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“Protecting Equality”: What Some Black Church Leaders Have Wrong About Gay Marriage — And Civil Rights

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples had a right to marry anywhere in the country.

The African American church and its leadership have often been at the forefront of movements for equality. But the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has shed light on the resistance to social change among some black church leaders —and has left them sounding more like white conservative leaders.

On June 26, the Court ruled that two consenting adults have the right to get married—even if they are the same gender. As conservatives lamented the loss of morality and warned of the hellfire that would soon rain down upon us, President Barack Obama and the White House celebrated the decision.

Just a few hours later, Obama delivered a eulogy for Clementa Pinckney. Pinckney was a South Carolina state senator and a pastor at the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church before he was shot and killed, along with eight other members, by white supremacist Dylann Roof during a Bible study on Wednesday, June 17. The juxtaposition was quite remarkable. It was a day marked by joyous celebration and indescribable pain: the first black president at the funeral of a black man killed by a white supremacist, on the same day same-sex marriage became the law of the land.

In May 2015, the Pew Research Center found that support for same-sex marriage among all Americans increased drastically from 39 percent in 2009 to a whopping 57 percent. Opinions on same-sex marriage vary by race, with 59 percent of whites, 56 percent of Hispanics, and just 41 percent of blacks in support.

One of the biggest indicators in whether a group is in favor of same-sex marriage is religion. Of those unaffiliated with religion, 85 percent support marriage equality. In contrast, 70 percent of white evangelical Protestants oppose gay marriage, as do 57 percent of black Protestants.

Since at least 1992, blacks have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, the reason being that the modern-day Democratic Party champions causes that appeal to the black community: economic inequality, fair housing, taxing the rich, welfare, and public education. Meanwhile, the modern-day Republican Party consistently stands for causes that disproportionately hurt blacks. And much to the chagrin of conservative black pastors, the Democratic president (and those who hope to succeed him) is publicly in favor of same-sex marriage.

In May 2012, after Vice President Joe Biden came out in support for marriage equality, Obama quickly did as well. “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he said during an interview with ABC News. And while many across the United States celebrated Obama’s voiced support, he faced backlash from black pastors.

The Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP) is a socially conservative organization made up of black church leaders. After Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality, the president of CAAP, Reverend William Owens, sounded the moral alarm. “We were once proud of President Obama, but our pride has turned to shame,” he said. “The man holding the most powerful position in the world is stooping to lead the country down an immoral path.”

After the Supreme Court ruling last week, CAAP doubled down on Facebook. “Pres. Obama’s legacy: Obamacare and Gay care,” read one post. Another update used the “unelected judges” talking point, widely used by conservative politicians when they don’t agree with a SCOTUS outcome:

Today is a significant setback for all Americans who believe in the Constitution, the rule of law, democratic self-government, and marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The Court got it wrong: it should not have mandated all 50 states to redefine marriage.

Five unelected judges do not have the power to change the truth about marriage or the truth about the Constitution.

According to The Christian Post, CAAP and other African American Christian leaders threatened mass civil disobedience. “If they rule for same-sex marriage, then we’re going to do the same thing we did for the civil rights movement,” proclaimed Owens. The fact that protesting a law protecting equality is antithetical to the civil rights movement must be lost on Owens and CAAP. Just as notable is the lack of recognition they seem to have for how the black LGBT community has long been at the intersection of racial equality and gay rights.

Two trans women of color were at the forefront of the Stonewall riots, widely considered the beginning of the modern LGBT equality movement. Sylvia Rivera, of Puerto Rican descent, was later one of the founders of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance. She and Marsha P. Jackson, who was black, started the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries, which advocated for homeless LGBT people.

Today’s Black Lives Matter movement, which mirrors so much of the movement of the 1960s, was started when three queer black women created the hashtag—Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi—after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2013. Writing for The Feminist Wire this past October, Garza declared that, “Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.” The Black Lives Matter movement was inclusive and intersectional from the beginning.

The black LGBT community is strong and has been fighting for civil rights for decades. The coalition of black pastors who invoke the civil rights movement when they rail against the rights of gay couples should consider reading some history books.

