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“Ties To The Confederacy”: Racist Oklahoma Frat Founded By Racists

Every now and then I read a news story online that evokes such a strong visceral reaction that I actually feel like breaking my computer. Monday morning was one of those days.

I’m talking about the video that I’m sure many of you have seen by now of the racist white University of Oklahoma students—most of whom were members of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE)—gleefully singing in unison these despicably racist words:

“There will never be a nigger SAE. There will never be a nigger SAE . You can hang him from a tree, but he will never sign with me. There will never be a nigger SAE.”

Watching these white students—clad in tuxedos and cocktail dresses—sing these lyrics with such joy and gusto made it feel like it was a scene from a movie about cartoonish racism from an era gone by. But this video didn’t depict an incident that occurred decades ago. It happened on Sunday.

Yes, I know the students will say—as will their defenders—that they were just joking around. Bullshit. In today’s America, you know that singing about “niggers” being lynched is absolutely, unequivocally wrong. There’s no gray area.

How could this happen in 2015? I’d say the early history of SAE is very instructive on this point. This fraternity brags on its website that it was started in 1856 in the “Deep South.” (I can’t help but think racial dog whistle when I see that term, given the SAE’s founders’ ties to the Confederacy.) And SAE was at one time was a whites only fraternity as noted in its 1903 “book of rituals” that limited membership to “members of the Caucasian race”. Keep in mind that the students on the bus were heading, per media reports, to a Founders Day event to celebrate very white men who gave us these policies.

And this is not the only racist event featuring SAE. It’s merely the first incident to attract national headlines. Just three months ago, the Clemson University chapter was suspended after white students held a “Cripmas” party (“Cripmas” being a weird and really not remotely funny combination of Crips and Christmas) where they dressed in bandannas, Tupac T-shirts and sported fake “thug” tattoos.” And an SAE chapter at Washington University in St. Louis was suspended in 2013 after members sang racial slurs to African-American students pledging the fraternity.

But SAE is far from the only fraternity engaged in such racially insensitive activities. The critically acclaimed 2014 film, Dear White People, concluded by giving us a litany of similar racially insensitive events held by white college students in recent years. We are talking “thug parties” and “Crips and Bloods”-themed parties organized by white students where they dressed as the worst examples of the black community.

In this climate, we can’t be surprised to see that a few months ago at Oklahoma State University, a black sorority became the target of a slew of racist remarks on an anonymous app.

These incidents generally result in the students being punished on some level. As most are aware, the president of Oklahoma University David Boren, a former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator, announced Monday morning that “effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE are hereby severed.” He closed the fraternity house effective Monday and condemned the students involved in the harshest terms.

That’s truly commendable. But it’s very likely that incidents like this and racial tensions will increase until we have an honest conversation about the underlying factors fostering racism. And it seems the time for this discussion can’t wait much longer. A recent poll released in connection with the 5oth anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma found that four in 10 American believe that racial relations have become worse during Barack Obama’s presidency.

So why aren’t we having this conversation? To be candid, the obstacle is coming from many in the white community. While black people are eager to have this much-needed discussion, most (not all) white people are not.

And that’s not just my opinion; It’s exactly what white and black people have been telling pollsters. For example, a 2013 Pew poll taken after the trial of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin found that 78 percent of blacks said the incident raised important issues about race that need to be addressed. However, only 28 percent of whites agreed.

And in 2014, after the grand jury refused to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, we saw similar numbers, with 80 percent of blacks saying the case raised important issue about race while only 37 percent of whites agreed. In fact, 47 percent of whites responded that they thought race was getting too much attention.

Why do so many whites feel this way? Well, as I have witnessed firsthand, many white people think that any discussion about race is really an accusation. Consequently, they reflexively recoil when the issue is raised and become defensive.

Of course, there are some—mostly on far right—who truly believe that racism doesn’t exist. It’s unlikely anyone can reach those people.

But the hope is that for the others, an environment can be created on both a local and national level to have a brutally candid conversation on underlying factors and perceptions that are causing this tension. I’m not sure what will make white people comfortable enough to have this discussion. But I do know that we need to find a way.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, March 10, 2015

March 11, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Racism, University of Oklahoma | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bigotry Is A Core Republican Value”: Missing Selma; The Final Death Of GOP Minority Outreach

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday in Selma, and it appears that after withering criticism and embarrassment, the GOP has decided at the last minute that maybe one of their leaders should actually bother to show up.

