By Lujira Cooper
Medgar Evers 1963 June CIVIL RIGHTS
John F. Kennedy 1963 November EXTERNAL CONFLICT
James Chaney 1964 June FREEDOM RIDER
Michael Goodman 1964 June FREEDOM RIDER Led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Andrew Schwerner 1964 June FREEDOM RIDER
Malcom X 1965 February INTERNAL CONFLICT
Martin Luther King Jr. 1968 April EXTERNAL CONFLICT
Robert F. Kennedy 1968 June EXTERNAL CONFLICT
Fred Hampton 1969 December EXTERNAL CONFLICT (FBI)
The 1960’s was a tumultuous and exciting time. People observed Flower Power, anti-Vietnam protests, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the Black Arts Movement against a backdrop of a slew of assassinations. The greatness of the decade was obliterated by the untimely, unnecessary and the unfortunate deaths those living in that time experienced.
In the decade of clamoring for civil rights death reared its racist head. In the decade of the Black Arts Movement to instill Black Pride with “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” voices were silenced. In the decade of fighting for voting rights, assassinations were the soup du jour.
Civil rights took a brutal hit in the 1960’s. Assassinations ruled this time some from internal conflict and others from external forces. Nine individuals died and seven of them (maybe all) due to civil rights activism. A charged time when Black people began to flex their power, however, Freedom Summer (1964) was not freedom to Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. It led to their deaths or more appropriately murders.
In a time when Black people began to fight back because they as Fannie Lou Hamer said, “were sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Note: Lottie L. Joiner spoke of Hamer’s impassioned speech as a catalyst for the all-White male Southern Democrats to switch to Republican. A tsunami of blood flowed through this decade. It began with the death of Medgar Evers born in Decatur MS, a was murdered in Mound Bayou, MS., in front of his home. The murderers didn’t care he had small children who might have seen him killed. According to the NAACP, Evers fought in the Battle of Normandy but as we know that did nothing for him when he returned home. Later the University of Mississippi’s Law school rejected his application.
Before his assassination there had been several attempts on his life. A Molotov cocktail thrown and being nearly run over. His murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, three decades later was convicted. The killing spurred by investigation of the death of Emmitt Till (1955) and his vocal support of Clyde Kennard whose integration actions led to him being framed for robbery. Mickey Levine, past chairman of the American Veterans Committee, said of Evers, “No soldier in this field has fought more courageously, more heroically than Medgar Evers (NAACP).
Our next ghastly crime is the assassination of JFK. Basically, it’s a story no one knows the truth about. We do know Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly shot and killed JFK and then through some magic was killed by Jack Ruby while being transported from one jail to another. Questions still abound about this. Oswald’s death leaves many unanswered questions. Like why he wasn’t guarded better? How did a civilian get into the area and a host more? That’s two in 1963.
In 1964 the country faces the deaths of Freedom Riders Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. The three stopped by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price (aka KKK) for on a fabricated charge of a church are thrown into a jail cell. Price released them after seven hours then dropped off another deputy and raced to catch them before they got out of Philadelphia, MS. With the help of other KKK members shot to death and burned their bodies. With the help of an informant, the FBI arrested nineteen men for violating their civil rights. In 1967 nine were acquitted and seven found guilty including Price and KKK Imperial Wizard Bowers. Although hailed as milestone, since no one had ever been convicted of killing a civil rights worker, the judge, William Cox, an ardent segregationist sentence would be laughable if not tragic. He meted out time of three to ten years saying, “They killed one n*****, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them what I thought they deserved.” Question how serious did he take it if that was his comment? (seven guilty, nine acquitted and three deadlocked). The longest sentence came in 2005 when Edgar Ray Killen received a sentence of sixty years for three counts of manslaughter, (History.com). another note to this tragic story was it took three years of wrangling until the Supreme Court upheld the indictments.
