Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK, LBJ, and the Fellow Driving the Tractor

I haven't been to Selma yet but I did listen to this very interesting conversation between LBJ and MLK on January 15, 1965. Here's how LBJ told MLK to sell the Voting Rights Act of 1965:
President Johnson: --that if you just take a simple thing and repeat it often enough, even if it wasn't true, why, people accept it. Well, now, this is true, and if you can find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana, or South Carolina, where--well, I think one of the worst I ever heard of is the president of the school at Tuskegee or the head of the government department there or something being denied the right to a cast a vote. And if you just take that one illustration and get it on radio and get it on television and get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it every place you can, pretty soon the fellow that didn't do anything but follow--drive a tractor, he's say, "Well, that's not right. That's not fair."
My grandfather was a farmer, a fellow driving a tractor, and here's something that he wrote as part of a family history in October 1967:
I am greatly concerned about the future of our country right now. We have had labor problems off and on ever since the coal miners struck during World War II under John L. Lewis (that's a story in itself). They keep striking for more wages and more services, etc. so labor has gotten so high that things we have to buy are so high and it makes a hardship on everyone.

Then the negroes are a terrific problem. 100 years after they were supposedly freed from slavery, they are still slaves in many ways. They have organized and are demanding equal rights. Of course people say that they have equal rights and in many cases they do - but in many cases they do not. As of this moment there are uprisings nearly every day and I'm afraid it may get worse before it gets better. During the last two years there have been two extremely large negro riots - one in Los Angeles and one in Detroit where many stores were burned and looted.

At present we are having an undeclared war in Viet Nam. 46% of the people in the United States are against it (according to the polls) and there are many Freedom Marches against the war - especially in colleges and the college kids will be our leaders in about 20 years. The students in the colleges do not want to abide with college rules. Their thinking is that they are adults and if they were on a job there would not be rules as far as their personal lives are concerned. In other words, our nation seems terribly at unrest now. I really think part of it is that we have had quite a bit of prosperity. Some say it is Communists working. At any rate it is serious.
I suppose some explanation is needed lest a contemporary reader get the wrong idea about my grandfather. He grew up and lived his entire life in a rural farming community in Southwest Iowa. Negro was the politically correct term in 1967, it seems odd to read it today. He had an African-American (to use today's politically correct term) friend from his high school class that he stayed in touch with through the years. He always said his friend didn't know he was black until he joined the army. That was in the 1930s.

Grandpa's use of the word "uprisings" gives more dignity to what was happening in the 1960s than "riots". You can see that he was conflicted. He did hope that things would get better. A daughter-in-law's (my mother) family was from Detroit. A niece's husband was in the FBI and sent to Watts during the Los Angeles riots to gather intelligence. He has always said the informers reported the root cause was price-gouging by merchants, which may very well have been a symptom of the hardship of high prices my grandfather talks about. One problem leads to another.

What has our country has done on these problems in the last 50 years? Not as much as we would like to think. On the labor cost problem, we outsourced a great many of our big factories to other countries and now you can get the cheap goods and not just at Walmart. Attempts to reign in the college kids continue, now under the fighting rape culture banner. It was 25 years from 1967 until the 1960s college student Bill Clinton became our country's leader, 40 years until Barack Obama.

1 comment:

buddeshepherd said...

The fellows that drive tractors tended to have a different take on things.
I grew up hearing the same things your grandfather wrote about.
Sad to see that in the end there has been little progress only the manipulating of public opinion.