On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act that was enacted in 1965 to root out racial discrimination in voting. The specific section of the Act that was stricken — Section 4 — set forth a formula for determining which jurisdictions need federal clearance before making even minor changes to voting procedures. The impact of striking Section 4 is that the most important part of the Act, Section 5, is now rendered useless. Section 5 provides that states, cities, and counties with a history of racial discrimination in voting must “pre-clear” changes to voting procedures with the Department of Justice or a special court in Washington, D.C. Without the formula in Section 4 to determine which states, cities, and counties the preclearance should apply to, the preemptive protection provided by Section 5 no longer exists, and any future challenges to changes in voting procedure must happen after such changes are already in effect.
The majority of the Court felt that racial minorities do not continue to face discriminatory voting practices, and that the preclearance requirement was based on 40-year-old facts that had no logical bearing on present day. Chief Justice Roberts, Jr., wrote:
“Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
The practical application of Tuesday's decision is that states will be able to enact potentially discriminatory laws that previously had been blocked. This was made immediately apparent in Texas, which announced after the ruling that voter identification laws would go into effect immediately.
In a vote of 7-1 on Monday, the Supreme Court sent an affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas, back to the lower court for a re-hearing, while reaffirming the benefits of diversity in institutions of higher learning and authorizing the continued use of race as one factor in admissions. By sending the case back to determine if the University of Texas could find no “available, workable race-neutral” alternatives available to them, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg explained the court did not issue a strong enough support for affirmative action. I agree. By virtue of our nation’s not-so-distant history, race simply is a factor that should be considered.
For nearly 250 years, blacks were bought and sold like cattle and carriages on auction blocks across America. When the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in 1807, the U.S. bred slaves to reinforce the fundamental source of its wealth: free labor. When shackles fell from the wrists and legs of black men, women, and children — and the Reconstruction Era took hold — black families thrived and held public office. Then, for the next 80 years, thousands of white men in the South covered their faces with sheets, burned crosses, lynched 3,445 black men, women, and children, and instituted a web of laws that made it nearly impossible for blacks to vote, attain equal education, or own a home of much worth. At the same time in the North, blacks, Latinos, and Asians were redlined into urban ghettos where access to good housing, competitive education, adequate health care, effective law enforcement, and gainful employment was scarce.
When did this reign of terror against African-Americans end? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed so-called “Jim Crow” laws that had blocked blacks from voting and legally reinforced racial segregation. The acts laid the foundation for legal recourse against all manner of discrimination from that day to present.
Now consider this: We have made only two generations of progress after 17 generations of comprehensive, structural, systematized, and racialized oppression. And the effects of that oppression still haunt us today.
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Acts 2.12 (NRSV)
Charles Ramsey, the African American male dishwasher who rescued Amanda Berry from captivity preached a transforming sermon when he shared his story about how he helped a Euro American woman in distress escape from 10-years of captivity. Ramsey boldly told the local television news reporter in Cleveland, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.” And later when CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Ramsey, how he felt about being a hero, Ramsey said, “No, no, no. Bro, I’m a Christian, an American. I am just like you. We bleed the same blood …”
Ramsey’s blunt honesty which spoke to the existence of racism and his sincere compassion for humanity was a 21st century mystification; a “radical real lived” theological symbol for the reason, why Christians celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Holy Spirit and the historic beginning of the Christian Church. Biblical scholars teach us on the Day of Pentecost that a strong wind swept through a house where Jesus’ followers gathered days after he was resurrected from the dead. It was in the city of Jerusalem, where Jewish pilgrims gathered to celebrate Shavuot and people from other cultures who spoke diverse languages — believers and non believers of Jesus, heard about God’s powerful works in their native tongues and felt God’s holy presence.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Sprit gave them ability.
When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.
But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted.
Why the change?
The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.
The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom.
“These bills don’t have any real-world effect. Their only purpose is to allow people to vilify Islam,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative affairs director, of the more recent bills.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In May 1963, thousands of Birmingham school children faced police dogs, fire hoses, and possible arrest to demonstrate against segregation. Now, 50 years later, those who were part of what became known as the “Children’s March” say they don’t want their story to be forgotten.
“We were doing this not just for ourselves but for some higher purpose,” said one of the young marchers, Freeman Hrabowski III. “It focused on civil rights for all Americans.”
Hrabowski is now president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He was 12 when he marched in Birmingham and was arrested for parading without a permit. He and hundreds of other children were held in custody for five days before being released.
Experts say the children’s crusade helped galvanize the civil rights struggle at a time when efforts were flagging.
