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George Curry

The NAACP's Appalling Attack – and Retraction – on Shirley Sherrod

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(NNPA) After hearing Minister Louis Farrakhan roundly denounced by Black and Jewish leaders in 1984, purportedly for describing Judaism as a “gutter religion,” I called Farrakhan before writing a story for the Chicago Tribune. Farrakhan denied he had ever described Judaism as a gutter religion and offered up his life to anyone who could prove he had made such a comment.

He provided me with an audio tape of the speech in question. Listening very closely, I realized that the Nation of Islam leader had called Judaism a “dirty religion,” not a gutter religion as had been widely reported. Of course, that didn’t make Jews feel any better.

Still, if you’re going to attack someone, at least get the facts straight. And that’s exactly what NAACP President Benjamin Jealous failed to do before unfairly criticizing Shirley Sherrod, who was fired by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on the basis of a doctored tape of one of her speeches. Jealous didn’t merely join the parade of misinformed critics, he volunteered to serve as drum major.

Before listening to Sherrod’s remarks or contacting her to see if reports about her speech were accurate, Jealous issued a strongly-worded statement denouncing Sherrod, the wife of legendary SNCC organizer Charles Sherrod. The statement was initially posted on the NAACP’s website, but later removed. However, I have a copy of the original statement because it was e-mailed to me and other journalists.

In the statement, distributed to reporters shortly before midnight on July 19, Jealous said: “We concur with US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in accepting the resignation of Shirley Sherrod for her remarks at a local NAACP Freedom Fund banquet. Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race. We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.”

Jealous’ appalling comments didn’t stop there.

“Her actions were shameful,” he continued. “While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.”

If Jealous had viewed the videotape of the speech before commenting, he wouldn’t have made such a fool of himself and the NAACP. When Jealous did get around to seeing the tape, he issued another statement on July 20 saying Sherrod had been “unfairly maligned.” He stated, “…We have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias.”

The NAACP was duped by Fox News and the Tea Party? That’s a sad commentary on the NAACP and the state of Black leadership. How could the nation’s oldest civil rights organization allow itself to be “snookered” by its avowed enemies? And if the president of the NAACP is that gullible, what else he has been snookered on?

Although he didn’t acknowledge that he was snookered, Secretary Vilsack offered to re-hire Sherrod, who has yet to decide whether she wants to return.

In her speech to the Douglas, Ga. NAACP 24 years ago, long before she became head of the Department of Agriculture’s rural development office in Georgia, Sherrod recalled the death of her father.

“It was 45 years ago today that my father’s funeral was held,” she said. “I was a young girl at the age of 17 when my father was murdered by a White man in Baker County. In Baker County, the murder of Black people occurred periodically and in every case the White men who murdered them were never punished. It was no different in my father’s case. There were three witnesses to his murder but the grand jury refused to indict the White man who murdered him.”

Working for a non-profit group that aided farmers, Sherrod stated, “You know, for the first time I was faced with having to help a White farmer save his farm. He took a long time talking but he was trying to show me he was superior. I knew what he was doing but he had come to me for help. What he didn’t know, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him.”

In interviews with reporters, Roger and Eloise Spooner, the White couple at the center of the controversy, said Sherrod gave them enough help in the mid-1980s to save their family farm.

The point of Sherrod’s story was that she – like Whites – needed to move beyond racial prejudice.

She said, “...Working with him made me see that it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t, you know, and they could be Black, they could be White, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people, those who don’t have access the way others have.”

Ben Jealous says the next time he is presented with information from right-wingers, “We will consider the source and be more deliberate in responding.” It’s appalling that he wasn’t doing that all along.

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

LeBron Made the Right Decision to be LeGone – to Miami

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(NNPA) If there were any doubts about whether LeBron James should have migrated from the cold winters of Cleveland to sunny Miami, they were removed when Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers’ majority owner, issued a scathing criticism of Cleveland’s “former hero” who demonstrated “cowardly betrayal” by deciding not to remain in Cleveland after becoming a free agent.

Gilbert’s open letter to fans was actually an open attack on James, who gave the franchise seven years to assemble an adequate support crew around him. When they failed, he opted to sign with the Miami heat, where he will be paired with two allstar teammates.

James was wrong to make Gilbert learn of his decision by watching James’ reality TV announcement on ESPN instead of extending him the courtesy of a telephone call prior to the announcement. Still, that didn’t justify Gilbert’s attempt to humiliate his former star attraction.

“As you know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier,” Gilbert wrote. “This was announced with a several-day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.”

He told the fans, “You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.”

