James Bevel

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James Bevel with his eyes on the prize

James Bevel (1936-2008) Who now? Doesn't ring a bell, does it? Gong. Well, the bell is a'soundin'.

There was this American fellow, James Bevel, who initiated and organized the main events of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and then turned around twice and initiated the first large-scale protests of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. He freed his people, focused the world's attention on peace, and used Mohandas Gandhi's tactics to change America's racial situation

from one thing

to another. Called "The Father of Voting Rights" and the "Architect of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement", Bevel planned all of the major successful 1960s movements except for the Freedom Rides, taught their participants how to carry them out, and swept out the churches in his spare time.

Then, in 2005 his daughter claimed he needed more movement, and suddenly "remembered" how in 1992 he wanted to have sex with her!

James Bevel, to quote the learned ones of wikipedia, "as Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) - the two main posts in that organization - initiated, organized, strategized, and directed the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade, the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, the 1966 KKK Licking Our Wounds Day (LOWD), and the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement. He also called and initially organized the 1963 March on Washington, initiated and directed the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March, undertook 1967 One Man March to "GetOuttaHere'foreMyHusbandComesHome!", and created and directed the massive 1967 Anti-Vietnam War March on the United Nations which solidified the anti-war movement. Then, just for good measure and to break up the boredom, he co-initiated the 1995 Million Man March".

Finally tiring of so much organizing, marching, and sweeping, and forcefully claiming his innocence of having had sex with his daughter in 1992 (to accent the point he often wore a lynchin'-rope around his neck instead of its polar-opposite, a necktie), Bevel sat in prison for a spell in 2008. Enduring BET, prison food, and that "Come closer, Clarice" guy down the hall, he finally said "Enough of this shit!", and up and died.

Few have heard of James Bevel, yet as a twenty-something, he definitely used nonviolent methods to free his people and change every society on earth. Then, three decades later, as a geezer-something, he allegedly tried to occupy his daughter?

Settle in friends, Romans, and countrymen, and lend me your beers.

James Bevel's early life, then some testimony by Jesse Jackson

Is that a book by Gandhi in your pocket...?
"Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. . .'cept you darlin', you put your dad in prison
in a patricidal lynchin'


~James Bevel

James Bevel felt the sting of segregation soon after his birth in 1936 when his mother refused to breastfeed him because he was black. Where others would cry, blame whitey, and carry on, Bevel just shrugged his baby shoulders and rolled along the hospital floor until he found other breasts to feed from. Thus began two lifelong obsessions: To free himself and his country from all forms of legal tyranny, unfairness, oppression and injustice, and to find a natural vegetarian food source.

His associate in the Chicago Open Housing Movement, the look-at-me-I'm-sooooo-damn-awesome Rev. Jesse Jackson, would often sing-song, like a whippoorwill or a bluebird, a summary of Jim Bevel's life and career: "As a rolling stone gathers no moss, James Bevel gathered no boss. As a lad, he plowed the cotton fields of Mississippi, but was criticized for studying HowTo:Fertilize the fields of Mrs. Syppie. James Bevel joined and then left the U.S. Navy, then wooed and befriended some mighty fine ladies. He went to school to become a Baptist preacher, then learned to fight the Klan and become a teacher. He gave his people the tools of freedom, and later fought off the fools of tedium. Bevel stormed the gates of hell itself to give his people the Right to Vote but somehow forgot to get them the Right to Toke. He was the real creative genius of the Civil Rights era, but don't tell that to a white southern juror. Keep hope alive!"

Early career

After growing up in Mississippi, Bevel tried his hand at singing, songwriting, and Navy. He kicked around for much of the 1950s, then decided to literally fulfill a childhood dream and end segregation. Why not, he thought, someone had to do it. Either that or take in a movie (but only if he sat on the balcony with his kind).

So James Bevel and a few friends studied with a couple of really good teachers, read about and learned Mohandas Gandhi's movement techniques, and decided to roll the dice and give it a go.

The small group of Nashville, Tennessee college students studied Gandhi's nonviolent ramblings and then sat-in on the seats of the cities' lunch counters. These lunch counters refused to serve blacks unless Frank and Sammy were in town. And all the black students wanted to do was to buy and taste a Happy Meal. And once that worked out just fine, and the students got the ketchup and/or blood stains out of their shirts, Bevel and his friends played the Gandhiji card once again and desegregated Nashville's movie theaters. Next, following their chairman, Diane Nash's appeal, they took over and finished the Freedom Ride when many of the original riders quit after some firebombings and beatings and such. Then, after getting out of jail in Mississippi, where'd they'd been since the end of the Freedom Ride, Bevel, Nash, and Bernard Lafayette kick-started and worked the Mississippi Freedom Movement - all in a big-hearted loving attempt to keep their Klan friends employed and on their toes.