“That was really the tipping point in a tipping year,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch, who has written a series of books about the civil rights movement, told the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”
On March 31, 1968, a few short days before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
He spoke a phrase he had used on a number of occasions and which by now, 45 years later, has gained a hard proverbial ring: "Eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of America."
The situation he described has stubbornly resisted any real movement, but the recent emergence of a radical theology dealing with violence itself is promising a crack in the walls that divide.
Black theologians such as James Cone and Kelly Brown Douglas have recognized the work of the theoretical anthropologist, René Girard. They consider it one of the few frameworks able to illuminate the nature of the violence suffered by the African-American community.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world; one third of those incarcerated are serving long-term sentences for petty, non-violent crimes. One out of three African-American men will serve some sort of time under present law enforcement practices and the current criminal justice system. In Washington, D.C., that number jumps to an estimated three out of four. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
More than 50 people gathered at Emmanuel Church of God in Christ in southeast Washington, D.C., on Sunday afternoon to hear the Rev. Louis Hutchinson remind them of these facts. Rev. Donnell Smith called the trend: “legalized discrimination.”
Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged white church leaders to confront racism, an ecumenical network has responded to his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
“We proclaim that, while our context today is different, the call is the same as in 1963 — for followers of Christ to stand together, to work together, and to struggle together for justice,” declared Christian Churches Together in the USA in a 20-page document.
The statement, which is linked to an April 14-15 ecumenical gathering in Birmingham, Ala., includes confessions from church bodies about their silence and slow pace in addressing racial injustice.
“The church must lead rather than follow in the march toward justice,” it says.
This August will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and there will rightly be much remembrance and celebration of its place in American history. But there is another anniversary that our nation, and especially its Christians, would do well to acknowledge, investigate, and ruminate.
Forty-five years ago yesterday, Dr. King arrived in Memphis, Tenn., to support a sanitation workers’ strike seeking to unionize. He was assassinated the next day — the anniversary we today remember — and in a sad irony our nation began the sanitation of his legacy. Indeed, King’s decision to join the Memphis struggle was just one of many acts that clash with what David Sirota calls the “Santa Clausified” image of King that we pass to our youth.
Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his battle against apartheid, has won the 2013 Templeton Prize, which is billed as the most significant award in the field of spirituality and religion.
Tutu, who has not been afraid in recent years to criticize leaders in his country and across Africa for humanitarian and political shortfalls, was cited for his work in advancing the cause of peace and the spiritual principles of forgiveness.
“By embracing such universal concepts of the image of God within each person, Desmond Tutu also demonstrates how the innate humanity within each of us is intrinsically tied to the humanity between all peoples,” Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., the president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation, said in a video statement released Thursday announcing the $1.7 million award.
It’s been 50 years since several significant events of the civil rights movement of the 1960s occurred, yet our society is still plagued with systemic racism. It’s been almost 150 years since we abolished slavery in this country, yet many are still enslaved daily by the oppression of discrimination and poverty. While significant strides in equality and justice have taken place, new systems of injustices have been instated and threaten the integrity of our much-stated rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I am most presently thinking of the system of the “New Jim Crow,” something author and advocate Michelle Alexander has awakened society to with the recent publication of her book with that title. The New Jim Crowrefers to the web of injustices related to mass incarceration and the stripping of basic rights of returning citizens reminiscent of the Jim Crow laws of our nation’s history. Today, returning citizens face “legalized discrimination” from employers and landlords, making it extremely difficult for them to get a job or a place to live. Additionally, in many states they are not allowed to sit on a jury or express their right to vote, meaning their voices are stifled.
I walked down the newly plowed row with my grandpa, feeling the warm, red clay on the soles of my bare feet and listening to his stories and words of advice. I held a tomato plant in my hands, the rich, black potting soil falling off of the small, vulnerable roots, as he knelt and dug a place for it in the garden. “Hey,” he’d often start, “here's something my daddy told me when I was little. ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth because He wants you to listen twice as much as you speak. If you do that, you'll learn something. If you don't, you won't.’”
The memory of walking with my grandpa in his garden came back to me after I read about The Faith and Politics Institute's Civil Rights Pilgrimage in which more than 250 people (including 30 members of Congress) took a three-day tour of civil rights landmarks from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Montgomery to Selma. The participants in the pilgrimage got to hear the stories of the struggle for justice from the people who were in those places 50 years ago. I especially remember grandpa’s stories about his childhood on the family dairy farm in Greenville, S.C. in the 1920s. I liked to hear stories about the black folks who came and worked with him and his family. I heard hard work in his voice and saw struggle in his face when he talked about those times.
