Category: Commentary

Three Generations of a Family Continue the Fight for Voting Rights

By Tasha Ellis

Have you ever believed that you can change the world? Have you believed that you could help to eradicate injustice?

Thomas Chatmon

Thomas Chatmon

Growing up in a family that was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement, I learned that we win as we unite with a common purpose to support the evolution of humanity.

My grandfather Thomas C. Chatmon Sr. was one of my greatest examples of someone who was an agent of change. In 1961, he and eight others founded the Albany Movement because they were weary of blatant injustices in Albany, Georgia.

When white-owned banks would not approve funding for his business, the Black community supported his endeavors by purchasing his products, and eventually he was able to franchise in three different states.

In December 1961, about 700 demonstrators were jailed for staging sit-ins and freedom rides. My family used money from their business, Chatmon’s Beauty Supply, to help finance the Albany Movement.

My grandfather often emphasized the importance of voter registration. And so voting, for me, became a sacred act.

In the meantime, my father Fred Ellis moved to Oakland and carried out another sort of civil rights effort. He started a successful program to help more African-Americans become teachers, and he used his own voting rights to campaign for candidates who supported this mission.

Fred Ellis

Fred Ellis

In 2014, I personally discovered, like those before me, that we still have to help people carry out the right to vote., and I became committed to voter registration.   Personally, I found great inspiration in my pastor, Dr. Raphael Warnock of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. He passionately advocates against society’s injustices, and he was a spokesperson for the New Georgia Project.

The New Georgia Project works to decrease the number of unregistered voters in the state of Georgia. In 2014, Georgia had approximately 800,000 unregistered voters.

The group collected more than 87,000 voter registration forms. Other groups working in conjunction with the New Georgia Project collected as many as 20,000 more voter registration forms.

Challenges occurred and nearly 40,000 of the registered applicants did not show up on the registrar’s roll.

New Georgia Project filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Date Brian Kemp in October 2014 alleging that the “missing” voters were being ignored.

Tasha Ellis

Tasha Ellis

The judge dismissed the case that the New Georgia Project filed. Kemp said that the case was “frivolous.”

Fifty years after my grandfather’s involvement in the struggle, voter suppression is still alive and well. In spite of this inequity, progress is essential.

The New Georgia Project will continue to build upon the work from 2014 and looks forward to registering and engaging even more Georgians in 2015.

For additional information about the New Georgia Project visit www.newgeorgiaproject.org

 Tasha Ellis is a voting rights activist and graduate student.

 

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Our Schools Need Latino Teachers

Latino students two

 

By Francisco Ortiz, Kimberly Mayfield Lynch and Kitty Kelly Epstein

Marisol, a very effective Bay Area high school teacher, says that she never had a Latino teacher until she was in the 10th grade.

“Having a Latino teacher made me much more positive about education and caused me to think about teaching,” she said.

Latino students threeMarisol’s experience is not unusual.   Fifty-three percent of students and only 18 percent percent of teachers in California public schools are Latino. There are schools in the Bay Area that have hundreds of Latino children and not a single Latino teacher.

Currently, one of the authors of this article, Mr. Ortiz, is the only Spanish-speaking Latino teacher for the entire upper-elementary grades (4-6) at his school.

He says, “I am able to effectively communicate with the newcomer students in my classroom, as well as other newcomer students in grades 4-6, something which may not always be possible for monolingual English speaking teachers.”

“Although I teach sixth grade,” he continues, “parents from other classrooms say they hope that their children will be my students in the future. Kids from grades 2-5 often see me in the halls and express their excitement to be in my classroom.”

Latino students 1Latino students want to succeed. Whether it’s cultural capital, linguistic

Francisco Ortiz

Francisco Ortiz

capital or a combination of both that allow Latino students to feel more empowered and confident through having Latino teachers, this ever growing and crucially important resource should not be ignored, especially since the Latino population is the fastest growing ethnic group in California’s schools, he said.

Dr. Kimberly Mayfiled Lynch

Dr. Kimberly Mayfiled-Lynch

Asian, white and Black students also need Latino teachers to share their language, along with their cultural and global wisdom.

Some authors treat the lack of Latino teachers as a problem of recruitment, and some have even argued that Latinos are not interested in becoming teachers.

In reality there are many barriers that stand in the way of Latinos earning the teaching credential.   Standardized tests continue to be a significant barrier for Latinos entering the teaching profession.

Due to the racial wealth gap, many Latino families are challenged by the high fees for the assessments and by the requirement of many programs that candidates work for free as a student teacher.

Another barrier for Latinos who have English as a second language is the writing section of the standardized assessment. Test takers are required to write all responses in English.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Although Spanish is the first language for 40 percent of California students, there is absolutely no credit given for Spanish fluency in fulfilling the requirements for credentialing.

Additionally, traditional recruitment strategies are often not effective for recruiting Latinos. Recruitment of college graduates and career-changers through community-based organizations is more effective than the traditional bureaucratic routes.

In our view the recruitment of teachers of color is a far better way to improve American schools and stabilize the teaching force than the over-testing of everybody, which is currently the favorite project of many policy-makers.

Kimberly Mayfield-Lynch is chair of Black Women Organized for Political Action and chair of the Education Department at Holy Names University.

Francisco Ortiz is a Bay Area teacher and a graduate student researching issues of Latino teacher recruitment.

Kitty Kelly Epstein hosts Education Today on KPFA – FM and writes on issues involving education and urban policy. (A Different View of Urban Schools (2012) Peter Lang).

Courtey of the Post News Group, February 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

“I Am Black, I Am Jewish, and My Life Matters.”

