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George Curry

Black Vote is Critical to Retaining Democratic Majority in Congress

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(NNPA) With less than two weeks remaining before the Nov. 2 mid-term elections, President Barack Obama and his wife, Michele, are frantically reaching out to African-Americans, their most loyal supporters who continue to give the president a 91 percent approval rating.

The president and the first lady have phoned in to Black radio shows, met privately with African-American newspaper columnists and bloggers as well as appeared before Black audiences in an effort to drive home the president’s key message: “…Voter turnout is going to be critical. Our numbers and our ability to organize grassroots has to counteract those millions of dollars that are coming in trying to take this election.”

A report by David A. Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, underscores the importance of the Black vote: “There are 20 competitive U.S. House elections where Black voters could potentially decide the outcome. Most of these districts are in southern states [15] and only three are held by Republicans. If the Democrats retain half of these seats, it would be difficult for the GOP to gain the 40 seats necessary to regain the majority of the U.S. House. Further, there are two GOP held seats in districts where Black voters are a substantial bloc [DE and LA] and every Democratic pickup will make the GOP’s goal of 40 more difficult to attain.”

A similar picture emerges in Senate races, according to the report titled, “In Anticipation of November 2: Black Voters and Candidates and the 2010 Midterm Elections”.

“There are 14 competitive U.S. Senate races in 2010 where the Black vote could have a major impact. Only four of these contests are in southern states, and eight of the [seats] are currently held by Democrats, while four Republican seats are open seat contests,” the report stated. “…If the Democrats win half of these seats, they most assuredly will maintain majority control in the U.S. Senate.”

Political commentators cite an anti-incumbents mood, the so-called enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters as well as the large amount of cash being given by anonymous donors to Republican candidates as factors that could lead to the GOP recapturing both the Senate and the House. However, they are underestimating the likelihood of the Black electorate turning out in large numbers because they perceive “their” president being attacked by the Tea Party and right-wing zealots such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

“This is a president who is very popular with African Americans and who is under attack from congressional Republicans,” Bositis said in the Joint Center report. “If anything, President Obama in 2010 is more popular with African Americans than President Clinton in 1998.” In that off-year election, Democrats won five additional House seats, something the party of a sitting president had not done in 50 years.

Another little-discussed factor that may improve Black voter turnout is the number of African-Americans seeking elective office.

Overall, 61 Blacks are running for federal office, including 37 Black incumbents, all of whom are Democrats. Tim Scott, an unopposed South Carolina Republican, will join the new Congress, the first Black Republican to join Congress since J.C. Watts left in 2003.

In addition to the seats now held by Black House incumbents or where one Black is being comfortably replaced by another, four Congressional seats are in play. In Louisiana, State Rep. Cederick Richmond is expected to easily reclaim William Jefferson’s old House seat from Republican Joseph Cao.

Dan Seals is competitive in Illinois, but faces an uphill battle to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Joyce Elliott, Arkansas’ first Black major party nominee for the U.S. House, and Allen West, a Republican seeking a House seat from Florida, are considered long-shots, according to the Joint Center report.

“There is one [incumbent] Black candidate running for governor, Deval Patrick; Patrick is in a tough three-way race, but definite a winnable one,” the Joint Center report stated. “There are two Black candidates for lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown [MD], who is the incumbent and favored to win, and Yvette McGee Brown, who is running with Ted Strickland in Ohio in a race rated as a toss-up; no Black Democrat has ever been elected to statewide office in Ohio. Kamala Harris is the first Black woman nominated by a major party to statewide office in California. She is running to succeed Jerry Brown as Attorney General, and has a good chance to be elected.”

President Obama is walking a political tightrope by distancing himself from racial issues while simultaneously mobilizing his Black Democratic base by letting them know that he speaks their language.

For example, in a meeting with some Black columnists last week, he said: “There’s the old saying that when America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia. Well, that’s true here, too. We have seen obviously a huge spike in unemployment in the African-American community, with all the attendant problems that go with that.”

