Talladega College band should march for America, says civil rights dean

dr-lafayette
Dr. Bernard LaFayette led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s campaign to fight povery in 1968. He was a 1961 Freedom Rider and one of the leaders of Selma’s voting rights efforts, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Dr. LaFayette has taught Kingian nonviolence all over the world. He lives in Atlanta and Tuskegee, Ala.
     Back in the day, when ministers, maids, college students of all races and Jewish sympathizers boycotted buses and staged sit-ins at lunch counters, department stores and movie theaters, they had a plan.
     Part of that plan was disarm their detractors and win over their would be oppressors, says Dr. Bernard LaFayette, who led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Poor People’s campaign in 1968 and the Selma voting rights movement among other social justice efforts.
     Dr. LaFayette makes a strong argument that the Talladega College band —  which accepted an invitation to march in Friday’s inauguration parade before Donald Trump was elected president — should take part in the parade, rather than boycott it, as some alumni have suggested.

“We have to work on teaching our young people that we have to win people over, said Dr. LaFayette. “If they disagree with what we stand for we don’t alienate ourselves from them, we need to engage them.”

         In a recent interview on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,”  Talladega College president Dr. Billy C. Hawkins said several individuals and groups had stepped forward to donate money to help the band pay for the trip to Washington, D.C.  Students at the small private college in Talladega, Ala are anxious to show the world their musical talents, Hawkins told Joyner.

Joyner established The Tom Joyner Foundation, a Dallas-based non-profit organization which raises money to send students to historically black colleges and universities.

         According to Fox News, more than $620,000 had been raised for the band. Several donations came in after Hawkins’ appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

When considering a boycott, Dr. LaFayette said the debate should always be, “What can one gain by not going and what do they accomplish if they do go.”

“We need all the support we can get for our black colleges,” he said. “If they are invited, they should accept the invitation and look at it as the presidency rather than the president.”

“You don’t have to agree with the president, but we agree that we need the presidency. It doesn’t mean they agree with everything Trump stands for.

During the protests of the 1950s and 1960s — which led to major legislation such as the Voting Rights Act — “we demonstrated the non-violent approach to dealing with adversaries. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got on the phone and talked to President John F. Kennedy and went to see President Lyndon B. Johnson. That’s the only approach we can use with Trump.”

A tale of the tape: Rep. John Lewis vs. President-elect Donald Trump

 

This really isn’t a fair fight. But hey, Donald Trump went there when he insulted Congressman John Lewis via Tweet Saturday saying the civil rights icon is all talk and no action. Trump added insult to injury by tweeting that Lewis’s congressional district is a crime-ridden disaster. This came after Rep. Lewis (D-Georgia) said in an interview that he did not consider Trump to be a legitimate president because of Russian interference in the presidential election.

Trump is in serious need of a history lesson (not to mention a primer on the First Amendment).

So let’s go:

John Lewis: One of the leaders of the Nashville Student Movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  (S.N.C.C.) while attending seminary in Nashville. Was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. Lewis’s original speech was so controversial, organizers of the march asked him to tone  it down.

Donald Trump: Received alarge sum of money from his father to get started in the real estate business.  Made a name for himself as a successful businessman despite the fact that many of his business practices have faced legal and ethical questions.

John Lewis: One of the original Freedom Riders who took part in the Congress of Racial Equality’s May 1961 effort to test desegregation laws on interstate buses in the Deep South. Lewis and other Freedom Riders were attacked and beaten by angry mobs in Alabama while authorities did little to help the victims. C.O.R.E. was forced to suspend the rides.  After 400 Freedom Riders of all races were arrested in Jackson, Miss. for breach of the peace, the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered an end to segregated conditions on Greyhound and Trailways buses later that year.

Donald Trump: Was sued for housing discrimination in New York City after teams of testers found that he and his father discriminated against would-be tenants who were African American and Latino.  The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Trump’s companies have faced several lawsuits over the years from contractors, business colleagues and people who believe they were misled by leaders at Trump University.

John Lewis: Was beaten and nearly died on the Edmund Pettus Bridge between Selma and Montgomery while marching for the voting rights for African Americans. The efforts of Lewis and other protesters led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Donald Trump: Was caught on a hot mic making lewd comments about women.

John Lewis: One of the longest-serving and most respected members of Congress. When asked when he might retire, Lewis said in 2011: “Retirement is not in my D.N.A.” adding that he has more work to do for justice and freedom before he leaves this earth.

Donald Trump: Fired Omarosa and Gary Busey on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Serious Donald Trump? You don’t want it with Congressman John Lewis.

