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When the past is present…
He Paid the Price for Our Voting Rights
On the night of June 12, 1963, Bernard Lafayette was walking up the driveway to his home when he heard the sound of footsteps closing in on him from behind. He turned to see a muscular, thick-necked man with a crew cut staring down at him. “Buddy,” the man said as he motioned to a stalled car in the street, “how much would you charge me to give me a push?”
Lafayette sighed with relief, and walked toward the stalled car. Suddenly, though, the man whipped out a gun and started bashing him on the forehead. With blood dripping onto his eyelashes, Lafayette staggered to his feet and watched as the man stepped back, ready to pull the trigger.
…The message from his would-be assassin was unmistakable: Leave town and stop trying to organize black voters.
Lafayette was saved by an alert neighbor. But he checked himself out of the hospital the next day and, wearing a bloodied shirt and with stitches embedded in his swollen face, returned to downtown Selma, Alabama, to resume his mission of urging black residents to vote. He was 22.
“I wanted to send a message to the people there in Selma,” says Lafayette today. “This was like a one-person demonstration, and as a result of that people came out of the woodwork. They wanted to register to vote; they wanted to get involved in this thing.”
50 Years Later, SCOTUS Guts the Voting Rights Act
On [June 25, 2013], the U.S. Supreme Court delivered another message. The court’s conservative majority issued a ruling that essentially strikes at the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a momentous civil rights law for which Lafayette shed his blood….
While much of the coverage of the Supreme Court case focuses on the legal implications of a future without Section 5, there’s a human story behind the Voting Rights Act that’s been ignored. Many Americans do not know how and why the act was passed. And the terrible price people like Lafayette paid to make the act possible.
Lafayette is one of the founding fathers of the Voting Rights Act. He was part of a small interracial army of men and women who presented their bodies as living sacrifices for the Act. Some lost their friends, their families, their minds — even their lives. But 50 years after their greatest triumph, many have died and their struggle is in danger of being lost to clichés about the civil rights movement.
When the Supreme Court held oral arguments over the Voting Rights Act earlier this year, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called the sweeping law a “racial entitlement.”
For people like Lafayette, the Act was something else: It was war….
The Brave Foot Soldiers
…Selma was a microcosm of what had taken root in black communities throughout the South for a century. Blacks lived in Apartheid-like conditions. They were the majority of residents in Selma, but less than 1 percent were registered at the county courthouse to vote….
Selma could exclude so many black voters because the state of Alabama controlled the voting process…. State voting registrars devised an ingenious gauntlet for would-be black voters: Applicants had to remember portions of the state constitution; voting forms were discarded for minor errors; applicants had to be accompanied by a white person vouching for their honesty. Some registrars would simply ignore black applicants….
Lafayette tried to plant seeds for a voter rights movement but the conditions were tough. He received death threats over the phone. His address was printed on the front page of the local newspaper. He and his new wife, Colia, looked constantly in their car’s rear-view mirror to see if they were being followed.
Worse, much of the black community shunned him for being a troublemaker who “stirred up the white folks.” “They lost hope that anything could happen,” Lafayette says.
Lafayette and his wife worked virtually alone. That was the pattern for many voting rights activists. People who get their image of the civil rights movement from newsreel footage might think activists spent most of their time in large groups, singing freedom songs while they marched.
But most voting rights activists worked alone in small isolated Southern communities surrounded by people who wanted to kill them — and did at times with the help of local law enforcement. “I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to survive Selma,” Lafayette says.
The attempt on his life, though, backfired. It angered many of Selma’s black residents. They started showing up at Lafayette’s mass meetings, and more tried to register to vote. The white leaders in Selma retaliated. Blacks were fired from their jobs when their employers discovered that they had tried to vote. Sheriff’s deputies assaulted blacks who tried to vote.
“Many of these people risked everything — their jobs, homes, even their lives — for the right to vote,” [says Gary May, author of “Bending Toward Justice,” a stirring book that examines how the Voting Rights Act transformed America]. “When I talk about them to groups, I get chills.”
The blood that Lafayette shed that night became the seed for the voting rights movement. It drew the attention of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Selma would eventually become the launching pad for the Voting Rights Act and Lafayette would join King’s inner circle.
The Civil Rights Veteran Reacts to SCOTUS’ Decision
Today, Lafayette is a senior fellow at the University of Rhode Island, where he founded the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. He’s the author of a forthcoming book on his time in Selma titled “In Peace and Freedom.” He says the country still needs Section 5.