When the Jackie Robinson analogy was used to describe his election, Obama tip-toed back into safe terrain.

“…It’s not something I think about,” he said. “It’s not something that members of the administration think about. I think that’s one of those things that you will look back on with some historical perspective. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, my suspicion is, on a day-to-day basis, what he was worrying about was hits – and how was Brooklyn doing. He was thinking about winning games. And then after he retired, he could look back and say, well, that was something. I tend to just focus on getting hits and making plays.”

But whether President Obama continues to get hits or strikes out will be determined in large measure by whether African-Americans step up to the ballot box on Nov. 2.

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.

A Long View of Bishop Eddie Long's Troubles

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(NNPA) Not surprisingly, embattled Bishop Eddie Long turned to the Bible to defend himself against charges by four men who filed suit last week in which they charged that as teenagers, Long showered them with money, expensive gifts, cars, and international travel to entice them into having a sexual relationship with him.

On Sunday, Long told his parishioners at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in suburban Atlanta, “I want you to know one other thing. I feel like David against Goliath. But, I’ve got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet.”

If the charges against Long are true, another passage in the Bible involving David might be more appropriate. David’s seduction of Bathsheba is recounted in 2 Samuel 11. While walking on the roof of his house David, king of Israel and Judah, saw Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, bathing.

Verse 4 reads: “And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her...”

When Bathsheba sent word to David that she was “with child,” David ordered Uriah home from battle, hoping he would have sex with his wife and think that he had impregnated her. But, Uriah chose to remain on the battlefield. David then ordered his general, Joab, to leave Uriah stranded in battle. After Uriah was killed, David married Bathsheba but was later punished by the Lord.

At this point, it is unclear which David story best fits Eddie Long. Serious questions have been raised about his actions and judgment. It will be fairly easy to corroborate whether the teenagers traveled to the places they say they went with Long, whether they received expensive gifts, and the number of times they talked to him on his cell phone.

In his suit, Jamal Parris, now 23, said Long insisted that he call him “Daddy” and coerced him into having sex with him. Two other plaintiffs – Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg – said on some trips Long registered under the pseudonym Dick Tracey.

Accurint, a database owned by LexisNexis, lists a Dick Tracey as living at the Lithonia, Ga. address of Eddie L. Long, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Initially, Long engaged in sexual touching during their encounters and then escalated the activity to oral sodomy and other acts of sexual gratification,” the Parris suit alleges. “Long would discuss the Holy Scripture to justify and support the sexual activity.”

If the allegations are true, it would represent the height of hypocrisy. Long has strongly and repeatedly denounced homosexuality. His church offers counseling to encourage homosexuals to go straight. And in 2004, he and one his associate pastors, Rev. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led a march to Dr. King’s grave to support a national constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and to protect marriage “between one man and one woman.”

When New Birth was chosen as the funeral site for Coretta Scott King, then-NAACP Chairman Julian Bond refused to attend the services because of Long’s anti-gay views.

If found guilty, Long would join a long list of prominent religious leaders who have engaged in sexual misconduct, including Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Jim Baker, Elijah Muhammad, and former National Baptist Convention President Henry J. Lyons. Institutions such as Boys Town, Congress, the Boy Scouts, and the Roman Catholic Church have also been rocked by sexual scandals.

Although Long did not directly deny the allegations against him while speaking at his church on Sunday, his attorney, Craig Gillen, earlier issued a statement saying Long “categorically denies the allegations.”

Long said twice during the sermon Sunday that he was not a perfect man, which wasn’t the perfect comment to make under the circumstances.

In addition to raising questions about how the Black church addresses homosexuality, the Long controversy will undoubtedly renew concerns about so-called prosperity preachers who seem to place acquiring material wealth ahead of spiritual development.

In 1975, it was disclosed that Bishop Eddie Long Ministries, Inc., the charity Long established, made him its largest beneficiary, providing him with a salary of at least a $1 million a year over four years, a $1.4 million home and use of a $350,000 Bentley.

