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George Curry

Memories of LBJ, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton

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(NNPA) Covering the three-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act at the University of Texas last week brought back a string of memories – some fond, some bitter. As a son of the South –Tuscaloosa, Ala., to be specific – I saw first-hand how the region was transformed from America’s version of apartheid to one that is perhaps more genuinely accepting of African Americans than any other geographical section of the country.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – all White Southerners who grew up in the Jim Crow South – played a significant role in the region’s transformation. But that didn’t happen in a vacuum. Each was pushed and challenged by the modern Civil Rights Movement, a multi-racial movement, with Blacks serving as chief architects that prodded the U.S. to have its deeds mirror its professed ideals. (George W. Bush, a wealthy Texan, is omitted from this discussion because he did nothing significant to advance civil rights. In fact, his appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court represented a setback to the cause of civil rights.)

While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Whitney Young of the National Urban League; NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins; John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Roy Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) receive the lion’s share of publicity about the movement, the true heroes were the everyday men and women of the South who risked their jobs and lives to be treated as equals.

As a senior at Druid High School, I participated in the last leg of the Selma-to-Montgomery March. A group of us skipped school one day and went to Birmingham to protest the killing of the four little girls at 16th Street Baptist Church. And when we boycotted the segregated buses in my hometown, I borrowed Uncle Percy’s car and joined dozens of others who retraced the bus routes through our community, picking up people and giving them a free ride to their destination.

A few Alabama-born Whites took a principled stand for civil rights. Bill Shamblin and Bill Plott, editors of the Crimson White, the University of Alabama newspaper, were among the most memorable. They supported desegregation in the face of death threats. That took a lot of courage, especially in a city that was also home of Robert Shelton, the head of the Ku Klux Klan.

Neither LBJ, Carter nor Bill Clinton demonstrated that level of courage and commitment to civil rights in their youth. Yet, they, too, are sons of the South and though they grew up on the other side of the tracks, they carried a special sensitivity to race – some say guilt – with them to the White House. Of the three, Lyndon Johnson was by far the best. His signature legislation – the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 – forever changed America, particularly the South.

But Johnson didn’t start out as a progressive. As President Obama said of Johnson in his speech in Austin, Texas, “During his first 20 years in Congress, he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote, once calling the push for federal legislation ‘a farce and a sham.’”

But stepping into the Oval Office upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Johnson was able to rise above his past.

Unlike Johnson or Clinton, Jimmy Carter had a close relationship with African Americans growing up in Georgia.

“I grew up in a little village, unincorporated named Archery, Ga., just a few miles west of Plains,” Carter recounted. “…We were surrounded by 55 other families who were African American. All of my playmates, all of my companions in the field – the ones I hunted with, fished with, wrestled with, fought with – were Black people,” Carter said in his speech.

He explained, “I learned to appreciate, you might say, Black culture. When I wrote a book called Hours Before Daylight, at the end of the book, I tried to think of five people other than my parents who had shaped my life and only two of those five were White.”

Bill Clinton was a good president but was probably the most overrated of the three Southerners. When looking at permanent cabinet positions, he appointed more Black cabinet members than Barack Obama, he was a firm supporter of affirmative action and appointed two liberals to the Supreme Court – Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. But he also was part of the successful movement to shift the Democratic Party to the right and signed into law a regressive welfare reform measure.

Last week’s summit at the University of Texas celebrated the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It could have also been a celebration of three Southern-born presidents who managed to overcome the rampant discrimination of their youth.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Black Press Critic Clint Wilson Needs a 'Reality Check'

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WILMINGTON, N.C. (NNPA) – Howard University Journalism Professor Clint C. Wilson II’s broad criticism of the Black Press proves that he needs a “reality check,” said Ben Chavis, leader of a group of 1970s activists known as the Wilmington Ten.

“There’s a distinguished journalism professor in Washington,” Chavis said, referring to Wilson. “He recently said that none of his students read the Black newspapers. Well, I am saying, ‘What kind of teacher are you?’ It isn’t the students’ fault. That Negro needs a reality check.”

The former executive director of the NAACP made his comments at a dinner here Saturday night following the premier of “Wilmington Ten: Pardons of Innocence,” a documentary co-produced by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and North Carolina journalist Cash Michaels. Former Gov. Beverly Perdue and NAACP State President William J. Barber, II were honored at the dinner.

Chavis was reacting to a column by media critic Richard Prince that was redistributed by The Root, the Black-oriented website created by the Washington Post.

“One devastating piece of circumstantial evidence of the waning influence of the Black press is the response I have received from journalism students in my virtually all Black Howard University classes over the past decade,” Prince quotes from Wilson’s self-published book on the Black Press. “When asked whether they have either read – or have knowledge of – a Black newspaper in their home communities only about 20 per cent say they have. Among those who are aware of the papers, almost none say they read them with any regularity. Let me emphasize, these are journalism students…”

Wilson evidently failed to ask a follow-up question even a first-semester journalism student at Howard University would have been expected to ask: How many of those students in his unscientific study read White-owned newspapers with any regularity?

Studies by the Pew Research Center and others show that newspaper readership has been declining for more than a decade, especially among young people. So, declining readership is an industry-wide problem, not one limited to the Black Press, the studies show.

Chavis credits the NNPA for leading a successful 2-year campaign that resulted in the Wilmington 10 receiving pardons of innocence Dec. 31, 2012 from outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue 40 years after their unfair convictions.

Chavis and nine others were arrested and convicted on an array of charges connected to the firebombing of a White-owned grocery store amid violent White resistance to local school desegregation. Most of the defendants received a 29-year sentence, with Chavis receiving 34 years, the longest sentence. Citing prosecutorial misconduct, an appeals court reversed the convictions. Yet, the Wilmington Ten never received pardons until the NNPA launched a national campaign with member newspapers carrying numerous front-page stories on the injustice, most of them written by Cash Michaels.

Addressing an NNPA convention in 2013 shortly after the pardons were issued, Chavis said, “If it were not for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, your leadership, I doubt if we would be here today.” He also said, “I guarantee you that there’s no other organization of journalists that could have pulled off what you just pulled off.”

In his speech Saturday night, Chavis said, “We need the Black Press. The Black Press helps us affirm what we need to be about every day, every week.”

Chavis continued, “What I like about the Black Press is that it doesn’t put us in a straightjacket. The mainstream press is always trying to put us in a straightjacket…There are some in high places now that are questioning the power of the Black Press. I am going to be very honest: some of the people now questioning the Black Press are some of us.”

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, an African American, also ridiculed the notion that the Black Press is no longer needed today.

“Yes, the Black Press is relevant for the work that you do,” she said. “You are also relevant for the way you teach, for the perspective that you offer and the reality that you help explain.”

Obama Worse than George W. Bush on SBA Loans

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(NNPA) When I interviewed Marie Johns, then the outgoing deputy secretary of the Small Business Administration, a year ago, she said the SBA does not separate figures by race, though it hopes to do so at some point.

Technically, she was correct in saying the SBA does not separate agency-wide figures by race. But the SBA’s 8 (a) program figures can be broken down by race and that’s where she was being disingenuous. I specifically asked her twice about the status of Black businesses under Obama and twice she was less than forthcoming.

Now, I know why: The Obama administration’s record of guaranteeing loans to Black businesses is worse than it was under George W. Bush.

Yes, that was documented recently by the Wall Street Journal in its analysis of data for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

“Black borrowers received 1.7% of the $23.09 billion in total SBA loans. The percentage is down sharply from 8.2% of overall SBA loan volume in fiscal 2008. By number of loans, black-owned small businesses got 2.3% of the federal agency’s roughly 54,000 loans last year, down from 11% in 2008,” the newspaper reported.

Major banks are encouraged to make SBA loans to small businesses for up to $5 million, with the federal agency agreeing to cover as much as 85 percent of any loss.

Financial institutions share responsibility for the drop in loans to African Americans.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Bank of America made 1,400 SBA loans in fiscal 2007. For the latest fiscal year, however, that figure fell to just 247 borrowers. But the total loan amounts remain relatively unchanged, reaching $40.2 million in 2007 to $40.7 million for the last fiscal year.

That’s part of a larger trend by banks coming out of a recession to favor larger deals over smaller ones. According to the SBA, their average loan is $426,796, more than double the average of $192,919 in 2005. That’s problematic for African Americans because 80 percent of the loans to fund Black business are for $150,000 or less.

The housing market decline has also had an adverse impact on African Americans.

Of course, everyone acknowledges that the Great Recession was a drag on business, both big and small. Other ethnic groups had a hard time obtaining business loans in a depressed economy, but they are recovering at a faster rate than Blacks.

“This is the fallout from the recession and housing bust,” J. Patrick Kelley, a deputy associate administrator of the SBA, told the Wall Street Journal. “The borrowers hardest hit…are the last to see a recovery come to them.”