Kim Carter Martinez spoke at the #BlackLivesMatter Hanukkah demonstration Dec. 16 in San Francisco. Photo by Gabrielle Lurie.

By Kim Carter Martinez

 
My name is Kim. I am Black, I am Jewish, and my life matters. For the last few months, our country has seen a movement growing from a wave of protests against the police and vigilante law enforcement killings of unarmed Black men.

As a country we have struggled with talking about the issues of police brutality and racism — individual racism, and the systemic and institutionalized racism that Black and Brown people in our country fall victim to on a daily basis.

In America, a black person is killed by the police or by vigilante law enforcement every 28 hours. #BlackLivesMatter, the movement that arose out of the outrage over these killings, describes itself as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise … [an affirmation of black folks’] contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”Hanukkah march

Over and over again, I’ve heard people in the Jewish community talk about #BlackLivesMatter as if the violence and racism toward people of color is happening to an outside group we are not a part of.

It’s happening to “them,” and we can only show solidarity to this group in certain ways because it is a group to which we do not belong.

Many Jews post on Facebook or Twitter showing their solidarity for the cause. Some attend rallies and marches to show their solidarity for the cause.

Many talk with their friends and watch comedy television with quasi-political pundits who talk about #BlackLivesMatter.

We do everything we can to align ourselves with the cause and show our solidarity — except at the same time we continue to ignore the fact that, according to several estimates, there are tens of thousands of Black Jewish Americans for whom the issues of police brutality and institutional and systemic racism are an everyday reality.

These are not just Black issues, these are also Jewish issues, and we cannot continue to count them as something separate. Doing so erases the identity of people like me, who are both Black and Jewish.

We are moved by our Jewish teachings of tikkun olam (heal the world) and tzedek, tzedek, tirdof  (justice, justice you shall pursue). Yet how can we, as a Jewish people, truly heal the world and pursue justice when we continue to not include Jews of color in leadership roles in our work fighting racism and police brutality in America?

Are we really healing the world and pursuing justice if we ignore the racism that Jews of color have to endure? Organizations must make a concerted outreach effort to Jews of color if they want to have an authentic campaign of solidarity with the issues of all people of color.

Recently I attended a #BlackLivesMatter action in San Francisco, held on the first night of Hanukkah. I was honored to be the emcee, and disappointed to see only a handful of Jews of color among the participants. Why were they left out? Jews of color must be at the forefront of these movements.

I was happy to see J. and other Jewish newspapers carry the story of the Hanukkah action with some prominence. But I also was disappointed to see no quotes or pictures of Jews of color. Why were they left out?

Our stories of racism and discrimination inside and outside the Jewish community must be lifted up and heard. We must welcome Jews of color to tell their stories of racial discrimination in our organized Jewish community, such as synagogues, federations, social groups and Jewish nonprofits. We must not just listen to the stories of racism that Jews of color have endured, we must stand up to it and act, because these are not just Black or Brown issues, they are Jewish issues. And all Jewish people matter.

Kim Carter Martinez is a campaign coordinator for a public employee labor union. She served on the regional council of Bend the Arc and lives in Oakland. This article was reprinted from jweekly.com

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, January 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Op-ed: Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney Responds to Criticisms

By Lynette Gibson McElhaney

The East Bay Express (EBX) has been investigating me for the last nine months – digging into my personal life, my work in Richmond and on the City Council.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

Frustrated in their attempt to find any meaningful evidence of wrongdoing or unethical behavior, they have concocted a front-page “scandal” about the practices of the affordable housing non-profit, where I have served as a leader since 2001.

The practice in question? A modest investment in market-rate real estate, with the proceeds from that investment being used to fulfill our mission of providing affordable housing for veterans.

A child of the Civil Rights movement, I have dedicated my life to public service. I am proud of both my service at Richmond NHS where I have served since 2001 and as an elected representative on the Oakland City Council since 2013.

In light of the unwarranted and dishonorable attacks on my reputation I want to make it clear to all of my supporters, colleagues, and constituents that I have done nothing wrong or unethical. This attack only strengthens my commitment to tackling the real problems facing Oakland.

And to (Express editor) Bob Gammon, I want to make it crystal clear that at a time when funds for affordable housing have been decimated and tensions are rising between communities of color and law enforcement across the country, your decision to focus the considerable power of your publishing platform on me, calls into question your editorial judgment.

The public needs to know that in its response to the EBX inquiry, the NHS Board of Directors investigated its claims and found that there has been no violation of policy or law by the Executive Director, members of the board or its partners, Richard Reese or Kevin Hampton, in any deal where Richmond NHS was involved.

Further, Boardmember Niels Povlsen is a leader with an impeccable reputation who did not do anything in violation of any law or policy of NHS. There have been no conflicts of interest found by any agency by any member of the board or staff.

As a fierce advocate for affordable housing I have worked closely with my city council colleagues to create a designated fund for affordable housing and to strengthen tenant protection laws. I am also a pro-growth advocate for smart development because

I understand that failure to meet the demand for market-rate housing will lead to more displacement. And, while it is true that I am deeply concerned about maintaining economic and racial diversity in Oakland, I believe the biggest threat is the ability to attract and retain working-class jobs and to maintain public safety in our neighborhoods.

Like many others, I have often put the needs of others ahead of my own. Those who know me can attest that I work tirelessly to care for the people in my family, the community, and my work. This has resulted most notably in the painful and embarrassing failure to file timely tax returns – a matter which was rectified this week. In addition,

I was unaware of a technical difficulty that resulted in the delinquent filing of our mid-year campaign report.

