The 50th anniversary march and speeches to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech were inspiring in the sheer variety of people present and the breadth of issues discussed. It wasn’t just about blacks seeking justice in a white-dominated country. It was about justice and equality for everyone – black, white, make, female, gay, straight, with or without disabilities. Yes, we have a ways to go in reaching true equality, but the very scene – featuring so many people of different races, ethnicities and age – was a sign of how successful a culture can be, even with the natural tumult that comes form quickly changing demographics.
That’s why it was all the more disappointing – and truly baffling, from a pure political perspective – that there were no Republican speakers.
Both former presidents Bush were invited, and declined, citing health reasons. That makes sense; the elder President Bush has been ailing on and off over the last year, and the younger former president recently had a procedure done on his heart. He sent a lovely and gracious statement to mark the day. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush declined to take the place of his family members, and we can’t blame him for that. However sincere and well-intentioned he might be, and however apolitical his remarks might have been, it’s a certainty that many reporters and pundits would interpret his presence as some sort of kick-off for the 2016 campaign. That would not only have been terribly unfair, but it would have detracted from the purpose of the day. Jeb Bush was actually displaying his respect for the memory of Martin Luther King by staying away and keeping 2016 talk out of the story.
But why weren’t House Speaker John Boehner or House Majority Leader Eric Cantor there? Both were invited, and both declined, citing scheduling conflicts. But this wasn’t some last-minute party; this was a long-anticipated event. And even if the formal invitation came only weeks ago, both should have made time. So why didn’t they?
It might be tempting for some on the left to presume that neither man cares about civil rights, or that they hate African-Americans, but those ideas are absurd. Cantor in particular has talked about the importance of fixing the Voting Rights Act (as directed by the Supreme Court) in order to save it, and has also talked very poignantly about his trip with Rep. John Lewis to Selma, Alabama, the locale of the iconic freedom march. It’s ridiculous to interpret Boehner and Cantor’s absence as a rejection of King’s legacy or civil rights.
Tragically, the answer may be much simpler and arguably more disturbing. Is it just that Republicans, some of whom are facing Tea party challenges in primaries, are reluctant to even be on the same stage as President Obama? We have seen cases where very conservative lawmakers – sincere conservatives, not people who define conservatism as the refusal to talk to anyone who disagrees with them – are being criticized by malcontents in their districts for even talking to Obama or other leading Democrats, let alone negotiating with them.
This group treats Obama like he’s some sort of brutal, third-world dictator – or maybe just Satan – and punishes anyone who gets near him. It used to be considered an honor to meet the president and be photographed with him, even if you didn’t vote for him. He’s the president, after all. But for the irrationally hateful segment of the population, having a photo with Obama is like being in the background of a picture of mobsters at a restaurant, knowing that photo is in an FBI file somewhere.
The remarkable thing is that the GOP, on paper, at least (having done a comprehensive study of itself earlier this year) seems to understand that the party has to reach out beyond white America if it ever wants to win another national election. Winning a statewide election is also getting harder and harder to do without support from African-Americans, Latinos and other (for the moment) minority groups. True, Boehner and other Republicans have spoken at other events marking the 50th anniversary, but those events just underscore the problem. In commemorating a pivotal moment in American history and civil rights, the GOP perversely chose to make the events separate but equal.
Abe Lincoln was a Republican, and he freed the slaves. The GOP grew out of a coalition of anti-slavery “Conscience Whigs.” It’s time for the leaders of the Republican party to take their party back.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, August 29, 2013
The city of Washington had been on edge for days. Fearing a riot, mayhem or lord knows what, many left town to avoid the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The organizers predicted a crowd of more than 100,000 protesting Negroes, as we called black people then. Just the idea of such a horde seemed to scare the white residents of what was still a southern town.
There was no rush-hour traffic on Aug. 28, 1963; almost no one went to work. Downtown, the sidewalks were empty and businesses were closed. But at Union Station, the joint was jumping. So was the Greyhound bus station on New York Avenue. Scores of thousands — mostly black but about a third white — streamed out of trains and buses and began to march along the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial.
I was a Post summer intern — a kid reporter on his first big story — and one of 60 staffers the paper deployed that day. This was a tiny fraction of the number of National Guardsmen and police on the streets but a veritable army for what was then still a provincial daily paper. Ben Gilbert, the imperious city editor, had spent weeks planning the coverage. With help from colleagues, he was about to make one of the biggest goofs of his long career.
I missed the first part of the march. I was sent to watch celebrities arrive at National Airport, where I attended a news conference by Marlon Brando, who wanted to be sure his presence was not misunderstood. Yes, Negroes were treated badly in the United States, Brando said, but “don’t forget the Indian problem.” As soon as the march was over, he promised, he would again be fighting to resolve “the Indian problem.”
I was then dispatched to the corner of Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Post reporters were stationed on every block of Constitution and throughout the Mall to cover any untoward incident. A sea of good-natured, well-dressed humanity paraded before me. The marchers carried signs but shouted no slogans. There was no hint of “trouble,” only the good news of a polite, orderly crowd.
