As you ease into your favorite chair or couch to watch Super Bowl XL this evening (5:18 p.m., CST) and its featured entertainers, Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones, did you realize that it was only 13 years ago when Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 featured O.J. Simpson flipping the coin during the pre-game coin toss and Michael Jackson performing at halftime with “a choir of 3,500 local Los Angeles area children joining Jackson as he sang his single ‘Heal The World'”?
My, how times change!
But if you really want a refresher on how times change, check out this Anthony Lewis/NY Times review of Taylor Branch’s third segment of his fine trilogy about the social revolution that occurred in America during Martin Luther King’s voting rights and desegregation movement in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (Simon & Schuster 2006). Lewis describes the simplicity of Dr. King’s purpose in pursuing the movement:
In Alabama, Mississippi and large parts of other states in the Deep South [at that time], the [Constitutional right to vote without discrimination] was a myth for blacks. They were threatened, abused, even murdered if they tried to register or vote; they often lost their homes or their jobs. Armed white mobs menaced them.
King believed that if Americans outside the South were aware of its brutal racism ó as few then were ó they would want to end it. The violent response to nonviolent protest made the brutality plain. What Americans read in newspapers and saw on television shocked them, and jump-started the political process. Meaningful civil rights legislation made it past Senate filibusters at last.
But Branch’s book also reminds us that King’s movement revealed that racial discrimination was not confined to the South:
Chicago dramatized the reality of antiblack feelings in the North. Marches organized by King to protest segregated housing and unequal government benefits [in Chicago] were met with mob taunts and rocks. “Burn them like Jews!” one white group shouted at the marchers. Branch concludes that “the violence against Northern demonstrations cracked a beguiling, cultivated conceit that bigotry was the province of backward Southerners.”
In 1965, he notes, Mary Travers of the trio Peter, Paul and Mary kissed Harry Belafonte on the cheek at a rally. CBS television, which was showing the rally, was besieged by protesting callers, and took the rally off the air for 90 minutes. In the border state of Kentucky, the famous basketball coach Adolph Rupp kept his University of Kentucky team all white. He complained of calls from the university president, “That son of a bitch wants me to get some niggers in here.” A little-noted team from Texas Western, with five black players starting, upset Kentucky in the 1966 championship game ó a story told just now in the movie “Glory Road.” Only slowly, after that, did the bar on black athletes break down in the South. Many people watching college sports on television today would not have dreamed that such a policy ever existed.
As noted in this earlier post about that Texas Western team, those were very different times. America has come a long ways in its race relations since then, but we still have a long ways to go, and much of the impetus for continued progress is the memory of those different times not so very long ago.