These errors, as embarrassing as they are, do not rise to level of unethical behavior or some indication that my work in service to the community is anything other than honorable. Sadly, this type of coverage centering on innuendo and personal attacks often serves to discourage average people from serving in public life.

Most of us are not born with the privilege of having a life unscathed by personal or financial challenges, tragedies or imperfections. This is very unfortunate because every level of government is better served by the diversity of representation that can relate to the daily challenges the average working class American must confront.

I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to serve the people of Oakland as an elected leader. Despite this attack, I will continue to serve with the utmost respect for the public and for my colleagues.

In the past two years I have worked to fulfill my campaign pledge to focus on strengthening the local economy, improving public safety and improving the professionalism of the Council.

And, I sincerely hope that my service inspires others to serve without the need to be perfect.

District 3 Councilmember Lynette McElhaney was elected president of the Oakland City Council at the council’s meeting on Monday, Jan. 5.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney, District 3 City Council member, is president of the Oakland City Council.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 10, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Why Supporting the Fight Against Racist Police Killings Could Mean a New Chapter in Environmentalism

black lives matter milwaukee protest

By Katie Valentine,ThinkProgress

The Sierra Club has had its share of environmental successes over the years. It prevented the damming of the Grand Canyon in the 1960s. It ran successful efforts to expand Sequoia National Park in 1926 and create the Redwoods National Park in 1968. And it has helped persuade multiple college campuses to divest from fossil fuels and phase out coal-fired power plants on campus.

But until recently, there’s one thing the Sierra Club — and, some say, the broader environmental movement — hasn’t done well. It hasn’t shown support for other social movements, hasn’t added its voice to other calls for change. That’s something Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club, wants to change.

“Whenever we see things that threaten our democracy, whether it’s the influx of corporate money into our political system or the erosion of voting rights, or things like [police violence] that are a violation of human rights, we feel it’s our job to speak up,” he said. “And we’re happy to do so.”

And, for Brune, the recent police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio have touched a nerve. During the first week of December, the Sierra Club posted multiple statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has grown out of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the high-profile police killings that have taken place in the last few months.

“Whether it’s the planet itself or the people who inhabit it, we hold the ideals of respect and reverence in the highest regard,” the organization wrote on its Facebook page on December 4. “For these reasons, we stand in solidarity with the organizations who are protesting and demanding justice in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and every other victim of injustice.”

The choice to have the Sierra Club show support for the movement was simple for Brune, as he explained in blog posts following the Facebook-issued statements. All people, regardless of race, deserve a clean and healthy planet, he wrote. They also deserve to be able to live their lives without being fearful of the police, and without being subjected to discrimination.

These two issues, Brune wrote, “are not separate. Indeed, we believe that working toward a just, equitable, and transparent society is not only morally necessary but also exactly what we need to confront the unprecedented environmental challenges we face.”

Opal Tometi, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, agrees. She said in a statement to ThinkProgress that environmental issues are “inextricably linked to a racial justice agenda,” and that she’d like to see more people of color — especially those who are already leaders in the environmental justice movement — rise up to leadership roles in the larger, national organizations — organizations that, as a whole, have been found to skew white.

“Black communities in the U.S. and around the globe are impacted the worst and should be central in shaping and leading the national environmental justice movement,” Tometi said.

Brune isn’t the only one in the environmental movement who thinks so. The Sierra Club was among multiple environmental groups to put out statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months: the National Resources Defense Council, for one, published a blog post this month stating the group’s support for the movement, and Greenpeace did the same in August.

In November, Friends of the Earth International put out a statement of support for the protests that erupted in Ferguson after unarmed teen Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer, saying that the shooting was “an affront to Friends of the Earth International’s vision of a society of interdependent people living in harmony.” The group’s U.S.-based arm put out another statement in December, after the police officer who used a chokehold to kill unarmed Eric Garner wasn’t indicted.

These types of statements are a sign of progress for the environmental movement, said Van Jones, environmental and civil rights advocate and founder of Green for All and Rebuild the Dream. Jones said environmental groups need to continue to engage with relevant social causes if they want to grow and evolve, and also if they want to gain supporters from the non-white community, a demographic which, polls have found, is often supportive of efforts to protect the environment.

A Yale poll from 2010 found that black Americans, Hispanics and people of other races are “often the strongest supporters of climate and energy policies and were also more likely to support these policies even if they incurred greater cost.” A 2012 poll found that 71 percent of Asian Americans would call themselves an environmentalist, compared to the national average of about 41 percent. And, according to a 2013 poll, 86 percent of black Americans support the President taking “significant steps” on climate change, compared to 76 percent of Hispanics and 60 percent of whites.

“It’s only natural that, if people who make up a large part of your growing base are under fire — literally — that you should express some sympathy and some concern,” Jones said. And, he said, now that these statements have been made, environmental groups should be sure to make their members aware of any legislation that might come out of the Black Lives Matter movement.

May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said she hopes environmental groups’ statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement is a sign of a new era in environmentalism.

There have been other signs in recent years that major environmental groups are starting to branch out: the Sierra Club came out in favor of immigration reform in 2013, an issue that had sparked internal arguments in the group in past years. It was joined by 350.org and Greenpeace. And Friends of The Earth has been fairly outspoken in the past about issues that fall outside of the traditional bounds of an environmental organization. The group’s D.C. office marched in support of healthcare reform in 2010, and President Erich Pica said they’ve also supported the marriage equality movement.

Pica said the Black Lives Matter movement was another reminder that the group that it can’t achieve its mission — to defend the environment and champion a healthy and just world — if it doesn’t address the “deeper, systemic” issues in American society.