 

 

In the winter of our discontent; there is hope

Clarissa Etter Smith is a wife, mother

Clarissa Etter-Smith and her husband Steve live in suburban Boston.  She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.

BY GUEST BLOGGER CLARISSA ETTER-SMITH

What an amazing few weeks we have witnessed. We’ve seen Supreme Court decisions affirming the legality of the Affordable Health Care Act and marriage equality.The murder of nine people inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston gave us a glimpse of our president that we rarely see. While giving the  eulogy for Emanuel’s pastor, state legislator Clementa Pinckney, President Barack Obama sang a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Healthcare became a right in this country. I often wonder how we became a nation whose people believe you should profit from sickness.  We are the largest industrialized nation where healthcare continues to be a for profit business. As someone who has worked in the business of pharmaceuticals for 20 years, it has sometimes been difficult to look from inside the business to outside and reconcile why we must profit from illness.

Then there is the other side, the innovative medicines and services that have come from this country that allow us, not only to live longer but also to live longer stronger. With those innovations comes a price.  It takes millions to develop one new therapy. Most never make it out of the lab, but the brilliant scientists who do the work, think each time there will be a breakthrough. We must create the space for that spirit of discovery and innovation to thrive.

There is so much to love about this country. While our systems aren’t perfect, healthcare being one of them, we are better than most.

There are difficult issues to tackle. We must look at the underbelly of systematic racism or we will perish. The diversity we see on the streets of our nation is envied in other lands. We are a nation striving for perfection. But the Emmanuel Nine massacre brought the seedy underbelly to the surface. We learned that a deranged, 21-year-old man was able to purchase a gun, walk into a house of worship and gun down the faithful. After the fact, he admitted his hatred toward black people. Pictures surfaced of him posing with the Confederate flag, a worldwide symbol of oppression and hate.

Innovation comes at a cost. Access to Internet content sometimes breeds contempt and destruction.  How do we support love not hate? How do we show bitter, hate-filled  teenagers and young adults that killing is not the answer.  When will our dinner tables be filled with those who don’t look like us, but make our lives richer because of it?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I know is that we must stay in the conversation. We must continue to work toward a more perfect union.

The Affordable Health Care Act gives millions access to much-needed preventive care, but it won’t give people healthy, chemical-free food. We must demand that for everyone, not just the wealthy.

Marriage equality, gives our gay brothers and sisters the freedom to love, to share property, to declare on their last days the most pivotal relationship in their lives.

The tragic deaths of nine faithful Christians gives us yet another opportunity to look at ourselves and take a stand for what we want to be: A nation of equal opportunity.

I am hopeful, but I’m not naive.  Now that the confederate flag is down, the question remains: Can we rise above the hatred and oppression it represents?

When your heritage represents our pain

This imagine of kids playing  together in 1950s Detroit should help us remember that we are one.

This iconic photograph of children playing in Detroit should remind us all that we are one. The flag that divides us should not fly on public property.

First a painful truth: the Confederate flag flies all around the South. I’ve seen it in Jackson, Miss. and in Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery, where black people — and the white people who helped them — were beaten and murdered for trying to fulfill their humanity and gain equal protection under the law.

Here in Georgia we see the flag on porches, at places of business and on the license plate of a car that seems to be following you way too closely.

Now the debate about the flag is focused on South Carolina, where a 21-year-old man pictured with the Confederate flag killed nine people in a Charleston church two weeks ago and admitted he did so because he hated African-Americans. The pastor of that church, Clementa Pinckney, was among those slaughtered. He served in the South Carolina state legislature, the very body that will take up the flag issue next week.
The Civil War may have ended 150 years ago, but this battle over the Confederate Flag rages on. For me, the flag represents oppression and hatred. I get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever i encounter it. My mind goes back to a time when black people were killed just for being black.

Earlier this week I asked Rev. C.T. Vivian about the Confederate flag and the burning of black churches throughout the South in recent weeks. Vivian, who turns 90 this month, fought for voting rights in Selma. As a young pastor and divinity student in Nashville, he took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in the early 1960s. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“The flag is representing the death, the murder and the misuse of black life before and after slavery. That’s why they talk about heritage,” said Vivian. “Well I would not want to be a part of heritage that talks about hate as a basic part of my lifestyle. They have to understand the hanging and the killing and the beating of black people by Christians and the Klan was a basic part of a good deal of what the white church did in the south. Racism was a part of the lives of the Southern Baptists.”

As Dr. Vivian noted, the flag is deeply engrained in Southern culture.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the flag outside of my workplace. It was 1989 and I’d moved from St. Petersburg, Fla. to take a reporting job in Atlanta. When I walked into the newsroom, I asked why the Confederate flag was flying outside my new workplace. It’s part of the Georgia state flag, a colleague said.

