I did not realize until our “People to People” tour swung through the Black Belt of Virginia last week that the South gave to our nation nine of its first twelve Presidents. Seven of them were Virginians. How strange it is, that this southern Commonwealth has failed so miserably in giving moral leadership to the South. The idea of “massive resistance” was spawned not in Georgia or Alabama — but in the heart of the Southside Virginia, commonly known as the Black Belt.
This section of Virginia is the bulwark of Harry Byrd’s political dynasty that holds Virginia’s liberal bent in a strangle-hold. The anti-NAACP laws, the infamous trespass ordinances aimed at thwarting the Sit-Ins, the Pupil Placement laws – all children of “massive resistance,” had their origin and loudest support from this same Negro majority section of Virginia that makes up most of the Fourth U.S. Congressional District.
It may well have been that the severe social change that is taking place in the South today might have been considerably accelerated had not Virginia, “the mother of Presidents” led the South backward into “massive resistance.”
It is refreshing, however, to observe even from this brief vantage point of the struggle’s history, that social crises at times produce their greatest need. The nonviolent thrust of the Negro community in the South and Virginia has met “massive resistance” with “massive insistence.”
This is a part of the aim of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference “People to People” program. I am convinced, as I have said many times, that the salvation of the Negro is not in Washington, D.C.
The Supreme Court, the Justice Department, the President of the United States, and the Congress can aid immeasurably in the emancipation process of the Negro, but the major responsibility of securing our full freedom depends upon the Negro himself.
Our constitutional guarantees will not be realized until Negroes rise up by the hundreds and the thousands, community by community, and demand their rights through nonviolence and creative protest.
As our SCLC task force traveled over the Black Belt of Virginia last week, I could see the potential of this. In just two days, we touched the lives of nearly 10,000 people. We could see the deep hope and yearning for freedom in the eyes of thousands of Negroes and the sincere commitment to human equality in many whites.
The Black Belt of Virginia has a potential of 100,000 voters in the Negro community but there are barely 17,000 registered at the present. The Fourth District is similar to many parts of Mississippi with many Negroes who are tied to the land as sharecroppers. Economic suppression is the rule rather than the exception and the poll tax requirement adds to the burden of general apathy in Negro voter registration. It is towards
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