“As an environmental group, we can focus too much on the healthy world piece,” Pica said. “On the justice piece — the ‘just’ piece — it’s hard for Friends of the Earth to accomplish that mission if there are blatant injustices that are occurring out there, where Americans — African Americans, black Americans — don’t have the basic rights to a justice system, where they fear that an encounter with a police officer could be their last.”

For the groups that issued statements of support for the movement, the decision to do so was fairly easy. But not everyone is happy about these statements — or, at least, not everyone on the Sierra Club’s Facebook page. Some wondered why a group whose main goal was the protection of the earth and the advancement of renewable energy sources bothered to put out a statement of support for a cause that, at first glance, had little to do with the environment.

One commenter called the Sierra Club’s statement “out of line,” and said he was disappointed that the environmental organization would choose to associate itself with “controversial criminal justice cases.”

Brune said he understood why some people were confused about the group’s statement — police violence, after all, isn’t an issue that’s typically discussed in the same conversation as carbon regulations and sage grouse protection. He can see why some might be concerned about the implications of the Sierra Club putting out statements of support for other issues: that it could water down the environmental movement or make the public confused about the movement’s goals.

But ultimately, Brune doesn’t agree with those concerns. He didn’t think twice about making the statements of support, and he wants to do more to address social issues in the future. He and his family have joined in some of the marches against police violence, and he said that Sierra Club organizers are “working in solidarity,” with Black Lives Matter organizers.

“I’m proud of the way in which we’re acting and engaging. For us, it’s not just about a post on Facebook or a blog entry or a series of supportive statements — we’re determined to engage on these issues over the long-haul,” he said. Externally, we’re always thinking about ways to both strengthen the environmental progress that we’re making and address some of the underlying obstacles towards that progress.”

Courtesy of Think Progress, December 16, 2014 (thinkprogressnow.org)

President to Award Medal of Freedom to Three Slain Civil Rights Workers

Slain civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman will be posthumously awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During Freedom Summer 1964, they worked to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi.

Slain civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman will be posthumously awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During Freedom Summer 1964, they worked to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi.

Three young men murdered in Neshoba County 50 years ago registering African Americans to vote will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House has announced.

Murdered in a plot hatched by the Ku Klux Klan, James Chaney, 21, Andrew Goodman, 21, and Michael Schwerner, 24, will be awarded the medal posthumously by President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, Nov. 24.

In the midst of Freedom Summer 1964, the three men on Father’s Day were investigating the ruins of Mt. Zion United Methodist, burned to the ground by the Klan because it was being used as a meeting place.

Driving back into Philadelphia the trio was stopped on trumped-up speeding charges, arrested and jailed.

They were released that night and later pursued by a mob of Klansmen that included law enforcement. They were pulled from their station wagon, driven to a remote county road and shot at point-blank range.

After a massive search that included federal authorities, their bodies were found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam off Highway 21 south.

In 1967, seven men were convicted of conspiring to violate their civil rights. Some served prison time.

In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen, a part-time Baptist preacher and sawmill owner, was indicted by a Neshoba County grand jury and later convicted on three counts of manslaughter for his role in orchestrating the murders.

He received three 20-year consecutive sentences and is still serving.

The murders gained international attention, and the Neshoba County murders helped lead to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Fifty years ago, the lives of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were taken away from us at a far too early age,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

“These three young men, and countless others, paid the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to help bring equality to the state of Mississippi,” Thompson said. “Bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor to these three men is a fitting tribute for their contribution toward making this country a more perfect Union. I commend President Obama for honoring these men and look forward to carrying on the spirit of their effort.”

On May 29, Congressman Thompson and members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to President Obama requesting for the Presidential Medal of Freedom to be bestowed posthumously to Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, November 18, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Commentary: The Transfer of Army Base Property to CWS Is “Critically Important”

By Phil Tagami

I do not think it is productive or appropriate to frame conflict where there simply is none. The transfer of the subject site to CWS is critically important for all parties as the anticipated sale proceeds of the site are needed to balance the sources and uses to satisfy the state matching grants that all parties benefit from.

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

We are generally unaware of the details of the city’s new trash /recycling contract other than what we have read in the newspapers.

We have a standing request to Public works and CWS to better understand the nature of the proposed CWS operations now that they are doing the whole trash/recycling operation opposed to just the recycling as originally intended for the north gateway site.

The CEQA requirements for the OAB project include 660 conditions and mitigation of approval many that are in specific to operations. Air quality and trip generation are just a few sensitive areas that need to be better understood to ensure compliance.

There remain a large number of issues that could impact the delivery of the public infrastructure and thereby impact delivery dates for all of the parties. We wrestle with these each and every day. It is in all parties’ interest to get out of the ground as soon as possible.

Though we are benefiting from the dry spell we need to guard against the onset of winter rains as we are unable to conduct a number of important construction operations in inclement weather.  Getting too much going at one time could lead to unintended consequences and unforeseen costs.

The Oakland Global team has been working diligently with City staff to ensure all of the base tenants/development partners can get access to the site in a timely basis and have access to utility connections.

A few changes have been introduced by the temporary location of OMSS in the north gateway and the interim bicycle parking for the bay bridge in late 2013 that lead to a re-sequencing of the project from what was originally proposed. We have been working on yet another re-sequencing with the city staff to reduce the overall delivery of the project by as much as 10 months.

New delivery dates for the various development sites is anticipated in the next 30-45 days pending city staff approval.

 

 

Defeating Strom

The year we saved the Voting Rights Act

Allen-Taylor

Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor

By 1980, both the nation and the Senate had changed radically. Republicans had gained control of the Senate in the Reagan landslide election that November, and Thurmond was set to take up the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had jurisdiction over the Voting Rights Act. More importantly, the act’s critical Section 5 “pre-clearance” provisions were set to expire in 1982.

