Tim Tyson strikes again. In a follow-up to his earlier interview with Melinda Penkava on The State of Things about Blood Done Sign My Name, he was on again yesterday. He has more to say about civil rights history--in memory and reality.
Nonviolence was an important moral witness, but what sitting at the lunch counter has in common with burning a warehouse is that both of them are a form of coercion that says you're not going to make any money until you deal with us. Until you make us full citizens, we will not have business as usual. And that is a form of politics and coercion. And it's not just about calling upon the conscience of the person who owns the lunch counter, who wants to eat at it, but it is a matter of compelling them to negotiate with you. Martin Luther King said a riot is the language of the unheard. If you won't hear the sit-in, then things will start catching on fire. And that's always been true, and it's true all over the world, and I think we tell ourselves a kind of happy story about that because we'd like to pretend that we were better than we were.
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It's just politics as it happens on planet Earth. . . . I am not an advocate of violence, OK? But nonetheless, politics is not about a moral appeal. Politics is about power. And the civil rights movement was a political movement.
Tyson is giving a lecture tomorrow at 5 p.m. at the National Humanities Center. It's called "Miss Amy's Witness: Why the History of the Civil Rights Movement is (Mostly) Wrong."