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Secret meetings key to civil rights movement

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Secret meetings key to civil rights movement

SPARTANBURG, S.C. —Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks drew national attention to racial injustices, but it was the quiet heroic work of others that forced an end to segregation in the South.

Glen Browder, a white Democrat and former representative from Alabama, and Artemesia Stanberry, a black assistant professor of political science, have teamed up to talk about the work of those unknown leaders.

They co-authored a study and book titled, “Stealth Reconstruction: The Untold Story of Southern Politics and History.” The authors were part of a dialogue about race relations in the 21st century in Hartness Auditorium at Converse College.

“Glen Browder was in Congress with Liz Patterson, and she told us about him and Artemesia,” said Melissa Walker, history professor at Converse. “We are always working on educating students on issues and race relations. We also would like to be a leader in improving race relations in our community.”

In honor of Black History Month, the college wants to create dialogue between black and white people. Walker said the first step is to get people talking.

Browder, a South Carolina native and professor emeritus at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, said he started thinking about the role biracial politics played in the civil rights movement. He contacted Stanberry, who worked as his congressional aide and is now a political science professor at North Carolina Central University, to help him with the project.

“I don’t know of any book that has been written about the black leaders and white politicians who worked quietly behind the scenes,” Browder said. “The heroic drama involved Dr. King and Rosa Parks on one side and you had Bull Connor turning fire hoses on people and George Wallace standing in doors of universities on the other side, but it occurred to me a lot of change was not of that nature. There where some white politicians and black leaders who got together behind closed doors and said, ‘We have to do things differently.’ ”

The authors said the work of these leaders was done “stealthy” or in secret. They said there had to be a transition right after the civil rights movement made up of politicians and leaders interested in moving the South beyond segregation in the 1970s through the ‘90s.

“It had to be done stealthy because white politicians wouldn’t have been able to get elected if people knew what they were doing and black leaders couldn’t get elected at that time,” Browder said. “Civil disobedience helped to change laws in the legal system, but there was mass resistance. It took practical politics to help change things.”

As part of the project, Browder and Stanberry conducted interviews with black civil rights leaders and white politicians. When they started working on the project, they realized how different their views were on race and Southern politics.

“He (Browder) is conservative, and I am progressive,” Stanberry said. “I don’t want to undermine the struggles and successes of African Americans during the civil rights movement, but there was a biracial coalition that occurred.”

Stanberry said she had no idea how much work was going on between black leaders and white politicians until she started working on the study and book. She now has more respect for the work these groups were able to accomplish.

“People write about Martin Luther King and rightly so, and they write about the bus boycott and rightly so, but then you had what happened in the 1970s during the implementation phase,” she said. “Southern states weren’t rushing to integrate the schools. You needed politicians to work with the black community to implement these policies so there wasn’t such a backlash.”

Browder and Stanberry are in the middle of a speaking tour on race relations in the South. They have appeared at the National Archives and on C-SPAN Book-TV. They also have presented programs at Wofford and Presbyterian colleges and Winthrop University.

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg