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“Why Does The Senate Honor A White Supremacist?”: It’s Time To Ditch Richard Russell For Bob Dole

As I write these words on Monday, the South Carolina State Senate is poised to remove the Confederate battle flag from its capitol grounds entirely. These developments in the Palmetto State and elsewhere are all positive, and of course it’s high time for them. But Confederate battle flags on capitol grounds do not constitute the most conspicuous symbolic tribute to white supremacy in our political-architectural landscape.

No, the symbol I have in mind isn’t to be found in Columbia or Montgomery or Baton Rouge or Jackson. It’s right here in Washington, 2.6 miles from where I sit typing these sentences.

Hey, United States Senate: What in the world are you still doing with a building named in honor of Richard Russell?

As I trust you know, Richard Brevard Russell was a senator from Georgia from 1933 until his death in 1971. In his day, he was respected and revered. When you read about him you often read sentences like “the Senate was Russell’s mistress, his true and only love”; and indeed he never married, bore no children, and seems to have spent his waking hours thinking almost exclusively of how to bring honor and dignity to what we’ve long since stopped calling the world’s greatest deliberative body.

And sometimes, he did bring honor upon that body. His chairmanship of a special joint committee into President Truman’s firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur is considered a model of deliberative bipartisanship. It was a highly sensitive time that carried a Seven Days in May kind of whiff about it—MacArthur wanted to invade China and enjoyed a huge popular following. It was an easy situation to demagogue, and Russell did not. So yes, he did good.

But: He was a racist and a segregationist who, precisely because of the esteem in which he was held high even by Yankees for other reasons, may have done more to hold back civil rights and integration in this country than any other single individual, including Strom Thurmond and anyone else you care to name. Thurmond wrote the initial draft of the infamous 1956 Southern Manifesto, the resolution signed by Southern senators and House members stating their support for segregation and their refusal to obey Brown v. Board of Education. But Russell rewrote a lot of it and was a key or even the key figure in rounding up the votes against civil rights legislation.

He was a white supremacist—not a cross-burning white supremacist, but a white supremacist all the same. Does that sound harsh? Well, here (PDF) is something Russell said while campaigning in 1936, when his opponent was accusing him of supporting New Deal programs that would promote integration: “As one who was born and reared in the atmosphere of the Old South, with six generations of my forebears now resting beneath Southern soil, I am willing to go as far and make as great a sacrifice to preserve and insure white supremacy in the social, economic, and political life of our state as any man who lives within her borders.”

He opposed every piece of civil rights legislation that came his way. In fact, he had participated in his first anti-civil-rights filibuster the year before that 1936 election, when he helped block an anti-lynching law. He helped block another anti-lynching law in 1938. After the war, according to political scientist Robert D. Loevy in his To End All Segregation, Russell was the leader of the Southern bloc. Want to understand how committed he was to that position? In 1952, he could have become part of the Democratic Party’s Senate leadership structure. But going national in that way meant, as he knew, that he would have to soften his views on race. He refused.

On and on and on like this we could go. But here’s all you really need to know. In 1964, after his party finally succeeded in leading the push for civil rights legislation, what did Russell do? Decide to change a little? Throw in the towel just a bit? Nope. He refused to attend the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. And his racial views never changed.

He died in 1971, and they named the building after him the next year. Such were the times that his racism could be contextualized as an understandable and forgivable flaw. Maybe it’s still understandable, given the time and place of his birth and rearing. But it’s no longer forgivable to such an extent that one of only three Senate office buildings has to bear his name,

The other two Senate buildings, incidentally, are named after completely honorable men whose escutcheons carry no such stains. Everett Dirksen was a tad conservative for my tastes, but as the Republican leader in 1964, he did go along with LBJ and Senate Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield in support of civil rights. And Democrat Phil Hart of Michigan was one of the great public servants of his time. Yes, his politics were my politics, but it was his sense of honor that most defined him. He once learned that an aide in his Detroit office was taking a little honest graft. Aghast, Hart called a Detroit newspaper reporter to give him the story; to bust himself. The reporter didn’t run with it, telling Hart that no one would believe a Phil Hart-corruption story in the first place. This is what made his colleagues decide immediately that the new office building that was going up in the mid-1970s should be named in honor of their cancer-stricken colleague.

Sorry, a racist who spent 30 years making sure black children went to inferior schools and black adults couldn’t vote doesn’t deserve to be in their company. The Senate must change the name. But…to what?

Sitting where I do on the ideological parking lot, I turn naturally toward a figure like Hubert Humphrey. He was a giant of the Senate, and I rather like the symbolism of erasing a racist’s name and replacing it with the Senate’s most forward-thinking and courageous integrationist.

