‘It’s Good to Think Strategically’: Thomas E. Rex on Civil Rights and January 6 | Wrote


THere is a direct link from Freedom Summer to the January 6 Commission,” said Thomas E. Rex while discussing his new book, wage a good warA Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954–1968.

Freedom Summer was a 1964 campaign to draw attention to the violence faced by blacks in Mississippi When they tried to vote. The January 6 House committee will soon conclude hearings on the 2021 Capitol riots, when Donald Trump supporters attacked American democracy itself.

But the committee is chaired by Benny Thompson. in Opening statementIn June, the Democrat said, “I was born and raised and still live in Bolton, Mississippi…I’m from the part of the country where people justify slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. I remember that dark history when I hear voices today trying to justify the actions of January 6, 2021 Rebels”.

Rex is reminded of the rebels as he recounts that grim history. Watching the January 6 sessions, he says, “He was looking at Benny Thompson. And I knew his career was going well.

“Summer of ’64, I started registering blacks in Mississippi. A small minority, about 7%, was able to vote in ’64 but it went up to 59% I think by ’68. Benny Thompson elects an alderman [of Bolton, in 1969]mayor [1973] And finally, to Congress [1993]. And then, as a prominent member of Congress, he chairs the January 6 Committee.

“Okay, there is a direct connection from Freedom Summer and [civil rights leaders] Amzy Moore, Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hammer and Dave Dennis, to the Jan. 6 panel. And I think that’s a wonderful thing.”

Under Thompson, Rex says, the January 6 commission is acting strategically, “establishing an indisputable factual record of what happened,” a bulwark against attempts to rewrite history.

“It’s always a good idea to think strategically,” says Rex. Which brings him back to his book.


aA reporter for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, Rex was part of the teams that won the Pulitzer Prize. Includes his bestselling books to fail (2006) and gambling (2009), tattered accounts of the Iraq disaster, and the generals (2012), On the Decline of U.S. Military Command. In waging a good war, he applies the principles of military strategy to civil rights campaigns.

He says, “This book I wrote because I had to. I had to get it out of my head. The inspiration was that I married a woman who was a civil rights activist.”

Mary Kay Rex is the author of the book Escape on the pearl (2008), About Slavery and the Subway. In the 1960s, she was “the head of SNCC’s High School Friends [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]Washington DC chapter.

“She would take people at Union Station and take them wherever they wanted to be. Even a memory of her [the late Georgia congressman] John Lewis Did he arrive saying, “I’m hungry, take me to McDonald’s.” We’ve been driving our whole lives, and someone will be on the radio, and you’ll say, “Oh, I knew that guy” or “I dated that guy. Oh, I thought he was crazy.”

So I was reading about the civil rights movement to understand my wife and the stories she told me. And the more I read, the more it struck me: ‘Wonderful. This is an area that can really shine with military thinking. Much of what they were doing was what in military operations is called logistics, a classic defensive operation, a defensive operation, or a raid behind enemy lines. And the more I looked at it, the more I thought that every major civil rights campaign could be portrayed in this light.”

In 1961, activists launched the Freedom Rides, in which activists boarded buses across the South, seeking to gain attention and thus end illegal segregation on ships and in stations. It was a dangerous, daring and far-fetched act. Rex compares the Freedom Tours to cavalry raids, most strikingly the Civil War operations of the Confederate “Grey Ghost”, John Singleton Mosby.

“Freedom rides are like raids behind enemy lines. What does that mean? Well, it has struck me time and time again how well the civil rights movement — similar to the military — has been in such meticulous preparation. What is the task at hand? How do we prepare? What kind of people do we need to carry out these?” Assignment What kind of training do they need?

Before freedom’s voyages they sent a young man, Tom GetherOn an expedition, he mapped each bus stop so they knew where the separate waiting rooms were. He responded again: “The two cities you’ll have trouble with are Anniston, Alabama, and Montgomery, Alabama.” There are real ethnic tensions in those cities.”

Activists faced horrific violence. They confronted it with renunciation of violence.

They did months of training. First of all, how to capture and prevent the impulse to fight or flee. Someone hits you, spits on you, puts out a cigarette on your back. They knew how to act: non-violent.

But this is an extreme form of nonviolence. Gandhi denounced the term passive resistance. And these people, many of them followers of God, loyal readers of Gandhi, recognized that this was very confrontational.”

State soldiers disperse a civil rights rally in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965
State soldiers break down a civil rights rally in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. John Lewis, president of SNCC, is seen in the foreground, being beaten. Photo: Unknown / AP

In 1965, it was Selma, Alabama Bloody Sunday scenewhen white authorities attacked a march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and southern racism emerged.

