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Only a Pawn in Their Game

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2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Commentary

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Only a Pawn is another Dylan protest song, and a very good one. On the most literal level the song is about the murder of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist in the sixties. Evers was a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a well-known organization that lobbies for Afro-American civil rights.  Evers was a well-known figure in the early days of the civil rights movement. He played a central role in many voter registration rallies, economic boycotts, and sit-in demonstrations. Evers widow said her husband was resigned to the fact that he would be killed as a result of his efforts, asking her to take good care of their children after he was gone.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 He was working in Jackson, Mississippi when he was shot in the back as he walked from his car to his home by a white supremacist named Byron de La Beckwith. The murder was a major incident, discussed in all the major newspapers, and was the subject of a cover story of the very popular Life Magazine.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Beckwith was tried three times for the murder. The first two trials, both with all white juries, resulted in hung juries. The third time he was convicted, thirty-one years after the murder.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Beckwith was a real piece of work. His nephew, Reed Massengill, wrote a biography of Beckwith, Portrait of a Racist. It’s an incredible portrait of a repulsive man and the equally repulsive organization he supported.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Not satisfied with being a card carrying member of the Klu Klux Klan, Beckwith was a member of the even more radical White Knights. (http://www.orderofwhiteknights.org.) He was a believer of what was called the Christian Identity, which teaches that whites are God’s chosen people and all other races are inferior. He was also a good friend of Richard Hoskins, the leader of the Phineas Priesthood, a guerrilla organization that supports the murder of interracial couples, Jews, and homosexuals, among others. The Phineas justify these beliefs by citing a passage in the Book of Numbers in which an Israelite named Phineas kills a kinsman who has had sexual relations with a non-Israelite woman. Oh brother.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Willie Morris wrote an interesting book, The Ghosts of Medgar Evers: A Tale of Race, Murder, Mississippi, and Hollywood, that is in part an Evers biography but mostly a behind-the-scene record of the making of the movie about the murder, entitled Ghosts of Mississippi. Morris portrays Evers as an extraordinarily hard working family-man who dedicated his life to the pursuit of equal rights.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Ghosts of Mississippi was directed by Rob Reiner. The movie centers on Alex Baldwin’s character, Bobby DeLaughter, an Assistant District Attorney in Hinds County who successfully led the effort to convict Beckwith.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 DeLaughter wrote a book, Never Too Late: A Prosecutor’s Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case, which details his involvement in the ordeal. In the book he describes the enormous difficulties that he and Ever’s widow (and many, many others) overcame to win the conviction. DeLaughter’s marriage ended and the lives of his children were threatened. Many witnesses were run out of the state and others had their lives turned upside down.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Dylan has returned to the theme of racial strife many times in his career. The Ballad of Emmitt Till describes the murder of a young black man for the crime of whistling at a white man’s wife. He wrote George Jackson about the plight of a black man imprison under questionable circumstances. He wrote Hurricane about boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter‘s (arguably) unjust murder conviction.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 It’s interesting to contrast Dylan’s song with Phil Och’s Ballad of Medgar Ever and Neil Young’s Southern Man. Ochs’ song generally pins the blame for racial hatred on the individual who pulled the trigger. Young’s song points at southern society. Dylan instead points not at the individual or a particular part of society but at the powerful middle and upper class individuals who use racial hatred to serve their own purposes: the sheriffs, politicians, governors, marshals, and cops who use poor white people to do their bidding, to help keep blacks and other minorities in their place. “The poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool,” Dylan writes.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The idea that racial hatred was deliberately created and used as a tool by the southern establishment power brokers is not an idea that originated with Dylan. Mark Landis on rec.music.dylan pointed out that C. Vann Woodward argued this thesis in his excellent book The Strange Career of Jim Crow. Woodward provides a broad summary of race relations in the US from the civil war on. He also points out what he believes were the most important factors that caused changes in race relations during this time period.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Before reading Woodward’s book I had always assumed that segregation started right after the Civil War. This is not completely true. Although segregation and racial hatred certainly existed, in some areas of the South just after the war whites and blacks intermingled to a surprising degree. They could ride on the same railroad cars, attend the same sporting events, and some even went to the same schools. Many blacks voted, and their support was actively courted by white politicians. Black men were even elected to Congress.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Woodward argues that the passage of Jim Crow laws was not simply the result of the racial hatred, but rather a result of a concerted effort by the leading party at the time that was trying desperately to keep itself in power. Ironically, the Conservative Party had been a staunch alley of the blacks after the Civil War. However, their influence had waned after many instances of corruption within the party became known. To make matters worse, a devastating economic downturn gripped the South. In a last ditch effort to stay in power, the Conservatives attempted to gain the support of poor whites by painting the black as the source of their problems. Unfortunately, this strategy was successful. The Conservative Party played a large role in the passing of the Jim Crow laws which, among other things, legalized segregation and prevented blacks from voting.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Dylan also performed the song at the 1963 March on Washington (second song) .

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21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Lyrics

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood.
A finger fired the trigger to his name.
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 A South politician preaches to the poor white man,
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid,
And the marshals and cops get the same,
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool.
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
‘Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks,
And the hoof beats pound in his brain.
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ‘neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught.
They lowered him down as a king.
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.

Page 35
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Source: http://www.bobdylancommentaries.com/the-times-they-are-a-changin/only-a-pawn-in-their-game/