But I’ll tell you what. Let’s not make this a partisan thing. So I say, give it to a Republican. How about the Robert Dole Senate Office Building? He’s not exactly my dish of Kansas corn on a number of issues, but by cracky, as a young member of the House of Representatives, he voted for the civil rights bill in 1964. And then of course there was his later work on civil rights for the disabled. That’s reversal enough of Russellism for me. And he’s still alive, and it would be a nice thing for him, and into the bargain the Senate could make up for that shameful slap it administered to Dole’s face three years ago over that UN disabilities treaty.

Mitch McConnell, get on it. You once worked for a great moderate Republican, John Sherman Cooper, one of the few Southerners who voted for the civil rights bill. Harry Reid, this ought to be a no-brainer for you. Senators Pat Leahy, Patty Murray, Kirsten Gillibrand—you feel proud giving out your Washington address to your constituents? Somebody make a play here. Try to keep pace with South Carolina, will you?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 7, 2015

July 8, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Act, Confederate Flag, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Common Victims”: Movements For Racial Justice And Economic Justice Could Converge To Form A Powerhouse For Change

What happens to a dream deferred?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?

That was the poet Langston Hughes, in 1951. In that year, more than half a century ago, the most basic dreams of African Americans were deferred. Segregation was mandatory in the old South. Discrimination was legal everywhere in America, whether in housing, education, or employment. Blacks were not just separated, but isolated, marginalized, restricted to the worst jobs and most dilapidated neighborhoods, the most dismal schools.

For many, the racism just sagged, like a heavy load. It destroyed hope that hard work would be rewarded. The deferred dreams of that era seldom produced explosions, because the state had a very efficient system of terror. Blacks who resisted were likely to be lynched, jailed, or otherwise destroyed.

It is a testament to sheer grit, tenacity and courage that large numbers of blacks managed to get educations, raise families, start businesses, and enter professions at all—and demand inclusion in civic life.

The next 20 years were almost miraculous. From the small beginnings of local bus boycotts and sit-ins came the transformation of civil rights laws, finally giving African Americans full civic and legal equality, a hundred years after Lincoln.

The progress of the 1960s reflected a combination of the courage of the civil rights movements, the alliance with decent whites, and the leadership of an accidental president. Lyndon Johnson was able to prick the conscience of just enough of white America, to cajole and pressure just enough legislators, and to make a startling alliance between the White House and the radicals in the streets.

If you have never read or watched LBJ’s “We Shall Overcome” speech, you have missed a key moment in American history.

It helped that the economy was booming, so that economic progress for blacks did not equate to explicit sacrifices for whites (though whites did have to give up their role as a privileged caste). It helped that there were still liberal Republicans in that era, without whom none of the great civil rights laws could have passed.

So here we are, approaching Christmas 2014. Racism still taints the American dream. And unlike, say, in 1964 when there was a sense of a movement on the march with history on its side, it is hard to summon up optimism.

It is one thing when the government decrees that blacks can’t vote, can’t patronize restaurants, can’t apply for good jobs. That sort of racism shames everyone.

But when cops brutalize young black men, and prosecutors wink, and grand juries refuse to indict, that sort of racism is deeper in the social fabric and much harder to explicitly root out. It is encouraging to see outraged citizens on the march again, heartening that the marches includes whites as well as blacks and other groups.

Yet what sort of movement, what sort of policies, what sort of majority support in the country can we imagine that will fix what is broken?

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, whose bi-racial son Dante sports an Afro, has spoken of the need to “literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” That comment provoked outrage from the police.

Sunday, speaking on the ABC News program This Week DeBlasio threaded his way between outrage and support for law enforcement, declaring:

We have to retrain police forces in how to work with communities differently. We have to work on things like body cameras that would provide different level of transparency and accountability. This is something systemic. And we bluntly have to talk about the historic racial dynamics underlie this.

There have, in fact, been moments when thoroughly racist local police departments have been made over to discard their worst racist practices. The Los Angeles Police Department, after decades of strife and civic reform, is better than it once was. But it took a consent agreement with the Justice Department and five years of direct federal supervision.

President Obama, who did manage to summon up some outrage in the Trayvon Martin murder (“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”), has been relatively circumspect, appealing both for reform and for order. He is not close to calling for federal supervision of local police.

Obama is no LBJ. And in fairness to Obama, in the absence of stronger public demands, the federal government is not well-positioned to remake local grand juries and police departments.

