Civil rights

  • July 14, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    John Seigenthaler, a champion of a free speech, human rights and a courageous journalist, died July 11 at the age of 86. Seigenthaler, The New York Times in noting his death said he pursued a “muscular approach to journalism as a crusading newspaper editor and publisher and as the founding editorial director of USA Today.”

    Seigenthaler was also a close friend to Robert F. Kennedy. According to The Tennessean, the newspaper Seigenthaler reported for and eventually became editor, RFK met Seigenthaler “because the young reporter had written a number of news stories about growing corruption in the organized labor movements, particularly involving Jimmy Hoffa and his Teamsters union.” The Times also noted that as reporter for The Tennessean Seigenthaler was dogged in exposing the corruption of Hoffa’s Teamsters and “hounded the union boss.” It was some of Seigenthaler’s reporting that would help revive a federal grand jury that indicted Hoffa for jury tampering.

    When RFK became attorney general during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, Seigenthaler (pictured) was tapped to help the Kennedys work with a growing civil rights movement. In spring 1961, Seigenthaler was dispatched by RFK to help some of the first Freedom Riders; waves of youngsters in buses headed to the Deep South in what would be become a deadly and high-profile attempt to draw attention to ongoing segregation in public places. Seigenthaler was injured trying to help some of the Freedom Riders who were being beaten by a mob of rabid racists in Montgomery, Ala.

    After RFK’s assassination in 1968 during a run for the presidency, it would not be long before Seigenthaler returned to journalism, eventually leading the editorial pages of the USA Today and much later founding the First Amendment Center, part of the Freedom Forum.

    U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the young student Freedom Riders who was beaten and jailed, told The Tennessean Seigenthaler “was a newspaper man at heart who represented the highest tradition of journalist integrity and reporting. He used the power of the pen to help make this country a better place. He was a skillful negotiator, the consummate professional, yet he was a humble, down-to-earth gentleman who was dedicated and committed to his family and friends.”

    [image via Curtis Palmer]

  • July 2, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Today we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, it was and remains a landmark step forward. But we must not also forget that 50 years on, African American communities and other minorities still face many of the same onerous, often deadly, obstacles to equality that generations of African Americans before them suffered. 

    The Civil Rights Act sought to fight discrimination against African Americans and others and to desegregate public schools.

    The Civil Rights Act would not have made it to the president’s desk, were it not for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other African American leaders' bold courage and great suffering to win steps toward civil rights. But the suffering continues. Morris Dees at the Southern Poverty Law Center remembers the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 50 years ago and notes where we stand today.

    Let's be honest about the state of African-American lives in this country. As Peniel E. Joseph points out in The Root, "the glass is not only half-empty, but it’s losing water fast." Joseph notes that assaults on affirmative action, lax enforcement of civil rights and anti-discrimination laws by federal and state governments and the white public’s general fatigue over race matters has created the perfect storm of political retrenchment we are seeing today. African Americans are still disproportionately imprisoned, put on death row and face racial-profiling from coast to coast. They still face vast discrimination at the polling place. Lawmakers pass discriminatory and unjust laws to keep black men and women from exercising their right to vote. That's why you are seeing stringent voter ID laws and the slashing of early voting. And our country relies on an oppressive system of mass incarceration that is disproportionately destroying African American families and communities. (See this ACSblog Book Talk by Michelle Alexander, associate professor of law at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, about this system in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.)

    The African-American community and others who care for genuine equality and a more just and gentler society are continuing to fight. They have seen a conservative supreme court hobble the Voting Rights Act, but are working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers for passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act. As The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel notes in a Washington Post editorial, ongoing action is needed, as Martin Luther King III recently said, we need "not just this moment of reflection, but also a year of action." 

    Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This month also marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. During July, ACSblog will host a symposium commemorating the two anniversaries featuring some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights leaders.

  • June 18, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Kimberly Stietz, Law Clerk, Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel, U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota; Program Committee Co-Chair, ACS Minneapolis-St. Paul Lawyer Chapter

    On June 6, the the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota honored Freedom Riders from the state and marked the beginning of the traveling “Freedom Riders” exhibition that will be on display for two weeks in the Minneapolis U.S. Courthouse lobby. The exhibition examines six months in 1961 when more than 400 courageous Americans—old and young, black and white, men and women, Northern and Southern—risked their lives to challenge segregated facilities in the South. “In 1961, seven ordinary Minnesotans—including Robert Baum, Clare O’Connor, Dave Morton and Peter Ackerberg—took an extraordinary bus ride to Jackson, Mississippi, and in the process changed the course of American History forever,” said Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel.

    The Freedom Riders had a simple but daring plan: board buses in small, interracial groups and travel through the South to test and challenge segregated facilities. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) served as the keynote speaker for the event and noted that the actions taken by the Freedom Riders were as innovative in the 1960s as social media campaigns that inspire revolutions like the Arab Spring are today. “We must be creative and break free from traditional methods of activism to realize contemporary civil rights goals related to immigration, voting rights, minimum wage and more,” Ellison said.

    The Freedom Riders endured savage beatings, humiliation, and imprisonment, but ultimately, their brave actions changed American forever. The exhibition combines powerful images and news coverage of the Freedom Rides and examines the movement from diverse perspectives. The exhibition is a companion to the May 2011 PBS Broadcast of the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE film Freedom Riders.

    “The District Court is pleased to host this powerful and inspirational exhibition,” said Chief Judge Michael J. Davis. “People of all walks of life will be able to learn about the bravery of the Freedom Riders to secure the constitutional rights of all citizens. These are people who faced grave danger, who changed the face of America, and we are more than happy and extremely proud to highlight their legacy.”

  • June 13, 2014
    Yesterday, The Southern Poverty Law Center celebrated the 47th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which struck down 16 state bans on interracial marriage.
     
    Ruby Dee, acclaimed actress and civil rights activist died this week at the age of 91. Bruce Weber at The New York Times and Diamond Sharp at The Root remember the life of an American legend. 
     
     
    The Supreme Court handed down two opinions yesterday. Jaclyn Belczyk at Jurist covers the Court’s decision in the bankruptcy case Clark v. Rameker, while Nina Totenberg at NPR breaks down the legal battle between POM Wonderful and Coca-Cola in POM Wonderful LLC v. The Coca Cola Company.
     
    The Senate Judiciary Committee met last week to discuss the Supreme Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence over the last several years.  In an article for the Louisville Courier-Journal, David Gans notes why we need a constitutional amendment to overturn these decisions.
     
    Writing for Concurring Opinions, Gerard Magliocca likens the Supreme Court justices to World Cup referees.

     

  • May 30, 2014

    Acclaimed writer, poet and professor Maya Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86. In a life that inspired many influential figures of the twentieth century including Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Angelou eloquently merged the lines between artist and civil rights activist. Adam Serwer at MSNBC celebrates the legacy of an American hero. 
     
    Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill that would close many of the state’s remaining abortion clinics. Writing for Salon, Katie McDonough comments on what the legislation could mean for women throughout the region.
     
    Alicia A. Caldwell at The Associated Press notes the Obama administration’s decision to delay a review of the nation’s deportation policy until the summer in an attempt to pressure Congress to act on immigration reform.
     
    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s IQ requirements were too strict in assessing whether or not a prisoner was mentally competent enough to be executed. At The New York Times, Adam Liptak breaks down Hall v. Florida