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James Bevel Who? Doesn't ring a bell? Gong. The bell is a'soundin'.There was this guy, James Bevel, who successfully organized the main events of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement and the first large event of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. He freed his people, focused the world's attention on peace, and used Mohandas Gandhi's tactics to change America's racial situation from one thing to another. Called "The Father of Voting Rights", Bevel planned all of the major 1960s movements, taught their participants how to do them and carry them out, and swept out the churches in his spare time.
Then, in 2005 his daughter claimed he needed more movement, and suddenly remembered how in 1992 he wanted to have sex with her!
Bevel, to quote the learned ones of wikipedia, "as director of Direct Action and Nonviolent Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), initiated, organized, strategized and directed the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade, the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, the 1965.5 KKK Licking Their Wounds Day, and the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement. He also called and initially organized the 1963 March on Washington, initiated and directed the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March, undertook the 1966 one man march to "GettaHellOuttahere'foreHerHusbandGetsHome!", and created and directed the 1967 Anti-Vietnam War March on the United Nations. Then, just for good measure and to break up the boredom, he co-initiated the 1995 Million Man March".
Finally tiring of so much marching, and forcefully claiming his innocence of having sex with his child 15 years earlier (to accent the point he often wore a lynchin'-rope around his neck instead of its polar-opposite, a necktie), Bevel sat in prison for a spell in 2008. Enduring BET, prison food, and that "Come closer, Clarice" guy in the plexiglass cell down the hall, it finally got the best of him and he said "Enough of this shit!", and up and died.
Few have ever heard of this guy, yet as a twenty-something he definitely used nonviolent methods to free his people and change every society on earth. Then, three decades later, as a geezer-something, he allegedly tried to occupy his daughter.
Settle in friends, Romans, and countrymen, and lend me your beers.
James Bevel's early life, then some testimony by Jesse Jackson"Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. . .'cept you darlin', you put your dad in prison in a patricidal lynchin'".
- ~James Bevel
James Bevel felt the sting of segregation soon after his birth in 1936 when his mother refused to breastfeed him because he was black. Where others would cry, blame whitey, and carry on, Bevel just shrugged his shoulders and rolled along the hospital floor until he found other breasts to feed from. Thus began two lifelong obsessions: To be free from all forms of tyranny, unfairness, oppression, and injustice, and to find other breasts to feed from.
His associate in the Chicago Open Housing Movement, the look-at-me-I'm-sooooo-damn-awesome Rev. Jesse Jackson, would often sing-song, like a whippoorwill or a bluebird, a summary of Jim Bevel's life and career: "As a rolling stone gathers no moss, James Bevel gathered no boss. As a lad he plowed the cotton fields of Mississippi, but was criticized for studying the hot fields of Mrs. Syppie. James Bevel joined and then left the U.S. Navy, then wooed and befriended some mighty fine ladies. He went to school to be a Baptist preacher, but left his classes behind to fight the Klan and become a teacher. He gave his people the tools of freedom, and later fought off the fools of tedium. Bevel stormed the gates of hell itself to give his people the right to vote, but somehow forgot to get them the right to toke. He was the real creative genius of the Civil Rights era, but don't tell that to a white southern juror. Keep hope alive!"
After growing up in Mississippi, Bevel tried his hand at singing, songwriting, and Navy. He kicked around for much of the 1950s, then decided to fulfill a childhood dream and end segregation. Why not, someone had to do it. Was either that or take in a movie. So he and a few friends studied with a couple of good teachers, learned Mohandas Gandhi's techniques, and decided to roll the dice and give 'em a go.
The Nashville students studied Gandhi's nonviolent ramblings and then sat in at Nashville, Tennessee's lunch counters - which refused to serve whites and blacks together unless Sammy Davis and Sinatra were in town. All they wanted to do was buy a Happy Meal (or its 1960 Southern equivalent: chicken, potatoes, and grits). Once that worked out just fine, and they got the ketchup and/or blood stains out of their shirts, Bevel and his friends rolled the Gandhiji dice again and desegregated Nashville's movie theaters, finished up the Freedom Ride, and kick-started and worked on the Mississippi Freedom Movement, all in a big-hearted attempt to keep the Klan employed and on their toes.
