Just Before The Sea-Change- On The 50th Anniversary Of The Freedom Riders- All Honor To Those Who Took To The Buses "Heading South"
Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights workers who valiantly tried, by example, to integrate interstate transportation in the South. We are not so far removed from those events even today, North or South.
I was in high school at the time of the freedom rides and was part of a support group sponsored by the Americans For Democratic Action (ADA), then an anti-Soviet Cold War left-liberal organization but very pro-civil rights (in the South) that was raising money in order to sent more civil rights workers "heading South." Heading toward the danger not away from it. Honor those black liberation fighters, black and white.
The following comment, although we are labelling it anonymous to honor the writer's personal preference(he is no longer political, is an opponent of almost everything communistic about this blog, and has a job now that places him on the other side of the barricades, is that enough?), is from a person known to me, and in the old days quite well-known as a fellow North Adamsville corner boy. I am posting it for the sole purpose of showing that even those, some of them anyway, on the other side of the class line at one time showed "the better angels of their natures."
It’s funny how things work out. I was recently thinking about the old time “freedom riders” who, black and white, from the South and North, tried to integrate the local and interstate buses in 1961 down in the Deep South. And some not so deep parts like North Carolina where Markin wound up, I think, some fifty years ago now, stuff that should have never been segregated in the first place. Then, shortly thereafter I was “surfing” the Internet for material on the subject to check my own remembrances and way down in the “match” list for what I Googled was a blog entry, get this, entitled Out In The Be-Bop Be-Bop 1960s Night- The Heart Of Rock ‘n’ Rock: 1964-Just Before The Sea Change - With The Rolling Stone’s In Mind.
Now hold on before you start sending for the padded wagon for me. Yes, the blog entry was a review of an “oldies but goodies” CD about some of the popular non-Beatles, non-Rolling Stones songs that got us through that tough senior year in high school. But it also contained a story about the trials and tribulations of some kids in my old home town, North Adamsville, a strictly white working class suburb just outside of Boston, trying to get swept up in one of the great social movements of their generation, and mine. That, of course, in those pre-Vietnam War escalation times was the black freedom struggle down South in this country. See, I knew those kids, Edward Rowley, Judy Jackson, and Peter Paul Markin featured in the review. Christ, for a while in senior year I hung out with Edward and Peter Paul (“The Scribe,” to one and all in those days, christened so by head honcho Frankie Riley, a mad man if I ever saw one) in front of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor “up the Downs” for a while so I know the stuff (the guff really) that those guys were going through in trying to be “different.” I also know that Frankie, and most of the school (North Adamsville High School, if I forgot to mention it before) didn’t like what they were doing one bit. And Edward and Judy were getting serious grief at home about it as well.
As for Edward's grief, I was at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor sitting right along side Peter Paul when Edward came rushing in all fluttered, all red-faced too, and related the story of what had just happened at his house that Peter Paul already told you about in that CD review I mentioned Googling above. Peter and I decided that we would just repeat that story here to get you caught up in case you didn’t get a chance to read it. If it sounds all too familiar under any circumstances from back then, or now for that matter (except now it is us giving the guff, right?), then that is just about right:
“Isn’t that hair of yours a little long Mr. Edward Rowley, Junior,” clucked Mrs. Edward Rowley, Senior, “You had better get it cut before your father gets back from his conference trip, if you know what is good for you.” That mothers’-song was being endlessly repeated in North Adamsville households (and not just North Adamsville household either) ever since the British invasion brought longer hair (and a little less so, beards) into style. Of course when one thinks of the British invasion in the year 1964 one is not thinking about the American Revolution or the War of 1812 but the Beatles. And while their music has taken 1964 teen world by a storm, a welcome storm after the long mainly musical counter-revolution since Elvis, Bo, Jerry Lee and Chuck ruled the rock night, the 1964 parent world was getting up in arms.
And not just about hair styles either. But about trips to Harvard Square coffeehouses to hear, to hear if you can believe this, folk music, mountain music, harp music or whatever performed by long-haired (male or female), long-bearded (male), blue jean–wearing (both), sandal-wearing (both), well, for lack of a better name “beatniks” (parents, as usual, being well behind the curve on teen cultural movements). “Why can’t Eddie (he hated that name by the way) be like he was when he listened to Bobby Vinton and his Mr. Lonely or that lovely-voiced Roy Orbison and his It’s Over and other nice songs on the local teen radio station, WMEX,” mused Mrs. Rowley to herself. “Now it’s the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and a cranky-voiced guy named Bob Dylan that has his attention. And that damn Judy Jackson with her short skirts and her, well her… "
Since Mrs. Rowley, Alice to the neighbors, was getting worked up it anyway we might as well continue with her tirade, “What about all the talk about doing right by the down-trodden Negros down in Alabama and Mississippi. And Eddie and that damn Peter Paul Markin, who used to be so nice when they all hung around together at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor and you at least knew they were no causing trouble, talking about organizing a book drive to get books for the little Negro children down there. If Eddie’s father ever heard that there would be hell to pay, hell to pay and, maybe, a strap coming out of the closet big as Eddie is. Worst though, worst that worrying about Negros down South is that treasonous talk about leaving this country, leaving North Adamsville, defenseless against the Communists with his talk of nuclear disarmament. Why couldn’t he have just left well enough alone and stuck with his idea of forming a band that would play nice songs that make kids feel good like Gale Garnet’s We’ll Sing In The Sunshine or that pretty Negro girl Dionne Warwick and Her Walk On By instead of getting everybody upset.”
