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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

“A Flag Hijacked By Modern Segregationists”: Its 20th Century Symbolism Is Clear To Anyone Who Examines The Historical Record

A historian and Southerner says the Confederate flag was not the flag of the Confederacy.

I am a Southerner by both birth and heritage. I come from a long line of poor white cotton farmers on both sides of my family. Three of my four great-grandfathers fought in the Confederate Army. The fourth had been told by his parents that he could join the army when he turned 13; he was on his way from Texas to Virginia to do so when he met his brothers coming home on the road. They told him that Lee had surrendered and the war was over. My grandmother was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and I was enrolled at the age of 6 in the Children of the Confederacy. I mention these credentials because of what I am about to say about the Confederate battle flag.

The flag that is causing such a furor was not “the Confederate flag,” as so many news reports have described it. It was a military flag, originally square in form, designed by William Porcher Miles, an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard, after the first Battle of Manassas, because Beauregard thought that the Confederate national flag, which had a circle of white stars in a blue canton and three broad stripes, red, white, and red, was too easily confused with the Union flag in the smoke of battle. Miles’ battle flag was never approved by the Confederate Congress and never adopted as a national flag. It never flew over Confederate government offices, or over the Capitol at Richmond.

It was not even prominent among the symbols of the Lost Cause that helped create the myth of the noble suffering South during the years after the Civil War, nor was it celebrated during those years as a hallowed symbol of the Southern past, as apologists for it claim. According to University of Mississippi historian Allen Cabaniss, writing in The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, it was seldom displayed at Confederate reunions or used by any of the societies of descendants of Confederate veterans. My grandmother’s United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter used the first national flag, the one that Beauregard thought could be confused with the Union flag, at their meetings, and she made me a small one out of silk to hang in my bedroom.

Cabaniss describes how the Confederate battle flag emerged “out of limbo” as a symbol of white supremacy and segregation during the Dixiecrat political campaign of 1948, when Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ran for president on a platform of states’ rights and segregation. Newspaper accounts of the States’ Rights Democratic Party convention in Birmingham, Alabama, describe delegates marching into the auditorium under Confederate battle flags as bands played “Dixie.” This set the stage for the adoption of the battle flag by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils across the South as a symbol of their racist opposition to integration. The first time I can remember seeing a picture of the battle flag carried in public was during the Clinton, Tennessee, race riot in 1956, when hooded Klansmen descended on the town and paraded down the main street under the flag.

Next month the Klan will rally at the South Carolina statehouse grounds under the Confederate battle flag. When it was at its peak, in the 1920s, the Klan’s members paraded under the American flag.

The fact is that in the 1950s and 1960s, the Confederate battle flag was hijacked and dishonored by racists and white supremacists who were opposed to the federal government’s implementation of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ending public school segregation. Two years after the decision, in 1956, the Georgia Legislature incorporated the battle flag into the state flag as a protest against integration. The battle flag was first raised over the South Carolina state Capitol on April 11, 1961, to mark the beginning of the Civil War Centennial; in March 1962 the Legislature voted to leave it there as a protest against the civil rights movement. Its 20th century symbolism is clear to anyone who examines the historical record, and it is not something to honor or revere.

In June 1865, two months after the Confederate surrender, a Catholic priest named Abram Joseph Ryan, a former Confederate Army chaplain, published a poem entitled “The Conquered Banner.” Its seven stanzas urged Southerners to accept defeat and furl their flags. The final stanza reads:

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently – it is holy –
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not – unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people’s hopes are dead.

The poem was once a standard recitation piece in Southern households, including my grandmother’s. The racists of the 1950s should have heeded Father Ryan’s advice. Now it is definitely time to furl that banner.

 

By: Lonn Taylor, Historian at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History from 1984 to 2002 and is the author of The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem: This originally appeared in The Washington Spectator; The National Memo, June 30, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, Confederate Flag, Segregation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Can Ratchet Up Accountability All We Want”: America’s Schools; Still Separate And Very Much Unequal

I have taught in two different Mississippi Delta high schools, and now work in a community college.

