You Are the Generation We Have Been Waiting On to Continue the Fight
By: Floyd L. Griffin Guest Blogger
Back in the 1950s, when I was coming of age, walking the streets of Milledgeville, Georgia, there were only two named generations. My parents’ generation which we now call the “Greatest Generation,” and mine.
Many members of the “Greatest Generation” were born in the” roaring 20s.” They endured the hardship of the “Great Depression,” a time when millions of Americans were out of work and struggled daily to put food on the table.
This highly thought of generation faced a threat to democracy from Germany and Japan. The men fought in Europe and the Pacific, while the women staffed the factories producing the necessary materials for war and a few consumer products for the home front.
This generation defeated Hitler and made the world safe from tyrannical rule. After their success on the battlefield, the men of this greatest generation returned home, many married, and began to establish their families.
Once home, it appeared this generation set out to repopulate the world to make up for those lost on the World War II battlefield. There was such an explosion of new births that they call my generation “Baby Boomers.”
By the time I headed off to college at Tuskegee Institute (University), it had become clear that the progenies of the “Greatest Generation” were not a carbon copy of their parents. These kids growing into adulthood, thought a little bit different than their parents.
They began discussions about the generational divide as the “Greatest Generation pushed the “Boomers” into a war in Southeast Asia. Many of my fellow “Boomers” questioned why we were in Viet Nam and refused to go to war. He escaped into Canada to avoid military service.
While I was a part of the civil rights movement in the 60s, I held a military commission and entered the Army, serving my country as a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam.
The “Boomers” were prolific in reproducing themselves too. “Boomers” spun off generations X and Y. We became the grandparents to generation Z and the millennials. “Boomers” wanted a change from the sense of normalcy that the “Greatest Generation” advocated.
We fought for the right to desegregate the south, for voter rights, and against housing and employment discrimination. While we reached some of our goals, we taught generations, X, Y, Z, and the millennials to push the envelope and create a new world far different than the normalcy they received at birth.
For “Baby Boomers,” the weapon of choice for social change was “non-violent direct action.” The name defined our strategy for changing the world to create a racial climate where people of all colors could come together and demonstrate against police killings of unarmed Black people. We were direct in our approach. We spoke truth to power and challenged political leaders to change discriminatory practices. And we were non-violent in our actions.
When I was a college student, one of my classmates, Sammy Young, was killed because he used a white restroom at the local Trailway Bus Station. Young, a Tuskegee, Alabama native, had just returned home from serving his country in the Navy. He was the first college student killed in the “non-violent direct action” era. Today, people refer to this period as the civil rights era because of the result of our “non-violent direct action” was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voter Rights Act of 1965.
My generation stood up and fought as hard as any Black people of any age in this country. When word swept through the Tuskegee Institute campus about Young, the students immediately gathered and marched into downtown Tuskegee. We did not stop until we reached the Confederate Statue in the town square.
We demanded that this statute come down. Some of my classmates attempted to pull it down with a rope, and when they could not pull it down, another contingent of students, raided the local hardware store and secured several gallons of black paint and painted this old relic black. If you think pulling a confederate Statue down in 2020 makes a powerful statement, to do it in 1965, would have been an even bigger action.
Your generation is using some of the same tactics that we employed 50 years ago, but with more violence than we practiced. We knew that if we marched peacefully against the powers that be, the walls of segregation would come tumbling down, and they did.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that the goal was to create a world where a person is judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. King presumed that we would conduct ourselves in such a way that our persona would be unmistakably good.
King was right!
If you can demonstrate without looting, you win the moral battle, maintain the high road, and the news reports will have to proclaim the rightness of your cause. In some of our recent demonstrations, we have lost the moral high grounds. Pulling down hateful relics is one thing, but destroying police vehicles, burning down businesses in the community, and looting is quite another thing.
I applaud your energy and enthusiasm for eradicating the last vestiges of discrimination and unjust treatment at the hands of law enforcement. As John Lewis often said: “If you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.”
John Lewis used two tactics to become the moral voice of the 21st century, like Dr. King, who was the honest voice of the 20th century. Lewis used non-violent direct action, and he used the power of the vote.
First, in the 21st century, when the United States House of Representatives ignored the will of the people, Lewis organized his Democratic colleagues in the House to stage a sit-in on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. This sit-in was as sturdy as any 20th-century march he lead in Selma or Washington, D. C.
Secondly, Lewis always exercised his right to vote. Both at the ballot box and on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Non-violent direct action and voting is the way to go, my young friends. We have been waiting for you to take up the mantle of Dr. King and John Lewis. Shout your truths to power and stand in line at the voting precinct and vote for change.
This year we have lost three giants of the non-violent direct-action movement, Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian, and Rep. John Lewis. These are the men of our “Greatest Generation.”
Every day now, we are losing outstanding “Baby Boomers.” It all has to do with time. As we retire from this reality, it is up to the younger generations to carry the fight. And so, you do not get it twisted, the battle is not violent; it is patiently using the persistent power of non-violent direct action.
Young people must understand that we brought you here to this precipe non-violently and by voting. Three days before John Lewis closed his eyes for the last time, he told former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell to tell the people that “the election this year is the most important election in our lifetime.”
I think we all can agree; this election is the most important since the election of 1860 when the question on the ballot was whether America would be a country of freedom, or slavery. Thank God most of white America at that time voted for independence.
This year is not the time to get cute with your ballot. The question this year is, will the country judge us by the content of our character or continue to rule us solely by the color of our skin?
Young people, if you are listening, this old “Baby Boomer,” says to vote a straight Democratic ticket starting with Joe Biden for President. By voting straight down the Democratic ballot we can change the balance of power in the congress, in the statehouse, on the county commission, school boards, and the city councils throughout this country.
In November, vote Democratic and take someone else to the polls who is committed to voting Blue too. This election is simply a life or death proposition for Black people and other people of color in this country. We do not have to look any further than the devastating impact the COVID-19 is having on minority communities.
And like Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor was fond of saying, “Vote early, and often,” by taking someone else to the polls with you.