Speaking of cowards, Gilbert waited until his superstar jilted him to accuse King James of choking in four playoff games against the Boston Celtics. If James’ threw in the towel against the Celtics, as Gilbert suggests, then why is the owner so enraged that #23 is headed to Miami? Furthermore, if Gilbert harbored such thoughts about James, he is acting like a coward by waiting until LeBron James left the franchise before expressing those thoughts.

Let’s get a few things straight. The NBA has tight restrictions on the mobility of players, stacking the deck – by allowing the home team to offer more money than competitors, if it wants to – and deciding a player can choose another team only after he has been cut or his contract expires.

While under contract, teams can’t even approach other players about the possibility of joining them without facing league tampering charges.

When James became eligible for free agency, he had to weigh whether his best chance of winning an NBA championship rested with staying in Cleveland or moving to Miami to join fellow NBA All-Stars Dwayne Wade and newly-acquired Chris Bosh. There is no question that by signing James and Bosh and re-signing Wade, the youthful Miami Heat instantly becomes a favorite to win next season’s NBA championship and many more.

Angry fans who burned James old Cleveland jersey in protest accused James of making a selfish decision. They forget that professional basketball is first and foremost a business. And as a shrewd businessman – and one of the games’ greatest players – James agreed to leave millions on the table in an effort to win his first NBA championship.

Cleveland fans need to get over it. I saw men on TV crying over losing James to Miami. Yes, crying. There’s something wrong with such an over emphasis on sports, especially if, as one of those interviewed said, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”

In a strange way, it was one of the best things to happen to Jesse Jackson. Jackson, who has been teetering on the fence of irrelevancy since vowing to remove certain body parts of Barack Obama, found a way to inject himself into the LeBron James saga.

In a statement posted on the Rainbow PUSH Coalition website, Jackson said, “LeBron is not a child, nor is he bound to play on Gilbert’s plantation…” Referring to the Cleveland owner, Jackson said, “He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.”

Jayson Whitlock, an outspoken Black sports writer, challenged the notion of “NBA owners and their $100-million contracts are slave owners and King James is Kunta Kinte escaping on the Underground Railroad to Miami...”

He wrote, “Dan Gilbert’s rant was certainly immature, but it wasn’t remotely racist. He sounded like a scorned lover, a guy who gave his heart to a relationship and found out on national TV that the alleged love of his life didn’t care about him at all.”

A scorned Dan Gilbert told Cleveland fans: “I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former ‘king’ wins one. You can take that to the bank.”

If you take that promissory note to the bank, be prepared to be arrested for fraud.

There is no way Cleveland will win an NBA title before LeBron & Company wins one in Miami. Cleveland couldn’t win a championship with LeBron and they have a lesser chance of winning a title without him.

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

Setting the Record Straight on Thurgood Marshall

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In an effort to depict Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan as an activist judge, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele have made misleading and unwarranted attacks on Thurgood Marshall, for whom Kagan served as a clerk for one year. During the first day of hearings on the Kagan nomination, Marshall ’s name was mentioned 35 times, compared to only 14 for President Barack Obama.

In his opening statement, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said, “Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy is not what I would consider to be mainstream.” He said Marshall, a legendary civil rights lawyer and the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court, “might be the epitome of a resultsoriented judge.”

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee who was rejected for a federal judgeship earlier in his career, claimed Marshall ’s legal view “does not comport with the proper role of a judge.” Those characterizations of Marshall, who was appointed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy and as U.S. Solicitor General in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, ignores his success as a lawyer and as a judge.

As chief attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court, including the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation suit that outlawed separate but equal schools. As Solicitor General from 1965- 1967, he won 14 of the 19 cases he argued before the Court on behalf of the federal government. And while serving as an appeals court judge, none of Marshall ’s 98 majority decisions were ever reversed by the Supreme Court.

Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967, where he served until his retirement in 1991. He died two years later at the age of 84.

In a tribute to Marshall , Kagan wrote: “During the year that marked the bicentennial of the Constitution, Justice Marshall gave a characteristically candid speech. He declared that the Constitution, as originally drafted and conceived, was ‘defective;’ only over the course of 200 years had the nation ‘attain [ed] the system of constitutional government, and its respect for…individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.”

In a raw display of historical ignorance, Michael Steele urged Senate Republicans to question Kagan’s “support for statements suggesting that the Constitution ‘as originally drafted and conceived, was defective.”

Even he had to later “clarify” his statement after it was pointed out to him that the original framers of the Constitution endorsed the concept of slavery, viewed African-Americans as property to be sold and bought and did not extend any rights to women. It took a Civil War and 27 amendments to form what the Founding Fathers called “a more perfect union.”

When the nation was celebrating the bicentennial of the United States Constitution in 1987, Thurgood Marshall had the courage to challenge the three-year celebration of the Founding Fathers’ achievements.