From the 30,000 foot level, at the federal Department of Education, and even in the Mississippi statehouse, we are told that the problem with our schools is low standards and lack of accountability for teachers. From the ground, it looks quite different. Schools that serve the highest-poverty students like the one where I teach are consistently and intentionally under-resourced, exacerbating the dire circumstances in which many of them live.

I once visited the three-room trailer home of one of my high-school students near the town of Alligator, Mississippi, which was housing 10 people — six of them young children. There were only two light fixtures: one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom. No tables, so they ate meals and did their homework on the kitchen floor.

Many Delta children are technically homeless. They “float around” from house to house, relying on strangers or relatives in very unstable living situations. And because there are not enough health providers, just getting to see a doctor can be an all-day event.

In 1954, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision identified segregation as the shameful and harmful toxin that it is. We have failed for 60 years to eradicate that toxin, with dire consequences for our schools.

Schools do not operate in a vacuum. Family circumstances that accompany students when they walk through the classroom door every day have a big impact on those students’ success. We all know this. But less often do we acknowledge that those students do not operate in a vacuum either; the communities in which they live have as big an impact on students’ learning as do their family circumstances. And when those communities are economically and racially isolated and segregated, schools face much larger challenges.

Even at the community college level, poverty’s effects sharply challenge the pursuit of education. Lack of transportation is a huge obstacle in this rural area. Students may walk four miles to get to school. I have seen kids walk in all kinds of weather. It’s heart wrenching to hear that they can’t make it to class or to lab or to get extra help because they have kids, or jobs they are trying to get to, or “my ride is leaving.”

Some reformers dismiss these as isolated issues, but when you see it over and over, you realize that it’s pervasive, and that people don’t know how to fight it or change it.

From the moment the Brown decision was delivered, political, civic, business and religious leaders across the Deep South adopted what became known as the “massive resistance” strategy. They refused to integrate schools, and did everything they could to stall the inevitable federal imposition of it. Local officials used all manner of diversions, impediments and excuses to either prevent desegregation or to sabotage its implementation so it could be deemed a “failure.” Indeed, most schools in the Mississippi Delta did not begin to desegregate until the late 1960s, and tens of thousands of black teachers and administrators across the South lost their jobs in retaliation.

We have not “abandoned” the mission, we never fully committed to it.

In 1995, 40 years after Brown, I was teaching at the black high school where my own children were enrolled. A colleague and I went dumpster diving at the other high school for the English textbooks they were throwing away, to get enough just for classroom sets for our students. The white high school had a fully equipped science lab; ours had no lab equipment or supplies. Decades of such inequities laid the foundation for today’s “failing schools.” They were designed to fail.

We can ratchet up accountability all we want, test students more often, and fire more teachers. That will likely cause more children to feel like failures, more dedicated and exhausted teachers to leave our schools, if not our profession, and fewer of our students to graduate from high school and become engaged, employed, productive citizens.

Fixing the complex, longstanding problems holding back our communities, however, will require acknowledging some harsh realities. Starting with the reality that we treat some children as if they are worth more, and mine as if they are worth less, and that growing up and going to school in segregated, isolated communities makes success elusive. We must ensure that money – to pay teachers (and parents) well, to make classrooms engaging, and to ensure that all children are fed, housed and healthy – is available to all. We must stop advancing policies that promote individual “choice” at the expense of developing good, equitable public schools, that treat public schools like market commodities, and that reward outcomes like increased segregation.

Shifting to policies that incentivize integrated, diverse schools and neighborhoods and community-level investment in our most precious public good are critical steps toward fulfilling Brown’s mission. It’s not too late.

 

By: Renee Moore and Elaine Weiss; Moyers & Company; Bill Moyers Blog, October 20, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Education, Public Schools, Teachers | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Who Are The Judicial Activists Now?”: People Like Ted Cruz Will Never Stop Screaming Judicial Activism

As is regularly the case in American politics, you have to hand it to Ted Cruz: His reaction to the Supreme Court’s order on same-sex marriage was the best one I came across Monday for sheer outrage-iness. “Judicial activism at its worst!” he thundered (okay, the exclamation point is mine). This, remember, in response to an inaction. The Court did exactly nothing. And now that’s judicial activism.

