“Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.”
In my research on the political and controversial (and exuberant and joyful) early years of Muhammad Ali, I have come across Thurgood Marshall a few times.
A WHIFF OF AMERICAN HISTORY
Marshall was the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, appointed to the position by Lyndon B Johnson in 1967. He was also the Chief Counsel for the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
Marshall’s most famous case was the 1954 Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka in which he successfully argued against school segregation, saying that that “separate but equal” education could never, in reality, be equal.
AMERICAN HISTORICAL GRAFFITI
Such a fascinating time historically. The Korean War ended in ’53.
It was in December of 1955 that Rosa Parks made her famous refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, setting off the bus boycott and, I believe, catapulting Martin Luther King to national prominence.
QUIET RIOT: A WHISPER OF CANADIAN HISTORY
It was also in that year (1955-56) that the Montreal Canadiens hockey team began their unprecendented five consecutive Stanley Cup wins—my childhood team, for the record.
The dynasty began the season after the Richard Riot (1955), a riot which took place after legendary Montreal Canadiens’ goal-scorer Maurice “Rocket” Richard was suspended for the last three games of the regular season and the entire play-offs.
The verdict was handed down by the English-speaking president of the NHL, Clarence Campbell. Montreal fans did not take the news lightly. When Campbell showed up at the Forum for a game between Montreal and, I think, Detroit, fans literally rioted.
The pelting of Campbell began, and when a stink bomb went off producing large amounts of gas, the crowd of over fifteen thousand were ushered out in a panic. Mayhem in the streets ensued; windows were smashed, cars overturned and Montreal lost.
AND THE ROCKET’S RED GLARE
Richard (pronounced Ri-shar) lost the regular season scoring title to teammate Boom Boom Geoffrion—who was booed by his own fans, so beloved was Richard. Adding to the misery, Montreal would go on to lose in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final.
And for what was the Rocket suspended? For sort of punching a referee in the middle of an on ice-battle! Referees can be so infuriating!
Or, as John Cleese once said in a disdainful French accent, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, responding to an annoying Grail-searching Englishman:
“I fart in your general direction! Come back again and I will taunt you a second time!”
Anyway, a barely visible newsclip on the event some 50 years later:
Some say the Richard Riot, inside and outside the Montreal Forum, spoke to the oppressed aspirations of the Québecois, and from there began the the real, so-called Quiet Revolution in Québec—against the unfair treatment of the Québecois in English-biased Canada.
It was either that, or the two hundred years or more of crap jobs, limited opportunities and ongoing prejudice, not to mention religous authoritarianism. The French Catholic Church in Québec, it should be mentioned, also exercised huge control over Québecois citizens.
It’s worth reading about Québec premier Maurice Duplessis (Do-pless-ee), too, and the so-called Duplessis Era—or “The Great Darkness” (La Grande Noirceur) to the Québecois—to understand the oppression and corruption that went on in Québec.
Whether the Quiet Revolution began or not with the Richard Riot, it—like folk music, heavyweight champions and the Separatist movement—got a lot louder in the ’60s and 70s.
Maximum volume for the “revolution” was reached with the kidnapping and eventual murder of politician Pierre Laporte by the Québec separatist terrorist organization the FLQ (Québec Liberation Front).
Just before that murder—but after the kidnapping of a British politician—Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau imposed Martial Law. The decree was applauded by a huge and shocking (to me, anyway) percentage of the population both in Québec (~90%) and the rest of Canada (~80%—see June Callwood, A Portrait of Canada).
FURTHER SERIES OF RED HERRINGS: A FLASH OF MIDDLE EASTERN HISTORY
It was also in the 1950s, 1953 to be more precise, that the British and the Americans played vital roles in aiding the overthrow—in a coup d’etat—of the democratically-elected Iranian leader Dr Mohammad Mossadeq.
A nationalist (like Reagan wasn’t?), Mossadeq’s major “crime” was the nationalizing of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), which had been ripping off the country with colonial percentages for decades.
