Alough it may seem like only yesterday, two decades have now elapsed since “the long, hot summer” of 1963, a summer in which the American civil rights movement reached its high-water mark with a peaceful protest march in Washington on August 28 in which 200,000 participated—a march climaxed by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s resounding reiteration, “I have a dream. . . .” It was a summer in which black Americans demonstrated for “full freedom now” throughout the land, from Danville to Detroit, from Charleston to Chicago. The extent of the demonstrations was underscored in a Justice Department report issued at the beginning of August. It disclosed that there had been 758 demonstrations in 186 cities over a ten-week period, 199 having taken place in the last week of July alone.
As one observer noted at the time of this peaceful uprising, “This revolt has no precedent in American history. It is a revolution involving 10 percent of the nation’s population. Yet it is a revolution in which the revolutionaries carry no arms, throw up no street barricades, liquidate no rulers and, with remarkably few exceptions so far, initiate no violence. It has a rallying song but rather than a stirring La Marseillaise, it is an old Baptist hymn, sometimes mournful, sometimes serene, called “We Shall Overcome.”“
The civil rights movement did indeed overcome Jim Crow and legal segregation through such measures as the Public Accommodations Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And, in retrospect, it stands alongside Gandhi’s campaign to oust the British from India as a tribute to the concept of using nonviolent means to achieve justifiable ends. Still, if much was achieved in the 1960’s, much remained to be done—and still remains to be done in the 1980’s and beyond—if blacks and other minorities are ever to receive a full, fair share of those blessings of liberty most white Americans have long taken for granted. And the prospects—in the view of two veterans of the civil rights conflict, Leslie W. Dunbar and Harry S. Ashmore —are anything but pleasing.
A native of West Virginia, Mr. Dunbar holds a Ph.D.in political science from Cornell and taught at Emory University and Mt. Holyoke College before joining the biracial Southern Regional Council in Atlanta in 1958. He served as executive director of the council between 1961 and 1965 before becoming executive director of The Field Foundation in New York. He is the author of A Republic of Equals and numerous essays dealing with race relations.
One of the South’s most distinguished journalists in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Harry S. Ashmore served as editorial page editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock between 1948 and 1959 and received a 1958 Pulitzer Prize for his editorials upholding the desegregation of Little Rock High School. He was a recipient of the Sidney Hillman and Freedom House awards. Since 1959 he has been a senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in California. His many books include An Epitaph for Dixie, The Other Side of Jordan, and Hearts and Minds. He is a native South Carolinian and served in combat in Europe during World War II.
Hal Bennett is a native Virginian whose novels and short stories have placed him at the forefront of American novelists, and he has been compared to both Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin as a creator of imaginative literature by blacks. His novels include A Wilderness of Vines. Wait until the Evening, and Seventh Heaven. He now resides in Mexico, but, as his VQR story indicates, his ties to America in general and Virginia in particular remain strong. Indeed, he is completing a novel for Random House entitled Dominions, which is “set in Virginia (specifically Charlottesville) during Reconstruction.”
“I am officially a Restoration and 18th-century person,” David Wykes recently wrote, “but I seem to write quite often on 20th-century British literature. I came to Orwell, oddly, via my interest in Evelyn Waugh. Waugh and Orwell appear to me as the Yin and Yang of modern British writing—perfect complementary opposites.” Mr. Wykes received his B. A. degree in English from University College, Oxford, his Ph. D. from the University of Virginia, and has been a member of the English faculty at Dartmouth College since 1972.
The latest collection, Common Ground, of one of America’s more prolific poets, Dabney Stuart, was published by Louisiana last year and combined diverse forms of speech ranging from Elizabethan diction to contemporary sports jargon. A member of the faculty at Washington and Lee University for many years, Mr. Stuart now resides in Northern Virginia and was a visiting professor of poetry at the University of Virginia during the 1982—83 academic year.
Peter Balakian is the author of Sad Days of Light. His second book of poetry, this volume centers on his Armenian grandmother, a survivor of the first genocide of modern times, the 1915 Turkish massacre of the Armenians. His first work was Father Fisheye.
Louis Simpson is making his second appearance in VQR this year, his poem “Periodontics” having appeared in the Winter issue of VQR. Mr. Simpson is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and his most recent book of poems was Caviar at the Funeral. He has a new book, The Previous Tenant, scheduled for publication this fall.
Hank Lazer is a young American poet who attributes much of his poetic development to the influence of Louis Simpson. Mr. Lazer is a member of the English faculty at the University of Alabama, where, he maintains, aesthetics is not always second to athletics—only during the football season. He was recently promoted to an associate professorship at Alabama.
A recipient of VQR’s Balch Prize, H. E. Francis is the author of Naming Things, a collection of stories published by Illinois in 1980. His latest collection, A Disturbance of Gulls, has been accepted for publication by Braziller.
Oscar Mandel is the author of 17 books, works ranging from drama to poetry to fiction and critical translations and anthologies. His latest work is Collected Lyrics and Epigrams, published in 1981. His VQR essay is excerpted from a 16-chapter work entitled The Book of Elaborations, which Mr. Mandel recently completed. He is a member of the humanities faculty at the California Institute of Technology.
Naomi Shihab Nye is both a poet and a short story writer, as well as a song writer and singer. Her collection of poems, Hugging the Jukebox, was selected as part of the 1982 National Poetry Series.
In addition to City College of New York, Morris Freedman has taught at the University of New Mexico and the University of Maryland, where he is a member of the English Department and a former department chairman (1967—72) He is the author of two collections of essays on the American scene, Confessions of a Conformist and Chaos in Our Colleges, as well as numerous academic articles.
Having written biographies about a New Zealander, Katherine Mansfield, and an Englishman, Wyndham Lewis, as well as a study of D. H. Lawrence and other works, Jeffrey Meyers is now under contract from Harper & Row to recount the life of Ernest Hemingway.
William Domnarski is a member of the English Department at the University of Connecticut at Hartford, with a special interest in fiction by and about lawyers. He is currently completing an essay on novelist-lawyer Louis Auchincloss for future publication in VQR.
A scholar of the Italian Renaissance, Paul Barolsky is the author of Infinite Jest: Wit and Humor in Italian Renaissance Art and is now completing a book dealing with Bernard Berenson and 19th-century art criticism. He is an associate professor of art history at the University of Virginia.
During his career as a Foreign Service officer, Smith Simpson served overseas at posts ranging from Brussels to Bombay. Now retired, he is the author of Anatomy of the State Department.
Ronald Weber is professor of American studies at Notre Dame and author of The Literature of Fact, a study of American literary nonfiction.
A Vietnam veteran, W. D. Ehrhart now teaches at George School, a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania. He is the author of four collections of poetry, including Matters of the Heart and Channel Fever and coeditor of Demilitarized Zones; Veterans after Vietnam.
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