When all of these lunch-counter, theater, and bus ride movements were accomplished, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - having read the runes and seeing which side the bread was buttered - took James Lawson's advice and asked James Bevel to come by and meet with him in Atlanta. A transcript of this historic meeting between Rev. Bevel and Dr. King, recently uncovered in the sub-basement of the Smithsonian Institution (in a box labeled "1927 Grant Requests under review") shows that they agreed to team-up and work as equals, with neither having veto power over the other. This is called in most professions "a full partnership". In the commonly accepted American history of the period, it's called "James Bevel? No, can't recall the name. Did he play for the Steelers or the Bears?"

Dr. King's prophecy

Every journalist and historian except maybe one or three, has filed away the accurate account of James Bevel's movement leadership. There's their stuff now, in box 93 down, the third row from the top.

The buried transcript of James Bevel's meeting with Dr. King - uncovered by a janitor named Ramon while chasing silverfish and red mice around the Smithsonian's storage shelves (photo, right) - tells the story of Dr. King's prophetic powers:

King: "Well, well, well, if it isn't Reverend James Bevel! Come in, come in."

Bevel: "Yes sir."

King: (in a preachy cadence interspersed with laughter) "I've heard about all the good things you did in Nashville. I've heard about alllllll the great work your doing in Mississippi. And I've heard about your vassssst knowledge of nonviolence and how you are the ooooooooonly person in the country who can set-up, organize, and run a nonviolent movement."

Bevel: "Yes sir. But Doc, why are you laughing?"

King: "Well, 'cause I'm a prophet too, Bevel. And you know what's gonna happen from here on in? You're going to do alllll the things I'll get credit for later, except my Letter from a Birmmmmmingham Jail and my Dream speech. And except for a stray historiannnnnnn or two who gets it right and posts it, you'll live out your life in utter obscurity. At least until you get convicted of having sex with your daughter. . ."

Bevel: "Say WHAT?? Sex with WHO NOW??? And c'mon man, quit laughing."

King: ". . .which will get you the most publicity you'll evvvvvver have during your lifetime. Even then not ooooone major news outlet will tell the truth about your career while you are on the Earth. Not even in your public obits, which won't get annnnnywhere near the truth. I'm just hoping that when people do find out about you, you mystic mudda, that they don't fussssssss with my monument in D.C., 'cause it ain't gonna mention you either. And when my name adornnnnns holidays, schools, highways, and streets in evvvvvvvvvery big city in America, you'll be lucky to get a parking lot named after you in Itta Bena, Mississsssippi. All in all, my tiny brother, you'd better take a loooonnnng slow read of that 'A prophet is without honor in his own country' part of the Bible."

Bevel: "Are you playing with me, Doc? And what's this about nailing up things about us on a telephone pole?"

King: "No, no, Bevel. 'Post' it on something called an innernest web."

Bevel: "A web? Damn spiders be writin' the history of the future? Ah, and Doc, what's this about my obits?"

King: "Yes, you will livvvvvve in obscurity for 72 years, see a youngggggg black man elected President, then be buriiiied in a 17-foot canoe a month before he takes office."

Bevel: "A black President? Doc, you do get carried away, are you high on something?"

King: "Not as high as you, Bevel!!"

(They both laugh, then the chairman of SCLC and the leader of the student movement shake hands and make their historic agreement on working the Civil Rights Movement together, with both having free reign and neither having veto power over the other. King goes off to write while Bevel looks for someone to strategize with.)

The Rumble in the Chapel: The 1963 Birmingham campaign

When Rev. Bevel preached to one of the Birmingham police dogs he convinced her to nonviolently sit-in at a local restaurant.

James Bevel and Dr. King then went to Birmingham, Alabama, to build up a movement from a vocal but unsuccessful local action which had tried to end legal segregation in public schools. Bevel and King decided it was now going to be a movement to end segregation in the United States, period. So some people were arrested on small marches, including Dr. King, who wrote a nice postcard from a Birmingham jail about it all. But nothing anyone was doing was ending segregation - which had a few thousand year run and wasn't going down without a fight - until James Bevel initiated and organized the children of Birmingham into a large nonviolent force. That set the stage for a battle royal as 50 students at a time took a walk to City Hall to talk to Birmingham Mayor Art Hanes about segregation ("ah, this here segregation thing? Have you heard of it, Mayor Hanes?"), and the local police, dogs, cats, and high-pressure water hoses proudly and soundly objected to their outdoor hike.