“I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention,” he said on May 6, 1987 in a speech to the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Association. “Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound.

“To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedom and human rights, we hold fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite ‘The Constitution,’ they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.”

Rather than lavishly praising the drafters of the Constitution, Marshall said the credit belongs to “those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of ‘liberty,’ ‘justice,’ and ‘equality,’ and strived to better them.”

Interestingly, opponents of Kagan have adopted the same guilt-by-association tactic used against Thurgood Marshall when he was first nominated to the Supreme Court. In that instance, political opponents tried to link him to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was not such a beloved figure in some circles at the time. Critics ignored tension between King, who believed in street protests, and the more conservative Marshall, who though such issues should be resolved in court. The Senate confirmed Marshall by a vote of 69-11.

Today, in an effort to derail Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans are trying to make her appointment a referendum on Thurgood Marshall, a legal and civil rights icon. As his son, Thurgood, Jr., noted in a column last Friday in the Washington Post, “Two former [ Marshall ] clerks, Ralph K. Winter and Douglas Ginsburg, were nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan. Those nominations did not prompt the kind of harsh innuendo to which we have been subjected to this week.”

Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill) had it right when he stated, “ America is a better nation because of the tenacity, integrity and values of Thurgood Marshall.” He added, “If that is an activist mind at work, we should be grateful as a nation.”

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

Two Lawyers' Groups Have Reservations about Kagan

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(NNPA) Although the NAACP and Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network have enthusiastically endorsed Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, two key legal groups have so far refrained from endorsing the former Harvard law dean amid questions about whether she would be a strong civil rights advocate on the court. That split underscores the complexities of a civil rights community eager – some say over eager – to support the nation’s first African-American president and some highly-respected legal organizations that are in a much better position to evaluate the appointment of Kagan to fill the seat vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens, a reliable liberal vote on the sharply-divided Supreme Court.

Mavis T. Thompson, president of the National Bar Association, the largest organization of Black lawyers and judges, said the group gave Kagan only a lukewarm rating because of concerns about her positions on crack-cocaine sentencing disparities and her record on diversity at Harvard.

Although Kagan is clearly qualified to join the court, Thompson said, “We hope Ms. Kagan’s views on civil rights and equal justice will become apparent during the confirmation hearings. To date, the NBA has withheld its endorsement due to insufficient information to ensure that Ms. Kagan’s views are consistent with the core missions of the organization.”

Barbara R. Arwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, said her organization voted not to take a position on Kagan. “There isn’t a judicial record to review, indicating her views on critical civil rights matters,” she told the Washington Post.

“And otherwise, the civil rights record that exists is thin and mixed.”

Despite that mixed record, Sharpton issued a statement saying, “President Obama’s nomination of Ms. Kagan – a New Yorker who was a clerk for the Honorable Thurgood Marshall and who has shown balance and fairness throughout her career – is worthy of the support of the civil rights community.”

It took the NAACP just five days to endorse Kagan.

“After a careful and thorough review of Elena Kagan’s record, we have unanimously voted to endorse her nomination,” President and CEO Benjamin Jealous said in a statement. By contrast, the NAACP took nine times as long to research Clarence Thomas before opposing his nomination. Jealous, like Sharpton, noted that Kagan once clerked for legendary Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. But make no mistake about it, Kagan is no Thurgood Marshall. Not even close. When Marshall joined the court, no one questioned his commitment to civil rights.

As a recent story in the Los Angeles Times observed, “Though Marshall was an unwavering liberal, Kagan already appeared less so. Memos on file in Marshall’s papers at the Library of Congress show Kagan to be cautious, skeptical and, at times, scornful of those who would push the law too far to the left.”

Because Kagan has not served as a judge, has written curiously little about major civil rights issues, and has a record of courting conservatives, many are looking at her time at Harvard, her service in the Clinton White House and her short tenure as solicitor general for clues on what kind of judge she might become.

Critics note that of the 43 full-time faculty members hired during her tenure at Harvard, only two were Black and one was Asian. After studying her record, scholars found that of the 32 tenured and tenure-track faculty appointments under Kagan, only one was a person of color (Asian) and seven were women.”

Kagan’s defenders argue that the law school faculty, not the dean, makes the final decision on hiring. But Kagan supporters can’t have it both ways. They can’t argue convincingly that she represented only one vote, while taking credit for her bringing in more conservative faculty members.

For example, President Obama in his nomination speech said, “At a time when many believed that the Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint, she sought to recruit prominent conservative scholars and spur a healthy debate on campus.”

She was so successful attracting conservative faculty members that the right-wing Federalist Society gave her a standing ovation at one Harvard banquet. On its website, the group carries this quote from Kagan: “I love the Federalist Society…They are highly committed, intelligent, hard-working active students who make the Harvard community better.”

