James Bevel Who? Doesn't ring a bell? Gong. The bell is a'soundin'.
There was this American fellow, James Bevel, who initiated and organized the main events of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the first very first large-scale protests of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. He freed his people, focused the world's attention on peace, and used Mohandas Gandhi's tactics to change America's racial situation
to another. Called "The Father of Voting Rights", Bevel planned all of the major 1960s movements, taught their participants how to carry them out, and swept out the churches in his spare time.
Then, in 2005 his daughter claimed he needed more movement, and suddenly "remembered" how in 1992 he wanted to have sex with her!
James Bevel, to quote the learned ones of wikipedia, "as Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) - the two main posts in that organization - initiated, organized, strategized, and directed the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade, the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, the 1966 KKK Licking Our Wounds Day (LOWD), and the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement. He also called and initially organized the 1963 March on Washington, initiated and directed the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March, undertook the 1966 One Man March to "GetOuttaHere'foreMyHusbandComesHome!", and created and directed the massive 1967 Anti-Vietnam War March on the United Nations which solidified the anti-war movement. Then, just for good measure and to break up the boredom, he co-initiated the 1995 Million Man March".
Finally tiring of so much organizing and marching and sweeping, and forcefully claiming his innocence of having had sex with his daughter in 1992 (to accent the point he often wore a lynchin'-rope around his neck instead of its polar-opposite, a necktie), Bevel sat in prison for a spell in 2008. Enduring BET, prison food, and that "Come closer, Clarice" guy in the plexiglass cell down the hall, it all finally irked him enough to say "Enough of this shit!", and he up and died.
Few have ever heard of James Bevel, yet as a twenty-something he definitely used nonviolent methods to free his people and change every society on earth. Then, three decades later, as a geezer-something, he allegedly tried to occupy his daughter.
James Bevel's early life, then some testimony by Jesse Jackson
- ~James Bevel
James Bevel felt the sting of segregation soon after his birth in 1936 when his mother refused to breastfeed him because he was black. Where others would cry, blame whitey, and carry on, Bevel just shrugged his shoulders and rolled along the hospital floor until he found other breasts to feed from. Thus began two lifelong obsessions: To be free from all forms of tyranny, unfairness, oppression and injustice, and to find a natural vegetarian food supply.
His associate in the Chicago Open Housing Movement, the look-at-me-I'm-sooooo-damn-awesome Rev. Jesse Jackson, would often sing-song, like a whippoorwill or a bluebird, a summary of Jim Bevel's life and career: "As a rolling stone gathers no moss, James Bevel gathered no boss. As a lad he plowed the cotton fields of Mississippi, but was criticized for studying HowTo:Fertilize the fields of Mrs. Syppie. James Bevel joined and then left the U.S. Navy, then wooed and befriended some mighty fine ladies. He went to school to become a Baptist preacher, then learned to fight the Klan and become a teacher. He gave his people the tools of freedom, and later fought off the fools of tedium. Bevel stormed the gates of hell itself to give his people the right to vote, but somehow forgot to get them the right to toke. He was the real creative genius of the Civil Rights era, but don't tell that to a white southern juror. Keep hope alive!"
After growing up in Mississippi, Bevel tried his hand at singing, songwriting, and Navy. He kicked around for much of the 1950s, then decided to fulfill a childhood dream and end segregation. Why not, he thought, someone had to do it. Either that or take in a movie. So he and a few friends studied with a couple of good teachers, learned Mohandas Gandhi's techniques, and decided to roll the dice and give it a go.
The Nashville, Tennessee college students studied Gandhi's nonviolent ramblings and then sat in at the cities' lunch counters - which refused to serve whites and blacks sitting together unless Sammy Davis and Sinatra were in town. All they wanted to do was buy a Happy Meal. Once that worked out just fine, and they got the ketchup and/or blood stains out of their shirts, Bevel and his friends played the Gandhiji card again and desegregated Nashville's movie theaters, finished up the Freedom Ride, and Bevel and Bernard Lafayette kick-started and worked the Mississippi Freedom Movement - all in a big-hearted attempt to keep their Klan friends employed and on their toes.