According to the SBA Office of Advocacy, Black business owners made up 49.9 percent of all minority owners in 2012. Asians made up 29.6 percent and Hispanics 10.3 percent. Overall, Blacks own 14.6 percent of U.S. businesses and women own 36 percent.

When it comes to Black businesses, there is good news and bad news.

A Census Bureau press release, dated Feb. 8, 2011 stated:

“From 2002 to 2007, the number of black-owned businesses increased by 60.5 percent to 1.9 million, more than triple the national rate of 18.0 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners. Over the same period, receipts generated by black-owned businesses increased 55.1 percent to $137.5 billion.

“’Black-owned businesses continued to be one of the fastest growing segments of our economy, showing rapid growth in both the number of businesses and total sales during this time period,’ said Census Bureau Deputy Director Thomas Mesenbourg.”

Now the bad news: Of the 1.9 million Black-owned businesses, 1.8 million had no paid employees in 2007.

Because 82 percent of business startups, both large and small, require capital beyond the owners’ personal assets, access to capital remains a major concern.

“Minority small business owners are disproportionately denied credit when they apply for it even after controlling for other variables such as business credit scores, personal wealth, and revenues. These findings hold true particularly for black and Hispanic business owners,” according to an issue brief by the SBA.

The variation of home ownership can also be a factor.

“Home ownership may provide an important catalyst to small business growth, but it may also serve as a barrier to entry for prospective entrepreneurs,” the SBA said. “For instance, business growth can bridge the wealth gap between minorities and non-minorities across geneder. Among existing businesses, home ownership significantly decreases the probability of loan denials and can be critical to such growth.”

According to Census data, 78.2 percent of business owners owned homes in 2012. Research shows that 72.6 percent of Whites own homes, 58.7 percent of Asians, 47.2 percent of Hispanics and 43.8 percent of Blacks.

Clearly, a number of factors contribute to whether Blacks own their own businesses. The SBA must play of stronger role in opening the doors for Blacks, not just “minorities.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

President Obama's Surprising Jobs Record

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(NNPA) Although unemployment rates are unacceptably high, especially for African Americans, President Obama has done a better job improving the jobless rate than most critics are willing to concede.

That becomes abundantly clear when reading FactCheck.org’s dismantling of Senator Rand Paul’s attack on the president’s unemployment record. Just as he was caught plagiarizing, Paul has been caught again, this time for providing misleading information about Obama’s accomplishments.

FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.

“Sen. Rand Paul says ‘black unemployment in America is double white unemployment’ and ‘hasn’t budged’ under President Obama,” the research group recounts before adding: “Actually, the black unemployment rate is lower now than when Obama took office, and the gap between the races is below the historical average. The black unemployment rate has averaged more than double the white rate for several decades.”

Like most believable lies, Paul’s charges are wrapped in partial truths.

“It is true that the black unemployment rate for November was double the white unemployment rate. The rate in November was 12.5 percent for blacks and 6.2 percent for whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unfortunately, this is not new,” FactCheck.org noted.

However, it pointed out, “The current 12.5 percent unemployment rate for blacks is unquestionably high. But by historical standards the current black unemployment rate is consistent with the average from 1972 to 2004, and the ratio of black-to-white unemployment rates is actually below the historical average.”

The deeper the researchers dug, the stronger they made Obama’s case.

“We looked at the average rate of unemployment for blacks and whites in the first 58 months of the last four presidents who were reelected to a second term: Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. (We averaged the monthly unemployment rates from the first February in office to the first November in their second term.),” FactCheck,org stated.

And what did they find?

“Obama had the lowest average ratio (1.9), followed by Bush (2.1), Clinton (2.2), and Reagan (2.3).”

Seeking to further clarify, researchers acknowledged, “Paul was talking about the November unemployment rates and ratio – not the 58-month average unemployment rate and ratio – but even by that measure the black-to-white unemployment ratio is lower under Obama (2) than it was under Reagan (2.6), Clinton (2.4) and Bush (2.5) at this point in their second terms.”

Further dismantling Paul assertions, FactCheck.org stated, “Paul also said that the black unemployment rate ‘hasn’t budged’ under Obama, but it has. It reached a high of 16.8 percent in March 2010 and dropped to a low of 12.5 percent in November – lower than the 12.7 percent rate when Obama took office. That wasn’t the case for two of his recent predecessors, Reagan and Bush.

“Under Reagan, the black unemployment rate went up a full percentage point from 14.6 percent in January 1981 to 15.6 percent in November 1985 – even as the white unemployment rate fell from 6.7 percent to 5.9 percent. Under Bush, the rates went up for both blacks and whites. But it went up faster for blacks, from 8.2 percent in January 2001 to 10.6 percent in November 2005 – the biggest increase in the black unemployment rate of any of the four presidents at that point in their second terms. The white unemployment rate went up more than a half percentage point, from 3.6 percent to 4.3 percent.”