In fact, the Court took a pass, one presumes, because there weren’t two circuit-court decisions before it that presented conflicting legal interpretations of statute. In the absence of such a conflict, the Court did exactly what most experts I’ve read and spoken to over the last few months predicted it would do. But to Cruz, it’s “astonishing.” Ditto that the Court acted (or in-acted) “without providing any explanation whatsoever.” Which it never does in such instances, but never mind.

People like Cruz will never stop screaming judicial activism. No, wait: They will stop screaming judicial activism, at least on the question of same-sex marriage; and they will stop doing so sooner rater than later. This will constitute a major victory for the forces of light, one very much worth marking and thinking back over.

Ever since, well, Brown v. Board of Education, and probably before, conservatives have complained about judges making law against the will of the majority of voters. The critique extends into nearly every little crevice and lacuna of our civic life. Roe v. Wade was legislating from the bench; affirmative action; of course taking God out of the classroom; but basically anything any court did that conservatives didn’t approve of.

And let’s admit it—on at least the abstract level, the complaint has often had merit. I mean, there can be little doubt that public opinion in Dixie in 1954 opposed the integration of the schools. So the Court of 1954 was indeed making law from the bench. And thank God for it, since the problem is that public opinion was wrong. Not just wrong like “I think I’m not putting enough salt in my grits” wrong, but immorally wrong. What’s a court to do in such a case? Many forests have been sacrificed so that various scholars could take up this question, but the answer is really quite short and simple: The right thing.

And so liberalism has lived now with decades of such criticisms from conservatives, with the understanding that it’s far better to have won the right in question from a court than not to have won it at all—and the understanding that out there in America, yes, the backlash against these judges and the policies that grew from their decisions was probably brewing.

But same-sex marriage is different for two reasons. First, the amazing and oft-commented upon speed at which public opinion has flipped. And second, the fact that if the legal consensus can be said to be coming down on one side or the other, it’s clearly coming down on the side of same-sexers having the same constitutional matrimonial rights that the rest of us have. When federal judges in Oklahoma and Utah say it, it ain’t judicial activism, folks. It’s, you know, the more-or-less-impossible-to-deny law.

So the process by which same-sex marriage has advanced in this country hasn’t been overwhelmingly judicial at all. Until the Court’s announcement Monday, in fact, the tally was that gay marriage became legal by court decision in 13 states, and by the will of the people in 11 (legislative action in eight, popular referendum in three). And in most of the states where the change happened through the courts, the issue is decreasing in controversy, and public opinion is coming along.

You may remember that Iowa was the first unexpected heartland state where the state Supreme Court made gay marriage legal, back in 2009. It’s true that three judges who so ruled were removed from the bench in judicial retention elections in 2010. But by 2012, when the “values” crowd went after a fourth, they walked away scalpless: Judge David Wiggins retained his seat by a landslide 10-point margin. The temperature had cooled. Today, polling shows that public opinion in the state is still divided on same-sex marriage but is firmly against any kind of state constitutional amendment that would ban the practice.

So now, after what the Court did Monday, same-sex marriage is going to extend into 11 new states. It seems fair to say that majorities are against gay marriage in most of these states (the aforementioned Utah and Oklahoma, plus Kansas, Indiana, West Virginia, and the Carolinas). We’re going to see the usual skirmishes and hear the predictable sound bites. In political terms, if you’re a liberal who wants to read the tea leaves, keep an eye trained on the North Carolina Senate race.

Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is steadily but narrowly leading GOP challenger Thom Tillis. Hagan backs same-sex marriage. But the state voted overwhelmingly against it two years ago in a referendum. And now, as a part of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, North Carolina is about to have the sinful practice foisted on it. Public opinion in the state still runs strongly against same-sex marriage. I think we can reasonably expect Tillis to double down on the issue, and it would be horrible to see Hagan lose because of it.

It’ll take time in these states, but the same thing will happen in them as is happening in Iowa. People will adjust. Gay couples will marry. Straight couples will see that their own marriages were somehow not sullied after all.

This is the core dilemma for conservatives on same-sex marriage: The more widespread its practice, the more accepted it becomes. This is the exact opposite of abortion and affirmative action, two red-hot issues on which the right has used the “judicial activism” charge to great effect in recent history. If you think abortion is murder, then the more widespread its practice, the more aghast you are. If you oppose racial preferences, then ditto. But that isn’t how same-sex marriage works. It takes nothing away from heterosexual couples, or for that matter anyone.

