Let’s Agree to DisagreeEpisode 93
“A lot of our parents were involved in the civil rights movement and we don’t even know it.” There are many untold stories of the Civil Rights Movement and Michael Harriot is here to tell you about a few untold stories about twins who were part of a group that gave us our right to agree to disagree. Michael Harriot tells you about Edwards vs South Carolina and Bessie and Ike Williams.
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[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network Black Culture Amplified.
Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Hello and welcome back to Black History Month on theGrio Daily. If you watched any of the previous episodes, then you know we’re focusing this Black History Month on South Carolina. We think it is the capital of Black America, and we’ve been kind of just telling you stories as a Grio does about South Carolina and how South Carolina affected the whole of Black America. And today we’re going to talk about, you know, free speech. You know, white people think free speech is anything they agree with, which we know is the case. And it’s interesting why we know that. So I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that will tell you why South Carolina is why you can agree to disagree. So we all know the concept of freedom of speech, right? You know, the government can’t stop you from saying whatever you want to, you know. And of course, there are certain limits. You can’t slander somebody. You can libel somebody. But in general, we have the constitutional right to freedom of speech. And when we talk, when we say freedom of speech. We’re talking about not just talking, right? We’re talking about protesting. We’re talking about actions, we’re talking about behavior. And it’s interesting how we know this is true. Because it all goes back to South Carolina.
Michael Harriot [00:01:42] In South Carolina, there was, of course, Jim Crow laws. Right. So on March 2nd, 1961, a bunch of young, mostly college students, some high school students went to the South Carolina State House. They marched there. They stood in front of the statehouse and they began singing Negro spirituals. Now, this was in 1961. The Supreme Court had already agreed that segregated schools were illegal, unconstitutional. That was the Brown versus Board of Education. But South Carolina schools were still segregated. So this group of students, they marched to the courthouse and they basically just sang a bunch of songs. They you know, they didn’t really do anything. It wasn’t violent. It was nonviolent. But. Of course, they were marching against segregation and Jim Crow laws in their state. And because these were laws, of course, a lot of people didn’t agree with them. You know, we’re talking about white people. And so the police came and told them, like to stop the protest. And they said, Why? And they said, well, we’re not being violent. We’re just singing songs with exercising our right to protest. Police says but we don’t You know, you’re advocating for something that is illegal. It’s like, no, we’re just advocating for a change of laws and we’re advocating for the state to uphold its constitutional duty.
Michael Harriot [00:03:35] Well, the police was like, Nah, y’all Black, we just going to racial. So they arrested like 62 students. And those 62 students said, Well, I can’t do that. Like, we were doing anything but walking down the street to sing a song that’s not illegal. What we were advocating for was not a riot or not breaking the law. We were just saying, “Hey, South Carolina, do what the Constitution tells you to do.” Well, they took it to court all 62 now, because as we’ve discussed a bunch of times, like you can list 62 names in a court case. They just named it after the first alphabetical person. So that was a man, a student, a young person named Edwards. But, you know, there were a bunch of students. The probably the last on that list was Bessie and Ike Williams, now Bessie and Ike Williams they weren’t even in college. They were barely in high school that was 16 years old. Both of them. They were twins, actually. And so they were you know, we think because we don’t know how many students were there, but we were they were probably the youngest people at that protest, Bessie went on to become a teacher. She, of course, like a lot of people, left South Carolina, moved to New Jersey and became a teacher. Ike Williams stayed. And Ike Williams stayed and he kept fighting the man. He became the head of the NAACP in South Carolina, went on to become chief of staff for Congressman Jim Clyburn. He died a couple, a few years ago, but he lived a life basically fighting.
Michael Harriot [00:05:23] He was one of the people who filed the Supreme Court case to desegregate South Carolina schools specifically. And Ike and Bessie Williams eventually were part of the case that became known as Edward versus South Carolina. And what the Supreme Court said when Edwards versus South Carolina was ruled upon or when they issued their opinion. I was all I’m always told and I’ve always remembered that the Supreme Court does not rule on things, they issue an opinion. But, in this opinion, what they said is the police are agents of the state, of the government and they cannot stop people speech just because they don’t like it. Right. So as agents of the government, of course, the constitutional constitution says that, you know, Congress or the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. So Edwards versus South Carolina is actually the Supreme Court case that did two things. One, they mandated that they ruled and decided constitutionally that protest is a form of speech. And two, that just because the government does not like what you’re saying or what that protest is saying or what your speech is saying, they cannot stop it. And that’s why police have to just stand by. I mean, of course, they you know, we know they shoot you and beat you at protests, but constitutionally, they’re supposed to not stop protest. If it is peaceful, if you’re not breaking the law, the police can’t do anything to abridge your speech or in this case, protest. That is because of Edwards versus South Carolina.