 

By: Nathalie Baptiste, The American Prospect, July 3, 2015

July 6, 2015 Posted by | Black Church Leaders, Civil Rights Movement, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Pamela Geller Is No Rosa Parks”: Trying To Cash In On The Moral Authority Of The Movement While Scrapping Its Moral Foundations

After armed gunmen attacked a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last week, event organizer Pamela Geller went on Fox News to explain the moral righteousness of her cause. Responding to critics like Donald Trump, who accused her of “taunting” Muslims, she asked, “What would he have said about Rosa Parks? Rosa Parks should never have gone to the front of the bus. She’s taunting people.”

Nor was Geller alone in seeing the civil rights parallel. John Nolte, writing for Breitbart, contended, “Anyone who knows anything about history understands that tactically and morally, Geller’s provocative Muhammad Cartoon Contest was no different than Dr. Martin Luther King’s landmark march from Selma to Montgomery.”

They’re both wrong, in a particularly pernicious way. By drawing a parallel between Geller’s anti-Islamic events and the civil rights movement’s anti-Jim Crow protests, they are trying to cash in on the moral authority of the movement while scrapping its moral foundations.

There is a surface-level similarity between the two movements, one Geller and Nolte hope no one probes too deeply. Civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s knew that if they violated the laws and norms of the Jim Crow South, white Southerners would react with spectacular violence. Putting that violence on display was the point. Jim Crow laws gave Southern racial violence the veneer of a civilized legal code. The protests showed the rest of the world the ever-present threat of violence upon which that legal code was built.

Geller, too, meant to provoke violence with her Muhammad cartoon event. The question is, to what end? We already know that violent extremists are violent and extreme. If we want to see how extremists respond to people who draw Muhammad, we only need look at recent events in Paris and Copenhagen. The point for Geller and her cohort is to demonstrate that the West is at war with Islam – and ultimately to devote more resources to that war.

In other words, Geller hopes to use the violence she provokes to justify violence in return. And that’s where the civil rights analogy utterly fails. The radical potential of the early civil rights movement grew out of its moral commitment to nonviolence. And not just nonviolent action – King called upon activists to be nonviolent in word and thought as well. The reason the movement has such moral authority in America is because it was built on this deeply held belief in the transformative power of love-based politics and resistance.

Geller’s movement has none of that. She and those in her camp seek not a world with more peace but one with more war. Given that, it is especially repugnant that they call upon the names of Parks and King, trading on their courage and sacrifice while undermining the values of love and peacefulness that makes their work worth emulating.

 

By: Nicole Hemmer, Historian of Modern American Politics and Media; U. S. News and World Report, May 12, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Muslims, Pamela Geller | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The GOP’s Noticeable Absences In Selma”: Republicans Are Apparently Satisfied With Only Having Its White Base

A wide variety of American political leaders will be in Selma tomorrow to honor the 50th anniversary of the events at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Among the attendees will be President Obama and former President George W. Bush.

Politico reports, however, that the Republican congressional leadership will not be on hand for the event.

Scores of U.S. lawmakers are converging on tiny Selma, Alabama, for a large commemoration of a civil rights anniversary. But their ranks don’t include a single member of House Republican leadership – a point that isn’t lost on congressional black leaders.

None of the top leaders – House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy or Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was once thought likely to attend to atone for reports that he once spoke before a white supremacist group – will be in Selma for the three-day event that commemorates the 1965 march and the violence that protesters faced at the hands of white police officers.

It’s not just the House GOP – Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also skipping the event.

In fairness, it’s important to note that, as of yesterday, 23 congressional Republicans have said they’ll be in Selma for tomorrow’s ceremony, so it’d be an obvious overstatement to suggest a complete GOP no-show. But the Republican leadership – all of which was invited to attend – plays a unique role in representing the party overall. And yet, these leaders declined.

It’s reminiscent of August 2013, when a massive rally was held at the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Organizers encouraged the congressional Republican leadership to participate in the event, but GOP leaders declined those invitations, too.

To be clear, each of the Republican leaders who declined the invitations – both to tomorrow’s event in Selma and to the 2013 commemoration – may have a perfectly good excuse for their absence. There’s no evidence to the contrary.