When all of this was accomplished, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - reading the runes and seeing on which side the bread was buttered - asked James Bevel to come by and meet with him in Atlanta. A transcript of this historic meeting between Bevel and King, recently uncovered in the sub-basement of the Smithstonian Institution (in a box labeled "1949 Grant Requests under review") shows that they agreed to work as equals, with neither having veto power over the other. This is called in most professions "a full partnership". In the commonly accepted American history of the period it's called "James Bevel? No, can't recall the name. Did he play for the Steelers or the Bears?"
Dr. King's prophecy
The hidden and buried transcript of James Bevel's meeting with Dr. King, uncovered by a janitor chasing silverfish and mice away from the Smithstonian's storage shelves (photo, right), tells the story of Dr. King's prophetic powers:
King: "Well, if it isn't James Bevel! Come in, come in."
Bevel: "Yes sir."
King: (in a preachy cadence interspersed with laughter) "I've heard about alllll the good things you did in Nashville. I've heard about alllllll the great work you did in Mississippi. And I've heard about your vassssst knowledge of nonviolence and how you are the only person in the country who can really set-up, organize, and run a nonviolent movement."
Bevel: "Yes sir. But Doc, why are you laughing?"
King: "Well, 'cause I'm a prophet too, Bevel. And you know what's gonna happen from here on out? You're gonna do almost all of the things I'll get credit for in the 1960s, except my Dream speech. And except for a historian or two who get it right and post it, you'll live out your life in utter obscurity. At least until you get convicted of having sex with your daughter. . ."
Bevel: "Say WHAT?? Sex with WHO??? And c'mon man, quit laughing."
King: ". . .which will get you the most publicity you'll ever have while you're alive. Even then not one major news outlet will tell the truth about your career during your lifetime. Not even in your public obits, which won't get anywhere close. I'm just hoping that when people do find out about you, you mystic mudda, that they don't fuss with my monument in D.C., 'cause it ain't gonna mention you either. And when my name adorns holidays, schools, highways, and streets in every big city in North America, you'll be lucky to get a parking lot named after you. All in all, my tiny brother, you'd better take a loooonnnng slow read of that 'A prophet in his own country is without friggin' honor' part of the Bible."
Bevel: "Are you playing with me, Doc? And what's this about nailing up things about us on a telephone pole?"
King: "No, no, Bevel. 'Post' it on something called an innernest web-site."
Bevel: "A website? Damn spiders be writin' the history of the future? Ah, and Doc, what's this about my obits?"
King: "Yes, you will live in obscurity for 72 years, see a young black man elected President, then be buried in a 17-foot canoe a month before he takes office."
Bevel: "A black President? Doc, you do get carried away, are you high on something?"
King: "Not as high as you, Bevel!!"
(They both laugh, make their historic agreements on how to work the movement together, and King goes off to write while Bevel looks for someone to "snuggle" up to.)
The Rumble in the Chapel: The 1963 Birmingham campaign
James Bevel then went with King to Birmingham, Alabama, to work up a movement from an unsuccessful local action trying to end legal segregation in public schools. Bevel and King decided it was now going to be a movement to end segregation, period. So they picketed, and some people were arrested on small marches, including Dr. King, who wrote a nice postcard home from jail. But nothing was ending segregation - which had a few thousand year run and wasn't going down without a fight - until Bevel initiated and organized the children of Birmingham into a large nonviolent force. That set the stage for a battle royal as 50 students took a walk, and the police and their dogs, cats, and high-pressure water hoses soundly objected to this outdoor hike.
