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Students learn to use  civil rights-era strategies

Agencies team up to find solutions in Franklin County

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>UMass Professor John Bracey speaks on civil rights and his experiences with students at the Four Rivers Charter School on Friday.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    UMass Professor John Bracey speaks on civil rights and his experiences with students at the Four Rivers Charter School on Friday.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>UMass Professor John Bracey speaks on civil rights and his experiences with students at the Four Rivers Charter School on Friday.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    UMass Professor John Bracey speaks on civil rights and his experiences with students at the Four Rivers Charter School on Friday.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>UMass Professor John Bracey speaks on civil rights and his experiences with students at the Four Rivers Charter School on Friday.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>UMass Professor John Bracey speaks on civil rights and his experiences with students at the Four Rivers Charter School on Friday.

GREENFIELD — John Bracey — a 71-year-old African American who participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s — told Four Rivers Charter School 10th-graders Friday that if they want to change social injustices, they can’t be afraid to be loud and active in their fights.

Those students will soon begin their own campaigns on issues like ending violence against women and stopping pollution, said history teacher Laura Tabachnick. By studying the 1960s civil rights movement and hearing from Bracey, students will be able to learn the tactics that were effective during that fight.

“Protest works only if the people that are bothering you are also bothered,” said Bracey, who lived his 20s in a racially divided Chicago.

He recalled a series of protests against school segregation. A Chicago school for black children was overcrowded, he said, but rather than allow integration into the white school, the city built temporary spaces for the extra black kids.

Bracey and others set about thwarting the construction effort, lying down in the streets to stop traffic and pulling down wires that electricians had set up. He told students that they were tired of waiting for change to happen and decided to take immediate action.

But in some ways, said Bracey, young activists today face much greater challenges than his colleagues did. Physically removing a “Whites Only” sign is a lot easier than starting a fight to end global warming, he said.

The racism and sexism that still exists stems from an inability of many to see fellow humans as equals while still embracing cultural differences.

“Move past stereotypes and look at people as people, then you’ll be OK,” he said. “You don’t have a choice, there’s no other planet to go to.”

Encounters with
civil rights leaders

During his 10-year stint in Chicago, Bracey crossed paths with leading activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. He downplayed historical interpretations that there was a lot of animosity between the two.

King, an advocate of nonviolent protests, was a “little short guy” who dressed well and excelled at the game of pool, he said. King’s bravery compelled people to want to follow him, said Bracey.

“He would calmly say things that would get you killed,” said Bracey. “He had more courage than anyone I ever saw.”

And Malcolm X, a spokesman for the Nation of Islam and an advocate of black separatism, never forced people to share his views, he said. Bracey recalled Malcolm X as a friendly man who remembered him years after the two shared a conversation.

Bracey, a native of Washington, D.C., moved to Amherst in 1971 and has taught Afro-American Studies at the University of Masachusetts-Amherst ever since.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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