These provisions were the heart of the Voting Rights Act, and they required states covered by the law — mostly those in the Deep South — to ask for U.S. Justice Department approval before changing election laws. With the Senate in Republican hands and a conservative Republican President Reagan presumably waiting with a veto pen in hand, Thurmond’s road to victory seemed clear and open.

A year and a half after Thurmond declared war on the Voting Rights Act, the Senate voted 85-8 to renew it and the Section 5 provisions, joining the House of Representatives. Thurmond was even one of the 85 aye votes in the Senate. After that, President Reagan signed it into law.

What forced Thurmond to change his position was partially the work of a small group of South Carolina black rights activists who took up the battle and created a statewide movement to save the Voting Rights Act. They were joined by thousands of black South Carolinians who had only recently acquired full voting rights. Together they defeated Thurmond in his own state.

***

On numerous occasions Strom Thurmond publicly declared his reasons for wanting to remove Section 5 from the Voting Rights Act, and no declaration was more plainly made than the one he delivered during a debate with then-S.C. NAACP Field Director Isaac Williams at a public hearing in Columbia in early 1982.

Thurmond - U.S. SENATE HISTORICAL OFFICE

Strom Thurmond

After Williams expressed his support for the extension of the Voting Rights Act, The State newspaper quoted Thurmond as snapping back, saying, “I’m sick and tired of having the Southern states singled out and say we don’t treat blacks right when we do treat them right.”

He added that he was “interested in the reputation of this state” and that it was “unfair” that states under the preclearance provision had no chance under the current law to prove they had mended their discriminatory ways. Thurmond told Williams that if he knew of anyone who had been denied the right to vote in South Carolina in the past 10 years “then you give me his name and I’ll have the Justice Department investigate it.”

Thurmond was a smart man, and so he was probably being a little disingenuous in this argument. After all, in the early 1980s African Americans were not being denied the right to go to the polls in South Carolina. However, many white politicians in the South had manipulated voting districts and election laws in such a manner as to limit the chances of a black candidate winning an election.

Nowhere was that more apparent than in the S.C. Senate. In 1980, that legislative body remained an all-white enclave, largely because of a complicated and convoluted districting plan preventing majority-black districts. But it was also present in jurisdictions like Thurmond’s home county of Edgefield, where no African Americans held elective office despite an almost 50-50 split between black and white residents.

***

In the fall of 1980 I was working as the community education specialist for Palmetto Legal Services in the Midlands. I was also running a black movement news service called Maroon Information Services. As soon as I read about Thurmond’s intent to kill the Voting Rights Act, I was on the phone with friends and associates I had been working with in the black freedom movement.

A week after Thurmond’s declaration, we brought together four organizations — Maroon Information Services, the S.C. Committee Against Hunger, Operation Help (out of the Florence and Pee Dee regions), and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a black labor organization — to form the S.C. Black Voting Rights Campaign, a group whose purpose was to fight Thurmond and save the Voting Rights Act.

We announced our intentions in a leaflet called “Not One Step Backward” in which we announced our intention to “resist the attacks against black human rights with all of our power.” The leaflet concluded with a direct warning to Thurmond. “Mind, Strom,” the statement said. “We have not forgotten how to struggle.”

We were not the only black group in or around the state making such statements. NAACP Conference of Branches State President Dr. William Gibson denounced Thurmond’s move, and both the Sumter County Public Awareness Association and the Sumter Black Business Association openly opposed Thurmond’s effort.

Late in November, we organized a protest demonstration against Thurmond at the Strom Thurmond Federal Building in Columbia, taping up a “Save the Voting Rights Act” banner and shouting out freedom songs and chants.

The Columbia Record reported that “the situation [at the demonstration] was tense for a short time when federal security officers attempted to dispel the demonstrators … The demonstrators refused to stop the protest, and the security officers made no further effort to break up the demonstration.”

Allen-Taylor speaks at the protest during the S.C. Hall of Fame induction of Strom Thurmond - PROVIDED

Allen-Taylor speaks at the protest during the S.C. Hall of Fame induction of Strom Thurmond.

The Record reported that about 15 people demonstrated for about an hour on that chilly, windy day at the Columbia federal building. It’s probably an accurate number. If we’d pulled that low a number later in the campaign, we would have considered it a defeat. But as the first protest against Thurmond, it more than served its purpose as a return shot in a long war. More protests followed.

But not by the Black Voting Rights Campaign, at least not right away. We wanted something that would not only allow for a wider participation by black South Carolinians in the struggle, but would also demonstrate wider black support for the act than a demonstration.

And so on January 15, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, we launched a petition drive for African Americans to express their desire to save the Voting Rights Act.

We kept the petitions as simple as possible, asking people to sign their names and list their hometowns. We set a preliminary goal of 10,000 signatures. On the kickoff day we collected more than 1,000 names towards that goal. By the time the petition campaign ended in late September, we had reached close to 18,000 names representing black South Carolinians.

Meanwhile, Thurmond was already backtracking, declaring that he didn’t want to eliminate Section 5, but, in fairness, he wanted to extend it to the entire nation. Thurmond’s hope, clearly, was that either national election law oversight by the Justice Department would be so unworkable to be ineffective or that the mere proposal of it might cause Congress to eliminate such oversight of the already-covered states.

Thurmond’s strategy did not work largely because it got overwhelmed by fierce black opposition to any weakening of the Voting Rights Act.

