Civil rights

  • August 26, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor, West Virginia University College of Law. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom represented the high point of the decades-long civil rights movement against Jim Crow apartheid. The March brought heightened international attention to African Americans’ demands for social, political, and economic justice.  And the March offered a snapshot of the battle to awaken the moral imagination of the country. Indeed, the progress achieved in the 1960s battle for civil, political, and economic rights could not have been made without first winning the battle for the moral imagination of the United States. 

    The movement made apparent the injustices of Jim Crow. The movement called white America’s attention to the terrorism of lynching and bombings. The movement forced Americans to consider the effects of segregated facilities. The movement demanded equal participation for African Americans in the political process. The “I Have A Dream” speech spoke for many in the movement by setting out specifically the moral question of civil rights for African Americans to the country.

    Dr. King sought not just to evoke the question, but also to show the necessity of answering the question immediately. He said that “[w]e . . . come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”  Yet, the question we must confront in 2013 is whether we have been tranquilized into the lethargy of gradualism concerning the work that needs to be done. 

    Fifty years ago, because of the public shaming of nonviolent protest, the majority society of 1963 could no longer ignore the tyranny of American apartheid. As a result, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  We can rightfully rejoice in the fact that America today cannot be called an “apartheid” country. But the majority society of 2013 seems to have forsaken the Civil Rights Movement’s call to moral imagination. Instead, many in society seem to have fallen victim to a new kind of gradualism.

  • August 22, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A. Philip Randolph the influential labor and civil rights leader called Bayard Rustin “Mr. March,” referring to Rustin’s integral role in crafting the iconic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The A. Philip Randolph’s website describes Rustin’s tireless efforts to advance equality and human rights in America and describes him as the “Deputy Director and Chief Organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” the 50th anniversary of which is being commemorated with events beginning this week and into next week.

    But because Rustin was also gay and refused to be someone he was not, he was at the time shunned by some within the civil rights movement and not surprisingly tarred by the FBI and other federal authorities as a “pervert.” Rustin’s sexuality was at the time employed crudely to try and undermine his noble and trailblazing work.   

    Change occurs albeit slowly within the country and sometimes for the better. Earlier this month President Obama in naming recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom included Rustin, posthumously. National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) Executive Director and CEO Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks lauded Obama’s action saying, “As one of the chief architects of the Civil Rights Movement and the brilliance behind the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Rustin’s indispensable contributions to the ethos of our country continue to reverberate and push us toward a more just and fair society, America is indebted to Rustin, and our nation is right to finally honor him for his stalwart courage and leadership.”

    As USA Today reports, the NBJC will commemorate Rustin’s towering contributions to the civil rights movement and his invaluable leadership in bringing about the March on Washington during this year’s 50th Anniversary of the March. The A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), which Rustin helped found, will also commemorate Rustin and Randolph. APRI has a schedule of events here. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law also has a schedule of events. The Leadership Conference and many other public interest groups are commemorating the event.

    Last spring, ACS and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture hosted an event on Rustin's legacy. Video of event is below “read more” or available here.

    Catherine Albisa, executive director of the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative, in kicking off the panel discussion described Rustin as “an extraordinary example of what a social activist should be. He suffered for being a gay man at a time when gay men and lesbian women were persecuted for their sexuality. And I think from what I’ve read, some of the greatest suffering may not even have come from what his enemies threw at him, but what his friends threw at him; you know for accusations that he was betraying the movement for nothing more than being who he was, and yet he managed to stay true to himself and stay true to the movement.”

  • July 24, 2013
    Ghosts of Jim Crow
    Ending Racism in Post-Racial America
    F. Michael Higginbotham

    by F. Michael Higginbotham, the Wilson H. Elkins Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law

    Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America offers a prescription for moving America beyond its destructive race problem once and for all. While tremendous progress has been made, America remains unequal. Black unemployment, poverty, and homelessness are twice that of whites. Wealth accumulation for blacks is one twentieth of what it is for whites. Seventy-five percent of whites graduate from high school compared to less than 60 percent of blacks. While some blame personal choices for the discrepancies, the nation's deeply entrenched history of discrimination cannot be ignored. Emotional racial protests continuing across the country today prove that America is far from becoming "post-racial," to the chagrin of those proclaiming such when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. 

