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With Respect to WWII, Civil Rights Movement Greatest Generation

by Todd A. Smith

 

The Greatest Generation is Not World War II Era

 

With all due deference to the World War II generation that defeated Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime, the youngsters of the Civil Rights Movement are the greatest generation, not them.


Although family ties make me extremely proud of those called “the greatest generation,” their sacrifices did not make life any better for the African-American community or other minority communities.


However, the young bucks of the Civil Rights Movement from groups like Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) should receive more pomp and circumstance than they do.


Much of the praise goes to older leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and rightfully so.


But more attention needs to be given to younger leaders like John Lewis, James Bevel, Diane Nash, Anne Moody and others.


Often when the older generation was scared of progress or were already locked in jail, it was teenagers and college students who took up the mantel in the absence of their elders.


Many like Jackie Robinson in his autobiography “I Never Had it Made” blame the older leadership in such organization as the NAACP, specifically Roy Wilkins, for maintaining the status quo in the fight for civil rights while shunning the progressive tactics of the next generation.


Young college students from Fisk University popularized the sit-in movement.


Young people put their lives on the line while participating in the freedom rides.


Young people spent the summer of 1964 in Mississippi registering Black residents to vote and teaching in freedom schools.


And young people had the most to gain by demanding their freedom.


Young people like James Meredith, Vivian Jones and James Hood endured hell to integrate colleges like Ole Miss and University of Alabama, respectively.


Young people like Stokely Carmichael coined the phrase “Black Power,” which demanded political and economic power for the Black community.


Young people in the Black Panther Party began providing free breakfast to help support impoverished children living in poor Black neighborhoods across the country.


Young people like heavyweight-boxing champ Muhammad Ali protested the drafting of potential Black soldiers like himself for the Vietnam War.  He chose not to fight for a country, which had still not stood up and fought for his, and other Black Americans,’ human rights on American soil.


What those who participated in World War II did for the world should not be diminished.


After all, I am partial to World War II veterans because my great uncle Francis died in that war.


But had he not died, he still would have been a second-class citizen once he returned to Abbeville, La.


Many African-Americans enlisted in the armed forces during “the war,” as they called it, hoping that freedom abroad would turn into freedom at home.


However, when they returned they realized they were still at war with ole Jim Crow.


The conflict known as racial equality still wages on today, but the war was largely won in the 1960s thanks to brave young foot soldiers.


Many of those soldiers were barely in their teens when they lost their lives on the battlefields of the South.


They completed the war started by my great uncle and his comrades during World War II.


And their valiant bravery should be honored just as much as those that fought for their country two decades before them.

This article was published on Friday 29 April, 2016.
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