Saturday, December 15, 2012

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's thoughts about Lawrence Guyot

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton honored Lawrence Guyot at his memorial service December 15.   The press release:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) will offer remarks and serve as moderator for the memorial service honoring civil rights pioneer and long-time Washingtonian Lawrence Guyot on Saturday, December 15, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. at Goodwill Baptist Church (1862 Kalorama Road, NW). Norton’s ties with Guyot date back to their work together in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MDFP) challenge in 1964.

"In an act of defiance of the both Mississippi and national power, Guyot and the Mississippi Freedom delegation had forced a sea change in his state and in the national Democratic party. Four years later, for the first time, the Democratic Party became democratic. As we watched how President Obama won a second term in November, we saw the straight line from Guyot and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to Barack Obama.," Norton said in her remarks. "Guyot’s mark is everywhere in this town, including on my own first campaign for Congress, where Guyot was one of my closest advisors and especially on the city’s long campaign for equal rights, for voting rights, and for statehood."

Norton’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.

Remarks of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
Memorial Service for Lawrence Guyot
December 15, 2012
As Prepared for Delivery

Let me start with the simple truth. Lawrence Thomas Guyot Jr. was the bravest man I knew up close and personal. Many of my friends and colleagues in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were arrested. Even I have been in jail. No big deal. Some, of course, stood out for being beaten and for taking other violent abuse, even in demonstrations, SNCC chair, John Lewis, foremost among them. But I personally saw what Mississippi jailers did to Guyot when I went to the jail in Winona, Mississippi, in the heart of the Delta. He almost surely carried those scars with him when Guyot left this world on November 23. Yet, there were no scars on Guyot’s soul. It remained unblemished.

Despite experiencing the worst of the American experience, including time at the notorious Parchment Farm Penitentiary, Guyot was the most upbeat of human beings. That spirit kept him ever-poised for the next fight. Yet, Guyot was born and raised in a state bathed in racial hatred. Guyot’s Mississippi had not much changed since the Civil War. Blacks were supposed to adhere to its racial code -- and to like it. Guyot abhorred it and lived to help bring down that code.

Mississippi was the last battleground in the civil rights movement. As the non-violent army approached, the state was brimming with murderous resistance to its nascent non-violent civil rights movement. Medgar Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963, after putting me on the bus to Greenwood, Alabama. Though a century-old, the NAACP had no state president until Medgar Evers, and Medgar, not students, led the first sit-ins in the state, in Jackson, where they were savagely beaten at lunch counters a week before I arrived. For me, all of this amounted to a baptism by fire, but for Guyot, it was the world where he lived. It was the world he defied with all his being when almost no one else did.

To know Guyot is to have a Guyot story. We will hear some of these stories today. One of Guyot’s most important stories has had an outsized effect. Guyot was elected chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, touring the state to get white and black Mississippians to participate in local Democratic Party meetings throughout the state that chose delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. When they were systematically excluded from all the proceedings, Guyot, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party vice chair, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the integrated Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party delegation went to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City to challenge the official all-white Mississippi delegation. Guyot and I worked together again in Atlantic City, where I ran the lobbying operation and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation presented the legal brief I helped write to the Democratic National Convention credentials committee. In the end, the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party delegation rejected the national Democrats’ offer of two delegates in the Mississippi delegation, but, four years later, Guyot had credentials to the Democratic National Convention.

In an act of defiance of the both Mississippi and national power, Guyot and the Mississippi Freedom delegation had forced a sea change in his state and in the national Democratic party. Four years later, for the first time, the Democratic Party became democratic. As we watched how President Obama won a second term in November, we saw the straight line from Guyot and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to Barack Obama. Most in SNCC scattered throughout the country in the years that followed, but Guyot went back home to Mississippi. Monica Guyot, the 47-year love of his life last week, took Guyot back home to Mississippi, where he first left his mark.

As we will hear today, Guyot left a big mark here, too, in D.C. that became his home town. Guyot’s mark is everywhere in this town, including on my own first campaign for Congress, where Guyot was one of my closest advisors and especially on the city’s long campaign for equal rights, for voting rights, and for statehood.

Have you noticed that only once have I used Guyot’s full name? For those who knew him, one word – Guyot -- managed to say all that is necessary, like others we affectionately call by one name – Obama, Shakespeare, Prince. One word is all that is necessary to call up who Guyot was – gracious and generous but wise in the ways of struggle, a man who believed that defiance of subjugation would give us courage. He left as his legacy exactly what we need in our own perennial fight against an oppressive Congress – the will to engage in defiance that can give us courage for more defiance. At times, when we are trying to summon the fortitude, but the word courage seems out of reach, we might try thinking of the bravest man I knew personally and up close. Just say Guyot.

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