We have gone utterly backwards since the 1960s, a time when the Justice Department and the courts vigorously interceded to protect the right to vote. Now, the right to vote is being taken away and rightwing courts are tying the Justice Department’s hands.

We need a broad movement once again, to force government’s hand. As Dr. King appreciated in the last year of his life, it needs to be a movement for economic justice as well as civil rights, a multi-racial movement. Only when there is common appreciation that whites and blacks are common victims of an economic system that delivers all the gains to the top do we have a prayer of mobilizing the whole nation to demand action.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Editor, The American Prospect, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights Act, Inequality, Racism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Struggle For Voting Rights Continues”: Honoring The Civil Rights Act, 50 Years Later

Fifty years ago today, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. On that great day in 1964, surrounded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other national leaders, President Johnson outlawed discrimination based on race. While the Civil Rights Act did not eliminate literacy tests, those evil tools used in the South to prevent blacks from voting, it did require that voting rules be applied equally to all races. And it paved the way for the landmark passage of the Voting Rights Act one year later.

It’s hard to believe that in 1964, less than 7 percent of Mississippi’s African Americans were registered to vote. I was reminded of the hardships of that era the other day while watching Freedom Summer, the incredible PBS documentary on the young black and white volunteers who flooded Mississippi in 1964 to increase voter registration, educate African-American children and draw attention to the countless injustices taking place every day in the Magnolia State.

“What we were trying to do was to organize these communities to take possession of their own lives. For the last hundred years the ability of black people to control their own destiny had been taken away from them,” Freedom Summer organizer Charlie Cobb recalls in the film.

Freedom Summer volunteers walked through neighborhoods, struck up conversations in cotton fields, and sat on porches. They reminded local African-Americans that they could vote for sheriff and stop intimidation by the local police. But it was not an easy pitch.

“Immediately, what you found out you were dealing with was fear,” remembers Cobb, who at the time was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi. “They would say, ‘You’re right, boy. We should be registered to vote, but I ain’t going down there to mess with them white people.’ ”

Cobb, who would become a distinguished journalist and author and visiting professor at Brown University, told PBS that the fear was overwhelming. “Within that small group of people who did try and register to vote, very few of them actually got registered to vote.” Voting forms were designed to be absurdly complex, and local registrars controlled who was accepted to vote. “In some counties, when people went in to register, their names would appear in the newspaper the next day. That could have recriminations for all members of their family,” said historian John Dittmer. “It could mean they would lose their job. There were real consequences to taking this risk.”

That was 50 years ago, but the struggle for voting rights continues. Today, strict photo ID requirements and cutbacks to early voting are creating obstacles at the ballot box that disproportionately affect seniors, students, low-income individuals and people of color. Twenty-two states have passed new voting-restriction laws, and advocates are fighting back in court. We must continue to support free and fair voting for all Americans, and to honor the civil rights pioneers who came before us.

 

By: Page Gardner, The Huffington Post Blog, July 2, 2014

July 3, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Roots Of The GOP’s Race Problem”: Half A Century Later, One Of Our Two Parties Is Still Dedicated To Fighting Against Civil Rights

Fifty years ago Thursday, Lyndon Johnson delivered the commencement address at the University of Michigan and first uttered the words “great society.” Before you click away, this is not one of those columns soberly assessing his vision’s accomplishments and failures. Rather, I ask a different question: What if there had been no civil-rights revolution, and we’d taken conservatives’ advice?

This question struck me as I was reading through a Great Society-at-50 assessment by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. Being an AEI scholar, Eberstadt is, as you’d imagine, quite critical of a lot of Great Society anti-poverty and other “transfer” programs. But he ungrudgingly acknowledges one point: With respect to the civil rights revolution, which obviously was a key part of the Great Society, ending legal segregation really did take a massive effort, one that could only have been led by the federal government.

The country was largely united behind this effort by 1964. But not conservatives. Of course, most of those conservatives were Southern Democrats. Not all of them, though. 1964 was the year of Barry Goldwater, when the nascent conservative movement that had started in the 1950s took control—for the time being—of the GOP. Today, Goldwater is a hero of the conservative movement. Here is how he thought segregation could be ended in the United States, in a quote from his famous 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative: “I believe that the problem of race relations, like all social and cultural problems, is best handled by the people directly concerned. Social and cultural change, however desirable, should not be effected by the engines of national power. Let us, through persuasion and education, seek to improve institutions we deem defective. But let us, in doing so, respect the orderly processes of the law. Any other course enthrones tyrants and dooms freedom.”

Incredible. “The people directly concerned.” That was the whole problem—they were handling it, in their inimitable way.  Those sheriff’s deputies turning dogs and fire hoses on children—why, they weren’t being racist at all. They were dethroning tyranny.