Michael Harriot [00:07:27] Now, the interesting thing about Bessie and Ike Williams is like, I found this out in a book. And I found out that like Bessie and Ike, they grew up their sisters, their older sisters, they had like, sisters that were way, like, way older than them. They were involved in the NAACP and the Civil Rights movement. Their father, actually, they found when he died, a card for him trying to register to vote in like 1945 or either 1948. And I found this out particularly by reading the history of Ike Williams. And the reason that that’s important, because a lot of our parents were involved in the civil rights movement and we don’t even know it. They were freedom fighters. And they’re not in books. Like Bessie Williams isn’t even in a book. Like she’s now part of the Edwards versus South Carolina Monument in front of the state House. But she’s not in a book. Ike Williams is because of his work with the NAACP. But he didn’t really. Neither one of them really talked about it a lot. And the reason I know this is because Ike and Bessie Williams are literally my aunt and my uncle. Like they are my father’s sister and brother. That family that they were talking about is like my dad’s family. And they never mentioned this. My aunt would, when she lived in New Jersey, she would like, pay for me to come up here and stay with her. And like her kid would spend the summer with us like we never heard about it. We wondered why she always thought it was important to send her kids down to South Carolina for the summer. But she never talked about this. I found out in a book.
Michael Harriot [00:09:23] And that’s why it’s important for you to watch this podcast. That’s why it’s important for you to download the real app. That’s why it’s important for you to subscribe and tell a friend. And today’s Black saying is, “I said, what I said.” Thank you for watching theGrio Daily and we’ll see you next time. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app. Subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at thegrio dot com.
[00:10:01] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:09] I’m political scientist, author and professor Dr. Christina Greer, and I’m host of The Blackest Questions on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. This person invented ranch dressing around 1950. Who are they?
Marc Lamont Hill [00:10:22] I have no idea.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:23] This all began as an exclusive Black history trivia party at my home in Harlem with family and friends. And they got so popular it seemed only right to share the fun with our Grio listeners. Each week we invite a familiar face on the podcast to play. What was the name of the person who was an enslaved chief cook for George Washington and later ran away to freedom? In 1868, this university was the first in the country to open a medical school that welcomed medical students of all races, genders and social classes. What university was it?
Roy Wood, Jr [00:10:57] This is why I like doing stuff with you, because I leave educated. I was not taught this in Alabama Public Schools.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:03] Question three. You ready?
Eboni K. Williams [00:11:05] Yes. I want to redeem myself.
Amanda Seales [00:11:06] How do we go from Kwanzaa to like these obscure.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:12] Diaspora, darling.
Amanda Seales [00:11:12] This like the New York Times crossword from a Monday to a Saturday?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:17] Right or wrong. Because all we care about is the journey and having some fun while we do it.
Kalen Allen [00:11:21] I’m excited. And also a little nervous.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:23] Oh, listen. No need to be nervous. And as I tell all of my guests, this is an opportunity for us to educate ourselves because Black history is American history. So we’re going to have some fun. Listen, some people get zero out of five. Some people get five out of five. It doesn’t matter. We’re just going to be on a little intellectual journey together.
Eboni K. Williams [00:11:40] Latoya Cantrell?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:42] That’s right. Mayor Latoya Cantrell.
Michael W. Twitty [00:11:44] Hercules Posey.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:46] Mm hmm. Born in 1754 and he was a member of the Mount Vernon slave community, widely admired for his culinary skills.
Kalen Allen [00:11:53] I’m going to guess AfroPunk.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:56] Close. It’s AfroNation. So last year, according to my research, it’s Samuel Wilson a.k.a Falcon.
Jason Johnson [00:12:05] Wong Wong, I am, I think, disputing this.
Latosha Brown [00:12:09] Very, very, very, very 99.9999 sure that it is Representative John Lewis, who is also from the state of Alabama. That you know, Christina, we got some good this come out of Alabama.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:21] There is something in the water in Alabama. And you are absolutely correct.
Diallo Riddle [00:12:24] The harder they come.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:26] Close.
Diallo Riddle [00:12:27] Oh, wait. The harder they fall?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:29] That’s right. I’m one of those people that just changes one word.
Roy Wood, Jr [00:12:33] I just don’t know that in this day. I’m going to pour myself a little water while you tell me the answer.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:38] The answer is Seneca Village, which began in 1825 with the purchase of land by a trustee of the A.M.E. Zion Church.
Roy Wood, Jr [00:12:45] You know what games like this make me nervous? I don’t know if I know enough Black. Do I know enough? How Black am I? Oh, my Lord. They they going to, we going to find out in public.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:53] So give us a follow. Subscribe and join us on the Blackest Questions.