Americans are grappling again with issues of social justice and racial equality, in light of the shooting of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And here in the Miami Valley the same issues are in the headlines, since John Crawford III was shot by police in a Beavercreek Walmart store on August 5.
Today on Rediscovered Radio we have a story about a white Kentucky woman named Ann McCarty Braden who fought racism in this country for more than sixty years. In the early 1980s, Braden visited Ohio and the WYSO Audio Archives contains an interview with the civil rights advocate. Rediscovered Radio producer Jocelyn Robinson has the story.
In 1983 Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the economy was still reeling from recession, and the Cold War was intensifying. 20 years had passed since Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Civil rights activist Anne Braden came to Yellow Springs on behalf of the anniversary March on Washington for Jobs Peace and Freedom, planned for August 27th.
"The concept, I think, behind the way this march developed was that the vision of a humane and moral society that was projected by the civil rights movement needed to be lifted up before this country again to address several basic issues," said Braden in a 1983 interview with WYSO.
"There’s the question of the effort to turn back the clock on civil rights which has been going on we think since the late 60s and early 70s, it did not start with Reagan, people began to try to turn that clock back, and it’s been consolidated under Reagan, so that you’ve really got people trying to push us back a hundred years in the field of human rights. The economy is falling apart and people don’t have jobs and people are hungry and so forth, and that we’re standing on the brink of nuclear destruction, and all those things come together because the whole concept of white domination and racism that permeates our society, also permeates our foreign policy. We’ve got people running the country that think white people are supposed to run the world."
Who was this woman who spoke so directly to racial justice and white people’s roles in the struggle? She was radical. Sixty years ago, Anne Braden and her husband Carl were tried for sedition after buying a home for a black family in an all white Louisville suburb.
"Anne Braden is probably best known in American history for being named as one of only of six white southerners that Dr. King called by name in his 1963 Letter from the Birmingham Jail as a white ally on whom he could rely," says Dr. Cate Fosl, Braden's biographer and Director of the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research at the University of Louisville.
"There were not so many in that generation, born in the 1920s, raised during the Depression, came of age during World War II and in the case of Anne Braden, really sort of made a break with her background and really joined her life to the cause of the struggle against racial segregation and the struggle for civil rights and human rights."
Back in ’83, it was coalition-building with a local human rights organization that brought Braden to Yellow Springs. Help Us Make A Nation, better known as HUMAN, was founded by Jim Dunn, a sociology professor at Antioch College in the 1970s. Diana Dunn, Jim’s widow, continues this work through the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, based in New Orleans. She remembers Anne Braden’s influence as key.
"There were not a lot of whites who understood race or racism, and I didn’t have support in the white community. I was working mostly with black people at that time. And I desperately needed white people who understood race and racism and was very fortunate that I met Anne Braden early on, and she definitely became my mentor," says Dunn.
Yellow Springs resident Mike Miller was also there when Anne Braden came to join forces with HUMAN. A Vietnam vet and Antioch graduate who majored in community organizing, Miller spoke to the continued need for anti-racist, human rights work.
"It’s very comfortable for a lot of people to say that all that racism stuff got fixed in the 50's or the 60's or the 70's or whenever, but it’s not fixed at all. All you have to do is just pay attention and see what color people are who are most disenfranchised. And that’s all, that’s all it takes. If you pay attention to that, there’s no question, there’s no mystery. What can you do? There’s so much you can do. I can make a difference. I can do it because I feel empowered. I think that’s what Anne Braden was so good at, in her homespun Braden way, able to just speak truthfully and honestly and get people to go home thinking, you know, I can make a difference.”
Anne Braden passed away in 2006 at age 81.
Major funding for Rediscovered Radio is provided by the Ohio Humanities Council and the Greene County Public Library.Remove