The opulent lifestyle of mega-church stars continues as the U.S. poverty rate increased to 14.3 percent in 2009, up from 13.2 percent in 2008. A quarter of all Blacks – 25.8 percent – live below the poverty line, which is defined as approximately $22,000 for a family of four.

Proverbs 31:9 reads, “Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy (King James Version).

Bishop Eddie Long is entitled to the presumption of innocence as he prepares to defend himself in the judicial system. In the meantime, he and all other religious leaders should carry out the Biblical admonition to place the plight of the poor and needy ahead of material extravagance and aberrant behavior.

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.

 

Rush Limbaugh and Terry Jones – High School Classmates

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Bombastic talk show host Rush Limbaugh and Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fla. pastor who gained world-wide attention by threatening to hold an “International Burn a Koran Day” on September 11, graduated in 1969 from Central High School in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

I visited the school’s web site to see if I could find any clues as to why this rural city in the Missouri boot heel was an incubator to such peddlers of hate. Many of their classmates appear embarrassed by Jones and, to a less extent, Limbaugh.

The banner headline on the Web site reads: “Koran-Burning Preacher Terry Jones and Rush Limbaugh: Class of 69.” The story says, “Rush Limbaugh USED to be Cape Girardeau’s most prominent export. One of his classmates from the Central High School Class of 1969 is dominating the news right now: Terry Jones, the Gainesville, FL, preacher who is threatening to hold an “International Burn a Koran Day” on September 11.

“In 2010, Jones published Islam is of the Devil, which denounces Islam as a violent faith.

“His church also maintains a Gainesville boarding school, called the Dove World Outreach Academy. The Gainesville Sun newspaper reported that students of the academy are prohibited from outside and family contact including attendance at family weddings and funerals, and work without compensation selling, packing, and shipping furniture for TS and Company, a business owned by his current and second wife, Sylvia. (His first wife was Lisa Barker, of Marble Hill. She died of a heart attack in 1996.).”

Describing Jones as “an equal opportunity hater,” the story on the web continued, “In March 2010, Dove World posted a sign saying ‘No Homo Mayor,’ referring to Gainesville’s first openly gay mayor; after Americans United requested that the Internal Revenue Service investigate the sign as an undue participation of a non-political tax-exempt organization in the political process, the church then changed the sign to simply read ‘No Homo.’

“On April 18, 2010, members of Dove World participated in a joint protest against homosexuality with the Westboro Baptist Church, a group known for disrupting the funerals of U.S. soldiers. On April 21, Dove World member Fran Ingram published a blog post proclaiming the church’s endorsements of the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests against homosexuality and homosexuals.” The “equal opportunity hater” brought liberals and conservatives together, to condemn his plans. In the end, Jones cancelled his divisive act of defiance, but by then, the damage had been done, setting off riots in some predominantly Muslim countries.

How is Terry Jones playing in Cape Girardeau? A former classmate, Judy Temple, asked the Number One question on my mind: What WERE those two smokin’ back then?”

Someone identified as “Ismellarat” said, “Rush has talked about Jones on his show and did not mention the connection… I think we should dig deeper into the relationship between these two. Rush stirs us up, makes fools of us, stands back as we come to blows, and then laughs all the way to the bank”

Linda Strange wrote, “I lived in Cape until 1965 and attended Jefferson School from the second through the sixth grade. Terry Jones was in my class. All I can remember about him is that he had difficulty reading and was in remedial classes for it. Can’t recall his ever saying much of anything, but he was labeled ‘dumb’ by many of the kids. Maybe that’s what made him so full of hate.”

Jones had his supporters, though they were in the distinct minority.

Wayne Boswell wrote, “I had no idea that Terry Jones was from Cape, but I was really happy to find out he was. Since he has attracted National attention, maybe even World Wide attention with his threat to burn a Koran, I would like to encourage him form a coalition of religious leaders from the United States or maybe even World Wide to petition the leaders of the Muslim Church to change their Doctrines about ‘Killing Infidels’ and Sharia Law. If they will not agree to do this, then it will at least expose them for what they really are.”

