No matter how painful, history belongs to all of us

Published 2:28 am Sunday, August 30, 2009

As a student of history, every time a book comes out about the South, especially the civil rights South, I snap it up.

Dr. Hsan Kwame Jeffries has written a stellar explanation of the organizing of the Black Power movement and the tension this created with the larger, nonviolent civil rights movement.

Jeffries set the stage for this particular history in Lowndes County amid the creation of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.

Those who remember the LCFO also remember its ballot symbol was a snarling black panther. The symbol inspired Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton to adopt it and begin the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, Calif. Part of the function of the Panther Party of California is explained in a document written by Seale and Newton called the 10-Point Program that called for education, clothing, justice and peace, land, bread and housing. These basic needs were the early focus of the party.

While many credit Seale and Newton with creation of the Panther Party, most historians agree that the roots rest in Bloody Lowndes under the direction of Stokely Carmichael and others from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1965.

Jeffries uses a variety of sources to tell this story — one that had yet to be rendered through the voices of local people, black and white.

Chapter 3 is particularly daunting to read because it tells the story of Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopalian seminarian who came down South and gave his life so that a young black girl would live. Ruby Sales tells a portion of the story in this book.

If you are interested in any of this history — and all us black and white should have some knowledge of our history no matter how painful — Jeffries is scheduled to talk about his book, “Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt” at 4:30 p.m. today at the National Park Service’s Interpretive Center on U.S. 80.

By the way, Jeffries has studied under some of the best historians in the nation. He teaches at Ohio State University, where he began in 2003. He’s a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and earned his bachelor’s at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He earned his masters and his doctorate at Duke University.

This is his first book, expanded from his dissertation written at Duke.

Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of the Selma Times-Journal. She can be reached at 410-1730 or leesha.faulkner@selmatimesjournal.com.