“The line I love comes from Selma,” says Rex. “People said, ‘What do we do when the sheriff comes after us?’ The organizers said, ‘No, you’re going after the sheriff.’” Good example: CT Vivian, one of my heroes, a civil rights champion, was thrown On the steps of the county court in Selma by Jim Clark, the county sheriff, Vivian looks on and yells, “Who are you people? What do you say to your wives and children? ›.

It is a human question. And in this confrontational form of nonviolence, I believe, they subverted the present system, of white supremacy, which the world saw as a system built upon the violence inherited from slavery.”


sicks has written About his time in Iraq and post-traumatic stress disorder. At the end of Waging a Good War, he reflects on how those who defended civil rights, who were beaten, shot, and imprisoned, struggled to deal with the losses.

“If you want to understand the full cost, it is important to write about the impact on activists, their families and their children. Dave Dennis Jr., son of one of the people who ran Freedom Summer, he and I have talked about this a little bit. We think the Veterans Administration should be open In front of veterans of the civil rights movement. Not many veterans are still alive. However, it would be a meaningful gesture that could help some people who have been through a tough time in life.”

In a paragraph that could fuel an entire book, Rex examines how Martin Luther King Jr., the greatest civil rights leader, in the years before his assassination, struggled in Memphis, Tennesseein 1968.

Like many PTSD sufferers, King turned to drink and sex. But for Rex, “The moment that really captures for me is sitting in a rocking chair in Atlanta, with his girlfriend Dorothy Cotton. And he says, ‘I think I should take a vacation.’” That’s about 1967. This guy’s been under daily threat for 13 years. I compare him b [Dwight] Eisenhower and the pressures he was under as a great leader in World War II…but King has been doing so for more than a decade. The pressure was enormous. I just wish he was able to take this sabbatical.”

The campaign affected others, including James Bevel, a “tactically innovative and strategically intelligent” activist who abused women and children, moved to the far right and died in disgrace.

Rex hopes his book will help make other activists better known, among them Pauli MurrayDiane Nash – Earned Presidential Medal of Freedom – and Fred Shuttlesworth, “A strong character, Moon-turned-Minister.”

Shuttlesworth He lived in Birmingham, Alabama, the scene of some of the worst attacks on the civil rights movement, most notably the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, in which four girls were killed.

To Ricks, “If there was ever a true moment of despair in Martin Luther King’s life, it was the bombing of Birmingham Church. It is Says“Sometimes life is hard, like crucible steel.” That was the focal point of how I thought about what King went through.”

But there is light in Birmingham, too. Rex recounts the time the “White Foundation called Fred Shuttlesworth and said, ‘We’ve heard Martin Luther King might come to town.’” What can we do to stop it? He leans back, smiles, and says, ‘You know, I’ve been bombed twice in this city. No one called me after that. But now you want to talk?

Shuttlesworth threw himself into things. He believed in nonviolence as an episodic tactic rather than a way of life. He sent a car loaded with young men with hunting rifles to rescue the Freedom Riders from the KKK in Anniston.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Selma in February 1965, after his release from prison, with the support of his aides including Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, left.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Selma in February 1965, after his release from prison, with the support of his aides including Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, left. Photo: Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

“Then there’s Amsey Moore. I wish I’d write more about him. He came home from World War II, worked in a federal post office so it wouldn’t be under local government control. He started his own gas station and refuses to have white-only bathrooms.” I wouldn’t.” For me, he’s a member of the French Resistance but he’s been doing it for 20 years. When Bob Moses and other civil rights workers go to Mississippi, he’s the guy they’re looking for. “How do I live in Mississippi?” and he tells them and helps them “.


WAging Good War also takes into account how activists today can learn from those who have gone before. “Some people are back in the Black Lives Matter era,” says Rex. I spoke to someone who went to James Lawson, the 1960 Nashville sit-down coach, and I asked him, “How do you do that? what do you think about this? What about losses? instructions?’

“The demo is just the end product, the tip of an iceberg. There has to be preparation and careful consideration,” what message are we trying to send? How will we send it? How will we proceed? So James Lawson conveys that message. Likewise, Bob Moses, who died recently, attended the Black Lives Matter meeting. There are roots that today’s movements trace back to those of our ancestors.”

He also sees echoes in two major streams of activity today.

Stacy Abrams’ work on voting rights Much like the work Martin Luther King Jr did with SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference]. Fight voter suppression, find ways to encourage minorities to register and vote, and look to expand the franchise.

Black Lives Matter reminds me of SNCC, if somewhat more radical, more focused not on gaining power through voting but on abuse of power, especially police brutality.

Sadly, the problems that the movement tried to tackle in the 1950s and 1960s still need to be addressed. We have moments of despair. However, one of the things about writing the book was to show people who went through hard times, and usually found ways to be successful.

“The more I learned, the more I enjoyed it. It was a real contradiction. Writing about the Iraq War? It’s hard. It feels good. I was taken to my writing desk every morning. I loved writing this book.”


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