by Montgomery Blair Sibley, ©2014, blogging at Amo Probos

(Nov. 16, 2014) — While I never met the four preceding ancestors of whom I have written, the last in this group was near and dear to me: My paternal grandmother, Mrs. Harper Sibley (pictured at right). In 1946, she allied herself with Paul Robeson and the American Crusade to End Lynching. The full story is reported in Albert Einstein’s FBI file, but the salient parts follow:

When his illness prevented him from attending the Washington anti-lynching rally, Einstein sent a letter to be delivered to the President by Robeson and the other ACEL leaders, but in view of what occurred at the White House, it’s uncertain that Einstein’s letter was ever handed to Truman.

After the rally, which drew some 3,000 protesters, a multi-racial delegation, including Robeson, Rabbi Irving Miller of the American Jewish Congress and Mrs. Harper Sibley, president of the United Council of Church Women and wife of the former president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, met with Truman in the Oval Office. The gentlest term that might describe their meeting is confrontational. Almost as soon as Robeson began reading the group’s statement calling for immediate Executive action to stop the lynch mobs, the President interrupted: The timing was not yet right for an anti-lynching law, he said, and the delegation ought to appreciate the fact that America and Great Britain were “the last refuge of freedom in the world.” Somewhat less than appreciative, Robeson answered that Britain was one of the world’s “great enslavers of human beings.” When Mrs. Sibley made a comparison between fascism against the Jews in Europe and fascism in America as levied against Negroes, the President showed impatience and a flare of temper.

Robeson said returning [black] veterans are showing signs of restiveness and indicated that they are determined to get the justice here they have fought for abroad. Robeson warned that this restiveness might produce an emergency situation which would require Federal intervention. The President, shaking his fist, stated this sounded like a threat.

Robeson’s implied ultimatum that if the government would not provide protection, black people would defend themselves was, apparently, too much for Truman who promptly ended the meeting.

It would be another ten years before Rosa Parks and other working women of Montgomery took on that town’s segregated buses and several more years before tens of thousands of young people joined in mass anti-racist actions; but in 1946 the rumblings had begun that would erupt into the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  My Grandmother was front and center at that first moment.
The point is this: This woman, born to the life of aristocratic privilege (her father was a New York City stockbroker and polo player) in which she could have spent her life, instead followed the call she heard to face head-on the injustices of her time. For example, when she was unanimously chosen American Mother of the Year in 1945, she did not rest on that laurel, but instead my Grandmother used that position to see that Emma Clarissa Clement, the granddaughter of a slave, was chosen as American Mother of the Year in 1946 despite fierce opposition from southern state delegates.  Seventy years on, this may seem like a trifle — in 1945, it was revolutionary.
Which brings me to my Grandmother’s quote contained in the title of this piece: “Equality is not an anthropological, political, sociological or economic question; it is a theological question. Either God made everybody in his own image, or he didn’t make anybody at all.”
Needless to say, we do not have “equality” in this Country due to the perversion of the political machinery which now maintains inequality rather than preventing it.  Faced with this fact I hold as gospel, I could not do nothing:  Like George Mason, Francis Preston Blair, Montgomery Blair, Frank Blair and Mrs. Harper Sibley, I too must act.
And so starting in mid-November 2014, I embarked on the only course I saw left to me and my skills to discharge that genomic/theological obligation . . .

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.