Friday, July 14, 2017

Southern Peace Walk: Two Issues or One?

Barbara Deming (1917–1984)
From War No More: Three Centuries of American Antiwar & Peace Writing

Members of the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) leafleting and picketing in Albany, Georgia, early 1964. Photographer unknown (courtesy of Gene Keys’s website). A. J. Muste is walking in front and Yvonne Klein is leafleting behind him. From December 1963 to February 1964 an integrated group of CNVA members attempted several times to march through downtown Albany, part of the Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo Walk for Peace. The police chief would only allow them to walk down the “black side” of Oglethorpe Avenue, Albany's main street, but the marchers insisted on walking on the “white side” and were arrested. For more information on the Albany confrontation, see Swarthmore College’s Global Nonviolent Action Database.
Founded in 1957 in opposition to nuclear weapons testing, the Committee on Nonviolent Action (CNVA) never became a large group, but its influence and the future prominence of a number of its members belied the size of its roster. It existed for a decade and—following both the death of A. J. Muste, one of its founding leaders, and the increased American involvement in the Vietnam War—eventually merged with the War Resisters League.

In the early 1960s, both to attract members and to publicize their cause, CNVA sponsored a series of “peace marches,” including the San Francisco–to-Moscow Walk for Peace (December 1960 to October 1961) and the Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo Walk for Peace (May 1963 to October 1964). Between those two major events, they planned a shorter march, from Nashville to Washington in April 1962, for which the organization decided to make a concerted effort to attract non-white participants. CNVA’s leaders were motivated not only by shared principles and but also by tactics. “Radical pacifists looked admiringly, even wistfully, at the vitality of the civil rights movement,” notes historian Marian Mollin. “The black freedom struggle provided a compelling example of how nonviolence could mobilize the masses and push the nation toward fundamental social change.”

Yet, as Barbara Deming writes in her account “Southern Peace Walk,” the presence of black participants in the walk met with criticism, scorn, and worse, not only from outside observers but also others activists, and threatened to sidetrack the group’s aims. Deming describes her frustration with the resistance to integration yet concludes her report with the tense confrontation that vindicated her belief that the peace and civil rights movements were inseparable: “For the issue of war and peace remains fundamentally the issue of whether or not one is going to be willing to respect one’s fellow man.” Or, as she wrote two years later, “Hasn't the time come to try to define them much more clearly as part of one movement?” The essay’s brief headnote by Lawrence Rosenwald for the Library of America collection War No More provides additional information about Barbara Deming, whose centennial is on July 23, 2017.

Note: Deming mentions the S.N.C.C. (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) on page 351. Founded in 1960, it became one of the most prominent organizations of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

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The man took a leaflet and read a few lines. “This is the Nashville, Tennessee to Washington, D. C. Walk for Peace,” it began. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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