***

Petition campaigns are often quick-and-dirty affairs, with signature-gatherers making just enough of a persuasive argument to get a name on the dotted line before moving on.

Our goal in the Voting Rights petition campaign was not to persuade, but to inform. Many local groups and leaders participated in the workshops and petition-gathering activities, including officials with several local branches of the NAACP, the state’s largest and most representative civil rights organization.

Throughout 1981, Voting Rights petition campaign workshops were held in such cities as Charleston, Vance, Great Falls, Rock Hill, Summerville, Orangeburg, Anderson, Florence, Edgefield, Aiken, Sumter, Newberry, Hollywood, and Columbia.

Workshop leaders talked about the golden age of black voting rights and political representation during the Reconstruction years and the bloody, terrorist repression that followed, when black elected officials were either murdered or intimidated out of public office while African-American voters were pushed off the voting rolls by the armed white militias of the 1870s and 1880s.

One of the major white militia leaders, we explained, was South Carolina governor and eventual U.S. Sen. Ben Tillman, a.k.a Pitchfork Ben. It was Tillman who boasted at the 1895 state Constitutional Convention that white South Carolinians took control of the state back from African Americans and white carpetbaggers “by fraud and violence.”

We explained that the acknowledged center of late 19th century anti-black political terrorism in South Carolina was Edgefield, Tillman’s home county. You could hear the murmurs in the crowd. This was where Strom Thurmond was from. Then we turned on the light switch.

One of the men who helped draw up and carry out this campaign of black repression, we explained, was one of Ben Tillman’s closest friends, as well as his personal attorney, J. William Thurmond. There would be a pause and almost dead silence around the room.

William Thurmond was Strom Thurmond’s father. And Strom Thurmond himself, we went on, had said that he learned his first lessons in politics at the feet of Ben Tillman.

Protestors took advantage of every appearance Thurmond made in South Carolina - PROVIDED

Protestors took advantage of every appearance Thurmond made in South Carolina.

There was a direct line, therefore, from the violent overthrow of black voting rights in Tillman’s era — including the assassinations of black elected officials, the burning of homes, and lynchings of African-Americans trying to go to the polls — all the way down to Thurmond’s attempt to gut the Voting Rights Act.

After that, there was little more that needed to be said except where to sign on the petitions and how to get them to their neighbors.

***

With the petition campaign up and running around the state, the members of the Black Voting Rights Campaign decided it was now time for us to take direct action against Mr. Thurmond. And so in the spring of 1981, we made a public declaration that every time Thurmond returned to South Carolina to speak, we would greet him with demonstrations.

Early in 1982, one of the largest such protests was held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center as Thurmond was being inducted into the S.C. Hall of Fame. We held signs that read “No Honor for Strom” and “Don’t Cut Black Voting Rights,” and more than a hundred demonstrators picketed in front of the building as Thurmond was introduced inside by then-Vice President George W. Bush.

Bush later dismissed the protests as unimportant, telling a reporter for The State newspaper that “I don’t get all uptight about that. I would have felt a little lonely if they hadn’t been there.” But the protest had done its job, garnering headlines in several newspapers around the state and highlighting our continuing fight to save the Voting Rights Act.

The demonstration I remember the most, however, was the one that was aborted before it even got started, and the only protest in which we actually confronted Thurmond himself.

People in Edgefield had told us that the one event the senator could be counted on to attend every year was the graduation ceremony at the majority-black Strom Thurmond High School in his home town of Edgefield. There Thurmond himself handed out diplomas to the graduates.

Along with some folks from the county, we brought a small group of demonstrators out to graduation and set up a picket line on the sidewalk in front of the school. Local law enforcement officials — citing the fact that we had no permit for the picketing — quickly broke the demonstration up.

And so we put our picket signs in the trunks of our cars and went out to the football bleachers for the ceremonies. Thurmond was seated with school dignitaries in a platform just at the edge of the football field, only a few feet from where some of us were seated.

When the ceremonies started and Thurmond began handing out diplomas to the mostly black graduates — in the same manner as an old plantation master might pass out shoes and old clothing once a year to their black field hands and house servants — we started booing and shouting “racist” and “hypocrite” from the bleachers.

It was an unplanned outburst and probably came from us being suddenly so close to our great foe after so many months of stalking him.

An article in The State newspaper afterwards mentioned that “extra law enforcement officers were on hand … because of the demonstration,” including agents from the State Law Enforcement Division. The paper also noted that “the demonstrators were ushered off school property” after the heckling began and reported that “Thurmond ignored the hecklers.”

However, we were there and we saw that Thurmond was at first startled and then angered as he paused, mid-ceremony, at the sound of our booing.

That anger was confirmed later that night when we got back home. A television news report showed a glowering Thurmond slamming his car door on a reporter who had asked the senator what he thought about the heckling. The car door almost caught the out-held microphone in the process.

Clearly, we were getting to Strom.

***

A month after the graduation ceremony, national black leader and South Carolina native son Jesse Jackson returned to Edgefield with more than a thousand followers to march from the school to the county courthouse where he had arranged for deputy registers to sign up unregistered voters.

Jackson was quoted in The State newspaper as saying, “We didn’t come [to Edgefield] as Pitchfork Ben but as citizens asking to share in our government. We don’t want to dominate. We want to participate.” A week later, Jackson held a Voting Rights rally at Greater St. Luke A.M.E. Church in Charleston, telling the crowd of more than 2,000 that “the right to vote is the very essence of citizenship, and therefore is non-negotiable,” according to a Chronicle report.