When let loose and allowed to bite, claw, and blow, the dogs, cats, and hoses did a truly epic kick-ass-mofer job and were given a couple of rounds on points. But the junior high and high-school students had already racked up a few points in the early rounds, mainly by not backing down when they marched out of a church on their way to City Hall. But apparently nobody was allowed to talk to Mayor Hanes, ever, and he took such offense at anyone even approaching him that when he heard that 50 kids at a time were trying to come ask him if he knew anything about segregation, he had hundreds of children arrested. This was before the dogs, cats, and high-pressure hoses climbed into the ring and got in their best punches. Thus, in the post-fight analysis, it was decided that the canine's, feline's, and hoses overrated manager - Theophilus Eugene "Raging Bull" Connor - had held them back for too long.

Bevel, who'd trained the children ("C'mon, catch the chicken Rocky. C'mon, ya tellin' me you can't do 400 jumping jacks? C'mon Rocky!") and strategized everything about their movement, came up with a crakerjack new idea when Dr. King asked him to stop using the children.

King had heard from the U.S. President and media idol, John Kennedy, who had told Dr. King through his Justice Department officials to end the children's game of dodgeball and their disgraceful public disagreements with the other animals and hoses before one of the dogs got hurt. King asked James Bevel to stop using the children, and Bevel told King "You gotta be kidding me, Doc? Hell no, I'm not going to tell the kids to go home and watch TV just because the president is worried that we're gonna hurt some dogs! No one's gonna lift a finger against the dogs, the mutts are just following orders! But sure, yeah, we'll stop demonstrating here in Birmingham, because you know what? The children and I will take Kennedy seriously when he says 'My way or the highway'. We'll march up the highway to Washington D.C. to have a talk with Kennedy about all this segregation bullshit!" ("Slip the jab! I didn't hear no bell, Rocky!").

King saw the logic of this strategy, and also knew that Bevel - who was SCLC's Director of Direct Action - would do his darndest deeds with or without his approval. So King agreed to the plan, Bevel announced it to the children, and the students got ready to pack their bags and put on their hiking boots.

When the Kennedy clan heard about this they were all like "WTF!" and one of them ran into the Oval Office. "Prez, that crazy Bevel is going to march the Birmingham children to D.C.! By the time they get here there'll be a million coons, hippies, and do-gooders on the highway. We've got to give them a Civil Rights Bill or something. JFK? Jack? Can you hear me? Oh, hi Marilyn, I didn't see you under the desk there."

And that's how the children won in a tenth-round knockout! And it's how the 1964 Civil Rights Act came about, why Rev. Bevel morphed his 1963 March to Washington into Dr. King's well-known celebration in Washington, and how Jack's girlfriend Marilyn was an eyewitness to some pretty cool history (from an All-American kneeling position of course).

The Selma Voting Rights Movement or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Baton

The next thing you know four young Birmingham kids were blown up in the same church where Bevel had trained their fellow students. Damn, that was cold. That's when Bevel and Diane Nash blew a gasket themselves. They huffed and puffed and yabbered on, at first only interested in murdering the murderers, and then telling King and anyone else who'd listen that the only way to make sure that these bombings never happened again was to get near... .umm, the col... .wait, African Americans, yeah, African Americans, the right to vote. To actually be able to walk into voting booths next to white people and elect America's corrupt politicians for themselves.

"I dunno about you King, but Brother Bevel's startin' to give me a pain in my fragile Texas ass"
"Just sign the Voting Rights Bill and smile, Lyndon"

Everyone laughed like the dickens at Bevel and Nash's pipedream. "Bevel," they told him, "give me some of what you're smoking because I'm plum out of the good stuff." After giving them some of his good stuff, Rev. Bevel went ahead and organized the people of Alabama.

James Bevel, the SCLC's Director of Direct Action, did this for well over a year, just he and Nash and a friend or three, without King or anyone else over at SCLC helping them. Oh sure, they'd sent Bevel a fruitcake every Christmas, a "Happy Birthday" card signed by "Everyone here at the front office", and a group photo of them in the Florida sun. But even as Bevel would report his ongoing progress in Alabama as a regular agenda item at major SCLC's staff and Board meetings, none of them came by to lend a hand until early 1965. By this time the whole state and the city of Selma were pumped up and ready to go.

Rev. Bevel then worked the participants of this single-focus Selma Movement like slaves. "Slavedriver Bevel" they'd call him. "Massa Jim". And all he did was line them up along the sidewalk at the voter's registers office, where they'd wait patiently, hour after hour, day after day, decade after decade, for the office to open. Which, or course, it never did. Sometimes they'd sing or dance to entertain the cracked. . .the gestap. . .the racis. . .ah, white policemen. Other times, when they were really bored, they'd get in the way of a police baton just to see what color their blood ran. But what they mainly did was the line-up, Monday through Friday, waiting for the office of the register to open. And wait...and wait...