And here I thought I was moving to “the city too busy to hate.” The black Mecca. The cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. Welcome to Georgia, where every other neighborhood has “Plantation” in its name and there is an entire museum dedicated to revisionist history.

It would be years before the Confederate emblem was removed from Georgia’s state flag. It was a bruising battle that ultimately came down to economics and image.  In the South, you see, one of the justifications for slavery is that it was an economic institution.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery often speaks about how Southern culture and ideals come into play with current day issues, such as the need to appoint more black judges in Georgia.  Much of the resistance stems from the refusal of some state legislators to let go of the past, he contends.

“They are still fighting the Civil War,” said Lowery, who in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in civil and human rights.

So display the Confederate flag if you choose. But do so with the knowledge of the hurt and pain it brings to many Americans who helped build this country.

But it should no longer be displayed on public property.

Let’s honor the nine men and women who died at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Take down that flag.

Rachel Dolezal was right to resign from the NAACP, but not because she is white

Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal

Lies and misrepresentations are always harmful. But whom among us hasn’t told a white lie or two?

When I first heard about the curious case of Rachel Dolezal,  a white woman pretending to be black, I wondered how that made her different from entertainers and actors who embrace and celebrate black culture.

People like  Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Gary Owen, an actor and comedian who happens to be married to a black woman, giving him a unique window into black culture. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a culture that brought the world Etta James, Muddy Waters and B.B. King? Or Muhammad Ali, Usher Raymond and Beyonce?

I have always been proud to be an African-American. Next month, our family will gather in Atlanta for our 57th annual reunion. It’s a place to share love,  recognize academic achievement and celebrate our heritage.

But when I found out  Ms. Dolezal identified herself as African-American on job applications, my opinion changed. We don’t know Ms. Dolezal’s full story because she is dodging reporters. On Monday,  she resigned as president of the Spokane, Washington N.A.A.C.P.  That’s a good call on her part. Her lies have damaged her credibility and made it impossible for her to continue to lead.

American history contains several instances of white people who gave their lives in the fight for civil and human rights.  In 1964, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, two young, Jewish men from the Northeast, were murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi along with native son James Chaney as they attempted to register blacks to vote during Freedom Summer.

In 1965, Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a wife, mother and N.A.A.C.P. from Detroit, was shot to death in Alabama by members of the Ku Klux Klan as she worked to register black voters.

And let’s not forget the fearless Freedom Riders, hundreds of black and white Americans who in 1961 were beaten and arrested in South Carolina and Alabama; and  jailed in Jackson, Miss. on the ridiculous charge of  “breach of the peace.”  Their goal was to test the enforcement of federal laws prohibiting segregation in interstate bus travel.

Ms. Dolezal’s case reminds of us a time when light-skinned black men and women passed for white to avoid such violence or to gain employment or a better education. Typically, they were the descendents of slave masters who raped black women they considered nothing more than property.

These painful facts may help explain why so much anger is being directed at Ms. Dolezal.  Our history is undeniable; and no matter how many times some folks try to rewrite it or justify it, the facts speak for themselves. They are part the reason we still have such much trouble talking about race in America. It’s personal, especially for southerners.

You have to wonder why Ms. Dolezal, who was so active in an organization whose goal is fairness for all people no matter who they are, chose to be someone she is not.

Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were reported missing and later found dead in an earthen dam. They were shot and buried by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were reported missing and later found dead in an earthen dam. They were shot and buried by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

ViolaGregg Luizzo, a wife and mother from Detroit, was murdered by Klan members while helping register voters in Montgomery and Selma. She was shot to death while driving with a black man in her car.

Viola Gregg Luizzo, a wife and mother from Detroit, was murdered by Klan members while helping register voters in Montgomery and Selma. She was shot to death while driving with a black man in her car.

The aura and legacy of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The dashing young president and his stylish wife are riding in the back of a convertible limousine, waving to people who’ve come to see them on a crisp November day in Dallas. The governor of Texas and his wife are seated in front of them smiling and waving. Suddenly shots ring out. Jacqueline Kennedy, her pink suit covered in blood and brain matter from her beloved husband, John F. Kennedy, frantically tries to climb out of the limo. A member of the Secret Service pushes her back inside the car. The bullets fired at the presidential motorcade hit Texas Gov. John Connally too.

Hours later, anchorman Walter Cronkite announces with tears in his eyes that President John F. Kennedy is dead. Cronkite, his voice breaking, pauses and removes his glasses.

