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"Force-Feeding Democracy": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald






From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On the 25th Anniversary of 1963 March on Washington.

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man001027. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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A quarter of a century ago sounds a lot longer than twenty-five years ago. I think I'll stick with the twenty-five year usage. Let's see now, twenty-five years ago would have been 1963. My stepfather died in 1963 without ever having voted in any kind of an election. He was a young man--fifty-two--and had never had a truly decent job in his lifetime. Don't get me wrong--he worked. As a matter of fact, he started working in 1920 at the age of nine and worked every day, so to speak, until he died.
In 1963 it was still possible, in a lot of places in this great country, for a black person to experience great difficulty in securing medical attention-- especially if it required hospitalization. That's what happened with him--he was too poor and too black to be saved. When it happened it really upset me but over the years I've grown to accept it and I no longer bear any hostility toward the S.O.B.s who let him die.
Meanwhile, here in Las Vegas, there was a black family with a combined income, from three and a half jobs, of $28,740.00--a lot of money for those days. Seems that, /ike so many, they wanted to get into a bigger and better home. After all, they could afford it. With their income, they qualified to buy just about anywhere in town except Rancho Circle. But, that was no big deal. Very few people qualified, financially, to buy in Rancho Circle. Some houses are priced in such a way in order to keep certain people out. After all, all of them are only portable caves. But, that was not the problem. The problem was they could not buy just anywhere else. You see, in 1963, there was no open-housing law in Nevada. That wouldn't come until 1971 even though a handful of black people were able to, due to their celebrity status, buy in areas other than the "westside."
Down in New Orleans black people were watching movies at the Tivoli Theater for blacks and could not have attended a Republican National Convention even if it had been held there. They were eating at Dooky Chase's because they
could not eat at the Monteleone. They were shopping on Corondelet Street or
South Rampart and living in the Ninth Ward Projects and going to Booker I., Carver and back on Leonidas or to Saint Augustine High schools for blacks. In Atlanta, Georgia everything was off limits. In 1963 snow had not been allowed to fall in that city because they had not figured out a way to make black snow for black neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, back in Las Vegas, black elementary school children attended segregated schools and the black dead were buried in the black section of the graveyard and there was only a couple black policemen and, as far as I can tell, no black firemen or principals of secondary schools. There were no black waiters or waitresses or PBX operators on the "Strip" or in "Glitter Gulch" or any reporters with either of the major newspapers in town.
1963 was a pivotal year for the United States and especially for black citizens. It was the one-hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Late during the year before, in Washington, D.C., on September 22, 1962, at the opening of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York said: "The very existance of this document stirs our conscience with the knowledge that Lincoln's vision of a nation truly fulfilling its spiritual heritage is not yet achieved." At Gettysburg, in 1963, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson said: "Until justice is blind, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact." Even President Kennedy recognized the importance of the times when he said: "Surely in 1963, one hundred years after emancipation, it should not be necessary for any American citizen to demonstrate in the streets for an opportunity to stop at a hotel, or eat at a lunch counter...on the same terms as any other American." but it was necessary.
George Wallace attempted to prevent the enrollment of black students at the University of Alabama just as governor ross barnett had done the year before at the university of mississippi with James Meredith. Both received national
attention but the walls of segregation came crumbling down.
1963—it started with a simmer and came quickly to a boil. On April 3, a massive demonstration began in Birmingham, Alabama under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The marchers demanded fair employment opportunities, desegregation of public facilities, creation of a committee to plan desegregation and more. There were black people and white, adult and children and there were also the "police", dogs and high pressure fire hoses. Television news brought those scenes into the homes of American viewers and around the country, sympathy demonstrations were held. John Hope Franklin also notes that the Department of Justice recorded forty-three major and minor demonstrations with the majority of them being in northern cities.
1963 was also the year that Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi. It was in June and was primarily because of his efforts to assist black people in becoming registered voters that he was slain. A suspect, Byron De La Beckwith, whose fingerprints were found on the rifle, was apprehended, tried and found innocent by a jury of his peers in a mississippi courtroom.
President Kennedy said'. "We face.. .a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talks. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives." It was not enough.
On june 28 a massive march on Washington took place. More than a quarter of a million participants from all over America joined in. Not only were there the historical black organizations but also the American Jewish Congress, the National Conference of Catholics for Interracial Justice, the National Council of Churches and the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department. A. Phillip Randolph, Walter Reuther, Roy Wilkins and others addressed the gathering. Most of us remember that this was the occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech which seems to epitomize what the entire movement was all about. Still it was not enough.
In September in Birmingham, Alabama, four little black girls were killed in a Sunday morn church bombing and two months later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Where would it end?
Things were rough back in 1963 and a number of people in this country made great sacrifices to bring about improvements. There are some who still say, twenty-five years later, that nothing has changed or that little has changed or that we're losing ground. I lived, worked and attended school in the south during those turbulent times. I graduated from college in 1963 and taught high school in Greenwood, Mississippi which was the hometown of Beckwith and the place where he was made an honorary sheriff following his acquital of the Evers murder. I traveled around America unable to find a room in a decent hotel. The
absence of such accomodations caused me to become an outdoorsman--camping--
because Holiday Inn and other such places treated me like I was Joseph in
Bethlehem 2,000 years ago--no room in the inn. I can find a room today. I can
vote today. I can enter any public place, excluding Chaz's, today. I can try on things before I buy them today. I can talk back today. I don t have to stay in "my place" today. There are black students in every university and college in the south today. There are black mayors, policemen, firemen, principals, superintendents, generals, admirals, astronauts, commercial pilots. There was even, though for a short time and I do not condemn her, a black Miss America.
During this last week of August, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," let us try to remember where we were then and what has changed since. Let us also resolve that there is much more to be done and that we will do it. Let us not be discouraged by those who only see what has eroded. Let us be encouraged by what we've gained and managed to keep in spite of our enemies in high places and let us not ever contemplate