Sunday, July 7, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 75: Len Holt, Eyewitness: The Police Terror at Birmingham (#175)

Len Holt, "Eyewitness: The Police Terror at Birmingham" (1963) from Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1963:

Very recently, the Supreme Court's conservative-leaning members gutted part of the Voting Rights Amendment, saying that it had done its job. Which is an interesting argument: is racism like a pneumonia, where you take your medicine and then stop when you're better or is is more like pervasive depression, where you take your medicine and don't stop because the medicine is what's making you better? Also, recently, the Texas State Legislature is abuzz with a fight over abortion rights, and at least one pro-life/anti-choice state congressmen reported hearing pro-choice supporters chanting "Hail Satan" and forming a pentagram. So you'll excuse me if I read Len Holt's eyewitness account of police brutality in the long and not always steady arc of social justice.

(Because it reminds me of that b.s. "abortion-lovers hail Satan" remark, I especially am interested in the LoA page's note that some white supremacist/anti-integration groups reported that the protesters were putting steaks in their shirts to entice the dogs. It's amazing, from a psychological standpoint, how much b.s. people are willing to eat to support some position they hold. Or rather: it's depressing and predictable.)

Holt's eyewitness account takes the form of an almost free-roving eye: he's here, with the marchers; he's over there, with the planning committee; he's at the prison. He reports what he sees--such as the hoses are so powerful the water strips bark and bricks (repeated twice)--but none of it seems to touch him directly. We never hear how he himself was hit, attacked, scared, crushed, etc. It's a clever decision, since it gives his eyewitness account the weight of impartiality. So when we reach the final lines, the impartiality of it makes his pronouncements terrible, in the best sense of the word:
America learned that the patience of 100 years is not inexhaustible. It is exhausted. 

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