    Ghosts of Jim Crow notes the three distinct eras, the nation’s founding, Reconstruction, and the civil rights movement, during which progress towards racial equality was marred by periods of resistance and retreat. Talk of building a new nation, on the principles of liberty and equality, in the latter 18th century, meant little to the millions of blacks forced into chattel slavery or to the free blacks who were racially profiled, presumed to be slaves, and denied due process rights simply because they were black (Hudginsv. Wright, 1806). The promise of emancipation, following the Civil War, was cut short when the Supreme Court adopted a “separate but equal” theory in Plessy v. Ferguson, at the end of the 1800s.  In the decades following, state and local governments' massive resistance to desegregation initiatives allowed "Jim Crow" segregation to flourish.  This remained true even after such behavior was ruled unconstitutional, in Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954. During the late 20th century, just as the civil rights movement was beginning to show results, through race-conscious affirmative action programs, the Supreme Court limited the government’s ability to redress all but the most blatant examples of discrimination. The 2013 State of Florida v. Zimmerman case, where a white neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting and killing the black teenager he allegedly profiled, Trayvon Martin, proves Ghosts continue to haunt black America. President Obama, who rarely comments on race, acknowledged as much in his recent comments.

    Subtle, yet pervasive, racism, through presumptions of black inferiority and embraces of black separation and white isolation continue to perpetuate the racial divide. There are two types of racism that prevent equality currently – structural racism and cultural racism. Structural racism involves policies, laws, and programs that embed inequality within society, and in so doing, reinforce cultural racism, those beliefs and actions that embrace racial hierarchy and isolation. Both structural and cultural racism must be ended in order to create equality. 

    Legislative and judicial responses to continuing racial inequality have been inadequate. The approach of simply eliminating government racial classifications is not sufficient. We must eliminate notions of superiority to stop the cyclical process whereby racist thoughts and actions lead to disparities. 

  • July 18, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Thomas Perez was confirmed by the Senate to be Secretary of Labor this afternoon by a vote of 54 to 46. Perez’s confirmation comes after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reached a deal with the body’s Republicans where they agreed to end filibusters on several executive appointments, including Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, in exchange for President Obama dropping two nominees he had appointed to the National Labor Relations Board during a Senate recess at the end of 2011.

    Perez leaves his position as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice to take the helm at the Labor Department. At Justice, he notably challenged South Carolina’s 2011 voter ID law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and led an investigation into alleged discriminatory policies and practices by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office under Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

    He talked about his experiences fighting for voting rights at an ACS lawyer chapter event earlier in the year, describing Section 5, which was recently all but struck down by the Supreme Court, as the “crown jewel” of civil rights legislation. Without Section 5, Perez noted, efforts in covered jurisdictions to restrict voting would have been much more severe. Of his own role, Perez said that he was just one step in the “marathon relay” that is the struggle for equality and civil rights; a struggle, he added, which is not yet complete.

  • July 11, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The secret court that hears government requests for spying on Americans' communications is a durable check against government overreach because it’s made up of esteemed, independent federal court judges and the lawyers representing the nation’s intelligence apparatus are really good at their jobs. At least that’s the take of a large number of government officials who support  sweeping surveillance programs, which the secret has approved.

    Last year the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) did not deny or reject the 1,789 government FISA applications. Apparently 40 of applications were modified, but since the FISA Court’s actions are secret, we don’t know in what why they were altered. In 2010, Salon reported, “there were 1,511 applications, of which five were withdrawn and 14 modified.”

    This week James Comey, President Obama’s nominee to head the FBI, told a Senate committee that the FISA Court is no “rubber stamp” and that people just don’t understand the highly secretive court, George Zornick reported for The Nation. Comey also maintained that another reason the FISA Court rarely rejects government demands for more information about Americans is that the government’s attorneys work really hard to put together sound applications.

    But just as this defense of the FISA Court as a serious check is being built, more information is seeping out about the secret court’s work. The New York Times reported that the Court does more than secretly grant general warrants for the NSA to sweep up mass amounts of information about Americans. It is also issuing opinions on “broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.”

    Ten of the FISA Court’s 11 independent federal judges, Salon’s Joan Walsh reports are appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The judges Roberts appointed are ones named to the bench by Republican presidents. “Over the last 12 years, they approved 20,909 surveillance and property search warrants and rejected only 10 government requests,” she added.