June 12, 1942 – Anne Frank gets a diary for her birthday.
June 12, 1963 – Medgar Evers pays the last full measure of devotion.
June 12, 1964 – Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life in prison.
June 12, 1967 – US anti-miscegenation laws are ruled unconstitutional.
Throughout the Civil Rights Era in the United States, activists were prone to calling the movement “the freedom struggle.” That’s not struggle in the sense of a thing being difficult – though it was insanely difficult – but this is struggle in the sense of having an opponent. Anne Frank, Medgar Evers, Nelson Mandela, Mildred and Richard Loving. These are not the names of heroes because they simply thought “I shouldn’t be treated this way.” A lot of cowards, villains, and unknown decent people have thought the same thing. These are international heroes of The Struggle because they faced the monster. To borrow from Ezekiel, they stood in the gap to build the wall and face the wolves so the nation would not have to be destroyed.
They saved their nations, they saved their fellow citizens, and they saved the Freedom Struggle, even if they couldn’t all save themselves.
Anne Saves The Future
On her thirteenth birthday, Anne Frank was given a weapon she could fire through the ages. Her weapon does not harm any actual person, and it can’t save her own life; words don’t fight like that. She wrote a diary that exposed something unchanging and unchangeable: she was just like you. When kids around the world read Diary of a Young Girl in school, they need only come away with one idea. They need only think “she seems like me.” Because that idea is enough to destroy hate and disarm those who weaponize hate. When they scream, sweat, and gesticulate about “the others,” Anne Frank puts the lie to their claims. Whether they mean LGBT folks, immigrants, black folks, religious minorities, or any other category of “other,” the hatred is unmade if a child internalizes the idea that those others are probably pretty similar.
The diary couldn’t save Anne’s life; words don’t fight like that. She might have saved us from more monstrosities than we’ll ever know, though. Anne is alive in her book. In her book, she can never die.
Sit Me Up. Turn Me Loose.
Medgar Evers once said, “I don’t know if I’m going to heaven or hell, but I’m going from Jackson.” Nina Simone once said, “Mississippi, goddamn.” These are essentially the same idea.
Evers was a field director of the Mississippi NAACP, working to integrate Ole Miss, expand voting rights, and advance the cause of freedom. The Struggle. His struggle took place in Mississippi; Anne fought in Europe. Medgar fought in Europe, too, though. As a sergeant in the United States Army, Medgar Evers fought the monster that killed Anne Frank. It was only when he came home that his monster devoured him.
Typically, FBI and/or local police escorted Medgar Evers home. On June 12, 1963, law enforcement was absent – either monster-sympathizers or cowards afraid of the monster. As Medgar got out of his car in his own driveway, Byron de la Beckwith shot him. de la Beckwith hid in the honeysuckle to line up his shot because it’s the Deep South and even the misery has beauty; that’s what makes it gothic.
As Evers was being taken to the hospital, he said to the paramedics, “Sit me up. Turn me loose.” The monster was still out there, the struggle was not finished, and he felt compelled to continue fighting. Just sit him up, point him at the enemy, and turn him loose.
Nelson Mandela and the Limits of Nonviolence
Anne Frank fought future monsters with a diary. Medgar Evers fought present monsters with the ballot. Nelson Mandela was a career criminal. He began in the Freedom Struggle in South Africa as a nonviolent resister; that’s also how he’s remembered. However, Nelson Mandela went to prison because he was the founder of the militant uMkhonto we Sizwe. His group bombed and sabotaged the apartheid government in a militant uprising. They were responding to the Sharpeville Massacre, in which the local police opened fire on a crowd of protestors. 69 people died and 180 were injured, some of whom were shot in the back. In response to monstrosities, Nelson Mandela decided to be a little monstrous himself.
However, he ultimately won his freedom and won his leg of the Freedom Struggle through the power of his example, not the example of his power. That’s the thing about the Freedom Struggle; you have to slay a dragon, but you can’t use a sword.
On June 12, 1967, two Americans faced the monster. They didn’t use bombs, or diaries, or even votes. They fought in the Supreme Court. They fought a version of the monster as old as the United States.
In 1913, Rep. Seaborn Roddenbery introduced a constitutional amendment banning interracial marriage. He said, “Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant. It is subversive to social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this slavery to black beasts will bring this nation to a fatal conflict.”
The conflict occurred in the echoing halls of the Supreme Court of the United States. In this conflict, the monster was slain.
The Freedom Struggle has never been one struggle but it has always been one monster. This beast has tentacles that flail and whip in different and seemingly-unrelated places and ideas. What does the struggle of a Jewish German girl have to do with a Mississippi Army vet and a South African lawyer? They proposed the radical idea that every heart is much the same: the same chambers fed by veins, the same maze of love and fear. The monster hates that.
Sit up. Face the monster. Thou art loosed.