“I don’t feel a sense of anger; I feel a sense disappointment” at the prospect of Section 5 being invalidated, he says. “We have to recognize that our struggle is not over. Our real struggle now is to retain some of the rights that we gained, and rights that we fought for. And this is something we didn’t expect.”
Read the full article and watch a video about 3 unsung civil rights heroes here.
Check out Breaking News here.
On July 5, 1852, abolitionist and ex-slave Frederick Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester, New York’s Corinthian Hall. It was biting oratory, in which the speaker told his audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked them, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?”
Within the now-famous address is what historian Philip S. Foner has called “probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass’ speeches.”
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?
I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.
To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Douglass ends, however, on a note of hope. He predicts the downfall of slavery and oppression, not only in the United States, but around the world.
He quotes a triumphant poem by fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison:
“Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive —
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Be driven. ”
Read and/or download Douglass’ full speech here. [download id=”12″ format=”1″] (pdf)
Danny Glover reads a section of the speech in the video below.
On this July 4th, stand with other ABHM visitors here to oppose hatred and injustice.
Proponents of equality have reason to both cheer and cry this week….
One movement for equality [Gay Rights] had its spirits lifted and another [Civil Rights] had them crushed.
But the truth is that these movements are not wholly dissimilar. All combatants for justice are cousins. Jim Crow and Jim Queer are of a kind. So, given what happened on the racial civil rights front this week, the LGBT civil rights movement would be wise to take heed.
Overcoming blatantly unconstitutional laws is only a first step in the never-ending march toward justice. It is in the decades that follow that discriminatory policies can become more illusory….
[T]he changing of laws does not work in tandem with the changing of hearts, which means that minority groups are always vulnerable. When the laws change, some things simply become subterfuge.
Just ask black civil rights leaders still fighting a huge prison industrial complex, police policies like stop-and-frisk and predatory lending practices. Ask women’s rights leaders still fighting for equal pay, defending a woman’s right to sovereign authority of her own body — including full access to a wide range of reproductive options. Ask pro-immigration groups fighting a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment.
…[I]t is no coincidence that there is quite a bit of overlap among the states that were covered by the Voting Rights Act, those that have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, those with some of the most restrictive abortion laws and those that have considered or passed some of the strictest anti-immigrant bills.
Racial hostility, homophobia and misogyny are braided together like strands of the same rope. When we fight one, we fight them all.
Engaging in combat as a coalition reinforces and expands everyone’s power, reach and influence. We must realize that if everyone can see the sameness in these struggles, rather than the differences, we will be able to see that America is already a majority minority country.
Read Blow’s full opinion here.
Read more Breaking News here.
Paula Deen is where sass meets crass, where the homespun and folksy curdle into something with a sour aftertaste.
Her manner may be as sugary as her cooking, her smile as big as the hams she hawked for Smithfield. But she doesn’t pause when she should. Doesn’t question herself when she must….
A fresh illustration of this traveled through cyberspace on Monday, a video that shows Deen at The New York Times last October, being interviewed onstage by my colleague Kim Severson. The subject of race comes up. [Begin viewing at 47:45.]
“I feel like the South is almost less prejudiced,” Deen says, “because black folks played such an integral part in our lives. They were like our family.”
That statement alone is awkward — she’s referring to servants, presumably — but she doesn’t stop there. Motioning to the inky backdrop behind her and Severson, she notes that her beloved driver, bodyguard and assistant, Hollis Johnson, is as “black as that board.”
“Come out here, Hollis,” she adds, looking offstage and directing the audience’s attention there. “We can’t see you standing against that dark board.”…
[Some] have urged clemency, noting that she’s 66 years old and has lived her life far south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Please. All of her adult years postdate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and she’s a citizen of the world, traveling wide and far to peddle her wares. If she can leave Georgia for the sake of commerce, she can leave Georgia in the realm of consciousness.
Beyond which, people can change, growing past wrongful ways in the name of what’s right…
To read the full opinion piece, click here.
To read more Breaking News, click here.
…[Today’s voting rights] opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts takes great pains to reject the notion that the South of today has any lingering challenges that bar minorities from voting. Roberts argues that the nine states covered fully by Section 4b of the law don’t discriminate against minority voters any more or less than other places in the country….
“The coverage formula met that test in 1965, but no longer does so. Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned nationwide for over 40 years,” Roberts writes. “And voter registration and turnout numbers in the covered States have risen dramatically in [that time]. Racial disparity in those numbers was compelling evidence justifying the preclearance remedy and the coverage formula. There is no longer such a disparity. In 1965, the States could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”
The Court’s liberals were outraged at such logic. In a dissent joined by the Court’s four Democratic appointees, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered a long, exhaustive list of controversial voting laws passed just in the last decade in some of the southern States covered by the law….
