Q&A: Black Lives Then and Now

by Tiya Birru

The Civil Rights Movement is a big part of Black history. The Civil Rights Movement was about the right to be treated equally and to vote without being oppressed. But those battles are not finished. Now we have the #BlackLivesMatter movement in response to the amount of police brutality against Black people, and lack of accountability for officers. . 

One generation has experienced both of these movements: Baby Boomers. I asked my friend Randy Campbell, a certified Boomer, about his experience with the Civil Rights movement in the Deep south — an area known for its enduring racism — and what he thinks about #BlackLivesMatter now.

Tiya Birru: When did you first see a march from the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s in California?

Randy Campbell: There was more attention on the Black Panther Party here, I remember specifically a teenager being shot by police and there were riots because of that. Well, that’s a historical perspective. It wasn’t viewed like that as it was unfolding. They referred to Malcolm X as a civil rights champion now. He was not referred to like that when he was alive. And that’s usually the case.   

TB: You lived in both Texas and California. Did you see a difference in racism between those places? 

RC: In my town [in Texas] there were only Black people and Mexicans, the white people nearby were literally separated by train tracks. Whites in Texas made it very clear, there were sundown laws, y’know you can’t drink my water, you can’t use our bad names. And in California it was more subtle. But the racism was still there and it was a fairly segregated city as well. 

TB: Was there a time when you saw something you couldn’t understand as a youth that had to do with the civil rights movement at the time?

RC: I didn’t understand the marching, the singing of “We Shall Overcome.” I thought in my young teenage mind: Did you know that was never going to work? And there was Malcolm, who talked about power coming out of a barrel of a gun, and that appealed to me much more. I became a part of the Black Panther Party at age 17. The Black Panther Party saw things in another way. They felt like we needed to be self-sufficient. We needed to learn how to form [WHAT?]. And I still think to this day that history has borne that out. 

TB: When did you first learn about the hashtag Black Lives Matter movement?

RC: I think that I first heard about them after Trayvon Martin was killed. Well. I just felt like [Zimmerman] needed to die. I feel like he needed to pay with his life for what he did to that kid.

You know, he’d followed that kid. He had a gun on him. He provoked a fight with him. But I don’t think I paid attention to them until Ferguson. When the riots started breaking out. 

TB: Do you notice any connections between the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s and today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement?

RC: Civil rights has been absolutely the most impactful. But without it you wouldn’t have the BLM movement now. Similarities? I think any time that somebody Black organizes something on a national level where white people begin to feel threatened by it. [Like] when the slogan became that Black Lives Matter. People started saying all lives matter, blue lives matter. And, you know, people would say, we’re not saying that all lives don’t matter, but all people are not killed the way black people are killed. And people aren’t going to jail for it.  The courage that it takes to put yourself on the front lines like that is also a similarity, because when you do that, you’re putting yourself in the line of fire.

As Black people, we often have to fight for rights that we deserve and change doesn’t always come quickly. But from what we learn from our ancestors is that we push for change where change is due. Whether it’s the Civil Rights Movement or the #BlackLivesMatter movement we fight, march, chant, and protest together. So let’s continue to fight together. Not just for us but for our descendants.