But the near miss won’t do much to obscure the message: the GOP has essentially abandoned its minority outreach, at least to African-American voters.

Facing demographic reality after their devastating defeat in 2012, Republicans issued a report saying they needed to consider policy changes to court minority voters. That olive branch lasted a few weeks before their base and its mouthpieces on AM radio urgently reminded them that bigotry is a core Republican value and would only be dismissed at the peril of any politician that didn’t toe the Tea Party line.

Now the party finds itself shutting down Homeland Security to protest the President’s mild executive order on immigration and almost ignoring the Selma anniversary entirely. The minority outreach program is not just dead: it’s a public embarrassment and heaping ruin.

That fact underscores certain disturbing realities for the future. Republicans will double down on the white vote, attempting to gain over 75% of it to put their anti-Hillary into the White House. They will continue to try to disempower cities in favor of surrounding suburbs and rural areas.

And they will continue to try to disenfranchise as many minority voters as possible–one of the reasons why the Selma memorial is so problematic for them. Republicans are actively trying to remove as many minority voters as possible from the eligible pool, and have no interest in being reminded of Dr. King’s struggle to achieve the end of Jim Crow and true voting rights for African-Americans.

The GOP has made it abundantly clear that things are going to get much uglier before they get better. Their base won’t have it any other way.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 7, 2015

March 8, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Republicans, Selma | , , , , , , , | 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

“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round”: Beyond Selma – Writing The Next Chapter In American Civil Rights History

In November 2012, I worked with the Obama campaign’s anti-voter suppression efforts in Florida. I was shocked when I saw that voters in largely Hispanic and African-American areas were forced to wait hours and hours to vote by design. The state had cut early voting from 14 to 6 days and added 11 constitutional amendments to the ballot (some written out in full) to make it more time consuming to vote such that one legislator compared the ballot to the Book of Leviticus. I also was told authorities did not deploy all available ballot boxes.

Tasked with encouraging voters to wait for over 3 hours until 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday, I was struck with how little needed to be done. They knew why they were waiting and that only made them more determined to vote. I was reminded of the song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” and the voting rights marches in Selma during the Civil Rights era and thought how sad it is that here we stand nearly 50 years after Selma and African-Americans still had to fight for their right to vote.

The next year, the Supreme Court gutted the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act that enabled the Justice Department to block discriminatory voting restrictions in Shelby County v Holder. The Act had been reauthorized in 2006 without a single vote of opposition in the Senate, but in the Obama-era a bill to revive the provisions got nowhere last year despite bipartisan support.

The struggle in Selma is now on movie screens across America for viewers to relive the brutality of Bloody Sunday and the ultimate triumphant march that drew Americans from all races and faiths from across the nation to take a stand for freedom and against bigotry and hate.

In March, however, the world’s attention will once again return to the Edmond Pettus Bridge for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. It will be a tempered celebration because it has been a difficult two years for race relations in America. Obama’s reelection victory unleashed a torrent of racist hate across social media, then came the killings of Treyvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York and the divisions their cases brought.

More importantly, throughout the period we have steadily moved backwards on voting rights as states across the south and elsewhere took advantage of the Shelby County decision to enact a number of restrictive voting measures that are designed to suppress the African-American vote.

I have one resolution for 2015 — I’m going to Selma.

As a child of Generation Jones, we always looked up to our Baby Boomer brethren who marched for civil rights when we had no need to for the victory had been won. That victory is in jeopardy. I’m going to Selma.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner among others were killed for this most fundamental right — the right to vote. They cannot cry for justice, instead it is the duty of the living to do so for them. I’m going to Selma.

I do not expect a House of Representatives that has no shame over having a white supremacist in its leadership to listen to our pleas for action on voting rights legislation. I’m going to Selma.

Martin Luther King once said, “[h]istory will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Similarly, Benjamin Franklin said that “[j]ustice will not be served until those who are as unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” I’m outraged and I’m going to Selma.

We are a generous nation that has come together to help those in need as we did after Katrina or to take a stand that we are one as we did after 9/11. The story of civil rights in America is not relegated to our history books or a movie but is still being written today. It is time to write the next chapter for civil rights in America. Once again we are called to take a stand for freedom and against bigotry and hate. I’m going to Selma.

 

By: Bennet Kelley, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 31, 2014

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Selma Alabama, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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