MLK colleague: Political education, gender relations next big steps
By Jane Hill
OXFORD – The new civil rights battleground in the United States is no longer one of race but one of political education and accepting the equality of the genders, according to the Rev. James Luther Bevel.
Bevel, a nationally recognized civil rights strategist and colleague to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was the guest lecturer at the University of Mississippi’s commemorative service for King Tuesday.
Bevel spoke to students on the subject of “The Student and Practitioner of Nonviolent Principles.”
Under the leadership of King, Bevel is credited with being the initiator, principal planner, strategist and field director of the major successful campaigns of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
Bevel said he regarded the question of where the black civil rights movement stands today as irrelevant.
“America is an experiment in self-government,” Bevel said. “It’s a growth process. We’re growing all the time. Today it is not so much a question of race, but a question of gender.”
Education the key
For African-Americans to fully reap the benefits of the strides made during the civil rights era, the black community needs to focus on educating itself on how to take advantage of America’s system of self-governance, he said.
Bevel said the economic development and educational needs of the black community can be addressed if the people become politically empowered by learning their rights under the U.S. Constitution.
African-Americans need to become politically experienced in volunteerism, coalition building and working to make the system their own, he said.
“America is a political car,” he said. “If you don’t know how to drive, you are not going anywhere.”
Bevel is the founder and current chairman of the Declaration of Independence Co-Signers’ Convention, headquartered in Philadelphia, Penn. He said the foundation is dedicated to convincing people to participate in the law and to govern themselves.
Should the African-American minority in the United State become politically empowered, Bevel said he believes that judicial practices such as the death penalty and the pervasive military mentality in national government would be dropped from the system.
On the issue of women’s rights, Bevel said the relationship between President Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is an example of what needs to be done and what is holding the nation back on the issue.
“We have a male and a female running the White House and that’s the way it ought to be,” he said. “Other first ladies were just cute objects in the corner. Clinton openly accepts his wife as a thinking, scientific collaborator.”
Bevel said Clinton’s acknowledgement of his wife’s abilities is the source of a lot of criticism that both Clintons receive from the conservative establishment.
“Kennedy did the same thing with black men that set everybody on edge,” he said. “Kennedy publicly acknowledged that black men were thinking individuals in a period where that was not done by men in power, and he was hated for it. Conservatives don’t believe that is how a man should deal with is wife, not as an equal partner, not as somebody to be dealt with and listened to.”
Until women unite and vehemently protest their media image as persons who are first and foremost sex objects and not rational beings, then the double gender standard in the United State will persist, he said.
With regard to King, Bevel said the greatest tragedy that occurred, aside from the assassination itself, was that the black community did not come forth and demand that James Earl Ray be given a fair and open trial.
Bevel said he personally did not believe that Ray acted alone or was even guilty of the crime and further argued that these facts may have come out in court had Ray been tried.
“He has been sitting up in jail for as long as Martin Luther King has been dead. It is an impropriety not to give him his day in court,” Bevel said.