It's that time again...Theoretical Weekends at Scission. I am not sure how to describe today's contribution. Is it theoretical, is it historical, is it analytical, is it something else? Basically what you will be reading is a letter written by Anne Braden to white southern women.
Hopefully you have heard of Anne Braden. As described by the Anne Braden Institute, she, "... In the 1950's, she was indicted on charges of sedition in a famous case after she helped buy a house for a black family in an all-white suburb of Louisville, Ky. Anne was one of the first white southerners singled out for praise by Martin Luther King and aptly so.
Amazingly, in 1967, the Bradens were again indicted on charges of sedition, for helping to organize a protest against strip mining in eastern Kentucky. That year, in connection with the case, a federal court in Lexington declared the state's antisedition law unconstitutional.
Media Database writes of her:
Braden was born in Louisville, the daughter of a socially if not always economically privileged family, and grew up in the segregated Mississippi and Alabama of the 1920s and ‘30s. In the early 1940s she attended women’s colleges in Virginia where she was influenced by a number of independent, intellectually curious, and politically sophisticated women. She began a career as a newspaper reporter in Anniston and then Birmingham but the horrors of the Jim Crow South that she witnessed as a court reporter began a wrenching process of breaking with the segregationist and privileged society to which she belonged. Fleeing the Deep South, she took a job with the Louisville Times. There she met and married Carl Braden, a working class German-Catholic and fellow reporter who was heavily involved in popular front and Progressive Party politics. Anne’s recollections of growing up, starting her journalism career, and beginning to see the South for what it was will be visualized with early photos and archival film of Alabama environs.
Braden vividly tells the story of an attempt to breach the color line in Louisville that ultimately led her to “the crossroads.” In 1954 at the height of the Cold War and the anti-communist crusade led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and a week before the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Anne and Carl Braden bought a house in an all-white neighborhood for a black couple, Andrew and Charlotte Wade, who were unable to purchase it due to racial restrictions in real estate. This act resulted in mob violence against the Wades and bombing of the house. Anne recounts:The Prosecuting Attorney said there were two theories. One was that the house was bombed by the neighbors to get rid of the Wades. The other was that this was all a communist plot to foment race hatred in order to overthrow the government of the state of Kentucky. Lew Lubka, a member of the Wade Defense Committee, recalls being pulled before the Grand Jury and asked, out of the blue, "Were you ever or are you now a member of the Communist Party?" Although Carl Braden answered “No” he was found guilty of sedition and served 8 months of a 15 year sentence. From that point on the Bradens vowed never to give that question legitimacy by answering it. Numerous photos and newspaper headlines as well a 1980s ABC News documentary interview with Andrew Wade and some of the angry neighbors illustrate this story.
During her first night in jail after the Sedition charge Anne wrote, “There come times in everyone’s life when he must go back to the crossroads – to determine who he is, from whence he came, what he believes in, and from this knowledge to draw the inner strength that he needs to meet the challenges of life. This is a traumatic experience that has jolted me back to the crossroads.” That jolt led Anne Braden into a lifetime of social justice activism, but one in which she and Carl (who died in 1975) were blacklisted, red-baited, imprisoned and shunned, even by many in the civil rights and civil liberties movements, for over 30 years.
Nowhere in this country was the Cold War’s silencing so vivid as in the South. Anne’s account of these events is precise and chilling. She demonstrates what happens when civil liberties are violated in a time of national fear, when dissent is equated with disloyalty. Dr. Catherine Fosl, Braden biographer, will dig deeply into this facet of Braden’s story, providing a searing analysis of how anti-communism buttressed white supremacy and the price paid by those who struggled against that deadly partnership. Professor/activist Angela Davis draws striking parallels between these events of the 1950s and the anti-terrorism actions of the government recently. Excerpts from a 1965 “educational” film produced by the Alabama State Sovereignty Commission pinpoint members of the alleged communist conspiracy within the civil rights movement, including the Bradens as well as every other prominent civil rights leader, and illustrate the intense red-baiting of the times.
Black-listed from employment, the Bradens went to work for the Southern Conference Education Fund, sharing one salary and traveling the South seeking support for the civil rights movement, especially in white communities. For almost 20 years Anne edited The Southern Patriot, developing SCEF’s monthly newsletter into the movement paper of that era and a major organizing tool. Southern Patriot headlines, photos, and recitations of Anne’s most important stories and editorials will highlight the impact of this work.
In the mid-60s as blacks sought greater leadership of the movement in the South, many young and idealistic whites looked for a place to continue the effort for social change, often turning to SCEF, where the Bradens’ increased efforts to organize working class whites in the belief they were logical allies of the civil rights movement through the GROW Project in Mississippi and Southern Mountain Project in Appalachian Kentucky. Organizing against coal interests in Kentucky led to a second sedition charge: this time the law was quickly ruled unconstitutional.
Undeterred by the attempts to marginalize her as a“subversive,” Braden lived as a freedom fighter whose unflagging drive, patience, and compassion showed other white people, and African Americans as well, what is possible in the struggle to end racism and white privilege. She describes finding her strength and endurance for 60 years of struggle through her participation in what she called “the Other America” – her vision of Dr.King’s “Beloved Community,” a physical and a moral network where people of all races, classes, genders, and creeds are engaged in a struggle for an America that lives up to its principles. She believed that in order to find the soul of that struggle, white people needed to give up the privileges they were born into. She fought for that transformation in her personal life and in our society.
Anne Braden died in 2006.
Anne Braden was a truly inspiring and awesome human being who I had the honor and pleasure of meeting a few times and in different decades....
The following is from the blog Why Am I Not Surprised.
A Letter to White Southern Women from Anne Braden
Then, last month, Appalshop (an arts and social justice collective in the mountains of Kentucky in a little tiny town named for one of my notorious and very likely super racist ancestors) came out with a documentary entitled "Anne Braden ~ Southern Patriot."And now we can see her in action for ourselves.
Braden was the genuine article, the no-holds-barred, go-for-broke, take-no-prisoners real deal. And the film is beyond inspiring and all the way into challenging. At the risk of sounding like all the other commercial hawkers out there, I'm going to say this film is a must-see if you're a regular reader of this blog. You can buy the film directly from Appalshop or from California Newsreel. Or you can ask your local public or school library to buy it (they have money for this sort of thing and are just waiting for people to make good suggestions).
To whet your appetite, there's a letter floating around from Anne Braden to White Southern women. I've edited it slightly to leave out a few lines that are now untimely. But this will give you a sense of who she was and how far short many of the rest of us fall when it comes to the fight for social justice.