That mother-madness, however, as we shall see didn’t stop Edward Rowley, Junior once he got his Irish up but that was what he was up against on a daily, maybe on some days, an hourly basis. Judy’s story was more of the same-old, same-old but again we decided to let it rest as is like with Edward’s story. Her story I got second-hand anyway one night when Edward and I were sitting down at the seawall in front of old Adamsville Beach trying to figure things out, not big things, just things. Here's what happened:
“Young lady, that dress is too short for you to wear in public, take it off, burn it for all I care, and put on another one or you are not going out of this house,” barked Mrs. James Jackson, echoing a sentiment that many worried North Adamsville mothers were feeling (and not just North Adamsville mothers either) about their daughters dressing too provocatively and practically telling the boys, well practically telling them you know what as she suppressed the “s” word that was forming in her head. And that Eddie (“Edward, Ma,” Judy keep repeating every time Mrs. Jackson, Dorothy to the neighbors, said Eddie), and his new found friends like Peter Paul Markin taking her to those strange coffeehouses instead of the high school dances on Saturday night. And endless talk about the n-----s down South and other trash talk. Commie trash about peace and getting rid of our nuclear weapons. They should draft the whole bunch of them and put them over in front of that Berlin Wall. Then they wouldn’t be so negative about America.”
So you see how hard Judy Jackson’s break-out was when all was said and done.
As for the Scribe, Peter Paul Markin, his people were torn a different way. They, on his mother’s side, were Catholic Worker movement people so they knew the political score. But they also knew Peter Paul could be god-awful righteous when he got his dander up. Who knows what he would say down there, or where he might wind up for saying it to the wrong person, meaning just about anybody not black. Ya, I guess if I was his parents I would have been worried too.
This is how it figured though for me if you really want to know.
Old time North Adamsville was strictly for white working class people, and a few middle class types, period. No blacks, no browns, no yellows, no red, no nothing color except white, period. So nobody could figure why three pretty smart kids, with plenty going for them, would risk their necks “heading” South for some, well, let me put it the way it was really said on the streets, some “n-----s.” Now you get it. But see here is what you didn’t know, what Gary, Judy and Peter Paul didn’t know either. I wanted to go with them. I never said much about it, one way or the other, but every day on the television I saw what they, the cops and white vigilantes were doing to kids, black kids, ya, but still just kids who were trying to change a world that they had not made, but sure in hell, unlike most of their parents, were not going to put up with the old way. The “we did it this way for generations so we will continue to do it for generations” routine. That is a big reason that I was rooting for them (like at some football game that I was addicted to in those days, cheering on the under-dog who eventually was ground under by the over-dog).
Still I never went, and you know why. Sure my mother threatened to throw me out of the house if I dared to cross the Mason-Dixon Line. After all my father was a proud, if beaten, son of the South who, no matter how humbled and humiliated he was by the Yankee ethos that condemned him, always thought of himself as a good-ole Southern boy. And a man who we (my brothers and sisters) could, in later years, never get to say anything better that “nigra” when talking about black people. So there was that. And then there was my ambivalence about whether a boy, me, who had never been south of New York City, and that just barely, and whether I could navigate the “different ways” down South, especially in regard to the idea that white people actually liked/tolerated or were deep friends with black people and wanted to do something about their condition.
Those are, maybe, good and just reasons to take a dive but here is the real reason. I just did not want to get my young butt “fried-Southern-style” by those nasty bastards down in places like Philadelphia, Mississippi (although Philadelphia, Pa, was a tough spot as well, as it turned out). We had all heard about the three civil rights workers who were slain by persons unknown (officially) in the sweat-drenched Southern summer night. We had heard further of beatings, jailings ands other forms of harassment. Yes, I was scared and I let my scared-ness get the better of me, period. That’s why I say hats off to the “freedom riders” in that 1961 hard night. Hats off, indeed.