I was on the airplane, looking forward to reading Taylor Branch’s new book, The King Years: Historical Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. As I opened my Kindle, I realized that it offered large excerpts of Branch’s previous works, and was glad that while I have the other books in hard cover, I had these stories in my Kindle. But as I re-read some of the accounts, I realized that my 40-something-old self reacted differently than when I first read some of the accounts when I was 20-something. My younger self yearned to know: How did they organize? How did they deal with differing motives and different movements? And I yearned to believe that I, too, would have sacrificed my being for “The Movement.”
My late 40-something-old self read these words as a mother — as someone who understood the fury of the parents who were scared as their children sacrificed their very lives for justice’s sake.
Editor's Note: This column is part of a duo of posts commenting on racial reconciliation in light of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Read the accompanying piece, "A Convenient Truth: I Am White."
I am black in the United States of America. It is quite inconvenient to be black in the United States of America. It has always been inconvenient to be black in the United States of America.
My African ancestors were brought to the United States in chains against their will, taken straight to the plantations, and forced into slavery. They did not pass through Ellis Island, as did most of the ancestors of my white counterparts. My ancestors who fought in two world wars were not allowed any advantages of the GI Bill, schooling, the trade unions, or the opportunities of corporate America that white veterans had; therefore, as a black baby I am more likely to be born into a family who is mired in systemic poverty than a baby who is white.
I am much more likely to live in an impoverished neighborhood, receive an inferior education in a neighborhood school, and not graduate from high school than white students my age. Those are inconvenient truths.
Editor's Note: This column is part of a duo of posts commenting on racial reconciliation in light of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Read the accompanying piece, "An Inconvenient Truth: I Am Black."
I am white. It is quite convenient to be white. In fact, it has always been convenient to be white in the United States of America.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, I am more likely to be employed than someone who is not white, I am less likely to be incarcerated, I am more likely to be covered by health insurance, and I am more likely to enjoy a comfortable retirement and eventually die peacefully in my elder years. I am more likely have a college education than a non-white person, my (white) wife is more likely to receive excellent medical care, my (white) children are more likely to attend private schools with skilled teachers, and my (white) family is more likely to have a roof over our heads, a few cars in the garage, and more than enough food on our table.
While individual cases vary, to be white is – generally speaking – a convenient truth.
There are countless factors one could cite for the current levels of race-based inequality in the U.S., and many opinions exist surrounding potential solutions, yet there are three points of emphasis that need to be addressed for the advancement of racial reconciliation.
When I stepped back and really thought about what I was experiencing on election night, I started thinking about the night of April 4, 1968, just hours after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Having not yet been born, I thought about the coverage of it that I’ve seen. About how Robert Kennedy found himself in front of a crowd of supporters for a presidential campaign rally in Indianapolis. Many there that night were black and hadn’t heard the news of King’s death. As he did with most difficult topics, Kennedy laid it all out there. The crowd gasped and screamed and cried. Kennedy said he understood the anger and hate each of the men and women there that night would probably feel. After all, a white man had also killed his brother.
“What we need in the United States is not division,” Kennedy told the crowd. “What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another. A feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.”
The United States is the only democratic country in the world where a candidate can be elected as president without earning the highest number of votes.
In the midst of competing campaigns and critical choices leading up to Election Day, one of the most common assumptions is that U.S. citizens directly select their president. However, far too many fail to fully understand that such direct selection is not our reality, for within our complex electoral system – known as the Electoral College – the will of the people does not always translate into final results. During the presidential elections of 1876, 1888, and 2000, the leader in popular votes did not claim victory, and some believe a similar scenario may take place in the near future. And so, when a candidate receives the majority of votes but is not sworn into office, we recognize a gross injustice that requires immediate and significant transformation.
“Long Time Gone” is David Crosby’s anthem of hope in jeopardy. He wrote it the night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“I believed in him because he said he wanted to make some positive changes in America, and he hadn’t been bought and sold like Johnson and Nixon – cats who made their deals years ago with the special interests in this country in order to gain power,” Crosby wrote in the liner notes of the 1991 CSN boxed set. “I thought Bobby, like his brother, was a leader who had not made those deals. I was already angry about Jack Kennedy getting killed and it boiled over into this song when they got his brother, too.”
In the ‘60s, the Kennedys represented hope for change: racial equality, economic justice, and abolishing the death penalty, for example. Five decades later, you still don’t see many long-haired politicians, but that hardly seems the matter of dire culture import that it apparently was in 1968. And now we have a black president. Still, on the whole, Crosby’s words seem prescient, rather than anachronistic.
Almost 50 years later, we’re still giving legal benefits to some couples but denying them to others, not to mention that we fill our prisons with brown-skinned people, too many women are still ashamed to report rape or domestic violence, greedy people hoard resources while others go hungry, and the president who campaigned on hope hasn’t been able to bring any real change in our unjust economy.