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Society’s struggles



Communication is Key: Society’s Struggles Are No Secret Christine N. Rodriguez Hialeah Gardens High School English I Honors – Period 6

Society’s struggles “Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national


elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.” Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963) spoke these moving words in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (p. 2). Even though he wrote this in the 1960’s, as he was striving for the rights of African Americans and for a peaceful country, it still pertains to us now. This message is especially relevant today because American brothers and sisters, of all colors and backgrounds, have elected its first African American president. We have come a long way in this country, but the road has not been easy. It has been long and bumpy to say the least. Black people have experienced constant strife often due to the white man’s need for power and disregard for mankind. From slavery to segregation, African Americans have had deal with pain and suffering, as well as a loss of freedom and family. These obstacles are often found in history books and literature, which paints a sad picture of how dreadful it was for the black community. For example, the hurdles African Americans have faced are explained in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees (2002). Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was meant to pave the road and provide rights to black Americans, the author reveals the African Americans’ ongoing struggle with registering to vote, racial tension and desegregation. In the 1960’s, one of the greatest difficulties for African Americans was registering to vote. Something that was a basic right for white people seemed to be a constant struggle for black people. It is obvious that it was a challenge because less than ten percent of African Americans from the South had registered to vote. “White officials used all kinds of devices to keep blacks from voting, including literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, intimidation and violence” (Benson, 2004). Innocent people were brutally and senselessly murdered while registering. In The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd describes this problem through Lily’s description of national events, as well as Rosaleen’s attempts to register. Lily shares with the reader that the

Society’s struggles night before Rosaleen goes on her quest to vote, a man in Mississippi is killed while trying to obtain his voter’s card. The author also describes the African Americans’ strife through the events that occur with Rosaleen, a black woman. Lily shares with the reader that she has overheard the deacon telling T-Ray that black people will be refused a card if they “forget so much as a dot on an i or make a loop in their y” (p. 27). As a result, Rosaleen spends countless hours practicing her cursive to likely be denied a card and her right to vote. This event in the


novel resembles the strife dictated in history books about blacks registering to vote. What is sad is white people did not have to jump through the same hoops to register, which was very unfair. Because they believed in their rights, African Americans would not give in. Millions took to the streets in the south to host massive demonstrations. The black folks of this era had the same unrelenting spirit as Rosaleen, which is a strong statement about their ability to overcome any obstacle. Racial tension was a major struggle the black society faced during the Civil Rights Era. From peaceful marches to visits to the movies, white people, mobs, and policemen often harassed black Americans. A peaceful march or bus ride by black activists was often spoiled by violence and brutality. In Alabama, a busload of black people was firebombed and many were injured as they rode to peacefully protest. Moreover, police officers, who were meant to protect citizens, turned their dogs, weapons and nightsticks on protesters. They even went so far to use powerful water hoses to hold black people back and keep them from protesting. This conflict in Selma, Alabama included the murders of both black and white Americans as they worked together to bring about positive change. It was so horrific, the incident is now known as Bloody Sunday. In The Secret Life of Bees, Rosaleen and Zach and his friends deal with similar tension and violence. Though no one is murdered in the novel, their struggle to vote and peacefully walk the

Society’s struggles streets of South Carolina does lead to police brutality or public scorn. An example of this is


when Rosaleen is on her way to jail for her incident with the three men at the Esso station. Lily, the narrator, explains that the policeman stops the car, points his weapon at the harmless Rosaleen, and allows those same men to beat her. “The [man] lifted the flashlight over his head, then down, smashing it into her forehead. She dropped to her knees” (p. 35). Rosaleen suffered injuries through unnecessary force and at the hands of a man who was supposed to protect her. Zach and his friends also experience the same kind of intimidation when they run into each other in town. As they mind their own business while greeting each other, some white men, who anticipate Jack Palance’s visit to the Tiburon movie theatre with an African American woman, begin to start trouble. Tensions elevate when the men hold up a shovel and threaten and provoke the boys. One of Zach’s friends ultimately defends himself and his buddies and punches the man. Of course, the police ignore the weapon in the men’s hands and arrest Zach and his three friends for what whites would typically label, “self defense.” Zach’s experiences parallel that of many African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. No black man seemed to escape racial tension, especially in the South. Desegregation, though it was to better our society, proved to be an obstacle that black Americans would have to overcome. Prior to 1964, one would often see signs at the beach that ordered, “No dogs or blacks allowed.” Once the Civil Rights Act was passed, Congress forbid segregation in business and public places. It prohibited discriminatory practices in employment and ended segregation in swimming pools, hotels, libraries, public schools, concert halls and movie theatres and such (Patterson, 2006). Even though this was a step in the right direction for our country, it took many years for blacks to be accepted in white establishments. For example, in 1954, a judge ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education that African Americans were allowed

Society’s struggles to attend the same school as white folks. However, ten years later, still only 16% of black students in the southern states attended white schools. One may wonder why black students


would not just show up to school, enroll, and take advantage of what was rightfully theirs. Sadly, it was not that simple because many were sill denied access. When they were allowed to register, the white students would degrade and belittle the newcomers. In some cases, black students were shot at while entering school. There were also incidents when the National Guard had to be deployed to protect black students on university campuses. In the novel, the author uses Zach to show how blacks were mistreated when attending white schools. Lily recounts how “ignoramuses [would] ball up notebook paper and throw it at Zach in the hallway” (p. 301). What is also interesting is how white students would mistreat other white students if they chose to associate with a black student. For example, Lily and Becca are called “nigger lovers” for choosing to be friends with Zach, a black student. This reveals that even though Brown vs. the Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were meant to desegregate, blacks and white were separate. In The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd not only details the highs and lows of the characters, she also portrays the highs and lows of our nation during the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the novel, she reveals the African Americans’ ongoing obstacles with registering to vote, racial tension and the desegregation of public schools and places. Black Americans were living a life of hell at the hands of the white man. All because of the color of one’s skin, he/she was not able to vote, attend certain schools, or take to the streets in peaceful protest or to be with friends. The color of one’s skin also determined how they were treated: brutally or fairly, with love or with violence. Even Lily herself wondered if “it would have been better if God had deleted skin pigment altogether” (p. 155). As Sue Monk Kidd makes the reader aware of the

Society’s struggles sins against the black community, the reader must consider those words from Dr. King. In his letter from jail, he details his hopes of “bringing our nation back to those great wells of


democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” As the reader reflects on the struggles and strife of the black community and how they were being oppressed for so long, what comes to mind is the perhaps we are finally on our way. Registering to vote is no longer an issue. More African Americans voted this year than any other year in the past. Finally, their voice was loud and clear, their cries were heard. Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “psalm of brotherhood” was a song he knew that would be sung one day. The brotherhood of both black and white Americans would join together to elect a president, educate students, and peacefully communicate. Maybe, just maybe, his dream has become a reality.

Society’s struggles References Benson, J. (2004). Struggle for freedom. Retrieved on December 1, 2008, from id=591&display_order=2&sub_display_order=7&mini_id=1071 Hunter, C. (August 8, 1967). Report from U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Retrieved December 1, 2008, from pressrel67.pdf. Kidd, S. M. (2002). The secret life of bees. New York: Penguin Group. King, Jr., M.L. (1963). Letter from Birmingham jail. Retrieved on November 30, 2008 from http://www.scholasticlearning/mlkletter.htm Liptak, A. (2005). 1965: At last, freedom to vote: forty years ago, police attacks on civil rights protesters in Alabama led to passage of the voting rights act. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from,+freedom+to+vote:+forty +years+ago,+police+attacks+on...-a0128791194.