What does racism have to do with war? How was Jim Crow related to the Cold War nuclear arms race? Why did over a dozen peace activists in the mid-1960s — in the middle of a months-long walk down the East Coast focused on nuclear disarmament and reconciliation between Cuba and the United States — intentionally and brazenly defy local segregation laws with their racially integrated walks?
In December 1963, after walking more than halfway through the planned route and having avoided serious trouble in the South thus far, the main group of the Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo Walk for Peace and Disarmament were finally arrested in Albany (“al-BANE-ee”), Georgia. While officially the initial charge was the group’s open defiance of the Police Chief’s approved route, it was obvious to everyone that the actual issue was racial integration. Upon arrest, the group suffered even more than the usual indignities of jail — especially Ray Robinson, a Black former-boxer who had joined the Walk with some suspicion, but who had also come to trust the other white participants after they had repeatedly joined him in risking their own physical safety openly defying Southern segregation.
(Read about how the CNVA organized the Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo Walk here)
In the following issue of the New England CNVA newsletter Direct Action for a Nonviolent World was both the initial article about the Walk’s arrest, as well as a brief analysis of the evolving meaning of the Walk. Some overgeneralizations of “the Southern Negro” notwithstanding, the analysis refers to a common source for both war and racism — even if it doesn’t explicitly state what that common source is. Perhaps it is this: the misguided certainty that some people naturally ought to lead, make decisions for themselves, and live with privilege, while others ought to be put in their place and stay there. Words and ideas alone rarely convince people out of prejudice, feelings of superiority, or whatever they consider the “natural order of things” — a challenge that these antiwar activists understood. Of course, they tried anyway (and succeeded with mere words more often than one might expect), but the true value for the participants was the actual act of civil disobedience. Through the direct action of performing the integrated Walk, the participants physically embodied their double defiance against war and racism — proving their commitments to justice not only to the Southern racists, Northern critics, and skeptics among the oppressed, but also to themselves.
On Monday, January 23, we will celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the international prohibition of nuclear weapons — an amazing international achievement that undoubtedly owes much to the efforts of those 1960s peace activists. To join us or to learn more, see the event page here: https://fb.me/e/2frWLbKeX
Moreover, we at VPT are already starting to plan some summer events, including the arrival of the Golden Rule in New London, CT in July. As the world’s first modern protest ship and a vessel originally operated by the CNVA, the Golden Rule has strong historical ties to VPT. We at VPT will put on some public events related to the ship in the months before it arrives as well as when the ship is here. To stay in the loop about these events, sign up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/Oqf99
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“Q-W-G Walk,” “Thoughts on Freedom,” & “The Role of The Walk.” Direct Action for a Nonviolent World. 3 January 1964 (Bulletin #47), page 6.
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