In the evenings it was an entirely different story. King, Bevel, Ralph Abernathy, Andy Young and C.T. Vivian would preach, teach, and squeech in the churches and Bevel would plan the next days standing-in-line ("OK, stand in line, and don't get angry when they whoop ya", pretty much covered it). Then one night, after an evening march organized by C.T. Vivian, a young man was shot and later got around to dying. James Bevel knew that he better get this angry negr. . .colore. . .these angry African-American's mind's off of getting revenge and find a way to let them vent a little. What he thought of doing, after walking around and around outside of Selma's Torch Motel, was to just keep on walking, and he invited everyone to join him on a healthy 50-mile carb-burning march to Montgomery to have a polite talk with Alabama's Governor, George "Jump n' Jive" Wallace about the young man's murder. Just like Mohandas Gandhi, who hiked 240 miles to gather some salt from the sea for his lentils and rice, Bevel sure loved to walk on highways.

The rest, as they say, is history. Because when the people started to walk to Montgomery they hadn't even crossed the first bridge when they came to it before the Alabama State Troopers and Selma police accidentally rioted and mistakenly broke some heads. Clumsily dropping some tear gas, and inadvertently bumping their horses into the marchers to make them wail like they'd seen a ghost, by the time the batons finished flying, the television cameras stopped broadcasting, and the Troopers and police broke for lunch, a southern white boy by the name of Lyndon Baines Johnson was ordering Congress and telling the American people that it was "time to give these darki. . .ah, ne. . .ah, ya'll know what I mean, the vote".

And vote they did. And as the years went by they kept on voting, and by the time they got done voting a fellow by the name of Barack Obama was strolling around the Oval Office like he damn well owned the place.

Later life

After he died, James Bevel's face was found in the clouds of an iconic photograph which was taken on the Selma march. Moral: Each cloud has a silver lining - and usually a face or twelve.

Meanwhile, James Bevel still had to finish off legal segregation, now on its last wobbly legs - well, except for the women, gay, and midget things. All that was pretty much left to do in the 1960s on that playing field was to obtain the freedom of choice in housing. So Bevel, of course, initiated and successfully ran the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement (what? he did that one too? who'd of thunk it!). Then, not one to just sit around for long, and itching to start walking somewhere again, Rev. Bevel, at the bequest of peaceniks, North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh, and hippie babes Wildflower and Sunshine, headed up to New York to run the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. Once there he called for and organized the biggest march in American history - the 1967 March on the United Nations. At that event, he asked everyone to take another walk in Washington. That became the famous 1967 March on the Pentagon where Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsburg, Ed Sanders and their yippie cohorts levitated the building a few feet off the ground, spun it around a few times, got bored, left it floating there, and went out back to smoke some more of Bevel's good stuff.

Soon, yadda yadda yadda, then Bevel and Minister Louis Farrakhan played well together and co-initiated the next largest demonstration in American history - the Day of Atonement Million Man March. Then yadda, yadda, yadda, and it was only a month before President Obama took office that James Bevel decided to start lying around in a cemetery not far from Selma, thus fulfilling Dr. King's prediction to a "T".

As for the daughter thing, well, yeah, maybe he did and maybe he didn't. He said he was innocent. While Bevel's incest conviction will forever ride with him into the afterlife, it's actually no skin off the elephant's nose, because Bevel, like Gandhi, never claimed to be a good man or a saint. In fact, both of them claimed the opposite, and they both might have killed a guy. Maybe you have to have that kind of anger energy in you to be a movement leader, but have it so well tamed that, like Gandhi and Bevel, you can let it out and stop it at will, to accent or emphasize a point, to talk to and inspire groups of people, or to give a piece of your mind to telephone solicitors. And also, like Gandhi, Bevel, and especially King, you can radiate out that same amount of energy as love, walk among your enemies, and let them bask in the output. Just try not to be accused of shining that little light of yours onto your daughter.

So now there he is, this principled, righteous, and maybe incestous fellow whose accomplishments equal those of Americans like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Dr. King, and James Madison, resting in obscure peace in a

wooden canoe like it's the Tomb of the Unknown Activist

. Serves James Bevel right that almost every historian, journalist, and monument builder on National Malls ignore him and his real story. Bevel didn't really mind that when he was alive, it saved on everyday wear and tear and was a source of amusement. But then what, hiding his own grave away so that tourists, vandals, pilgrims, and BET will actually have to do some research to find it? More likely Bevel was just trying to straighten out some history,

have the last laugh

, and get in some alone time while sailing gently down the stream...


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