Further, Ginsburg argues that the states in the Deep South have a particular reason to get heightened scrutiny in the future: politics. The states covered by Section 5, such as Alabama, have highly racialized voting patterns, with most blacks supporting Democrats and Republicans earning white voters. That divide, Ginsburg argues, creates an obvious incentive for laws that would limit the votes of blacks.
“Racial polarization means that racial minorities are at risk of being systematically outvoted and having their interests underrepresented in legislatures. Second, when political preferences fall along racial lines, the natural inclinations of incumbents and ruling parties to entrench themselves have predictable racial effects. Under circumstances of severe racial polarization, efforts to gain political advantage translate into race-specific disadvantages.”
Read the full article and watch the video here.
Read more Breaking News here.
This morning the Supreme Court cut out the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It ended the practice of “coverage.” Covered states (mostly in the South), with a history of racial discrimination, must receive clearance from the federal government before changing their voting laws. The Court’s decision made unconstitutional the formula that determines which states are “covered” (monitored by Washington).
The vote was 5 to 4, with the five conservative-leaning judges in the majority and the four liberal-leaning justices in the minority. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the decision.
Congress could chooses to pass a new bill for determining which states would be covered. However, reaching agreement on a new formula will likely be impossible, given its partisan gridlock. Even if such a bill were to pass, it would probably be immediately contested in court.
Just two hours after the Supreme Court announced its decision, the formerly “covered” state of Texas announced that a voter identification law – blocked last year by the federal government – would go into effect immediately.
Today Breaking News will focus on the consequences of this decision for our country and on the past history which, it seems, we are about to relive.
Here is a 3-minute video history of the Voting Rights Act that many famous and many unsung civil rights activists risked (and sometimes lost) their lives for.
Read more Breaking News about the Supreme Court’s decision, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights workers whose struggle gave birth to the Act.
An attorney for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition said current and former Paula Deen employees told him the famous cook and her brother discriminated against black employees, one of whom was consistently referred to as “my little monkey.”
After Deen acknowledged using a racial slur, the story went viral and the Food Network announced on Friday that it would not renew her contract when it expires at the end of June.
Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, are being sued by Lisa T. Jackson, a former employee who claims she endured a hostile work environment replete with racial slurs….
Scores of people vented on the Food Network’s Facebook page. On Facebook, a ‘We Support Paula Deen’ page had more than 128,000 likes. A ‘Bring Back Paula Deen’ page started at 5 p.m. Friday by Jimmy Beck, of Carrollton, had more than 1,200 likes. “I am only 20, but I know what forgiveness is. I think it’s time we move away from this crazy political correctness,” Beck wrote in an email to the AJC [Atlanta Journal Constitution].
More than 100 people have commented in AJC’s The Buzz column.
An AJC Twitter call-out netted numerous emails and phone calls.
“I don’t think Paula should ever use the N-word, but I don’t think it merited her being fired from the Food Network,” said Wilbur E. Jordan, Jr., a 28-year old Augusta resident. “I do feel her apology was heartfelt.”
Learell Faulk, 33, of Calhoun, was critical of the decision not to renew Deen’s contract.
“I understand that Food Network is a business with an image to protect and anything short of firing Paula Deen would appear to support her past mistakes,” said Faulk, who is white. “The fact that Food Network is being forced by society into this decision is nothing less than hogwash.”
Darah Cubit, who described herself as a 22-year-old black woman from the West Coast, said she was not surprised to learn that Deen had used a racial slur.
“After all, she is an older white woman in one of the most notorious slave states in the country,” Cubit said. “However, my problem is that for years the people around her had been condoning this behavior and accepting the clearly biased opinions she had communicated off camera. Her personal beliefs and biases obviously would have affected how most of her viewers, being of slave descent, support her restaurants, shows, and special appearances.”
Read the full article here.
Watch the Daily Show’s “report” on Deen’s problem and its cure here.
Read more Breaking News here.
Researchers have long known that African-Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though studies have repeatedly shown that the two groups use the drug at similar rates.
New federal data, included in a study by the American Civil Liberties Union, now shows that the problem of racially biased arrests is far more extensive that was previously known — and is getting worse. The costly, ill-advised “war on marijuana” might fairly be described as a tool of racial oppression.