When all of this was accomplished, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - reading the runes and seeing on which side the bread was buttered - asked James Bevel to come by and meet with him in Atlanta. A transcript of this historic meeting between Rev. Bevel and Dr. King, recently uncovered in the sub-basement of the Smithstonian Institution (in a box labeled "1927 Grant Requests under review") shows that they agreed to team-up and work as equals, with neither having veto power over the other. This is called in most professions "a full partnership". In the commonly accepted American history of the period it's called "James Bevel? No, can't recall the name. Did he play for the Steelers or the Bears?"
Dr. King's prophecy
The hidden and buried transcript of James Bevel's meeting with Dr. King, uncovered by a janitor chasing silverfish and mice away from the Smithstonian's storage shelves (photo, right), tells the story of Dr. King's prophetic powers:
King: "Well, if it isn't Reverend James Bevel! Come in, come in."
Bevel: "Yes sir."
King: (in a preachy cadence interspersed with laughter) "I've heard about alllll the good things you did in Nashville. I've heard about alllllll the great work you did in Mississippi. And I've heard about your vassssst knowledge of nonviolence and how you are the only person in the country who can set-up, organize, and run a nonviolent movement."
Bevel: "Yes sir. But Doc, why are you laughing?"
King: "Well, 'cause I'm a prophet too, Bevel. And you know what's gonna happen from here on in? You're gonna do alllll the things I'll get credit for later, except my Letter from a Birmmmmmingham Jail and my Dream speech. And except for a stray historiannnnnnn or two who gets it right and posts it, you'll live out your life in utter obscurity. At least until you get convicted of having sex with your daughter. . ."
Bevel: "Say WHAT?? Sex with WHO NOW??? And c'mon man, quit laughing."
King: ". . .which will get you the most publicity you'll evvvvvver have while you're alive. Even then not one major news outlet will tell the truth about your career during your lifetime. Not even in your public obits, which won't get annnnnywhere close. I'm just hoping that when people do find out about you, you mystic mudda, that they don't fuss with my monument in D.C., 'cause it ain't gonna mention you either. And when my name adornnnnns holidays, schools, highways, and streets in every big city in America, you'll be lucky to get a parking lot named after you in Itta Bena, Mississippi. All in all, my tiny brother, you'd better take a loooonnnng slow read of that 'A prophet in his own country is without friggin' honor' part of the Bible."
Bevel: "Are you playing with me, Doc? And what's this about nailing up things about us on a telephone pole?"
King: "No, no, Bevel. 'Post' it on something called an innernest web."
Bevel: "A web? Damn spiders be writin' the history of the future? Ah, and Doc, what's this about my obits?"
King: "Yes, you will livvvvvve in obscurity for 72 years, see a youngggggg black man elected President, then be buriiiied in a 17-foot canoe a month before he takes office."
Bevel: "A black President? Doc, you do get carried away, are you high on something?"
King: "Not as high as you, Bevel!!"
(They both laugh, then the chairman of SCLC and the leader of the student movement shake hands and make their historic agreement on working the Civil Rights Movement together, with both having free reign and neither having veto power over the other. King goes off to write while Bevel looks for someone to strategize with.)
The Rumble in the Chapel: The 1963 Birmingham campaign
James Bevel and Dr. King then went to Birmingham, Alabama, to build up a movement from an unsuccessful local action which tried to end legal segregation in public schools. Bevel and King decided it was now going to be a movement to end segregation in the United States, period. So some people were arrested on small marches, including Dr. King, who wrote a nice postcard from a Birmingham jail. But nothing was ending segregation - which had a few thousand year run and wasn't going down without a fight - until Bevel initiated and organized the children of Birmingham into a large nonviolent force. That set the stage for a battle royal as 50 students at a time took a walk, and the local police, dogs, cats, and high-pressure water hoses soundly objected to their outdoor hike.
When let loose and allowed to bite, claw, and blow, the dogs, cats, and hoses did a truly epic kick-ass job, and were given a couple of rounds on points. But the junior high and high-school students had already racked up quite a few of those in the early rounds, mainly by not backing down when they marched out of a church on their way to City Hall. They simply gathered into groups of 50 and took a walk, intending to politely talk to the Mayor about "ah, this here segregation thing? Have you heard of it?". But apparantly nobody was allowed to talk to the Mayor, ever, and he took such offense at anyone even approaching him that when he heard that 50 kids were trying to come ask him if he knew about segregation, he had hundreds of children arrested. This was before the dogs, cats, and high-pressure fire hoses climbed in the ring and got in their best punches. So in the post-fight analysis it was decided that the canine's, feline's, and hoses overrated manager - Theophilus Eugene "Raging Bull" Connor - had held them back for too long.
