Memphis judge was Southern University student during march and boycott
By GREG LANGLEY
Feb 28, 2010
THE EDUCATION OF A BLACK RADICAL
A SOUTHERN CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST'S JOURNEY 1959-1964
By D'Army Bailey, with Roger Easson
LSU Press, $28
When D'Army Bailey was growing up in Memphis, he was haunted by "the
bloated and disfigured face of Emmett Till, the black kid our own age
who was lynched in Money, Mississippi, in 1955." It was a time of
lynchings, segregated schools, whites-only lunch counters, blacks
passengers forced to ride at the back of buses, separate drinking
fountains for white and black people, separate restrooms and separate
waiting rooms in bus stations, doctor's offices or any place
appointments were required. Racism ruled.
By 1959, when Bailey arrived at Southern University, the wind was
changing. Already the Supreme Court had ruled against segregation in
the historic Brown decision in 1954. Central High School in Little
Rock, Ark., had been forcibly integrated. The battle had been joined,
and it was to be a fierce one.
It quickly became clear to Bailey that the battle was two fights: one
against the white segregationist power structure and one against the
accommodationist administration at Southern University namely
university president Felton Clark.
As a wave of sit-ins spread across the South in 1960, the Louisiana
Board of Education passed a policy resolution stating that any
students participating in a sit-in would face full consequences.
According to Bailey, Clark was told this meant expulsion.
"Between 1960 and 1962, hundreds of student leaders were expelled
from Negro land grant colleges in the South. At Southern, Jackson
State, Alabama State, and other Negro schools, administrators felt a
great deal of pressure from white southern legislators to quash the
student protests by any means necessary," Bailey writes.
On March 28 and 29, 1960, 16 Southern students staged a sit-in at the
lunch counter at Kress in downtown Baton Rouge. They were refused
service and arrested for disturbing the peace. Their arrests sparked
a student protest and march on the city jail. Tear gas was used to
disperse the crowd.
When it became apparent that Clark intended to expel the 16 students,
campus leaders, including Bailey, organized more protests, including
a boycott of classes. Bailey and the others argued that the students
were being denied their rights to a procedural hearing. They were
being punished expelled for doing something that wasn't illegal.
They were being kicked out for peacefully protesting.
Eventually, Clark actually closed down Southern University and when
it reopened, some students who had been involved with the protests
and boycott were denied readmission. Bailey was among the students
who was not allowed to return.
A sympathetic group of students in Massachusetts raised money to fund
tuition for one of the expelled students. Bailey was chosen. He went
to Clark University in the small town of Worchester, Mass., and began
to organize against discrimination there.
"I don't think the students or the administration at Clark had ever
considered that if they set up a scholarship for a student who had
been expelled for his 'radicalism' in the South, he probably wouldn't
change his radical ways just because he had changed addresses.
Perhaps they thought their northern enclave was so idyllic that the
need for protest and agitation would never arise. They were wrong."
Bailey's description of his time at Clark and his activities in
protests in Washington and other places is laced with observations
about prominent figures from the time including John F. Kennedy,
Robert Kennedy, H. Rap Brown, Dr. Martin Luther King and, especially,
Malcolm X. It was the Black Muslim leader's call for immediate and
uncompromising change that spoke loudest to Bailey.
After Clark, Bailey would go on to Yale Law School. "The law was a
tool that would help me survive and grow as an activist, equipping me
for yet more battles to come."
Bailey became a lawyer and went into politics. He served as a
"radical" city councilman in Berkeley, Calif., and is now a circuit
court judge back in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn.
Not everyone will agree with everything Bailey says in this book. He
is critical of some revered figures. But no one can doubt his sincerity.
Bailey is extremely proud of his civil rights work, and when he
writes about it, that pride sometimes comes through as
self-importance. He can perhaps be forgiven a little hubris. After
all, his generation of young black people did change the world and in
the process they permanently set the bar high for all who follow. As
poet Nikki Giovanni says in her foreword to the book, "This was our