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The coming summer in civil rights, North and South, has depressed me for a good while, starting perhaps a few months ago when we had a "death weekend' here at Harvard.
A predominantly Negro congregation met in Cambridge's Western Ave. Baptist Church, two days after the funeral of Malcolm X. The man they mourned was in his own way more of a threat to our social status quo than Malcolm. His name was James Lee Jackson, a black man, a little man, dead--a casualty of the Selma, Alabama civil rights demonstrations. The main speaker at the service was a white man named Bob Zellner. Zellner is a native Southerner who joined the civil rights movement in 1960. He is universally respected.
The minister a bit stuffily informed the congregation that Harvard College was represented at the service. He had expected more people from both Harvard and the community. But it was the community people whom he chided for lack of attendance. This made the congregation slightly apprehensive when Zellner got up to speak, but his easy manner soon reassured them. He looked around at the old, dark faces, mainly those of women. He smiled, and made excuses for not being black, excuses that were entirely unnecessary. But it gave everyone a warm feeling.
Then Zellner told us that he was tired. Just like a SNCC worker who spoke at Medgar Ever's funeral, he was tired of memorial services, and tears, and murder with no form of redress. I looked around and realized that we were all tired. Tired of hearing about the inaction of the FBI, tired of leaving meetings like this one, sick and tired of seeing the American Dream as a nightmare.
James Lee Jackson was tired of the daily indignities, the weekly fears, the annual horrors of being a black man in the South. He fought back when the state troopers tried to beat his mother. That seems melodramatic to our academic minds. But it's hard to think of drama or melodrama when a stick is slamming into the back of your head.
Perhaps that is the main problem of the academic community in this context. When we try to comprehend the fatigue of men like James Lee Jackson and Malcolm X, the closest feeling we can summon up is boredom. Because we are bored, not tired, we go North and South, demonstrating for every conceivable cause. And it is also why we can leave those causes so quickly. They pall.
Watch the man who is tired, the man who has nothing to lose. The answer, pleasant or unpleasant, lies with him.
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