Point of View Columns

The Difference Between White Robes and Black Robes

Sometimes irony just isn’t very funny. The Supreme Court is currently considering a case where it is contended that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 should be overturned as it is no longer necessary. Wouldn’t you know that the case is being brought by the State of Alabama. And wouldn’t you know that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thinks that is just fine.

A quick tutorial – the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1964 to provide a legal framework that would protect black people in the South who were regularly lynched, bombed and massacred for trying to exercise their right to vote. The fact that much of the violence directed against black men and women (and their white supporters) was sanctioned by the southern state and local governments made it absolutely necessary for the federal government to step in.

The law has stated that before any state can make any fundamental changes in the voting process those changes have to be approved by the United States Department of Justice. Not surprisingly, there are nine states on the federal government’s “watch list”, and all nine states are southern states, each with a bloody and grisly history of violence against black people, especially when it comes to voting.

We now fast forward to 2013 and the attorney general of the state of Alabama comes before the Supreme Court of the United States and argues with a straight face that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 is no longer needed because Alabama, like the rest of this country is in a post-racial era and there need be no further worry about government-sponsored discrimination against black people or other minorities.

Incredibly, if you are reading this during the daytime, the state flag of Alabama, a St. Andrew’s Cross modeled after the Confederate flag is flying over the state capital in Montgomery. For some perspective, imagine a German provincial government disavowing anti-Semitism while flying a flag “modeled after the Nazi swastika” and you can understand why the United States Department of Justice along with black people of Alabama look at that state’s post-racial contention with something less than confidence.

Now comes Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, he of the ScaliaRobertsAlitoThomas right wing cabal. Although he had a singularly undistinguished career as a lawyer he somehow has stumbled onto the pages of American history as one of the architects of the highjacking and theft of an American presidential election in 2000.

Not satisfied with that unfortunate distinction, Justice Scalia is now taking the lead in rolling back the legal and legislative accomplishments of the civil rights movement. During oral arguments he had the temerity and reptilian insensitivity to refer to the Voting Rights Act of 1964 as another example of “racial entitlement”.

Where does one begin with racism soaked in stupidity and ignorance? In 1964 Justice Scalia was 28 years old and a lawyer who had already graduated from Georgetown University and Harvard Law School. It is impossible that he was not aware of that Birmingham, Alabama was known as “Bombingham” because of the relentless bombing attacks carried out by white citizens against black people who sought to exercise their right to vote.

Antonin Scalia may feign ignorance, but he had to know about the four black girls that were killed in a Birmingham church bomb because that church was the base for civil rights efforts. He had to know about Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman and Medgar Evers and Viola Liuzzo and the Ku Klux Klan and George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama blocking the entry of a black woman who wanted to attend school.

To term the Voting Rights Act or any civil rights legislation “racial entitlement” is either ignorant or racist. That is because one would have to be ignorant of the institutional racism that consistently denied civil rights and humanity to black people since the ratification of the Constitution that sanctioned slavery in 1789.

One would have to be a racist to think that dismantling an legal and legislative infrastructure that imperfectly protects the rights of blacks and minorities could possibly be a good thing. Antonin Scalia is the son of an Italian immigrant family that never faced obstacles to the exercise of his civil rights as his father could literally get off a boat from Sicily and immediately walk a paved road to citizenship.

How dare Antonin Scalia and the AlitoRobertsScaliaThomas cabal try to deny that right to black Americans or anyone else? There may be a day when specific civil rights legislation to protect the rights of blacks other minorities and women is not necessary.

This is not that day and Antonin Scalia should know that.

Standard
Be My Guest

Be My Guest Column by Dr. William Pollard

Reflections on 9/11

A quiet, bright, sunny, September morning.

People were going about their routine business. The warm sun’s glow seemed to comfort all.

Suddenly in a horrifying instant the peace was shattered — a loud explosion, screams, flames spewing out of windows, smoke clouding the streets obscuring vision amidst the panic and chaos.

Sirens screeched as police and firefighters rushed to the scene while people frantically searched for loved ones in the mass of confusion.

In that terrible moment more than brick and mortar, more than glass — even more than lives were shattered. Peace and hope and freedom from fear were also torn apart that September morning.

The Date: September 15, 1963
The Place: 16th Street Baptist Church; Birmingham, Alabama
The Dead: 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins; 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley;
14-year-old Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair
The Injured: Some 20 others, 10-year-old Sarah Collins who lost her right eye

This act of terrorism was by no means the first on American soil and far from the first in Birmingham, where there had been three other bombings in 11 days following a federal court order that had mandated the integration of Alabama’s school system. In the previous 18 years there had been at least 50 bombings there. It should come as no surprise that the town was nicknamed “Bombingham.”

Subsequent violence in the city led to the killing of two Black boys, one by police bullets, prompting the National Guard to be summoned in to restore order.

This came just thee months after the assassination of Medgar Evers, for whom the college is named. Evers was a civil rights activist and an NAACP Field Secretary.

As we mourn the losses of those who died on September 11, 2001, and honor those who were involved in heroic acts on that day, we should not lose sight of the fact that acts of terrorism in America did not begin on either of those September days.

The moral outrage over the vicious murder of four little girls who were sitting in Sunday school, led to outrage around the country. It helped provide a momentum of support behind the struggle for equal rights and end to segregation. Within two years there came passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965.

What then has been the legacy of September 11, 2001? What can we point to that has spawned some lasting good?

Many may express despair with reports of acts of harassment and violence against Middle Eastern and Muslim people here in the United States. Or the feelings and attitudes of apprehension and suspicion that many harbor since the September 11 attacks. Those unfortunate facts cannot be denied.

Then came the 10th anniversary commemoration. I was stuck by the images of the powerful and tasteful memorial at the World Trade Center site, as well as the progress made on the new towers being built. It occurred to me that we are all in a rebuilding process.

It is a rebuilding of the spirit of America and of freedom that cannot be destroyed by bullets or bombs. It is a freedom that the people in Birmingham and places throughout the south sacrificed so much for. They managed to build more than the buildings – they rebuilt their faith and dedication to freedom.

And that is what I see happening here in New York City.

When you look closely — when I walk the halls of Medgar Evers College and the streets of its Crown Heights community, I see something happening. I see a glass that is more than half full with students and faculty, and staff and folks on the block, learning, working, playing and living together. People who are trying to manage, people trying to succeed and excel.

The rebuilding is usually not a dramatic process, but it is evident in those most simple, routine, things.

After all isn’t that what freedom is — being able to go about your routine in peace? Shopping, working, playing, socializing, traveling – even going to Sunday school on a bright September morning?

And although there is still much rebuilding to do, when I look at Medgar Evers College’s diverse community I know that we are all sharing in the rebuilding Medgar’s dream and that of many others out of the some dark days of our past.

Dr. William Pollard is president of Medgar Evers College – http://www.mec.cuny.edu

Standard