives Matter more than All Other Lives – meaning White Lives. All Lives Matter, so goes the rebuttal of some white folks, and Black Lives do not Matter any more or less than the lives of any other American citizen. Another demand for special treatment. Another demand that black folks get their own house in order rather than drawing attention to police brutality directed against unarmed black men, much of which, after we “place things in context,” somehow, after “careful review,” is almost always “justified.”

    Among the many problems with this line of reasoning, there is one that stands out:

    White America, you’re right . . . Black Lives have always Mattered. For almost four centuries, Black Lives have Mattered a great, great deal to white Americans. We would be a very different country without them. But just not in the way you would like to acknowledge.

    Black Lives Mattered so much to the British that colonized North America that they brought their first black slaves to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, just a dozen years after they arrived. By 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, there were approximately 4 million African slaves in the United States. Black Lives Mattered when white America needed black men to do the brute physical work one would associate with animals and later machines. Black Lives Mattered so much to Southern planters that, after tobacco reached its peak as a cash crop in the Upper South, about a million slaves were sold to the owners of cotton plantations in the Deep South, and forced to migrate to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, where the hell that awaited them was even more unimaginable than it had been in the tobacco producing states. The Lives of Black Women Mattered even more than black men. Black women gave birth to even more slaves, whether they wanted to or not, and functioned as sexual slaves to white men who, for reasons that only Sigmund Freud might understand, degraded their existence and yet had no problem raping and pillaging them as they pleased. A young male black slave was valued for the physical labor he could provide and nothing more. A young female black slave, especially a pretty one, was doomed to an existence that no civilized person would want to think about. And so we didn’t.

    After the Civil War, Black Lives Mattered so much that the South, after the federal government reached an agreement with the Southern states to abandon Reconstruction and return the region to white rule, reinstituted a system of Neo-Slavery called Jim Crow. So valuable was the labor of black men and women that Southern planters, industrialists, politicians, law enforcement and para-military terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan conspired to create a system of peonage and convict labor to dredge the swamps, pick the cotton, split the sugar cane, take care of the children, cook and clean for white folks, make the turpentine, crack the rocks, build the roads to take them to the glorious buildings that neo-slave labor largely built that rose up by the early 20th century and do anything else respectable white people believed was beneath them – and at the lowest possible cost. This system, in which blacks had no say, did not fall apart until the 1960s.