Eventually, the Supreme Court will rule 5-4 (with Kennedy) or maybe even 6-3 (with Roberts—not completely impossible) in favor of gay marriage, because the law is clear, and because the Court isn’t going to tell many thousands of married couples in 30 states that they’re suddenly not married. Judicial activism? No. Just the right thing. The judicial activists will be those, led by their godhead Scalia, who will try to invent new ways to march backwards while pretending that they themselves aren’t trying to dictate morality from the bench. And the charge of judicial activism, which hurt liberalism because it resonated with a resentment that millions of average Americans felt, will lose its sting soon enough.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 7, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Judicial Activism, Marriage Equality, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chief Justice Roberts, Meet Bundy And Sterling”: An Ugly Corner Of Contemporary American Life, Invisible To The Supreme Court

It’s challenging to keep up with the latest in racist tirades, so let’s attempt a brief review. Last week, Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who became a conservative folk hero for his refusal to pay his debts to the federal government, said that he often wondered if black people fared better as slaves. Then, over the weekend, a tape of what appears to be the voice of Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, surfaced, and it featured Sterling instructing his girlfriend to avoid being photographed with black people and to refrain from bringing African-Americans to the Clippers’ basketball games.

Bundy and Sterling represent an ugly corner of contemporary American life, but it is one that is entirely invisible in recent Supreme Court rulings. In the Roberts Court, there are no Bundys and Sterlings; the real targets of the conservative majority are those who’ve spent their lives fighting the Bundys and Sterlings of the world.

Chief Justice John Roberts has made a famous utterance on the subject of race, and it’s a revealing one. The remark came in a case in which the Justices addressed perhaps the most celebrated precedent in the Court’s history: Brown v. Board of Education. In that decision, in 1954, the Justices ruled that segregated public schools were by their nature unconstitutional. In 2007, the Justices evaluated one of the many attempts that communities have made to address the legacy of legal segregation in schools. Seattle used race as one factor to determine which schools some students attended; the goal of the local initiative was integrated schools. But the Court struck down the Seattle plan as a violation of the Constitution and of Brown. Even to ameliorate segregation, the consideration of race was unconstitutional. In Roberts’ evocative phrase, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In other words, those who were trying to integrate the schools were the ones doing the “discriminating.”

The majority engaged in the same kind of blame-shifting in a recent case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. In response to an earlier Supreme Court decision permitting some forms of affirmative action at the University of Michigan’s law school, voters in the state passed a constitutional amendment barring any use of race in admissions. The question in the Schuette case was whether the Michigan amendment violated the U.S. Constitution. It was a close, difficult case, and the Court concluded, by a vote of six to two, that the answer was no; voters could ban affirmative action if they so chose.

It was as if the Justices in the majority and those in dissent were writing about different countries. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion suggested that the debate over affirmative action should and could take place in a genteel, controversy-free zone. “In the realm of policy discussions the regular give-and-take of debate ought to be a context in which rancor or discord based on race are avoided, not invited.” (Yes, it “ought” to be, it just may be that it isn’t.) Kennedy said that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution include the people’s right to “try to shape the course of their own times and the course of a nation that must strive always to make freedom ever greater and more secure.” Apparently, this noble endeavor includes banning affirmative action.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote about a country where the Bundys and Sterlings still hold considerable sway. Indeed, she went beyond the simple bigotry of the Bundys and Sterlings and found that more subtle wounds of racism still exist in this country. “Race matters,” she wrote, “because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’” Indeed, Sotomayor threw Roberts’s famous line back at him. She quoted him—“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”—and then wrote, “It is a sentiment out of touch with reality, one not required by our Constitution, and one that has properly been rejected as not sufficient to resolve cases of this nature. While the enduring hope is that race should not matter, the reality is that too often it does. Racial discrimination … is not ancient history.”

The vile words of the rancher and the basketball tycoon showed just how right Sotomayor was. Even if her colleagues insist otherwise, racial discrimination, far from being ancient history, is as fresh and new as the latest alert on your phone.

 

By: Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, April 29, 2014

April 30, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Racism, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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