Many prominent conservatives have endorsed Kagan, including Charles Fried, solicitor general in the Reagan administration; Ken Starr, the person who prosecuted Bill Clinton, and Theodore Olson, who served as solicitor general for George W. Bush. Those endorsements have raised the eyebrows of progressives.

With conservatives holding a 5-4 edge on the Supreme Court, Obama can’t afford to be wrong about Kagan. Other presidents have lived to regret their Supreme Court appointments. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as chief justice in 1953, feeling certain that he would be a reliable conservative vote. However, Warren moderated his views and became one the court’s most consistent and influential liberals.

Eisenhower would later say Warren’s appointment was “the biggest damn-fool mistake I ever made.” We can only hope that Obama won’t be able to say the same thing about Kagan.

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

Artur Davis Attacked Blacks to Gain White Support

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(NNPA) As an Alabama state senator, Hank Sanders has witnessed a long line of White politicians trying to get elected by what they used to call “outniggering” one another.

Former Gov. George C. Wallace was a prime example. However, the last thing Sanders expected was an African-American trying to get elected by opposing the best interests of African-American voters and attacking Black leaders.

But that’s exactly what Congressman Artur Davis did in his unsuccessful campaign to become the first African-American governor of Alabama.

“Some Whites use race to consolidate White voters during election and some Blacks use race to consolidate Black voters,” Sanders wrote in Senate Sketches, his regular newsletter to his constituents.

“But this time, there is a new context: a technically well qualified Black person is running for Governor of Alabama in the Democratic Primary against a technically well qualified White. There is also a new twist: a Black person is attempting to use the race of other Blacks to consolidate Whites behind him. It’s a new context with new twists in an age old saga.”

Any Black politicians thinking about adopting the same twist should study the outcome in Alabama. Davis was trounced by his White opponent 62 percent to 38 percent.

Davis lost 10 of the 12 counties that make up his 7th Congressional District and all of the predominantly Black counties, some by margins as large as 70 percent. He even lost his own polling place, causing news analyst Roland Martin to say that maybe Davis’ mother didn’t vote for him. Davis has announced that he will retire from politics after being roundly repudiated by voters. It doesn’t come a moment too soon.

In a major tactical blunder, Davis decided to bypass the endorsement screening process of the four major political organizations, leading to their decision to endorse his opponent, Ron Sparks, the state commissioner of agriculture. He also attacked three of the most powerful Black politicians in Alabama: Sanders; Joe Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference and former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington.

In addition, Sanders said in his newsletter, “Over a year ago, [Davis] used the race of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had become a racial symbol to send a signal. Rev. Wright was scheduled to speak in Selma at the old fashion mass meeting on Thursday night to open the Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. Congressman Davis was scheduled to introduce U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Sunday. Yet, he issued a press release objecting to Rev. Wright speaking at a civil rights event.”

Unlike Sparks, who proposed a state lottery and said had he been in Congress, he would have voted for health-care reform, Davis never developed a message that resonated with voters.

“Artur Davis gave the race issue another twist,” Sanders wrote. “He accused Ron Sparks, his White gubernatorial opponent, of playing the race card. But he was the one playing the race card time after time again in his pursuit of higher office.”

Sanders continued, “The challenge of using race against persons of the same race is a more delicate endeavor than using race against people of another race. The idea is to attack symbols (i.e. Black leaders and Black organizations) in a way that sends messages to White voters without alienating Black voters. It’s easy to miscalculate and Artur Davis miscalculated.”

A major miscalculation was Davis’ decision to oppose health care legislation.

When he first opposed the measure in the House – the only Black member of Congress to do so – Blacks were upset with him but not enraged. Once the bill was scaled back in the Senate and the House had to vote again, and Davis again opposed the measure, there was a groundswell of opposition to his candidacy.

U.W. Clemon, appointed Alabama’s first Black federal judge by Jimmy Carter, said although Davis was his “personal choice,” he voted for Davis’ opponent.

He told the Birmingham News, “Artur told me while he couldn’t vote for the House version, he would vote for the Senate version, not to give up on him.”

Clemon, now retired, said he learned that Davis voted against the re crafted Senate version while watching television. “I was stunned and I was disappointed,” Clemon told the newspaper.

“You have to understand. I love Artur like a son. I’ve never personally known a politician with more intelligence, more gifts than Artur with the exception of President Obama. “But, I also have to say that I’ve never been more disappointed in a person in my life. Artur walked away from the people who needed him the most, and he walked away from himself.”

Alabama voters showed that when a Black politician walks away from them, he can keep walking. That should be a lesson for anyone seeking office with the twisted idea that they can play Blacks for fools.

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

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