Newspaper clipping - PROVIDED

Newspaper clipping

By September 1981, we felt we had enough signatures on petitions to present them to the state’s Congressional representatives. We notified local media outlets that we were going to deliver separate copies of the petitions simultaneously to the district offices of each of the six South Carolina members of Congress as well as to Thurmond’s and Hollings’ regional offices.

The morning after what we called Presentation Day, news of the petitions were being reported on in every corner of the state. A few days later, we took a small contingent to Washington D.C. to present a copy of the petition packet to the Congressional Black Caucus during a Voting Rights Act support rally on the Capitol steps.

I was later told that Congressman Harold Washington of Chicago, who was heading up the Voting Rights fight for the Black Caucus, kept a copy of one of the petition sheets in his briefcase.

During House and Senate negotiations over the final version of the bill, anytime Thurmond claimed that black South Carolinians were no longer being prevented from voting, Washington would pull out the petition and reply that “your black citizens seem to think otherwise, senator.” Or at least that’s how the story goes.

***

Despite the occasional displays of anger, the Save the Voting Rights Act campaign did not appear to have any effect upon Thurmond himself. When Jesse Jackson and several black leaders held a 90-minute meeting with Thurmond in Washington a few days after Jackson’s Edgefield march, for example, The News & Courier reported that while the meeting was “amicable … Thurmond was not swayed by [the leaders’] arguments.” But the campaign was having its effect on other South Carolina officeholders.

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, South Carolina’s junior senator Ernest Hollings urged his fellow senators to support the renewal of the Voting Rights Act as it stood, saying that it was needed because of continued anti-black voting irregularities in South Carolina, including some in Thurmond’s home county of Edgefield in 1980.

Two months later, Gov. Richard Riley issued a statement saying that while he supported in principle some of Thurmond’s proposed amendments to the law, Riley concluded that “as a political realist, I recognize that these amendments to the act are unlikely to occur, and therefore, I would emphasize that in that event, I favor extending the [Voting Rights] Act as is.”

The position of Hollings and Riley in support of extending the Voting Rights Act without weakening amendments was probably expected by Thurmond. Both of the junior U.S. senator and the governor were Democrats, after all, a party that was increasingly dependent upon black votes both nationally and in the South.

However, it was the position of Ronald Reagan, the Republican who Thurmond had helped put into the Oval Office, that must have felt to the senator like a knife in the back. Reagan supported renewing the Voting Rights Act as is with no amendments.

Even worse, Thurmond’s beloved home county of Edgefield was being presented as an example of why the Voting Rights Act needed to remain the way it was. In a September 1981 editorial, The Greenville News reported that “increasingly, the national news focus on the [Voting Rights Act] issue is on Sen. Thurmond, and on his native Edgefield County as an example of why extensions of the act is needed.”

The editorial went on to explain that while the population of Edgefield County was almost equally divided between whites and blacks “to this day there are no non-whites in elective county office. Blacks have repeatedly won county district primaries only to be overwhelmed by a majority white turnout in the at-large elections.”

***

Meanwhile, the largest and most sustained protest demonstration in South Carolina to support the Voting Rights Act was still ahead.

In April 1982, Jackson went to Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) President Rev. Joseph Lowery’s Atlanta church. There Jackson announced that his organization, Operation PUSH, and SCLC were planning a months-long “pilgrimage” through five Southern states in support of the act’s full renewal.

The Voting Rights Pilgrimage began with a march in Alabama and made its way to South Carolina. The S.C. Black Voting Rights Campaign was chosen to co-sponsor the Palmetto state portion of the march.

I remember the two-and-a-half weeks that the pilgrimage passed through South Carolina only as a blur, walking the highways and streets along with several hundred others in the hot spring sun, chanting, shouting slogans, and waving placards at passing cars and gathered citizens along the way.

We entered the state at Edgefield on the first of May and left out Marlboro County 17 days later, stopping for evening rallies in 13 towns and cities, including Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia, and Florence.

***

The pilgrimage marked the end of major action in South Carolina to save the Voting Rights Act, but that was only because victory was in sight. Thurmond himself had all but admitted defeat a month later when, after voting to extend the Act intact,

The State newspaper reported that Thurmond had “said his decision to support the bill was based partly on the incorrect perception that a vote against it was a vote against people protected under the Voting Rights Act.” We’d won the argument.

The State reported that Thurmond was promising “to continue his efforts to improve parts of the measures he believes are unfair to states covered by the law.” In late June, President Reagan signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act with the Justice Department pre-clearance provisions intact, an extension that exists to this day.

Two years later, we used pressure from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to open up the S.C. Senate to its first full contingent of black senators since Ben Tillman and his “Red Shirt” terrorists had run them out a hundred years before. But that’s another story.


About the Author

Allen-Taylor - JOSHUA CURRY

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor is a former full-time black freedom worker and an award-winning journalist, political columnist, historical writer, and novelist.

He had been serving for a decade in South Carolina’s African-American freedom movement when U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond made his famous 1980 pledge to kill the Voting Rights Act. Once Thurmond was defeated and the Voting Rights Act was passed, Allen-Taylor became a lobbyist and an activist in the successful fight to open up the S.C. State Senate to African-American members for the first time since Reconstruction.

Allen-Taylor’s first book, Sugaree Rising, is a historical novel set in the South Carolina Lowcountry during the years of the Great Depression. The story is loosely based on black community resistance to the forced migration of more than 900 families caused by the building of the Pinopolis Dam at Moncks Corner and the creation of the Santee Cooper lakes.

Courtesy J. Douglas Allen-Taylor and the Charleston City Paper.

Op-ed: Instead of Racial Profiling, Oakland Needs Jobs and Family Support Services

By Dan Siegel

A report released last week by the Oakland Police Department showed that African Americans were greatly overrepresented among people stopped by OPD from April through November 2013.

Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel

Although only 28 percent of Oakland’s population, African Americans were 62 percent of those stopped and 76 percent of those searched.

Among those stopped, Oakland police searched 42 percent of African Americans, 27 percent of Hispanics, and 17 percent of Asians and whites. However, those searches resulted in almost identical recovery rates of firearms, other weapons or drugs – 25 to 28 percent for each group.

Although African Americans were far more likely to be stopped and searched by Oakland police than other people, they were no more likely to be carrying contraband.

Surprisingly, Interim Police Chief Sean Whent defended the disparities, claiming that OPD was focusing on “the people committing the most crime.”

Chief Whent’s comment is confusing. His statistics show that when searches made incident to an arrest are excluded, 78 percent of the people stopped and searched had not committed any crime.

The futility of most OPD searches is consistent with the department’s record of solving crimes, just 30 percent of murder cases and smaller percentages of robberies, burglaries, and other crimes.

And when police search 2762 African Americans during an eight-month period without finding any contraband, it is not surprising that many people in the Black community are afraid and distrustful of the OPD.

S.F. Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson jumped to the chief’s defense, defending racial profiling by attempting to demonstrate that African Americans committed over 80 percent of the violent crimes in Oakland.

Johnson claims, “African Americans comprised 83 percent of the 12,161 suspects in last year’s homicides, attempted homicides, robberies, assaults with firearms and assaults with weapons other than firearms.”

But OPD’s reported crime statistics show a total of 7387 offenses in the categories mentioned by Johnson and do not include data on the races of the subjects.

Suggesting that police are justified in linking crime with race leads our society down a dangerous road. Oakland’s Black community includes over 100,000 people, and no one claims that more than a few percent commit violent crimes.

Racial profiling and strategies such as gang injunctions or youth curfews victimize entire populations and do little to solve crime. What’s more – they can lead to unnecessary use of force and even death.  Eighteen-year-old Alan Blueford was profiled in this manner and ended up being shot to death.

Oakland needs a new approach. The strategy of “getting tough on crime” has tripled the number of state prisoners in the last 30 years but has not made our communities safer.

We need a comprehensive strategy that includes decentralizing and refocusing the police department to increase its ability to identify and arrest those who commit violent crime.

Department and city leadership must put a stop to police practices that alienate the department from the community and cost Oakland millions annually for judgments and settlements in police abuse cases.

Rather than focus on the race or ethnicity of those accused of committing crimes, we should be asking: “What percentage of those arrested are chronically unemployed? Failed to finish high school? Spent time in foster homes? Were victims of parental abuse? Grew up in homes with substance abuse?”

Once we answer those questions, we can identify those young people and others who are at risk of becoming involved in criminal activities and intervene.

We can direct city resources to provide the support that they, their families, and their communities need to help them overcome barriers to leading successful, productive lives.

Investments in counseling, mentorship programs, early childhood education, after-school programs, and job creation will help cure the problems that lead to criminal behavior and create a safer Oakland for everyone.

Dan Siegel is an Oakland civil rights attorney and a candidate for mayor.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 4, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Counterpoints: In the Wake of the Supreme Court Voting Rights Ruling

A preliminary – but basic – thought in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act

By Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor

I was too young to be involved in the fight for the original passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, but I was in South Carolina during the struggle for renewal of the bill in the early 1980’s.

Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor

Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor

Many have forgotten that the Republicans temporarily took control of the United States Senate in 1980 during the year Ronald Reagan was elected President. That elevated South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thurmond immediately said that one of his goals as chair would be to kill the Voting Rights Act, which was up for renewal in 1982.

In South Carolina, we formed a group called the South Carolina Voting Rights Campaign to fight for renewal of the act. To show South Carolina support for the Act, we set a goal of 10,000 signatures on petitions. By the time the petition campaign ended, we delivered more than 30,000 signatures to every Congressional District office in the state as well as to the U.S. Congress in Washington.

At the same time, we sponsored workshops and rallies and demonstrations throughout South Carolina in support of the Voting Rights Act. When the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held a march from Selma, Alabama to Washington D.C. for the same purpose, we helped coordinate the march when it came through our state.

One of our actions was to follow Senator Thurmond every time he returned to South Carolina for a public event, holding demonstrations to protest his stand against the Voting Rights Act.

Some of us were jailed during those actions.

The fight put up by the South Carolina Voting Rights Campaign in 1981 and ’82 was only a small part of the Voting Rights Act support going on in South Carolina, throughout the South and many parts of the nation, and in the nation’s capitol.

It was because of those nationwide actions that Congress made some portions of the Voting Rights Act permanent, and extended others for 25 years through 2007. Without those actions, Senator Thurmond and his friends would almost certainly been successful, and the Voting Rights Act would have been killed more than 30 years ago.

That should give us a guide on how to react to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, particularly as we observe state governments from Ohio to Texas enact laws making voting harder and harder for people who do not vote the way those governments would like them to vote.

This hits African-Americans the quickest and the hardest, but it is certainly not limited to us and ours.

The authority to participate in the governing of our communities, our cities, our state, and our country-the right to vote-is not secured by the Supreme Court.

That authority is not secured by a Presidential proclamation, or a civil war, or an act of Congress, or a voter initiative.

Our right to participate in the governing of our own lives was and is both authorized and held by our own hands.

It can be permanently minimized, or taken away altogether, only if we allow it.

The question, therefore, is not about what the Supreme Court has done. The question is, what must and will we do in response?

Posted on June 26, 2013. Read more of the writings by Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor at www.safero.org