Sunday, February 07, 2010

New Book Continues D'Army Bailey's Mission Of Civil Rights Education

Photo by Alan Spearman

New Book Continues D'Army Bailey's Mission Of Civil Rights Education

By Richard J. Alley
The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Saturday, September 26, 2009

D'Army Bailey grew up enveloped in family and in the shadow of LeMoyne College, at the time a black college working primarily to train teachers.

The LeMoyne Gardens housing project bordered one side of his world and his entrepreneurial and independent grandfather the other. This was the alchemy that helped to create the D'Army Bailey of today -- lawyer, judge, activist, father, husband and author.

He learned of racial strife early, listening to people talk at the neighborhood sundry and reading black publications of the day, such as the Chicago Defender, the Atlanta Daily World and the Pittsburgh Courier.

"I'd sit about and read the various black newspapers from around the country that came into this store, and it enhanced my view and sense of politics and civil rights," he said.

What he read helped to shape his worldview, and the way he learned of the world, through print journalism, helped shape his passion for writing. His new book, "The Education of a Black Radical: A Southern Civil Rights Activist's Journey 1959-1964," is the culmination of a life spent in the forefront of the civil rights fight and the seed of journalism planted so long ago at the crossroads of Mississippi Boulevard and Walker Avenue.

"If I don't tell this story, no one will," Bailey, 67, says of his experiences in the midst of the racial strife of the 1960s. "Someone will tell it, but it won't be mine, so now I can rest assured that, through eternity, my story is there irrespective of how many books I sell."

His story is a journey that leads from South Memphis to Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., where he was expelled for leading a class boycott against the administration's stance on segregation. That led him to the unlikeliest of locations for a civil rights activist, Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

"I was kind of like a reverse freedom rider, going from the South to the North," he said.

After Clark, Bailey received a law degree from Yale and then moved to California. There, he entered the world of politics, running for and winning a seat on the Berkeley City Council in 1971, only to be involved in a recall election in 1973, a subject, he says, that will be the focus of a second book.

"One of the things they accused me of when I was in the recall in California was introducing race into the politics of the city. Thus, I was accused of being a racist," he said, "when in reality I was fighting for affirmative action because they didn't have blacks in a lot of the jobs and we had to pass an affirmative action program."

He moved back to Memphis a year later to what he refers to as an "eye-opening experience" regarding the real condition of the black involvement in local politics.

"There wasn't the same momentum and organized focus for change in the rank-and-file black community that I had seen when I left here as a high school student off to college (in 1959), when we were more cohesive and focused," he said.

The black leadership, he said, was more interested in self-preservation and in the preservation of the circles in which they moved.

As a high school senior, Bailey had become involved with the Shelby County Democratic Club and in registering and organizing the black vote around the priorities of the black community, instead of around the E.H. Crump political machine and its remnants, as had been the norm. As a returning politician and veteran activist, however, he was frustrated to see the complacency here.

"We'd gone off as a community into personality politics," he said.

He immersed himself in local politics, running for mayor in 1983 against John Ford, Otis Higgs and the winner that year, Dick Hackett, before eventually winning a seat on the bench in 1990. He retired as judge Sept. 15.

His plans now include practicing law with the firm Wilkes & McHugh, working in civil litigation.

In addition to practicing law, he intends, as always, to continue his mission of civil rights education, a vocation whose high point came with his work in the founding of the National Civil Rights Museum here and which continues through the writing of his book.

"Our future in terms of civil rights is to get more educated, not in the classroom, but educated about the realities of what we're up against, that we're still in deep trouble, that there's still systematic exclusion because the inherited wealth of past generations that kept us out of the game has had a cascading, multiplying effect upon our ability to grow as a people," he said.

It's an education Bailey not only preaches, but lives, and one he hopes will be passed along through this book and the two planned for the coming years, the next on his California years and the third on his career in Memphis.

It's a responsibility he doesn't take lightly and a movement that has taken on even broader stakes.

"It's not a civil rights movement we're facing today, it's really a human rights movement, embracing all working folks."

The Book
"The Education of a Black Radical: A Southern Civil Rights Activist's Journey 1959-1964," by D'Army Bailey (Louisiana State University Press, $28)...Buy It @

© 2010 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

See Also
2/10/2010*W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio: Education Of A Black Radical...Exclusive Interview With The Honorable Judge D'Army Bailey

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Books: 'The Education Of A Black Radical' Makes It Plain On What It Means To Be Young, Gifted & Black In America

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