By Jo Freeman
When I read the social movements literature in grad school in the late 1960s, I noticed that almost all of it looked for psychological causes. There was little attention to the role of organization. By then, I had been deeply involved in two major social movements – the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the Civil Rights Movement (in the North and South). I knew that in the South the official line was that all this trouble was caused by us damned outside agitators. If we’d just get out of town, race relations would return to their normal, comfortable, state. White Southerners completely discounted grievances as a reason for disorder.
I also knew that it was impossible for an organizer, no matter how dedicated, to compel people to endure major personal sacrifice for a cause where there was no history of bad experiences. I knew because I had tried. Indeed, SCLC, the organization for which I worked in the South, had tried to create another “Selma” a couple times in the fall of 1965 – first around the issue of school desegregation in Georgia, and then around the issue of the double-standard of justice after the killers of Viola Liuzzo and Jonathan Daniels were quickly acquitted by all-white, all-male juries. I found the white South’s dedication to denial to be downright funny at times; their determination to believe that everything was just fine between the races appeared to approach the level of a self-inflicted mental illness. Continue reading