When allowede to chew, claw, and blow, the dogs, cats, and hoses did a truly epic kick-ass job, and were given a couple of rounds on points. But the junior high and high-school students had already racked up quite a few of those early round, mainly by not backing down when they marched out of a church on their way to City Hall. They got into groups of 50 and took a walk, wanting to politely talk to the Mayor about "ah, this here segregation thing?". Apparantly nobody could talk to the Mayor, and he took such offense at it that when he heard that 50 kids were trying to come talk to him about segregation, he had thousands of children arrested even before the dogs, cats, and high-pressure hoses got in their best punches. In the post-fight analysis, it was decided that the Mayor, and the canine's, feline's, and hoses overrated manager - "Bull" Connor - had held them back for too long.
Bevel, who'd trained the children ("C'mon, catch the chicken Rocky. C'mon, you tellin' me you can't do 400 jumping jacks? C'mon Rocky!") and strategizing everything about the student's movement, came up with a new idea when Dr. King asked him to stop using the children. King had heard from U.S. President and media idol, John Kennedy, and Kennedy wanted King to end the children's game of dodgedog and their public disagreement with other animals and hoses. The President worried that the dogs might get hurt. James Bevel told King "You gotta be kidding me, Doc? Hell no, I'm not going to tell the kids to go home and watch TV just because the president is worried we'll hurt the dogs! No one's gonna lift a fist against the dogs, the dogs are just following orders. But sure, we'll stop demonstrating here in Birmingham, because the children and I will take Kennedy seriously when he says 'My way or the highway'. We'll march up the highway to Washington D.C. to have a talk with Kennedy about all this segregation bullshit!" ("Slip the jab! I didn't hear no bell, Rocky!").
King saw the logic of this nonviolent strategy. And he knew that since Bevel, who was SCLC's Director of Direct Action, would do his darndest deeds with or without his approval). King agreed to the plan. When the Kennedy clan heard about it they were all like spastic and "WTF!" and one of them ran into the Oval Office. "Prez, that crazy Bevel is going to march the Birmingham children to D.C.! By the time they get here there'll be a million coons, hippies, and do-gooders on the highway. We've got to give them a Civil Rights Bill or some chickens or something. JFK? Jack, can you hear me? Oh, hi Marilyn, I didn't see you under the desk there."
And that's how the children won! In a ninth-round knockout! And it's how the 1964 Civil Rights Act came about, why Bevel's 1963 March on Washington evolved into King's well-known celebration, and how Jack's girlfriend Marilyn was an eyewitness to some pretty cool history (from an All-American kneeling position, of course).
The Selma Voting Rights Movement or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Baton
The next thing you know four young Birmingham kids were blown up. In the same church where Bevel had trained their fellow students. Damn, that was cold. That's when Bevel and his wife -Diane Nash, one of the foremost Nashville student activists - blew a gasket themselves. They huffed and puffed and yabbered on, telling King and anyone else who would listen that they were going to get negr. . .umm, the col. . .wait, African Americans, yeah, African Americans, the right to vote. To actually walk into voting booths next to white people and elect America's corrupt politicians for themselves.
Everyone laughed like the dickens at Bevel and Nash's pipedream. "Bevel," they told him, "give me some of what you're smoking because my dealer is plum out of the good stuff." After giving them some of his good stuff, James Bevel went ahead and organized the people of Alabama.
James Bevel did this for well over a year, just he and Nash and a friend or three, without King or anyone else over at SCLC helping them. Oh sure, they sent Bevel a fruitcake at Christmas, and a "Happy Birthday" card signed by "Everyone here at the front office" even as Bevel - as SCLC's Director of Direct Action and Nonviolent Education - would report their ongoing progress as an agenda item at major SCLC's staff and Board meetings, none of them came by to lend a hand until early 1965. By this time the whole state and the city of Selma were pumped up and ready to go.
Bevel then worked the participants of this single-focus Selma Movement like slaves. "Slavedriver Bevel" they'd call him. "Massa Jim". And all he did was line them up along the sidewalk at the voter's registars office, where they'd wait patiently, hour after hour, day after day, decade after decade, for the office to open. Which, or course, it never did. Sometimes they'd sing or dance to entertain the cracke. . .the gestap. . .the racis. . .ah, white policemen. Other times, when they were really bored, they'd get in the way of a police baton just to see what color their blood ran. But what they mainly did was line-up, Monday through Friday, waiting for the registars office to open. And wait...and wait...
