Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dr. Young Gives Food For Thought On What It's Like To Be A Civil Rights Pioneer...

The True Audacity Of Hope: U.S. Presidential Hopeful Barack Hussein Obama And Civil Rights Legend Dr. Gene 'Jughead' Young

Civil Rights: One Man's Story
Arrest Inspired Life Of Activism

Richard Lake •• February 3, 2008

It is the rare man who can trace the roots of every subsequent event in his life to one day, one act, one serendipitous spring morning when he was a student in the seventh grade. The first time he was arrested.

Gene Young, now 57, can do that.

"My life," he said the other day over a plate of ribs at Bully's soul food restaurant in Jackson, "hasn't been the same since."

The same spark that ignited more than 40 years ago still burns inside him. He yearns for continued progress, change. It is Black History Month, after all, and, because of everything that happened after that day in the spring of 1963, Young is a part of it.

He was 12 years old then, in 1963, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was writing his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," the reverend wrote in that letter.

Young paid the civil rights activity not much mind. To him, life seemed OK. He played baseball. He had two sisters and seven brothers, grew up on Campbell Street in Jackson, right around the corner from Lanier High School.

Young had been tagged with the nickname "Jughead" one day while sitting in a barber's chair. As he explained it, a drunk walked by the shop, poked his head in the door, and said, "That boy got a jughead!"

It stuck, and still does to this day.

Young Jughead figured all that hoopla in Alabama would stay in Alabama. Didn't have much to do with him. He had a ballgame to attend.

Then, civil rights protesters were arrested in Jackson. This was not a new event, of course, in 1963. But it entered the 12-year-old Young's consciousness for the first time.

"Hey," one of his brothers told him that spring, "we're having a walk-out at school tomorrow." The walk-out, he explained, was to protest the latest batch of arrests.

"The school administration," said Luther Buckley, the principal at Lanier back then, "made no effort toward administering any type of punishment."

He said he and the other administrators thought good would come of it; the students could learn something by taking charge.

The police, however, were not so educationally inclined. And so it was that Young got caught up in a swarm of arrests. This sparked something inside of him. It created an activist.

Which was not surprising to the school principal. Buckley, who spent 31 years as Lanier's principal, said he'd always seen leadership qualities in Young.

After his arrest, Young spent the summer of 1963 working with the Congress of Racial Equality. He traveled to New York with them that June, the day Medgar Evers was murdered here.

"Medgar had just rubbed my head a few nights before saying how proud he was of me," Young remembered.

He continued on.

He was there, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., when King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice," the reverend said in that speech.

A week after Young's 13th birthday that September, a Birmingham church was bombed. Four black girls were killed. It shook Young to the bone.

He did not stop, despite his newfound fear. He testified before Congress about police brutality.

As a child, he got the attention of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, the secret government spies that worked to keep segregation in place. He is listed with a dozen other Lanier students as members of the Jackson Youth Movement in commission documents.

Young, of course, did not know about this until many years later.

He went back to Lanier that fall, completed the eighth grade, and continued on with CORE the next summer, 1964, which is when he got famous.

He was staying at a Kansas City hotel. He needed a haircut. He went to the hotel's barber shop, where he was turned away.

This was July 2, 1964.

Young told his CORE friends about this. They conducted a sit-in at the barbershop.

The barber relented. Good thing, too, as President Lyndon Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 just that day.

An Associated Press photo of Young getting his hair cut the next day by a white man ran in newspapers across the nation.

Young continued on. He served as class president at Lanier. He graduated in 1968, two months after King's assassination.

He sailed through Jackson State College, now a university.

He was there on that day in 1970 when Phillip L. Gibbs and James Earl Green were killed by the police on JSU's campus.

Young calmed the crowd, some of whom were ready to riot, by using the words of King. He asked for peace and prayer.

Later on, he went to graduate school. He earned a doctorate degree in higher-education administration at the University of Connecticut.

"I knew," he explained about why he chose graduate school, "I didn't want to be in the war."

He went on to teach black studies at Bradley University in Illinois, then returned to JSU, where he taught and served for a time as the acting director of the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center.

He also married and had two children, Joy Olivia and Julius Caza. He divorced, but said he remained close to his children.

Five years ago, Julius was killed in a car accident in Colorado, and Young has not been the same since. He left JSU, and today takes care of his 82-year-old mother in the same house where he grew up.

"After my son died," said Young, "I withdrew from the whole world. Just now, I'm getting back to the point where I can function well."

Just last week, he spoke about his struggle to a group in Wisconsin who were honoring King.

"If you haven't seen Gene Young speak, you need to," said Glenda Glover, dean of JSU's college of business, who worked with Young for years.

She said it is because of people like Young that she and others of today's generation have been able to succeed as much as they have.

Both she and Young applauded an America where a black man is in serious contention for the presidency.

They are concerned, however, over abundant poverty among blacks. They are concerned that today's young people, especially young black men, do not know from where they came.

Which is why, over the plate of ribs at Bully's, Young agreed to tell his story.

To comment on this story, call Richard Lake at (601) 961-7226.

Hear The Wisdom Of Dr. Young On These Following W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Specials...

April 13, 2008~The State Of Black America Part One*

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special: February 18, 2007~"We Shall Overcome"-The Henry Hampton Collection (Creator of the Award Winning Eyes On The Prize Documentary)
Find A Civil Rights Veteran Today!!!

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