Travels With Jonathon…Memphis and Civil Rights

travels with Jonathon
August 31, 2011 at 5:40pm
I’m on Beale St,once the gathering point for the Civil Rights movement in the early days when the shout against segregation started as grumblings and then murmurs and then mutterings and then more strident as it swelled and rallied against the racism of the day.Everything was segregated,public bathrooms,lunch counters,water fountains.Blacks sat at the back of the bus.Blacks were supposed to know their place.
The Civil Rights movement found an ally in the Jewish community of America and if you look at the white faces among the marchers most were Jewish.As a child of Communists in the 50’s and early 60’s at the Jewish Commie camp I went to at the age of 6 we would sing all the songs coming from the civil rights movement as the movement was happening.People came back from the Freedom Rides and told stories that I was dimly aware of .Don’t forget I was young.Somewhere in my mind I forgot they were civil rights songs and my mind played a trick and I simply acknowledged them as my camp songs.When I was 11 I staged a demonstration in my bunk ,successfully persuading most of my mates to lock ourselves in ,with the door blocked by our trunks and protest against the camp food.It could have been anything but food seemed vital enough.The camp waited outside as we sang Civil Rights songs.”We shall not ,we shall not be moved ,”our young voices sang defiantly.To raise the ante I called for a hunger strike to intensify things.The camp threatened to call my parents.Good ,I said.They’ll probably join in ”
Well a few hours went by and I asked for a parley with the camp director .Also I was kinda getting hungry and they had set out a table with peanut butter and honey and jam with thick loaves of bread. So I slipped out and presented our demands I forget what they were but while I did that I committed a sin ,I filched a sandwich and wolfed it down .I returned to the bunk,hoping they wouldn’t notice the food smell around me as I exhorted them to hold out for at least another hour .After awhile we returned in triumph to the dining hall,the victors of the battle.The point of this story is to illustrate the influence of the Civil Rights Movement .At 13 I read “Nigger ” by Dick Gregory and then Malcolm X’s autobiography and they electrified me and I started saving money determined to run away and join the demonstrations in Alabama and Mississippi. Somehow my parents found out about my grandiose plans and promptly squashed them .
So here I am on Beale st and I just checked out an art gallery of Civil Rights photos and the memories came back.
Beale street is a raffish,funky street filled every 10 yards with an inexhaustible plethora of Blues Clubs,bars ,juke joints and rib holes.Each place boasts the best barbecue and it’s serious business here.Every doorway there is a blues band playing their heart out,each laying claim to the tradition of the blues as tourists mill around and gawk.Ted Nugent is playing down the street.And sometimes you get a whiff of the air and the vibe that was Beale street in it’s hey day with the likes of a young Howlin Wolf and a slim B.B.King and you smile as you saunter along.

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