Peace is a very elusive concept.  As a young girl growing up in California life was relatively peaceful but of course I was a child, and this was from a child’s perspective. We did not worry about having to duck and dodge bullets trying to get to school. We went to school, did our school work, had an hour recess in which we played kickball, dodgeball and indulged in many other fun physical activities.  We socialized and then returned to the classroom for the afternoon session.  When school was dismissed, we went home, did our chores and homework.  We ate dinner and got ready for the next school day. On weekends we went to church, participated in programs and shows. We learned about God.  In the summer we played outside for long hours enjoying ourselves immensely.

The most shattering experience of my peaceful idyllic childhood was the murder of Emmet Till.  I remember I was still in elementary school.  The school was mixed racially, and on that day, I was filled with such anger I wanted to lash out at my white classmates.  My emotions were a jumble.  We became aware of racism as we grew older, but it was not as overt as it was for children growing up in other parts of the country, the deep south especially.  Racism in the Bay Area of California was subtle.

My first brush with underlying racism was when I was in junior high.  The grades were 7th, 8th, and 9th, with 9th grade being the beginning of our high school academic record, even though the 9th grade was housed at the junior high level.  When I was registering for my 9th grade classes towards the end of 8th grade, I told my counselor I wanted to sign up for college academic courses. Well the counselor then took it upon himself to let me know I did not have the ability to take academic courses, but I certainly could take the business courses offered such as typing.  I was astounded but kept silent because I knew I had a very fiery advocate in the person of my mother. My mother went in the next day and quickly straightened that prejudice counselor out and I was enrolled in the college prep courses.

I often think of my best friend at that time whose father was a widower.  She had five siblings and her dad worked two jobs.  She wanted to be a doctor.  Her dad could not come to school and she ended up in a string of business courses. When she graduated from high school, she got a job as a bank teller. Her childhood dream had been shattered by one bigoted act of callousness. Langston Hughes in his poem Harlem asks the question:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Or does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

Like a sugary sweet?

Or maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

 

Or does it explode?

 

Our peaceful childhood had come to an end.  Unfulfilled dreams and goals started festering in souls in search of peace, equality, and justice. Growing up in the 60’s was an exhilarating time in the United States. My friends and I wanted to make a difference whether it was demonstrating in sympathy pickets called for by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. against Woolworth’s stores or singing about the unfairness of the House of Un-American Activities committee persecuting liberals and radicals accusing them of communist involvement.

This committee was formed in 1938 as a committee in Congress…a House committee. It became a permanent committee from 1945-1975. Their purpose was to investigate subversive activities on the part of private citizens. This was also the era of the Cold War (1945-1991), the name given to the tense relationship between the United States and its allies in the west and the USSR and the communist world including China. It was a war of words involving the race to Space and the stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Anti-Communist hysteria…the red scare… was on the rise in this country. The first wave of HUAC hearings went after the movie industry. Many talented people ended up blacklisted including Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes. Jackie Robinson was called to testify about so-called communist subversion in the NAACP.

The House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1960 came to San Francisco City Hall to have hearings that involved journalists, college professors, and 110 public school teachers that had been subpoenaed the previous year.  Their names had been leaked which created an uproar. The protestors were ready and prepared to peacefully picket. These demonstrators had gathered to protest assault on free speech and personal beliefs and were greeted with fire hoses, the police copying what had recently happened in Alabama during a protest for civil rights. The brother of a friend of ours had attended this demonstration and taught us the song the protestors were singing:

Billy Boy

Did they wash you down the stairs Billy Boy, Billy Boy?

Did they wash you down the stairs charming Billy?

Yes, they washed me down the stairs

And they rearranged my hair

With a club in the City Hall Rotunda

 

We were young high schoolers in search of a just and a nonviolent world. Civil rights demonstrations were occurring around the United States. Violence and bloodshed were a tragic part of this movement just as it had been in the past to Blacks, Native Americans and other minority groups. Non-violence was an integral part of the Civil rights Movement. Participants, especially in the deep south were trained on how to protect themselves if they were attacked. There was a pledge card to sign often referred to as the Dr. King’s Ten Commandments. Number 2 read “Remember always that the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation-not victory” and Number 8 read “Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.” Dr. King was influenced by Ghandi because of the great victory in India using non-violence. Ghandi  was influenced by the teachings of Jesus as found in the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:44 “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

 

This was the 1960’s and as the Civil Rights Movement was making strides in changing minds, attitudes, and hearts while simultaneously being enmeshed in both triumph and tragedy Vietnam was looming on the horizon igniting the indignation of the people, both those that opposed the war and those that supported it. This was the age of the draft that when all males hit the age of 18, they had to register with the Selective Service System. My brother was drafted as were other close friends. Small demonstrations against the war began as soldiers were being deployed to Vietnam. As more and more American soldiers lost their lives the voices of those in opposition to the war became stronger and stronger.

