Gordon Carey, a force in the civil rights movement, dies at 89

Gordon Carey, a white civil rights activist who was a force majeure, though largely unrecognized, in two of the civil rights movement’s ...


Gordon Carey, a white civil rights activist who was a force majeure, though largely unrecognized, in two of the civil rights movement’s most important non-violent actions – the lunch counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides – has died on November 27 in Arlington, Va. He was 89 years old.

His daughter Ramona Carey said he had been in poor health in recent months and died of pneumonia in a hospital.

After the founding sit-in of black activists in a separate 1960 Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, NCMr. Carey has conducted workshops and helped train hundreds of others in civil disobedience tactics. The interns spread the sit-in movement to other states, and within months their peaceful assertion of their right to be served won them seats in many of these once-all-white establishments. The sit-ins highlighted the success of the non-violent protests and provided an organizing structure for further fighting to come.

The following year, when Mr. Carey and a black colleague, Tom Gaither, were stranded during a snowstorm on a bus on the New Jersey Turnpike for 12 hours, they conceived the idea of ​​the Self-guided walks.

These were black and white activist groups who boarded interstate buses together to draw attention to a landmark 1960 United States Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racial segregation in all forms of public transportation. . The bus companies ignored the law. The Freedom Riders, who included John Lewis, were encountered at several stops by violent white crowds who bombarded buses and beat racers, but their mission caught the public imagination and helped advance the historic struggle for racial equality.

“Carey is one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement,” Thomas Healy, author of the 2021 book “Soul City,” said of an ephemeral utopian society in North Carolina by this name in which Mr. Carey played a leading role. Mr. Healy has interviewed Mr. Carey on several occasions for his book.

Mr. Carey, the son of a preacher, was a young pacifist employed by CORE, the Racial Equality Congress, which began in 1942 as an interracial organization that pioneered the use of nonviolent direct action in the civil rights movement.

In the late 1950s, Mr. Carey was hired as a field secretary at CORE headquarters in New York. When the organization learned of the Greensboro sit-in, it traveled to Durham, North Carolina, where similar sit-ins were underway. He joined one and was arrested, only to be released on bail a few hours later by Floyd McKissick, a young civil rights lawyer who would become the director of CORE and a close friend.

Mr. Carey, already trained in civil disobedience, was asked to train others, many of them students, on how to sit and react if they were taunted or attacked. The essence of his message, guided by the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi, was to turn the other cheek.

“You deny the adversary the basic means that he thinks he can use to overwhelm you,” he said in a 1985 interview produced for the television documentary series “Eyes on the Prize”.

On the way back to New York after running a workshop in South Carolina, his bus got stuck in a snowstorm in New Jersey. It carried “The Life of Mahatma Gandhi”, a biography of Louis Fischer in 1950. As the hours dragged on, he and Mr. Gaither, also a CORE worker, read the book and talked about Gandhi’s 240 miles. . walk to the sea in 1930 to protest the UK salt tax.

They knew that CORE had sponsored a “Journey of reconciliation” in 1947, in which black and white activists traveled by bus to test a 1946 Supreme Court ruling that declared seat segregation on public buses unconstitutional. Bus companies also ignored the move, but the protest had little impact. In 1960, the court made a broader decision, Boynton v. Virginia, prohibit racial segregation in all types of public transport as well as in stations and terminals.

As they waited for the storm to end, Mr. Carey and Mr. Gaither got excited about hosting a more publicized tour of bus rides across the South. With CORE’s blessing, Mr. Carey organized them and Mr. Gaither mapped the routes and spotted them.

The rides drew heavy media coverage and the sight of peaceful horsemen assaulted and imprisoned shocked the nation.

“The Freedom Rides brought CORE to the forefront of the civil rights struggle,” Healy wrote.

But rifts were growing between those who were committed to non-violence and those who were supporters of black separatism. “Black members were increasingly hostile to white involvement,” Healy wrote, and many white activists in the organization, including Mr. Carey, were forced to resign.

“Carey recognized that it was untenable for whites to lead a movement for black equality,” Healy said in a telephone interview. “He was disappointed that he had essentially been forced to leave, but he saw this as a natural part of black taking control of their own destiny.”

Gordon Ray Carey was born January 7, 1932 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His mother, Marguerite (Jellema) Carey, was a housewife. Her father, Howard Ray Carey, was a Methodist pastor and pacifist who in the 1940s was president of a small CORE chapter in Grand Rapids.

Gordon grew up with a commitment to social justice. Child he met James farmer, one of the main founders of CORE and a leading figure in the civil rights movement. The family then moved to California and Gordon participated in projects with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group. He left high school in 1950 to volunteer on a cargo ship carrying cattle to Japan as he recovered from World War II.

Returning to California, after graduating from high school, he enrolled in conscription as a conscientious objector during the Korean War and was exempted from military service by the conscription commission. But he felt guilty; if he didn’t go, he reasoned, someone else would be called in to fight. He then told the editorial board that the government did not have the power to force anyone to serve.

This led the editorial board to revoke his conscientious objector status and order him to run for enthronement in 1953. When he failed to appear, a federal judge issued an arrest warrant. , and when FBI agents arrested him, he said he would not cooperate. The officers transported him to their car.

Mr. Carey’s act of passive resistance was so unusual at the time that the Los Angeles Times covered it on the front page.

He was sentenced to three years in a minimum security juvenile delinquent prison near Tucson, Arizona, where he spent most of his time reading. The book that most influenced him, according to Mr. Healy, was Tolstoy’s book. “The Kingdom of God is within you», An 1894 treatise on nonviolent resistance that inspired Gandhi.

Mr. Carey was released after a year. He returned to California and attended Pasadena City College, although he never graduated. He quickly moved to New York to work for CORE.

Mr. Carey married Betye Boyd in 1959. They later divorced and he married Karen Wilken in 1974. In addition to their daughter, Ramona, his wife survives him, as well as his children from his first marriage, Kristina and Anthony Carey; Ms. Wilken’s daughters from her first marriage, Kristina Vetter and Stephanie Wilken; 10 grandchildren; a great-granddaughter; and Mr. Carey’s brother, Gene.

After Mr. Carey left CORE, he was Mr. McKissick’s right-hand man in Soul City, the attempt to build a racially integrated utopian community in rural Warren County, North Carolina, with black people in charge.

Mr. McKissick secured millions of mostly public dollars to build Soul City and hired Mr. Carey to plan it. Mr. Carey believed deeply in the mission and moved his family there in 1974. But few more came, businesses were few, the town was investigated for corruption and the dream s finally collapsed. Mr. Carey and his family left in 1981.

The most active phase of the civil rights movement was by then largely over and many of its infantrymen had resumed calmer lives. Mr. Carey founded a software company in Burlington, North Carolina that worked for community organizations and drug courts.

“There was no longer a natural place for him in the civil rights movement,” Ramona Carey said in an interview. “But he was still motivated by social causes, and this endeavor was a way for him to continue working for social justice.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Gordon Carey, a force in the civil rights movement, dies at 89
Gordon Carey, a force in the civil rights movement, dies at 89
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