But at a certain point, the party needs to realize that it has, among other things, a problem with appearances. On the one hand, the GOP sincerely seems to want to expand its outreach to minority communities, building the party beyond its overwhelmingly white base.

On the other hand, Republican leaders declined to participate in the Lincoln Memorial event in 2013; they’ve declined invitations to Selma; they had no public concerns after learning Steve Scalise attended a white-supremacist event; they’re slow walking the first African-American woman to ever be nominated as Attorney General; and they’re blocking a proposed bipartisan fix to the Voting Rights Act while their brethren at the state level impose new voting restrictions that disproportionately affect people of color.

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the Republican Party simply must do better than this.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 6, 2015

March 7, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Selma Alabama, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Voteless People Is A Hopeless People”: Memories Of Selma And ‘Bloody Sunday’; ‘They Came With Nightsticks’

They became iconic images of the civil rights movement: A middle-aged black woman tear-gassed and beaten and slumped unconscious on the side of the road. A white Alabama state trooper, billy club in hand, stands above her. In another photo, a young man cradles her body in his arms.

Amelia Boynton Robinson, the woman in those photos, had helped galvanize hundreds of activists to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 — part of a march from Selma to Montgomery to demand their civil rights. Helmeted law enforcement officers pummeled the peaceful demonstrators on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

“They came with horses,” Boynton Robinson recalled. “They came with nightsticks.”

She is now a centenarian — conflicting sources put her age at 104 to 109 — and devotees lovingly refer to her as “Queen Mother.”

“I was taught to love people, to excuse their hate and realize that if they get the hate out of them, that they will be able to love,” Boynton Robinson said during a recent trip to Los Angeles. “After Bloody Sunday people began to wake up.… and those who have arisen because of our Bloody Sunday have excelled.”

The matriarch of the civil rights movement is physically frail and uses a wheelchair, but she remains perceptive and alert, and her failing health has not dampened her determination to keep pushing for change.

“I was born to lead,” said Boynton Robinson, whose role in the voting rights movement is featured in the film “Selma.” “My parents didn’t look at people as being colored or white.” They treated everyone as equal, she added.

Boynton’s activism began when she was a girl growing up in Savannah, Ga. As young as 9 years old she accompanied her mother in a horse and buggy, distributing leaflets for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. (Women finally got the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.)

At age 14 she attended Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth, now Savannah State University. Two years later she started studying under the tutelage of famed African American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver.

Her career would lead to her to becoming a home demonstration agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The job included helping rural women with food preservation and teaching home economics.

“My parents made an example of what they wanted their children to be,” Boynton Robinson said. “My parents never looked down at anybody,” and they believed every individual should be treated and respected as royalty, she said.

Boynton Robinson became a registered voter in 1932, but many blacks, particularly in the South, remained disenfranchised due to obstacles, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, enforced by state and local authorities. The Selma establishment was known to be among the most egregious in barring blacks from the polls.

Along with her husband, Sam, she pushed for black rights, and their house on Lapsley Street in Selma became a meeting place for organizers in the movement. Planning sessions for the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were held in that house.

The Selma march was organized to protest the fatal shooting a few days earlier of a young African American church deacon named Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama state trooper, and the general issue of black disenfranchisement across much of the South.

During a meeting in Malibu with middle school journalism students, the veteran activist vividly recalled how law enforcement officials, armed with tear gas, were determined not to let the activists march to Montgomery. She recounted how when demonstrators refused to disperse, the attack began.

“People were running because they were beating you,” Boynton Robinson said. “I mean they were beating everything. I just stood still.”

An officer ordered her to run. She asked, “Why, what for?” That’s when he struck her on the shoulder, then at the base of her neck, knocking her unconscious.

Troopers dragged her to the side of the road, leaving her for dead.

As Boynton Robinson later learned, when Selma’s Sheriff Jim Clark was told of her presumed demise he was less than sympathetic.

“He said, ‘If she’s dead, let her alone and let the buzzards eat her,’” Boynton Robinson said.

Fellow activists came to her aid and an ambulance eventually took her to a hospital.

The images of the atrocities that day triggered shock and outrage across the globe.