The next chapter in this tragic saga is the death of Malcom X. who was killed in the Audubon ballroom in Harlem, NY. According to Josiah Bates of Time magazine, three people in 1966 were convicted for his death “Talmadge Hayer or Thomas Hagan (a.k.a Mujahid Abdul Halim), Norman Butler (a.k.a Muhammad Abdul Aziz) and Thomas Johnson (a.k.a Khalil Islam).” Why was Malcolm killed? Bates reports a few things led to his death, however his comment “chickens coming home to roost” regarding to JFK’s assassination led to a final break with the Nation of Islam (NOI). The question remains were the three following orders of Elijah Muhmmad, a mandate of the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Services (BOSS) or J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI since spies were very prevalent in Malcolm X’s breakaway organizations Muslim Mosque, Inc (MMI) and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). Law enforcement perceived him as a threat to the social order. Hoover, according to Bates, said, “Do something about Malcolm X.”
Two intriguing factors may have contributed to his death. The first telling his security not to search for weapons. The reasoning was to get away from NOI’s image and the other more striking no police presence there. This is surprising since they always showed up. Bates further notes an intriguing comment about Malcolm’s death from Elijah Muhammad who claimed no involvement, “He got just what he deserved.” Wonder what he meant.
The next victim was Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated on April 4, 1968, another day that goes down infamy. King had arrived in Tennessee in preparation to march with Memphis striking sanitation workers. An escaped prisoner, James Earl Ray, was the alleged assassin who eventually was sentenced to 99 years in prison since he confessed to the crime. King was shot with a 30.06 Remington rifle. King a man of peace had his life cut short because he spoke out against the injustices he saw.
Robert F. Kennedy as Attorney General pressured the FBI to investigate the deaths of Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner. Which culminated a trial where the segregationist, U.S. District Judge William Cox took the case seriously from fear of impeachment.
RFK along with his brother and later Lyndon Johnson got the Civil Rights Act passed. Ted Kennedy said of Robert’s funeral, he was, “a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it,” (History.com). Also of note was his travels to “Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, migrant workers’ camps and urban ghettos to study the effects of poverty and made trips abroad to such places as apartheid-ruled South Africa to advocate for the advancement of human rights” (History.com). RFK was an outspoken opponent to Johnson’s escalation of the VietNam war. RFK sent troops to enforce a ruling that allowed James Meredith to enroll in the University of Mississippi. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan assassinated RFK allegedly because of he resented Senator’s Kennedy’s” support of the Six-Day War intervention in Israel the previous year,” (History.com).
Our final fatality of the decade is Fred Hampton. He was a charismatic leader allegedly betrayed by one of his own. Hampton led the Chicago arm of the Black Panthers. According to the Chicago-Sun Times, Hampton was “A young, gifted leader with a talent for organizing.” In high school he led a boycott of homecoming. In doing this it permitted black girls to compete for the coveted title. He also led the Inter-Racial Council to diffuse racial conflict at Proviso East High School (Chicago-Sun Times). Racism, capitalism, and police brutality were an anathema the Black Panthers who formed community alliances to defeat these isms. Now onto why he was hunted and killed. Bring in the same culprit who worked hard to discredit King, FBI Director Herbert Hoover who called them, the Black Panthers, “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” according to Curt Gentry’s “J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets.” Hampton was betrayed by one of his own according to information allegedly by William O’Neal head of Security for the Black Panther party. Hoover’s fear of Hampton’s charisma and Chicago’s untamed and corrupt police force fought the idea of Black folks rising and with help of a “friend” silenced the voice of Hampton.
Each change creates a new normal.
“The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute” Stanford University
“Slain civil rights workers found.” August 1964. A&E Television Networks
Bates, Josiah 2020. “The Enduring Mystery of Malcolm X’s Assassination” Time
Cooper, Lujira. (2019). LGBTQ AGING IN A HETEROSEXUAL WORLD
Joiner, Lottie L. (2014). Remembering Civil Rights Heroine Fannie Lou Hamer: ‘I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired’ Daily Beast
© 2021 Lujira J. Cooper