Paul is a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2016. Last week, one of his chief rivals for the White House, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), created a controversy when he said on former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett’s radio show: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

The comment was immediately criticized by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) as “a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated.”

Ryan refused to apologize for his comments, saying in a statement later, “After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community – but of society as a whole.”

Whether a brazen affront such as Ryan’s comment about “inner city” Black men or Rand Paul’s more subtle attack on Obama’s record dealing with unemployment, the Republican Party keeps proving it has done nothing to deserve the support of African Americans.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Cummings Exposes 'Dead End' Republican Politics

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(NNPA) When Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, shares more information with conservative Fox News than with Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, that’s enough to make Cummings go ballistic.

And that’s just what he did when Issa sought to forcibly silence him on March 5. The heated exchange took place shortly after Lois Lerner, a former IRS official, refused to testify before the committee, citing her 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Issa was on a crusade to prove that the White House was behind the IRS’ decision to target conservative organizations seeking tax exempt status. Cummings contended no proof existed for such a claim.

Here’s a transcript provided by MediaMatters:

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CUMMINGS: For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation [microphone cut]

ISSA: We’re adjourned, close it down.

CUMMINGS: — that this was political collusion directed by, or on behalf of, the White House. Before our committee received a single document or interviewed one witness, Chairman Issa went on national television and said, and I quote, “This was the targeting of the President’s political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year.” End of quote.

ISSA: Ask your question.

CUMMINGS: If you will sit down, and allow me to ask the question, I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this. We have members over here each who represent between them 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that. That is absolutely un-American.

ISSA: We had a hearing. Hearing’s adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask a question, you had no question.

CUMMINGS: I do have a question.

ISSA: I gave you time for [inaudible], you gave a speech.

CUMMINGS: Chairman, what are you hiding?

ISSA OFF-CAMERA: She’s taking the Fifth, Elijah.

CUMMINGS: He continued this theme on Sunday, when he appeared on Fox News to discuss a Republican staff report, claiming that Miss Lerner was quote, at the center of this effort to, quote, target conservative groups. Although he provided a copy of his report to Fox. He refused my request to provide it to the members of the committee. The facts are, he cannot support these claims [emphasis added]. We have now interviewed 38 employees, who have all told us the same thing. That the White House did not direct this [inaudible] or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses have provided any political motivation. The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing. He found no evidence of any White House involvement, or political motivation.”

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MediaMatters, the media watchdog group, cited e-mails that were even more damaging to Issa’s claim of White House interference.

It observed, “The Fox News segment Rep. Cummings was referring to took place on March 2, where Rep. Issa presented a draft copy of a report written by House Republicans, as well as previously undisclosed emails from Lerner, which Issa claimed revealed ‘evidence’ of political targeting.

“What was omitted during the Fox appearance was that the September 2010 emails reveal Lerner counseling her colleagues to be careful not to focus on political activity while examining 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations. Early in that email chain, which was obtained by Media Matters, Lerner wrote: “My object is not to look for political activity–more to see whether self-declared c4s are really acting like c4s. Then we’ll move on to c5, c6, c7 – it will fill up the work plan forever!”

“Furthermore, the emails do not appear to be about reviewing organizations’ applications for tax exempt status, which is the process the IRS is accused of inappropriately conducting. Instead, the emails reference the ‘self declarer project,’ which attempts to review groups which self-declare as tax exempt but do not file an actual application, to ensure those groups are still following the rules. (The ‘Self-Declarers Questionnaire’ which tracks these groups is entirely voluntary.)”

Early in the Obama administration, Republican strategists made no secret of their plan to use Congressional hearings to harass Obama. And this was a perfect example of executing that strategy.

According to Talking Points Memo, a reporter asked Issa afterward if he was still “confident” the investigation would “get to the bottom of this.”

Issa replied, “It may well be we have gotten to the bottom of it. At this point, roads lead to Ms. Lerner. The witness who took the Fifth. That becomes – she becomes one of the key characters at this point. Had she been willing to explain those emails which were provided through separate subpoenas, then we could have perhaps brought this to a close. Without that, it may dead end with Ms. Lerner.”

Dead end or not, Issa demonstrated how the Republican majority in the House can twist an institution to satisfy their political needs – even when the discrediting campaign ends up in a dead end.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

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