When Boynton Robinson became aware of the magnitude of the malfeasance that occurred on Bloody Sunday, it intensified her will “to do better and go farther and … to help the people to become registered and voters,” said the activist, who in 1964 was the first black woman in Alabama to seek a seat in Congress.

According to published material, in the weeks after the march a group of U.S. congressmen met with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders at Boynton Robinson’s home to produce the first draft of the Voting Rights Act. Boynton Robinson was at the White House when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act into law in August 1965.

Although census data shows that turnout among voting-age African Americans in presidential elections has vastly improved in recent years — in part due to President Obama and his campaign’s community mobilization drive — Boynton Robinson believes there is still a sense of apathy among the black electorate.

“They have gone back to sleep,” she said. She appealed to today’s generation to embrace the lessons of the struggle and not take suffrage for granted.

“I am still determined that these young people will realize that a voteless people is a hopeless people,” she told the students, and later added: “If they keep doing what Dr. King and the others were doing, we will not regret…. because we have paved the way for them to follow.”

 

By: Ann M. Simmons, The Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2015

 

March 7, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Selma, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John Lewis Tells His Truth About Selma”: Reflections Of A Legacy Of Resistance That Led Many To Struggle And Die For Justice

The role of art in our society is not to reenact history but to offer an interpretation of human experience as seen through the eyes of the artist. The philosopher Aristotle says it best: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.”

The movie “Selma” is a work of art. It conveys the inner significance of the ongoing struggle for human dignity in America, a cornerstone of our identity as a nation. It breaks through our too-often bored and uninformed perception of our history, and it confronts us with the real human drama our nation struggled to face 50 years ago.

And “Selma” does more than bring history to life, it enlightens our understanding of our lives today. It proves the efficacy of nonviolent action and civic engagement, especially when government seems unresponsive. With poignant grace, it demonstrates that Occupy, inconvenient protests and die-ins that disturb our daily routine reflect a legacy of resistance that led many to struggle and die for justice, not centuries ago, but in our lifetimes. It reminds us that the day could be approaching when that price will be required again.

But now this movie is being weighed down with a responsibility it cannot possibly bear. It’s portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s role in the Selma marches has been called into question. And yet one two-hour movie cannot tell all the stories encompassed in three years of history — the true scope of the Selma campaign. It does not portray every element of my story, Bloody Sunday, or even the life of Martin Luther King Jr. We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?

“Lincoln,” for example, was a masterpiece, a fine representation of what it takes to pass a bill. It did not, however, even mention Frederick Douglass or the central role of the abolitionists, who were all pivotal to the passage of the 13th Amendment. For some historians that may be a glaring error, but we accept these omissions as a matter of perspective and the historical editing needed to tell a coherent story. “Selma” must be afforded the same artistic license.

Were any of the Selma marches the brainchild of President Johnson? Absolutely not. If a man is chained to a chair, does anyone need to tell him he should struggle to be free? The truth is the marches occurred mainly due to the extraordinary vision of the ordinary people of Selma, who were determined to win the right to vote, and it is their will that made a way.

As for Johnson’s taped phone conversation about Selma with King, the president knew he was recording himself, so maybe he was tempted to verbally stack the deck about his role in Selma in his favor. The facts, however, do not bear out the assertion that Selma was his idea. I know. I was there. Don’t get me wrong, in my view, Johnson is one of this country’s great presidents, but he did not direct the civil rights movement.

This film is a spark that has ignited interest in an era we must not forget if we are to move forward as a nation. It is already serving as a bridge to a long-overdue conversation on race, inequality and injustice in this country today. It may well become a touchstone, a turning point for another generation of activists who will undertake the next evolutionary push for justice in America.

It would be a tragic error if Hollywood muted its praise for a film because it is too much a story and not enough an academic exercise.

Whenever I have a tough vote in Congress, I ask myself what would leaders of courage do? What would King and Robert Kennedy do? What is the right thing to do? What is the fair and honest thing to do?

The people have already spoken. They are marching to the theaters, arrested by the drama of this film, moved by ideas too long left to languish, driven to their feet and erupting in enthusiastic applause.

 

By: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the leaders of two of the Selma marches, is portrayed in “Selma.” He has been a member of Congress since 1987; Op-Ed Opinion, The Los Angeles Times, january 16, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr, Selma | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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