In the evenings it was an entirely different story. King, Bevel, Ralph Abernathy, Andy Young and C.T. Vivian would preach, teach, and squeech in the churches, and Bevel would plan the next days standing-in-line ("OK, stand in line, and don't get angry when they whoop ya", pretty much covered it). Then one night, after an evening march organized by C.T. Vivian, a young man was shot and later got around to dying. James Bevel knew that he better get these angry negr. . .colore. . .these angry African-American's mind's off of getting revenge and let them vent a little. What he thought of doing was to invite everyone to go with him on a healthy 50-mile carb-burning march to Mongtgomery to have a polite talk with Alabama's Governor, George "Jumpin' n' Jivin'" Wallace. Kind of like Gandhi, who hiked 240 miles to get some salt from the sea, Bevel sure loved to walk on highways.
The rest, as they say, is history. Because when the people started to walk to Montgomery they hadn't even crossed the first bridge when they came to it before the Alabama State Troopers and Selma police accidently rioted and mistakenly broke some heads. Clumsily dropping some tear gas, and inadvertently hurting the marchers enough to make them wail like they'd seen a ghost, by the time the batons finished flying, the television cameras stopped broadcasting, and the Troopers and police broke for lunch, a southern white boy by the name of Lyndon Baines Johnson told Congress and the American people that it was "time to give these darki. . .ah, ne. . .ah, ya'll know what I mean, the vote".
And vote they did. And they kept on voting as the years went by, and by the time they got done voting a fellow by the name of Barack Obama was strolling around the Oval Office like he damn well owned the place.
Meanwhile James Bevel still had to finish off segregation, now on its last legs except for the women and gay things. All that was pretty much left was freedom of choice in housing. So Bevel, of course, initiated and successfully ran the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement. Duh, who'd of thunk it? Then, not one to sit around for long, Bevel, at the bequest of peaceniks, North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh, and hippie babes Wildflower and Sunshine, headed up to New York to run the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. There he called for and organized the biggest march in American history - the 1967 march on the United Nations. At that event he called for a later action in Washington, which became the famous 1967 March on the Pentagon where Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsburg and their yippie cohorts levitated the building a few feet off the ground, spun it around, quickly got bored, left it floating there, and went out back to smoke some more of Bevel's good stuff.
Soon, yadda yadda yadda, then Bevel and Minister Louis Farrakhan played well together and co-initiated the next largest demonstration in American history - the Million Man March - then yadda, yadda, yadda, and it was only a month before President Obama took office that James Bevel decided to start lying around in a cemetery not far from Selma, thus fulfilling Dr. King's prediction to a "T".
As for the daughter thing, well, yeah, maybe he did it, although he said he didn't. Either way, no skin off the elephant's nose. Bevel, like Gandhi, never claimed to be a good man or a saint. In fact both of them claimed the opposite, and they both might have killed a guy. Maybe you have to have that kind of energy in you to be a movement leader, the anger energy so well tamed that, like Gandhi and Bevel, you can let it out and stop it at will to accent or prove a point. And also, like Gandhi, Bevel and especially King, you can radiate out that same amount of energy as love, walk among your enemies, and they bask in the output. Just try not to be accused of shining that light on your daughter, unless you're Jon Voight.Now, there he is, this righteous and maybe incestous fellow whose accomplishments equal those of Americans like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Dr. King, and James Mad,ison, resting in obscure peace in a wooden canoe like it's the Tomb of the Unknown Activist. Serves James Bevel right that historians, journalists, and monuments on national malls ignore him and his real story. Bevel didn't mind that, it saved on the wear and tear and was a source of amusement. But then what, hiding his grave away so that tourists, vandals, pilgrims, and BET will actually have to do some digging to find it? More likely Bevel was just trying to straighten out some history, have the last laugh, and get some alone time while sailing gently down the stream.
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