President Kennedy’s assassination at the age of 46 on Nov. 22, 1963 changed the course of history. At 43, he was the youngest person elected to the presidency.  He and his young family offered hope and promise to a generation of Americans. He fought against Communism, reluctantly believing America should stay in the Vietnam War though it wasn’t ours to win. After a near catastrophic standoff, he managed to get Soviet missiles out of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis; which some historians argue he caused. He established the Peace Corps, an organization of volunteers who work in countries around the globe to promote peace and good will. He believed America should go to the moon but he would not live to see it happen.

Born into a Massachusetts family of privilege and political power, Kennedy famously told Americans during his January 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It was a message that resonated deeply with a generation poised for change.

When hundreds of Freedom Riders challenged segregated conditions on Greyhound and Trailways buses in the segregated South in 1961, President Kennedy was reluctant to get involved. He didn’t want to anger Southern Democrats and foreign affairs dominated his young presidency, remembered John Seigenthaler, an aide to Bobby Kennedy, the president’s younger brother and then-U.S. Attorney General.

During his campaign for the presidency in 1960, John F. Kennedy placed a strategic telephone call to Coretta Scott King, the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been arrested during a protest in Atlanta. That phone call earned the candidate an endorsement from Martin Luther King Sr. and Kennedy went on to receive 70 percent of the black vote in his victory over Richard Nixon. Some questioned Kennedy’s sincerity but he later said equal rights for African-Americans was a moral necessity.

The idealistic young president would not live to see his predecessor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, sign major Civil Rights legislation into law in 1964.

His assassination was the first of several that would take place in the 1960s, when Americans dared to believe they could change the world. The bravery and actions of President John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Bobby Kennedy, were a big part of those beliefs.

Rev. C.T. Vivian…what a way to start the day!

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When it comes to brilliance and boldness, Rev. C.T. Vivian has few peers. I could listen to the man drop knowledge all day long. And I love the way he refers to everyone as “my brother” and “my sister.”

Thursday, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rev. Vivian chatting it up with Ryan Cameron and the rest of the V-103 morning crew. Rev. Vivian was one of the key figures in the Nashville Student Movement, the 1961 Freedom Rides and many other protests in the 1960s. He was holding court on the radio as only he can. Someone asked him about the use of the N-word, and I liked what he had to say. People will stop using it when we when are completely free, he said. By his estimation, we’re about half way there. The journey, he said, is about fulfilling our humanity; a phrase I’ve heard him use before.

I wish there was a way to expose every young person to Rev. Vivian. I’ve got to believe they’d be inspired by his passion and motivated by the fact that at 89 years young he is still going hard. His current job is national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the nation’s oldest Civil Rights organizations. He and Dr. Bernard LaFayette, the SCLC’s chairman of the board, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 60s to desegregate public facilities and to push for major civil rights legislation. Later, they held voter registration campaigns in some of the most segregated cities in the south.

Last month, I spent a few hours with Rev. Vivian and Dr. LaFayette at Morehouse College in a training session on nonviolent social change. It was a Friday night and only a few student leaders at the Atlanta University Center decided to show up. What a missed opportunity! Whenever I’m around Rev. Vivian, I like to be quiet and listen. Each time we talk, I learn something new. At this gathering, he talked about how Malcolm X was sent to meet with Ku Klux Klan members. Nation of Islam leaders wanted the Klan’s help in obtaining land to create a separate nation for black Muslims. Both groups believed in the separation of the races but why in the world would any black organization or religious group want to join forces with the Klan, a group whose members terrorized and murdered black folks?

Rev. Vivian is living, breathing history. Next month, the longtime Atlanta resident will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor a president can bestow. Rev. Vivian — who punctuates every other sentence with “Right?” — told us President Barack Obama is well read when it comes to the strategies and tactics used during the Civil Rights Movement. Obama asked Vivian how they were able to succeed with the non violent protests. The key, said Rev. Vivian, is believing in something so passionately you are willing to die for it.

Back in 1965, in Selma, Ala. Rev. Vivian was punched in the face by the town’s sheriff when he tried to register black voters. But a bloody face didn’t stop the him from continuing to challenge the sheriff.

When a celebration was being planned in Jackson, Miss. in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Rev. Vivian told me he planned to boycott the event because of then-Gov. Haley Barbour’s racial politics. Furthermore, he said, he didn’t want to be used by Mississippi officials intent on showing how far they’d come since the days they jailed hundreds of Freedom Riders in a state prison for “Breach of the Peace.”

I’m sure Rev. Vivian will have a few choice words for the Washington crowd when he receives the Presidential Medal next month. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.