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Jim Crow & Freedom Riders…

At (now 73) I’ve traveled much of the Americas—North, South and Central—the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  And for my class and political tenacity (or as some prefer: stubbornness), I’ve spent more than a total of 23-yrs in jails and prisons around the planet.

If you support the establishment of Constitutional Democratic Socialism and actively participate in that future…you will do time … assuming you survive.

In all of that travel and circumstances, I’ve encountered two horrific and systemic examples of racist hate and violence: the American Old South and Colonial-Settler Israel.

(One might reasonably opine, especially given that many of the leaders and emigrants to Israel are American and American-educated, that our early colonial history of native genocide and African slavery is the running template for Zionist Eretz Yisrael since before it’s establishment in 1948.)

(When I originally wrote this in 2011, it was) the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.  Well over half of the US and the world today were not even born yet back in 1961. For them, I suppose it’s all just ancient history.  For me, it was yesterday.

I joined the Army at 17 back in 1959.  As a Yankee (Providence, the South Bronx and Long Island) I was shipped to the deep South for my basic training at Ft. Benning, GA, Sand City, Hell’s Kitchen.  We were refused passes downtown because Columbus, GA, and Phenix City, AL, were off-limits due to “riots” between soldiers and Klan crackers (it was then known as Sin City, USA).

After Basic, I was sent to radio school at Ft. Gordon, Georgia.  The one pass I took to downtown Augusta, GA, ended up with me and another NYC soldier (black) inadvertently “sitting in” at a soda fountain trying to get served.  Surviving a severe beating (or worse), thereafter my entertainment forays downtown were solely in the Jewish community as “Bernie Cohen.”

I’m the product of a second generation Irish mother and a first generation Slovakian father.  At 17, I was already an old hand at diverse ethnic backgrounds, but I had never run into overt racism before.

Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and blacks were simply other ethnic groups in the neighborhood.  My mother and her partner were a couple of Rosie-the-Riveters pushed to the side when the men returned home from the War (she being a nominal Catholic and her partner a secular Jewess).

The rest of my time in the Army I spent w/the 101st Airborne at Ft. Campbell, KY.  The 101st had been deployed to Little Rock, AR, to desegregate the high school there 2-yrs earlier.

That was the first time in almost a century that the Army had been used in the South to enforce the law since Rutherford B. Hayes (R-OH) sold out the Union and former slaves for the presidency back in 1877 (when the South won the political war).

While CORE, SNCC and the SCLC were the official organs of the Civil Rights Movement, there were far many other individuals who were just as active and sacrificed just as much in that struggle, and went unsung…often lynched and dropped in unmarked graves.  Came too damn close a couple of times myself…

I married a Nashville girl and stayed in the South for another 4-yrs after the Army.  Working and participating in the struggle throughout TN, FL, GA, AL and MS, I figured I was trying to finish what the Union Army left uncompleted back in 1865.

Being unconnected to any organization left me doing a year on one of the Old South’s most brutal rock-quarry, chain-gangs.  In September of ’65, they put me on a bus going north to Detroit w/a warning not to travel south of the Mason-Dixon again. (That warning lasted me about 4-months; see…I’m not very bright…)

They’re not all Klansmen…

Of course, I discovered class and revolutionary politics–the South was only one manifestation of great evil in the world.

Fast forward: From 1969-thru-’71, I mostly spent my time working in the Middle East as a writer/photog out of Beirut, Lebanon.

The time I spent in Israel in ’69 only earned me another “Mason-Dixon” order out of town (OOT).  From the moment I walked across the King Hussein Bridge on the Jordan River into Occupied Palestine, I might as well have walked right back into my experiences in the summer of ’63 back in Mississippi.

The shock was all the greater because every Jew I had ever met—family, neighborhood, movement, etc.—had been mostly secular and liberal, if not socialist.  In fact, given the history of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, it seemed impossible that they could be anything else.  Go figure…

Well, by the standards of the young, I guess this is all ancient history…or is it?

Clearly, the journey is not yet over…

Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), May 2011…


Category: CivilRights, Israel, JimCrow
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  1. […] 1959 in the Army at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, I went on a weekend pass with a black soldier-friend down to Augusta. We tried to buy an ice […]

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