Goldwater had a long history of racist positions, going back to his opposition to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. The American people largely thought him a crazy man in 1964, and of course he lost to Johnson by titanic proportions. But let’s just say he’d won. What might have happened, had we followed his suggested path? How much longer would legal segregation have remained in place in the South? How much innocent blood would have been emptied onto Southern streets? We’d have had a race war on our hands that would have made Watts look like an episode of The Flip Wilson Show.

How long would Southern states have remained segregated? When would those states have integrated of their own volition, because it was the right thing to do? Hard to say. Probably once the citizens of Alabama came face to face with the reality that they couldn’t win a national championship with an all-white team. But that would have been, with a federal government sitting on the sidelines, something like 1974. In the meantime, we might well have had a second civil war.

But we didn’t, and we didn’t for one reason: government. The federal government stepped in and made integration happen. Only the federal government could have done it. The end of legal segregation remains America’s greatest triumph. And it didn’t take a village. It took a government.

I like the way today’s conservatives rush to point out, as they will in this comment thread, that most of the opposition to the civil rights bill was Democratic, as I noted above. There’s no denying that. But the more relevant point for today is this: Over the next few years, those people left the Democratic Party. They knew there was no place for them there.

In today’s GOP, however, the successors to the Richard Russells and Harry Byrds have been welcomed with open arms. And Barry Goldwater is not merely one guy among many guys they kind of like from the past. He is conservatism’s great hero! And 1964 is thought of as a shining moment in their movement’s history! And here we are, 50 years later, with the Republican Party looking as if it just might nominate for president a guy (Rand Paul) who once admitted that he’d have opposed the Civil Rights Act and basically was still against it (and Paul is one of the better Republicans on race!). Half a century, and society has changed for the better in amazing ways. But one of our two parties is still dedicated to fighting it.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 22, 2014

 

May 22, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Is It Constitutional, The Civil Rights Act?”: Learning To Live With The Civil Rights Act, 50 Years Later

Freshman U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) has mainly drawn attention as a Tea Party ultra who somehow managed to draw a Tea Party ultra ultra 2014 primary opponent with rather exotic extracurricular activities.

But he may be fairly typical of his ideological cohort in having some, well, problems coming to grips with major legislation enacted a half-century ago, per this report from Scott Keyes of Think Progress:

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), a freshman congressman aligned with the Tea Party, held a town hall Monday evening in Gainesville where he fielded a wide range of questions from constituents. One such voter was Melvin Flournoy, a 57-year-old African American from Gainesville, who asked Yoho whether he believes the Civil Rights Act is constitutional.

The easy answer in this case — “yes” — has the benefit of also being correct. But Yoho found the question surprisingly difficult.

“Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act?” Yoho repeated before giving his reply: “I wish I could answer that 100 percent.” The Florida Republican then went on to strongly imply it may be unconstitutional: “I know a lot of things that were passed are not constitutional, but I know it’s the law of the land.”

Well, that’s mighty nice of him to acknowledge the Supremacy Clause, not a universal tendency among self-styled Constitutional Conservatives.

But the difficulty a lot of CCers have with the Civil Rights Act–which almost certainly exceeds public expression, given the rather controversial nature of fighting the particular lost cause that helped sink their predecessor Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign–comes from three distinct but interrelated sources. The wonkiest issue is hostility to the Commerce Clause jurisprudence on which the Public Accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act relied for regulating private discriminatory business practices. It’s very common in conservative legal circles to deplore the extension of federal power via the Commerce Clause during a chain of Supreme Court decisions beginning in the 1930s; Chief Justice Roberts famously refused to accept a Common Cause rationale for the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

A second argument that would have been more familiar to Goldwater and to the southern segregationists who flocked to his 1964 campaign is a states’ rights objection to federal regulation of race relations. While today’s neo-secessionists would try to stay a million miles from racial issues in arguing that “state sovereignty” retains meaning even after the Civil War, it still has a ghostly power in conservative circles.

And then there is the idea, embraced off-and-on by the Paul family, that the Civil Rights Act simply violates fundamental principles of private property rights that cannot be trammeled for any cause, however justifiable.

It’s unclear which of these conservative concerns about the Civil Rights Act Ted Yoho shares, notwithstanding his willingness to bend the knee to the “law of the land.” But it’s interesting that he and other constitutional conservatives can’t quite suppress their discomfort with a legal regime that ensures people aren’t denied access to restaurants and hotels and other business because of the color of their skins.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 15, 2014

April 16, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights Act, Constitution | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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