Bevel, who'd trained the children ("C'mon, catch the chicken Rocky. C'mon, you tellin' me you can't do 400 jumping jacks? C'mon Rocky!") and strategized everything about their movement, came up with a crakerjack new idea when Dr. King asked him to stop using the children.
King had heard from U.S. President and media idol, John Kennedy, who told King to end the children's game of dodgedog and their public disagreements with the other animals and hoses. The President worried that the dogs might get hurt. King asked James Bevel to stop using the children, and Bevel told King "You gotta be kidding me Doc? Hell no, I'm not going to tell the kids to go home and watch TV just because the president is worried that we're gonna hurt some dogs! No one's gonna lift a finger against the dogs, the mutts are just following orders! But sure, yeah, we'll stop demonstrating here in Birmingham, because you know what? The children and I will take Kennedy seriously when he says 'My way or the highway'. We'll march up the highway to Washington D.C. to have a talk with Kennedy about all this segregation bullshit!" ("Slip the jab! I didn't hear no bell, Rocky!").
King saw the logic of this strategy, and also knew that Bevel - who was SCLC's Director of Direct Action - would do his darndest deeds with or without his approval. So King agreed to the plan, Bevel announced it to the children, and the students got ready to pack their bags and put on their hiking boots. When the Kennedy clan heard about this they were all like spastic and "WTF!" and one of them ran into the Oval Office. "Prez, that crazy Bevel is going to march the Birmingham children to D.C.! By the time they get here there'll be a million coons, hippies, and do-gooders on the highway. We've got to give them a Civil Rights Bill or something. JFK? Jack, can you hear me? Oh, hi Marilyn, I didn't see you under the desk there."
And that's how the children won! In a tenth-round knockout! And it's how the 1964 Civil Rights Act came about, why Rev. Bevel morphed his 1963 March on Washington into Dr. King's well-known celebration, and how Jack's girlfriend Marilyn was an eyewitness to some pretty cool history, (from an All-American kneeling position of course).
The Selma Voting Rights Movement or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Baton
The next thing you know four young Birmingham kids were blown up. In the same church where Bevel had trained their fellow students. Damn, that was cold. That's when Bevel and his wife - Diane Nash, one of the foremost Nashville student activists - blew a gasket themselves. They huffed and puffed and yabbered on, at first interested in murdering the murderers, and then telling King and anyone else who would listen that they were going to get negr. . .umm, the col. . .wait, African Americans, yeah, African Americans, the right to vote. To actually walk into voting booths next to white people and elect America's corrupt politicians for themselves.
Everyone laughed like the dickens at Bevel and Nash's pipedream. "Bevel," they told him, "give me some of what you're smoking because I'm plum out of the good stuff." After giving them some of his good stuff, Rev. Bevel went ahead and organized the people of Alabama.
James Bevel did this for well over a year, just he and Nash and a friend or three, without King or anyone else over at SCLC helping them. Oh sure, they sent Bevel a fruitcake at Christmas, a "Happy Birthday" card signed by "Everyone here at the front office", and a group photo of them in the Florida sun. But even as Bevel would report his ongoing progress in Alabama as an agenda item at major SCLC's staff and Board meetings, none of them came by to lend a hand until early 1965. By this time the whole state and the city of Selma were pumped up and ready to go.
Rev. Bevel then worked the participants of this single-focus Selma Movement like slaves. "Slavedriver Bevel" they'd call him. "Massa Jim". And all he did was line them up along the sidewalk at the voter's registars office, where they'd wait patiently, hour after hour, day after day, decade after decade, for the office to open. Which, or course, it never did. Sometimes they'd sing or dance to entertain the cracke. . .the gestap. . .the racis. . .ah, white policemen. Other times, when they were really bored, they'd get in the way of a police baton just to see what color their blood ran. But what they mainly did was line-up, Monday through Friday, waiting for the registars office to open. And wait...and wait...