But I was afraid of Gilbert, so I stayed at my post for several hours. Eventually I wandered toward the Lincoln Memorial, where the speeches had been delivered. It was a beautiful August afternoon, and everyone was having a fine time.
I was too late to hear the speeches but soon heard about them, particularly the address by John Lewis, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This is the same John Lewis we know today as an avuncular Georgia representative, a gentle though forceful agitator for the rights of African Americans and the poor. In 1963, Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department considered him a dangerous radical. So he got a disproportionate share of attention from reporters and officials.
The Post’s courtly civil rights reporter, Robert E. Lee Baker — he used Robert E. Baker as a less-provocative byline — reported: “Lewis had intended to scorch the Kennedy Administration and Congress and ‘cheap politicians’ in a highly emotional speech.” But, Baker wrote, “he toned it down.” No one got scorched.
The Post, however, got embarrassed. The main event that day was what we now call the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most important speeches in U.S. history. But on the day it was given, The Post didn’t think so. We nearly failed to mention it at all.
We were poised and ready for a riot, for trouble, for unexpected events — but not for history to be made. Baker’s 1,300-word lead story, which began under a banner headline on the front page and summarized the events of the day, did not mention King’s name or his speech. It did note that the crowd easily exceeded 200,000, the biggest assemblage in Washington “within memory” — and they all remained “orderly.”
In that paper of Aug. 29, 1963, The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address. The words “I have a dream” appeared in only one, a wrap-up of the day’s rhetoric on Page A15 — in the fifth paragraph. We also printed brief excerpts from the speeches, but the three paragraphs chosen from King’s speech did not include “I have a dream.”
I’ve never seen anyone call us on this bit of journalistic malpractice. Perhaps this anniversary provides a good moment to cop a plea. We blew it.
By: Robert G. Kaiser, Associate Editor, The Washington Post, August 25, 2013
The things we forget about the March on Washington are the things we most need to remember 50 years on.
We forget that the majestically peaceful assemblage that moved a nation came in the wake of brutal resistance to civil rights and equality. And that there would be more to come.
A young organizer named John Lewis spoke at the march of living “in constant fear of a police state.” He would suffer more. On March 7, 1965, Lewis and his colleague Hosea Williams led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. They were met by mounted state troopers who would fracture Lewis’s skull. As we celebrate Lewis’s ultimate triumph and his distinguished career in the House of Representatives, we should never lose sight of all it took for him to get there.
We forget that the formal name of the great gathering before the Lincoln Memorial was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Jobs came first, an acknowledgement that the ability to enjoy liberty depends upon having the economic wherewithal to exercise our rights. The organizing manual for the march, as Michele Norris pointed out in Time magazine, spoke of demands that included “dignified jobs at decent wages.” It is a demand as relevant as ever.
We forget that many who were called moderate — including good people who supported civil rights — kept counseling patience and worried that the march might unleash violence.
Martin Luther King Jr. answered them in the oration that would introduce tens of millions of white Americans to the moral rhythms and scriptural poetry that define the African American pulpit.
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now,” King declared. “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” How often has the opiate of delay been prescribed to scuttle social change?
King’s dream speech was partly planned and partly improvised, as Taylor Branch reported in “Parting the Waters,” his book on the early King years. One reviewer of the speech, a principal target of King’s persuasion, pronounced it a success. “He’s damn good,” President John F. Kennedy told his aides in the White House.
He was. King’s genius lay in striking a precise balance between comforting his fellow citizens and challenging them. Like Lincoln before him, King discovered the call for justice in the promises of our founders.
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” King said. “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” King’s dream was the latest chapter in our story. “It is a dream,” he insisted, “deeply rooted in the American Dream.”
We also remember how profoundly colorblind King’s dream was. He looked to a day when “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls.”
We forget that the passage immediately preceding his description of those happy children was a sharp rebuke to the state of “Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification.’ ” He was referencing discredited states’-rights notions invoked to deny the rights of Americans of color. I intend no offense here toward Alabama. But we should recognize the origins of slogans still widely used today to thwart the advance of equal rights.
And at a moment when voting rights are again under threat, the historian Gary May’s new book on the Voting Rights Act, “Bending Toward Justice,” reminds us of what King said in 1957, at another Lincoln Memorial rally. Without the right to cast a ballot, King said, “I cannot make up my own mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.” Are we turning back to such a time?
King called our country forward on that beautiful day in 1963, but he also called out our failings. He told us there could be no peace without justice, and no justice without struggle. We honor him best by sharing not only his hope but also his impatience and his resolve.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 21, 2013
“What Does ‘Some Woman’ Know?”: Commissioner Ray Kelly, “No Question” More People Will Die Without Stop And Frisk
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly enthusiastically defended the New York Police Department’s use of the controversial “stop and frisk” program during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning. Kelly went so far as to claim that more New Yorkers would die without the procedure in place.
