Ain’t gonna let the SC turn me ’round

Protesters prior to Supreme Court ruling

Protesters outside Supreme Court prior to ruling

So our activist Supreme Court determined that authorities are no longer trying to keep minorities from the polls and have declared the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. (They never specified what part of the Constitution it violates.) No sooner had they done so than a number of states covered by the old law instantly went ahead with strict voter id plans designed to keep people of limited means from voting. Their supposed rationale, voter fraud, is so transparently a false pretense that they don’t even argue very hard for it. They are just doing it because they can.

They will get away with it unless people push back, so maybe it’s time to break out the old freedom songs again. Here’s one I encountered when, as a 16-year-old in 1967, I accompanied my father to a voting rights workshop on Johns Island near Charleston. People who have become legendary in the Civil Rights Movement—Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Esau Jenkins, Bernice Robinson, and Stokely Carmichael—were all in attendance, and our meeting was punctuated with singing songs like the one below. I still see us all crowded together in Jenkins’ living room. Afterwards we went to hear Martin Luther King give a speech in Charleston, perhaps the most thrilling moment of my childhood.

As the song declares, we ain’t gonna let nobody—no jailhouse, no segregation, and now no state legislatures backed by a conservative Supreme Court—turn us ’round:

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round,

Turn me ’round, turn me ’round.

Ain’t gonna let nobody, turn me ’round.

I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’,

Marchin’ on to freedom land

Ain’t gonna let no jailhouse turn me ’round,

Turn me ’round, turn me ’round.

Ain’t gonna let no jailhouse, turn me ’round.

I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’,

Marchin’ on to freedom land

Ain’t gonna let segregation turn me ’round,

Turn me ’round, turn me ’round.

Ain’t gonna let segregation turn me ’round,

I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’.

Marchin’ on to freedom land

Keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’,

Marchin’ on to freedom land.

I’ll add that this history seems particularly fresh to me at the moment because last Friday my father, a week after his 90th birthday, was interviewed and taped by the Smithsonian Oral History Project for his own contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. We made a timeline in preparation for the interview, which I share below.  It’s hard to believe that, after the country elected a black president, various states would start trying to suppress voter turnout, but in retrospect this is very predictable. Advances will always be greeted by a step back.

The best response is to keep on a-walkin’ and keep on a-talkin’, marchin’ on to freedom land. This struggle still has a number of chapters to go.
Scott Bates, Time Line for involvement with Freedom Movement

1944 – Patrols with black MP from segregated black troop in Romilly-Sur Seine, France during World War II

1955 – Temporarily desegregates Lake O’Donnell for swimming in Sewanee, Tennessee

1956 – Joins Highlander Folk School, attends workshops with Septima Clark (Education Director), Fanny Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Esau Jenkins

1959 – Organizes Franklin County branch of NAACP with Septima Clark and Mrs. Johnnie Fowler; chapter goes on to desegregate Otey Parish Episcopal Church in Sewanee, the Red Cross Blood Mobile; other organizations

1959 – Works to keep John Birch Society from proliferating at the University of the South

1961 – Becomes a member of the Highlander Board of Directors

1961-62 – Participates in trial defending Highlander Folk School; trial ends in defeat, forcing Highlander to move to Knoxville; Highlander changes name to Highlander Research and Education Center

1962-71 – As head of Highlander Board from 1962-71, fights with Cas Walker, super market magnate who seeks to move Highlander out of Knoxville. During these years Highlander also works with Martin Luther’s King’s Southern Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

1962 – Franklin County chapter of NAACP instigates suit against Franklin County Board of Education involving four white families (including his own) and four black families for failing to integrate; works with lawyer Avon Williams.

1962-64 – Testifies in desegregation trials

1962 – Participates with local NAACP chapter in national convention in Chicago; becomes member of governing board of NAACP at the meeting

1964 – Federal judge rules that Franklin County Schools must desegregate

1966 and again in 1967 – attends Highlander workshop with Septima Clark, Fanny Lou Hamer, Esau Jenkins, Stokely Carmichael and Bernice Robinson at John’s Island as part of voter registration movement

1969 – attends national convention of NAACP  in Jackson, Mississippi with fellow NAACP members (driving through Mississippi in mixed race car)

1969 – Participates in sit-in, which includes Sewanee’s first black student, in Tubby’s Restaurant in Monteagle, TN

1969 – Joins in Highlander’s collaboration with Southern Christian Leadership Conference against the Vietnam War, march in Atlanta

1969 – Leads first open meeting and gives speech in Knoxville against the KKK in Andrew Johnson Hotel

1970 – Along with local NAACP, speaks up against KKK rally in Estill Springs, Tennessee (attended rally, wrote newspaper letter)

1971 – Highlander forced out of Knoxville, moves to New Market, TN

1971 – 1975 –  Serves as Highlander Board Member

1975- present – Serves as Highlander Emeritus Board Member

2009 – Franklin County NAACP chapter singled out at NAACP National Convention as part of 100th anniversary celebration

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