On the July 19 edition of “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked Rep. James Clyburn about the last conversation he had with Rep. John Lewis, who passed away last Friday. They discussed why the movement we commonly refer to as the civil rights movement in the 1960s did not accomplish as much as they would have liked, since it was taken away from them and the narrative was turned to “Burn Baby Burn.” He was not referring to the 1976 song with the title “Disco Inferno”; it was the burning of parts of many cities in the United States by those who claimed that they were upset with the state of race relations in the county. Clyburn and Lewis were also concerned that the current movement for racial justice is being hijacked by requests to defund the police.
I agree that they are correct in their analysis, but I believe it leaves out other reasons which together led to the end of the 1960s civil rights movement and will lead to the limited effect of the “Black Lives Movement.”
In 1964, many Jews went down South as part of Freedom Summer to help register blacks to vote. These included New Yorkers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. It was extremely dangerous to try to engage in voter registration. That summer, Schwerner and Goodman, along with James Chaney, were killed in Mississippi, which led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The schism between the Jewish community and the black civil rights community ruptured a few months after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. with the Ocean Hill-Brownsville community board’s trying to get rid of white, mainly Jewish teachers and an anti-Semitic poem read on a “black” radio station. Making matters worse, the Nation of Islam, which ended up being led by Louis Farrakhan, grew in importance.
Not only was there a loss of Jewish support for the civil rights movement, but many whites also withdrew their support, turned off by the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam.
In addition to the economic loss to the cities due to the looting and torching, there was an uptick in other violent crimes in various cities. For example, in New York City, violent crime doubled from 1966 to 1970. People were more focused on safety and law and order while not worrying as much about civil rights.
But the biggest factor was the Vietnam War. By the late 1960s, the country was beginning to be divided on the war. The protests against the war and counter-protests in support of the war sucked the oxygen out of the civil rights movement. The war was the all-encompassing issue that put all other issues to the side. Natural allies for the civil rights movement were focused on ending the war.
Fast forward to today’s protests. There will be changes, as occurred in the mid-1960s, but they’ll be smaller than expected. It is more than the fight to defund the police that is going to put a stop to the current civil rights movement.
Just like in the late 1960s, there are those in the African American community who are making anti-Semitic comments, such as football player DeSean Jackson and retired basketball player Stephen Jackson, who was also a close friend of George Floyd, among others. To add insult to injury, fewer football players criticized Jackson for his comments than Drew Brees’ comment that he would not agree with anybody disrespecting the American flag. In general, there was very little criticism of Jackson’s comments coming from the African American community.
Another group singled out for attack by some supporters of BLM is white women. The mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, tweeted at the President’s white female press secretary, whose name is Kayleigh, “Hey Karen, watch your mouth.” Washington Post global opinions editor Karen Attiah, in a tweet she took down, also disparaged white women by calling them “Karen” and then justifying it. “White women are lucky that we are just calling them “Karen’s”. And not calling for revenge.”
I am not even addressing the repeated attacks on whites or the cancel culture, which could take up a few articles by itself. Those who support cancel culture have gone as far as attacking fellow liberals who are against it.
There have also been some protestors and non-protestors who have engaged in looting and other destruction of property. Violent crime has also been rising along with the requests to defund the police.
Nevertheless, the situation that will probably put an end to the movement is COVID-19. When you are worried about your health, everything else takes a back seat.
The Jewish community can learn from others’ mistakes. It only takes a minority of individuals who act in an improper fashion to give a group a bad reputation. We also see this in the Chumash. The Torah mentioned that the Jewish people sinned by worshiping the Golden Calf. Yet the numbers involved were only a small portion of the nation. Those who worshipped it after being warned not to do so numbered only 3,000 - out of 600,000 men between 20 and 60 years old. Likewise, the Torah mentions Moabite and Midianite women who persuaded Jewish men to serve idols. The Torah refers to the men as “the people,” which sounds like a significant percentage of the men. Yet, 24,000 died from the plague, which is eight thousand fewer than the number of New Yorkers who have died from COVID-19.
There are many reasons why movements and actions are unsuccessful. A minority of members of a group can destroy the group’s goals by their improper conduct.