Stop and frisk is a commonly used practice wherein NYC police officers question tens of thousands of pedestrians and may frisk them for weapons and contraband. The program disproportionately targets young black and Latino men, leading many to claim that it constitutes racial profiling — a view that was affirmed by federal judge Shira Scheindlin, who ruled the practice to be unconstitutional last week.
Host David Gregory asked Kelly if more Americans would die if the judge’s ruling — which Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I) administration has already appealed — were to stand and the program be dismantled. Kelly replied, “No question about it, violent crime will go up,” before launching into a more extensive defense of stop and frisk premised on higher crime rates among minorities:
We need some balance here. The stark reality is that violence is happening disproportionately in minority communities. And that unfortunately is in big cities throughout America. We have record low numbers of murders in New York City, record low numbers of shootings, we’re doing something right to save lives. [...]
This is something that’s integral to policing. This happens throughout America at any police jurisdiction. You have to do it. Officers have to have the right of inquiry, if they see some suspicious behavior. So I can assure you, this is not just a New York City issue. It’s an issue throughout America. And this case has to be appealed in my judgment because it will be taken as a template and have significant impact in policing throughout America.
In her ruling against stop and frisk, Scheindlin wrote, “[T]he policy encourages the targeting of young black and Hispanic men based on their prevalence in local crime complaints. This is a form of racial profiling.”
More than 5 million New York residents have been stopped and frisked under the program since Bloomberg took office in 2002. Over 86 percent of those who have been stopped are either black or Latino. But the mass random stops haven’t been particularly efficient — a staggering 4.4 million of New Yorkers who were targeted under the program, which cost taxpayer $22 million in civil rights lawsuits last year, were innocent.
There have also been incidents where a stop and frisk ends with deadly consequences. In March, overzealous NYPD officers shot and killed 16-year-old black male Kimani Gray after stopping him for “suspiciously” adjusting his belt. The NYPD claims that Gray had drawn a weapon on the officers — but eyewitness testimony disputes that account, and an autopsy revealed that several shots were fired from behind Gray.
That hasn’t stopped the Bloomberg administration from singing the practice’s praises. Bloomberg recently dismissed Scheindlin as “some woman” who knows “absolutely zero” about policing. “Your safety and the safety of your kids is now in the hands of some woman who does not have the expertise to do it,” he said during a radio interview Friday.
By: Sy Mukherjee, Think Progress, August 18, 2013
When the Supreme Court dismantled a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last June, there were two small silver linings in this decision. The first was the possibility that Congress could revive the regime killed by the Court, where states with particularly poor records of racialized voter suppression must “preclear” their voting practices with the Justice Department or a federal court before those practices can take effect. The second potential silver lining is Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows a state to be brought back under the preclearance requirement if a court finds that it engaged in “violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief.”
Now, however, Texas wants to destroy these two silver linings as well. And there is a fair chance that the conservative Supreme Court will allow them to do so.
Late last month, the Justice Department joined a Section 3 lawsuit claiming that federal supervision of Texas’ election practices should be reinstated in light of very recent examples of intentional race discrimination by Texas. Among other things, a federal court found that Texas “consciously replaced many of [a] district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of [the district's] Anglo citizens.” These, the Justice Department explained, were “violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment” justifying federal supervision.
Texas’ response to the Justice Department does not simply reject the idea that it should be subject to preclearance, it calls upon the courts to declare virtually any preclearance regime unconstitutional. According to Texas, the Supreme Court’s decision hobbling the Voting Rights Act “threw out Congress’s reauthorization of a preclearance regime because the legislative record failed to show ‘anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965, and that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the Nation at that time.’” In other words, Texas wants a federal court order saying that any effort to reinstate the Voting Rights Act in Texas is unconstitutional unless Texas transforms into Mississippi at the height of the Jim Crow era.
And they may very well succeed in getting this order. While Texas’ theory cannot be squared with the text of the Fifteenth Amendment — which provides that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and gives Congress “power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation” — it is not that hard to square with the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion does indeed contain language suggesting that only something “approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965″ can permit a preclearance regime now. The fact that this language flies in the face of the Constitution is not likely to bother the five conservative justices who already signed onto it once.
As a final act of chutzpah, Texas also claims that it cannot be subject to preclearance because “Hispanic citizens in Texas registered to vote at higher rates” than Hispanics in other states not subject to federal supervision under the Voting Rights Act. That very well be true, but it’s also besides the point. The thrust of the Justice Department’s lawsuit is that Texas intentionally drew its district lines so that white votes would count more and Hispanic votes would count less. In other words, the whole purpose of these lines was to make sure that it didn’t matter if Hispanic voters registered at high rates because their voting power would still be diluted by gerrymandering. It’s like a basketball referee claiming that it doesn’t matter that he’s not counting all the points scored by one team because that team is taking more shots.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, August 9, 2013