Thursday, June 07, 2007

Death of an Icon

In his early sixties satirical song "National Brotherhood Week," Tom Lehrer evoked the image of "Lena Horne and Sheriff Clark/Dancing cheek to cheek."

The dark humor of this line was the idea of Lena Horne, the beautiful, elegant, talented African-American performer who was very active in the Civil Rights movement, dancing cheek to cheek with Selma, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark, who was her antithesis-- a violent, ignorant, unrepentant segregationist.

Jim Clark died on June 4, 2007 at the age of 84.

As Sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama, which included the town of Selma, Clark did everything he could to keep African-Americans from registering to vote. He harassed civil rights workers. In one incident that was widely televised, he punched a civil rights leader, C.T. Vivian, so hard the he broke his own hand.

His height of notoriety, though, came on March 7, 1965. He and Alabama State Troopers attacked a group of peaceful protesters marching out of Selma at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This group included a young African-American activist, John Lewis, who had his skull fractured that day. He is now a US Congressman.

A week later, Dr. Martin Luther King was able to lead a similar march, which proceeded without incident.

The savage attacks, which came to be known as Bloody Sunday, were televised world-wide, and horrified the US public and the world. Ironically, it is largely credited with giving political mommentum for passage of the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed on August 6, 1965.

Clark became an ironic icon of the Civil Rights movement-- his dumbass, violent, unrepentant white trash image was the personification of those who opposed civil rights-- it didn't give a good image to them. Ironically, then, he probably hastened, rather than hindered the implementation of civil rights in the United States.

It was also ironic that Clark, who generated so much violence and hatred, met his end peacefully in a nursing home this week.

6 comments:

cheer34 said...

He should have gone sooner.

Skylers Dad said...

The 1960's weren't that long ago. And here we think we have come so far...

vikkitikkitavi said...

There should be a special hell for the Sheriff Clarks of the world.

Erik Donald France said...

Is it ironic that he died that way, or just pitiful?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

"he probably hastened, rather than hindered the implementation of civil rights in the United States." - it's beautiful when bigotry can be turned on its head like that, isn't it?

Johnny Yen said...

Cheer34-
Yeah, I thought "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy..."

Skyler's Dad-
Back around the time my son was born, I was watching the great Dylan documentary "Don't Look Back," which was filmed in 1965. In one part of the movie, Dylan was singing "Only a Pawn In Their Game," which is about Byron de la Beckwith, the guy who murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers. As I listened to the song, it occurred to me that they'd just finally tried and convicted de la Beckwith. All of that stuff-- the murders of Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner, the Selma march, King's assasination-- that was within our lifetime.

Vikki-
Amen. He can have a seat right next to George Wallace and the bastards that bombed that church and killed those little girls.

Erik-
Maybe there's justice in the fact that he died nearly forgotten.

Barbara-
Yes, it's funny how there are always unintended consequences to things.