The study, based on law enforcement data from 50 states and the District of Columbia, is the most detailed of its kind so far. Marijuana arrests have risen sharply over the last two decades and now make up about half of all drug arrests in the United States….
Nationally, African-Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites. The disparity is even more pronounced in some states, including Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, where African-Americans are about eight times as likely to be arrested. And in some counties around the country, blacks are 10, 15 or even 30 times as likely to be arrested.
Read the full article here.
Read more Breaking News here.
The Fourth of July isn’t the only Independence Day in America.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas, bringing news to the town that the Civil War had ended and that all slaves were free. This was nearly two and a half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Before long, the former slaves in southeastern Texas began to celebrate June 19th as Emancipation Day. Eventually, they shortened the name to Juneteenth….
But Juneteenth isn’t just a historical holiday; modern celebrations are increasing throughout the country, said Cliff Robinson, founder of Juneteenth.com, a Web site that allows individuals or groups to post information and photos from Juneteenth celebrations.
“We’ve had people from all 50 states and around the world posting on our site,” Robinson said. “I’ve seen some celebrations that try to make it historic in terms of costume, but today it can be anything: a family dinner, a backyard barbecue and everything to a concert downtown or a citywide parade. It has expanded.”
I spoke with Dr. William Wiggins Jr., professor Emeritus of Folklore at Indiana University and author of Jubilation: African-American Celebrations in the Southeast, about the history and future of Juneteenth.
Why did it take so long for word of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach Texas?
One of the popular legends associated with that is that Lincoln dispatched Union soldiers to move throughout the South to spread the word, and it took until the 19th of June.
But I think on the other end, you could perhaps say it took so long because of the resistance to emancipation itself. Texas was one of the last outposts of slavery and Galveston is sort of the epicenter. In fact, one of the last fights in the Civil War was done in Galveston and the Union forces were repelled. There had been a big resistance all along and it was because of this fact that word got slowly to east Texas. Then Gordon Granger was dispatched with a group of Union soldiers and landed at Galveston and spread the word and proceeded to go up into east Texas. He gave the executive order that slavery was no longer official and people had to compensate slaves for their labor. Texas was just sort of the outlier and took some time….
How did Juneteenth celebrations spread out of Texas?
The movement of this celebration was part of a larger group of emancipation days across the south. The first movement, right around WWII, was westward. So where you had black families moving to California from east Texas, and southwest Arkansas and Oklahoma, to work in the shipyards, or to work in the airplane factories, then Juneteenth started cropping up in those states.
When Dr. King had the Poor People’s March and Ralph Abernathy promised King (who died April 4, 1968) that this march would be completed and it was. So they made it to Washington and they set up a camp on the mall. Everything that could go wrong did and they had to leave at the end of the summer. So how can you leave with some sense of honor? It was late June and there were people from all different states in that village for that summer, so they had a group from Texas and someone said ‘Why don’t we have a Juneteenth celebration,’ which again is a way to address poverty and freedom and harkening back to our past. They had this closing celebration, which was held on that day, and a large number of entertainers performed.
My theory is that these delegates for the summer took that idea of the celebration back to their respective communities. So I know, for example, there was one in Milwaukee1,and looking at the newspapers after that summer, they started having regular Juneteenth celebrations. The Chicago Defender had an editorial that it should be a regular idea. My feeling is that because it was used to close the Poor Peoples Campaign that the idea and so forth was taken back by different participants in that march and it took root around the country. It has taken on a life of its own.
1Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, has been celebrating Juneteenth for 42 years.
To read the full article, click here.
Read more about Juneteenth here.
Read more Breaking News here.
On Wednesday, June 19, a statue of famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) will be unveiled in the United States Capitol Visitor Center at a ceremony. After escaping slavery, Douglass became a leader of the abolitionist movement and a prolific writer. District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has been pushing for the statue for years. All 50 states are represented in the Capitol by a famous person. But not Washington DC.
Douglass will be the fourth African American to be depicted in the U.S. Capitol complex.
The last African American to be unveiled was Rosa Parks (1913-2005). Her statue [is] in statuary hall. A statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) stands in the Capitol rotunda and a statue of abolisionist Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was unveiled in the the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in 2012.
“I welcome the announcement that the District of Columbia’s statue of Frederick Douglass will be unveiled in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center next month. This statue, which will be the third statue or bust of an African American on display in the U.S. Capitol, will represent more than 600,000 District of Columbia residents and serve as tribute to a great Marylander and civil rights leader,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Read more Breaking News here.