Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Freedom Summer: The next generation (not about nostalgia)


This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, 1964, the summer white and black college students from the north bussed to Mississippi to work for voter registration and voting rights of African-Americans. On June 21st, their first day in Mississippi, three young men, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner were arrested and released. And then disappeared. During the days of searching for them, eight other bodies of local young black men were found. And eventually, Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. Murdered. (A movie, Mississippi Burning, was made about this case.)The anger over these murders would eventually lead on July 2nd to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

One of the three, Andy Goodman, grew up right next door to West-Park. He grew up in a neighborhood with a progressive ethos, home to long time union people who had moved up town, old school Jewish communists, civil rights activists. A neighborhood that understood and affirmed his choice to go. A neighborhood that gave birth to people like Andy. It’s a very different Upper West Side now. His mother Caroline established  a foundation to keep his work and legacy alive. And his brother David has worked to encourage the next generation of workers for justice.

Since most of the events around the actual date, June 21st, would be in Philadelphia, Mississippi, we felt it important to lift up Andy’s life and witness here in his own neighborhood. And so worked with the Andrew Goodman Foundation to put together our commemoration. Our main commitment was that it would not be about nostalgia.

jeremy and musicians
West-Park’s Jeremy Mage curated the music with support from  Andre Solomon-Glover, Marcelle D. Lashley and Monica Hope. They began with the old Freedom Songs, done with their own soul and gospel style. 

Our city council member Helen Rosenthal brought a commendation to the Andrew Goodman Foundation. As she read the proclamation from council, I looked and noticed that she was crying.
Helen Rosenthal delivers the proclamtion
Later in the night, our Borough President Gale Brewer would bring her own proclamation. David, Andy’s brother, had been looking for Gale all night long because of their years of friendship and her support his work. Gale also spoke of her love and respect for Caroline Goodman, an activist into her 90’s. I am happy to have met her in support of the church. In 1965, she sad of her decision,
I still feel that I would let Andy go to Mississippi again ... [E]ven after this terrible thing happened to Andy, I couldn’t make a turnabout of everything I believe in.

It’s that spirit we were here to honor.

Dr. Forbes preached
Our keynote was Dr. Jim Forbes, of the Riverside Church and Union Seminary. He spoke of his days as a young man at lunch counter sit ins. And then drew on the Bible story of Cain and Abel fro his thoughts. And went after the whole issue of violence, including the insanity of gun violence in our American culture.

He was my brother

Before our panel, we had another music break and this time Jeremy had me take the lead on Paul Simon’s He Was my Brother, a song written to honor civil rights workers, dedicated to his Queens College classmate Andy after the murders. 
He was my brother

Our responders were carefully chosen to show the more broadly interfaith reality of our culture today and the expanding circles of hate and prejudice and their effects. Stosh Cotler came from Bend the Arc, a Jewish Partnership for Justice. (Named fro Martin Luther King Jr’s quote: The arc of the moral universe is longbut it bends towards justice.)
  She chided her own community for moving away from the movement as they became more comfortable and challenged them to reengage. She has helped establish a truly progressive organization focused entirely on national and local issues.  And called on u sot join them in a candlelight vigil to stop the roll back of voter rights currently underway in the American south, aided and abetted buy the courts.

Our good friend Simran Jeet Singh was to come and speak of his experiences as a Sikh after 911, but got stuck in an airport after a valiant day long effort to make it back in time for the event. (for a video of Simran’s previous visit to West-Park go to

City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour, Exdcutive Director of the Arab American Association of New york came to us through her friend Helen Rosenthal. She was direct and o the point, going straight to issues like stop and frisk and the NYPD’s focused harassment of Muslims.  A Palestinian – American from Brooklyn, and a mother—Linda brought the word strong and true.

Our three speakers spoke of what they appreciated most about each other speaker.  In his wrap up, Dr. Forbes, quoting Father Divine, called me a tangibilitator which felt pretty good.

Stosh Cotler, Dr. Brashear, Dr. Forbes, Linda Sarsour

More stirring music. Then it was over.  A beautiful and powerful night. It’s hard to leave. Circles of people standing around, talking. What was. What is. What is to come.

David Goodman interviewed by WBAI. They carried the event live then filed a story. To hear the story go to :       

Thanks David, for keeping the flame burning...

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