Lori Robinson Smith who described herself as: slightly to the right of Attila the Hun, observed: “I don’t agree with Terry Jones in burning the Quran, only because it would do nothing but incite Muslims to violence. Is it within his right to do it? Yes, he has the 1st amendment right to do it. Is it insensitive, absolutely. I would not like it if someone burned the Bible. I wouldn’t riot and kill over it, but I would be insulted”

Another classmate, Gregg Hopkins said, “I knew him the early 70s. He graduated from Central (I think) in 69. He was a funny, friendly guy back then, when he was dating my friend, Lisa. My how the years change some people. Every picture I’ve seen of him, he’s wearing an intense scowl. A couple of our Marble Hill friends figured out his connection about the same time I did. Sickening, his former in-laws, Lisa’s parents, are fine folks. I feel embarrassed for them.”

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.

NAACP Takes Correct Steps after Sherrod Fiasco

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A month ago, I took NAACP President Benjamin Jealous to task for mishandling the controversy over Shirley Sherrod. He deserved everything I said about him at the time. Since he dropped the ball on the controversy created by a right-wing blogger, Jealous and the NAACP have done a masterful job of redemption and damage control. After kicking Jealous in the butt for messing up, it is only fair to give him a pat on the back now that he has made amends.

By his own admission, Jealous blew it by criticizing the former Department of Agriculture employee based on a misleading 2-minute excerpt of a 43-minute speech. As you recall, Andrew Breitbart, a Right-wing provocateur, posted an excerpt on his blog with the following quote from Sherrod:

“…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 to 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.”

The speech – given 24 years ago, not recently as the blogger had advertised – was a powerful example of moving past one’s personal bias.

The part deliberately left out by Andrew Breitbart, Sherrod 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.”

Without hearing the full speech, the Department of Agriculture quickly demanded and received Sherrod’s resignation. And without consulting the Douglas, Georgia NAACP chapter president who had invited Sherrod to speak, Jealous said: “Her actions were shameful. 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.”

After reviewing the full tape, Jealous realized he had to right a wrong.

As I note in media training sessions with clients, Rule #1 of crisis management is: Fully acknowledge the mistake. And Jealous did that, saying in a statement: “With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA Official Shirley Sherrod, 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.”

Jealous and Board Chair Roslyn Brock apologized to Sherrod and posted the full video on the NAACP’s website. But righting the wrong against Sherrod didn’t stop there.

According to an NAACP press release issued August 19, “Recently President Jealous, Georgia State Conference President Edward DuBose, Interim Legal Counsel Judge Laura Blackburne and Mrs. Sherrod met for more than four hours discussing important issues and traveling rural Georgia to visit local cooperatives she has supported.”

In a show of public unity, Jealous and Sherrod delivered a joint address at the annual meeting of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund on August 21 in Epes, Ala.

Although pained by the NAACP’s initial statement about her speech, Sherrod, working with top NAACP officials, took the high road, determined that the incident would not create a gulf between her and the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.

In a letter to NAACP members, she said: “Not long ago, I sat here in my living room in Albany, Georgia for an afternoon of deep conversation with NAACP President Benjamin Jealous,” she recounted. “As he has done in public, Ben movingly apologized for the fact that the NAACP was initially hoodwinked by Breitbart and Fox into supporting my removal. I told him what I want to tell you.

“That’s behind us, and the last thing I want to see happen is for my situation to weaken support for the NAACP. Too many people confronted by racism and poverty count on the NAACP to be there for them, especially those in rural areas who often have nowhere else to turn.”

She added, “The NAACP confronts the virulent racism that my family and so many other families have had to endure. But it is also leading the way in breaking down the structural barriers that block so many people’s path out of poverty…Thank you for all you are doing to challenge poverty and racism. I look forward to working and struggling right by your side.”

After such a contentious beginning, one could not ask for a better ending.

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.

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.

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