In the evenings it was an entirely different story. King, Bevel, Ralph Abernathy, Andy Young and C.T. Vivian would preach, teach, and squeech in the churches, and Bevel would plan the next days standing-in-line ("OK, stand in line, and don't get angry when they whoop ya", pretty much covered it). Then one night, after an evening march organized by C.T. Vivian, a young man was shot and later got around to dying. James Bevel knew that he better get these angry negr. . .colore. . .these angry African-American's mind's off of getting revenge and let them vent a little. What he thought of doing, after walking around and around outside of Selma's Torch Motel, was to keep on walking, and he invited everyone to join him on a healthy 50-mile carb-burning march to Mongtgomery to have a polite talk with Alabama's Governor, George "Jumpin' n' Jivin'" Wallace about the young man's murder. Just like Mohandas Gandhi, who hiked 240 miles to get some salt from the sea for his lentils and rice, Bevel sure loved to walk on highways.
The rest, as they say, is history. Because when the people started to walk to Montgomery they hadn't even crossed the first bridge when they came to it before the Alabama State Troopers and Selma police accidently rioted and mistakenly broke some heads. Clumsily dropping some tear gas, and inadvertently bumping their horses into the marchers to make them wail like they'd seen a ghost, by the time the batons finished flying, the television cameras stopped broadcasting, and the Troopers and police broke for lunch, a southern white boy by the name of Lyndon Baines Johnson told Congress and the American people that it was "time to give these darki. . .ah, ne. . .ah, ya'll know what I mean, the vote".
And vote they did. And they kept on voting as the years went by, and by the time they got done voting a fellow by the name of Barack Obama was strolling around the Oval Office like he damn well owned the place.
Meanwhile James Bevel still had to finish off legal segregation, now on its last wobbly legs - except for the women, gay, and midget things. All that was pretty much left to do in the '60s was obtain freedom of choice in housing. So Bevel, of course, initiated and successfully ran the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement (he did that one too? Who'd of thunk it?). Then, not one to sit around for long and itching to start walking somewhere, Rev. Bevel, at the bequest of peaceniks, North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh, and hippie babes Wildflower and Sunshine, headed up to New York to run the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. There he called for and organized the biggest march in American history - the 1967 march on the United Nations. At that event he called for everone to take another walk in Washington. That became the famous 1967 March on the Pentagon where Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsburg, Ed Sanders and their yippie cohorts levitated the building a few feet off the ground, spun it around a few times, quickly got bored, left it floating there, and went out back to smoke more of Bevel's good stuff.
Soon, yadda yadda yadda, then Bevel and Minister Louis Farrakhan played well together and co-initiated the next largest demonstration in American history - the Day of Atonement Million Man March. Then yadda, yadda, yadda, and it was only a month before President Obama took office that James Bevel decided to start lying around in a cemetery not far from Selma, thus fulfilling Dr. King's prediction to a "T".
As for the daughter thing, well, yeah, maybe he did and maybe he didn't - although he said he was innocent. While Bevel's incest conviction will forever ride with him into the afterlife, it's actually no skin off the elephant's nose, because Bevel, like Gandhi, never claimed to be a good man or a saint. In fact both of them claimed the opposite, and they both might have killed a guy. Maybe you have to have that kind of anger energy in you to be a movement leader, but have it so well tamed that, like Gandhi and Bevel, you can let it out and stop it at will to accent or emhasize a point. And also, like Gandhi, Bevel, and especially King, you can radiate out that same amount of energy as love, walk among your enemies, and let them bask in the output. Just try not to be accused of shining that little light of yours on your daughter, unless you happen to be Jon Voight.
So now there he is, this principled, righteous, and maybe incestous fellow whose accomplishments equal those of Americans like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Dr. King, and James Madison, resting in obscure peace in a
. Serves James Bevel right that almost every historian, journalist, and monument builder on national malls ignore him and his real story. Bevel didn't really mind that when he was alive, it saved on everyday wear and tear and was a source of amusement. But then what, hiding his grave away so that tourists, vandals, pilgrims, and BET will actually have to do some research to find it? More likely Bevel was just trying to straighten out some history,
, and get some alone time while sailing gently down the stream...