Much of the music that played over the airways reflected the times both in rhythm and blues and folk music.  Nina Simone singing “Young Gifted and Black” and James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud”. The words to Pete Seeger’s popular folk song “Where have all the Flowers Gone” written in 1955 inspired the demonstrators against the war to greater heights of concern and activism. Here is one of the verses:

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?

Gone to graveyards everyone
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

 

Protestors burnt draft cards, conscientious objectors fled to Canada, Heavy weight champion Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the Army in 1967 because his local draft board rejected his application to be classified as a conscientious objector. He was arrested and stripped of his title. Also, in 1967 Dr. King publicly denounced the war speaking out against United States policy in Vietnam. The war raged on as did anti-war demonstrations. Paris peace talks began in 1968 and eventually a cease fire was also signed in Paris in 1973. The last military units left Vietnam this same year. Fifty-eight thousand American troops lost their lives in this war along with over several million North and South Vietnamese soldiers including civilians, men, women, and children. Thank God my brother and other friends came home alive but severely traumatized, a condition that years later would be labeled post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Since the World Trade Center tragedy, the United States has been involved in war, the war on terrorism…Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria to name a few of the countries in which we have troops. We are also in a war of words with North Korea. In addition to wars outside the country the United States once again is embroiled in battling internal injustices. Racism and xenophobia are at an all-time high recalling the pre-civil rights movement era in which hatred for the most part was directed against blacks. But now narrow-minded, warped rhetoric along with violence is being spewed out not only against blacks, but Muslims, immigrants, and Jews as well.

We are living in the time of “dreams deferred’. For African Americans Michele Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow is now the new reality. Over 2,000,000 people are incarcerated in the United States. The war on drugs has contributed significantly to mass incarceration.  One out of three black males and one out of six Hispanic males will go to jail. The school to prison pipeline another phenomenon has destroyed lives. Young black people with no hope, no dreams filled with generational anger are literally “exploding” throughout their communities.

Dreams of young immigrants brought to this country as children, the” Dreamers”, now live in fear of being deported. Immigrant children are being forcibly separated from their parents after crossing the border. A proposed wall to be built that will keep our southern neighbors out, stopping them from seeking political asylum because they are trying to escape horrific conditions in their own countries, is an issue of great controversy. Limitation on immigration from Muslim nations has been enacted.

The music plays on…picketing, marching, singing, demonstrations demanding justice for just causes. United empathetic people riding the waves of despotism and cruelty denounce current inhumane practices in this country harmonizing Woody Guthrie’s song:

 

This Land is Your Land

[Chorus]
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

[Verse 6]
Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me

Will there ever be peace, that elusive concept, in our nation, or in the world?  As Bob Dylan’s famous folk song, composed back in the sixties, so aptly states “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind…the answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

© 2019, Tamam Tracy Moncur (Mercer Street Blues)



Tamam tells us “I enjoy writing. I write for the sheer pleasure of writing. Writing helps me organize my world and express what matters to me at any given moment in time. I’ve been a Civil Rights activist, taught elementary school for twenty-five years, worked with my husband, Grachan Moncur III arranging musical compositions and performing. In 2008 I self-published a book entitled Diary of an Inner City Teacher, a project that was very close to my heart. I am now a retired teacher, a community activist, and a seasoned senior who still loves to write.”

 

2 thoughts on “In Search of Peace

  1. Such a history and right on the theme of this month’s BeZine, ‘Waging the Peace’. What is it that causes some human being to be so … so insular, so distrusting of anyone who is different. Imagine how inbred and mentally dysfunctional they would be, who wish to banish racial diversity outside their own borders! Could we imagine a day in the future of the World, when an integrated, cross-bred race will dominate the World and racial diversity will have all by vanished. Now there’s a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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