A rather glitzy telling from the History Channel:
Evidently, it was at this time that the CIA first coined the phrase “blowback,” meaning the ‘unforeseen consequences resulting from one’s actions’—and supposedly the first real rise of anti-American feeling in Iran. The prediction, one could now argue, was prescient.
The coup happened under President Eisenhower, who said to an advisor afterwards, according to historian Robert J McMahon (The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction, pg 66):
”An adequate supply of oil to Western Europe ranks almost equal in priority with an adequate supply for ourselves [to maintain superiority over the Soviet Union under the Cold War ideology].
The West must, for self-preservation, retain access to Mid-East oil.”
Thank god they’re not in the area for oil today—or anything else other than democracy-building—or things could get really ugly.
Eisenhower, of course, would later deliver his famous 1961 farewell speech and talk about the tentacles and potential danger of a Military Industrial Complex gone cancerous in terms of growth.
One could pointlessly argue that George Bush’s recent and final budget (in an Orwellian use of that term) is just another unsurprising yet blatant part of said MIC’s devouring manifestation.
What will become of this finite earth—at least finite from a human’s point of view? Gandhi’s line cuts to the marrow:
“The Lord provided enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
An excerpt of Eisenhower’s speech:
UNITED FRUITS of AMERICA: A TASTE OF CENTRAL AMERICAN HISTORY
And in 1954, the Americans again played a key role in ousting democratically-elected Guatemalan leader Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, in general for his “nationalization of the US-owned United Fruit Company (72)” and his tolerance of Guatemala’s “tiny communist party.”
Guzmán received 60% of the vote in 1951, and ushered in Guatemala’s first-ever peaceful transference of power.
Both Mossadeq and Guzmán were replaced by West-supporting, human rights abusing dictators, the Shah in Iran with his dreaded secret police/intelligence, Savak; in Guatemala, head of the military junta, the brutal Colonel Carlos Castillo.
QUOTING MARSHALL: A WORD ON CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY
But what’s fascinating are some of the quotes from this great law man. Marshall (myopically, in my opinion, obviously) described Martin Luther King’s non-violent protests as:
“…rhetorical fluff that produced no permanent change.”
That shows to me a fraction of the complexity of personality it would take to be appointed to the Supreme Court in white-run America, 1967.
This clashing of views of how to face, oppose, improve, integrate and somehow achieve equality etc. in America, found its way into the ferocity of the boxing ring, even between black fighters, with Ali’s labeling of the likes of Ernie Terrell and Joe Frazier as “Uncle Tom’s” for, among other things (and generally unfairly), refusing to acknowledge his new name—Muhammad Ali—which was replacing what he described as his slave name, Cassius Clay.
As for Thurgood Marshall, he labeled Malcolm X’s talk of a separate black nation as:
“…racist craziness in the multi-racial society America had become…”
…and said the Nation of Islam was:
“…run by a bunch of thugs organized from prisons and jails and financed, I am sure, by [Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel] Nasser or some Arab group.”
Upon Marshall’s death in 1993, the “Washington Afro-American Magazine” said about him, in eulogy:
“We make movies about Malcolm X. We get a holiday to honour Martin Luther King Jr., but everyday we live with the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall.”
A little history in this crazy world.
I am reminded of a quote I recently read from Frederick Douglass, a man of remarkable courage and insight, who escaped from slavery in 1838—and wrote extensively Actually, we quoted Douglass at the beginning of the documentary Uganda Rising:
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
But the quote I just read is:
A man is worked on by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.
Isn’t that a humbling beauty? I am reminded of the yogic idea that we become like that with which we associate. We are inside this system, part of this system—yet we can barely feel it.
It makes a beautiful meditation, reminiscent of the Sanskrit, “Yatta pinde, tatta Brahmande”: We are, in mysterious ways, just like the entire existence (Brahman). Although, of course, we weigh a lot less.
Lots of love to you and yours, and may all beings be happy (at least more and more often).
To finish, the very end of Martin Luther King’s chillingly ominous (yet beautiful) final speech: