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George Curry

Freedom Summer – 50 years Later

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(NNPA) The 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer is being commemorated this week in Mississippi and it provides the perfect backdrop to reflect on the transformation of not only Mississippi, then the deadliest state in the nation, but the entire region.

As I have written in the space before, there was a popular joke about Mississippi making the rounds during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Supposedly, a Chicago seminary student was awakened at 3 a.m. by a voice imploring him: “Go to Mississippi! Go to Mississippi!! Go to Mississippi!!!” The seminary student said, “Lord, you said that you will be with me always, even until the end of the earth. If I go to Mississippi, will you go with me?” The heavenly voice replied, “I’ll go as far as Memphis.”

Of course, if the Lord was reluctant to go to Mississippi, the chances of a Black surviving there were slim and none. I had just completed my junior year at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. in the summer of 1964. Alabama had its own violent history when it came to race relations, but Mississippi was the one state we knew was worse. In fact, whenever a national ranking of any kind came out, we would always say, “Thank God for Mississippi.”

Of course, we all awaited the beginning of Freedom Summer, a national mobilization of mostly college students who would descend upon Mississippi in 1964 to help civil rights activists, led by Bob Moses of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), assist Blacks in voter education and voting.

More than 1,000 students, about 90 percent of them White, participated. With so many northern Whites descending on the state, the nation would be watching. And Blacks like me, who grew up under America’s version of apartheid, knew that virulent White racists in Mississippi would not go quietly into the dark. They would go into the dark – where they did their most tawdry work – but they wouldn’t be quiet about it.

And sure enough, at the outset of Freedom Summer, three civil rights workers – James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman – were arrested in Nashoba County by Sheriff Cecil Price, a member of the Ku Klux Klan. That night, they were released. Tipped off about their impending departure, Klansmen abducted the three and murdered them. Their bodies were discovered seven weeks later 15 feet below an earthen dam.

While looking for the three civil rights workers in rivers and swamps, other Black bodies were discovered. One was Herbert Oarsby, a 14-year-old boy who was wearing a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) T-shirt. The bodies of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Eddie Moore, who had been expelled from Alcorn A&M College for civil rights activities, were also discovered. The remains of five more Black men were found, but never identified.

It wasn’t until 1970 that anyone was imprisoned for the slayings of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, with six years being the longest time served.

In 1964, only 6.7 percent of Blacks were registered to vote, the lowest in the nation. Today, more than a third of Mississippi’s voters are Black and the state has the largest number of Black elected officials in the nation.

But that progress came with a price, with people losing their jobs –and even their lives – simply because they wanted to exercise their constitutional right to vote. The casualities extended beyond the three civil rights workers.

According to the book, Freedom Summer by Doug McAdam, in the summer of 1964 alone:

  • At least four Blacks from Mississippi were murdered because of their civil rights activities;
  • Four people were seriously wounded;
  • 80 summer workers were beaten
  • 1,062 people were arrested’
  • 37 churches were burned or bombed and
  • The homes or businesses of 30 African Americans were bombed or burned.

Visiting college students weren’t the only ones responsible for the success of that summer. When Berea College withdrew as a training site for students headed South, Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, now part of Miami University, stepped forward.

Attorneys volunteered from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU. Medical professionals, participating as individuals as well as members of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, also joined the caravans headed to Mississippi.

The level of national support emboldened Black Mississippians, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, to challenge the seating of the all-White Mississippi delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.

As Attorney Thomas N. Todd likes to remind us, this was done before the existence of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media.

It’s good that civil rights vets are celebrating Freedom Summer this week. But the challenge today is to reignite that passion and sense of commitment. Many of the problems of 1964 are still prevalent today. We need another Freedom Summer, Winter, Fall and Spring.

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.

U.S. has always 'Negotiated' with Terrorists

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(NNPA) I disagree with President Obama’s decision to trade five Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo Bay for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an apparent deserter who is believed to have been the only U.S. solider being held as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

My opposition is based on the firm belief that such exchanges only encourage future violence against the U.S. For proof, we need to look no further than statements made by Taliban leaders after the exchange of prisoners.

Time magazine quoted one Taliban commander: “It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people. It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”

Even so, Obama critics are incorrect when they claim that President Obama is departing from past U.S. practices.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example, said, “The reason why the U.S. has had the policy for decades of not negotiating with terrorists is because once you start doing it, every other terrorist has incentive to capture more soldiers.”

Cruz is right about incentive, as we have already seen, but he is dead wrong about the U.S. not negotiating with terrorists.

Michael Reiss, who worked for the State Department under George W. Bush, has written a book titled, Negotiating with Evil. He traces the practice of the U.S. negotiating with terrorists all the way back to George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Politifact, quoting Reiss, said the three “accommodated what today would be viewed as terrorists.” The author stated, “They each authorized payment to the Barbary pirates, and the U.S. Senate even ratified a treaty that enshrined the annual provision of naval supplies as ‘protection.’ “

According to USAToday, “… Security experts like Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, said that however common the refrain ‘we do not negotiate with terrorists’ has become, it is ‘repeated as mantra more than fact.’

“‘We have long negotiated with terrorists. Virtually every other country in the world has negotiated with terrorists despite pledges never to,’” Hoffman said. “‘We should be tough on terrorists, but not on our fellow countrymen who are their captives, which means having to make a deal with the devil when there is no alternative.’”

In that same newspaper article, Charles “Cully” Stimson, who helped coordinate the Pentagon’s detainee operations under President George W. Bush, said both Democratic and Republican administrations have relied on terrorist groups for “information, supplies, personnel – a lot of different topics.”

He told USAToday, “We have had very quiet negotiations, or discussions at least, with terrorist groups over the years on a whole host of things. They just haven’t usually come to light.”

But many have come to light.

Quoting Reiss’ book, Politifact notes:

*After the North Koreans captured the U.S.S. Pueblo in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson apologized for spying as part of negotiations to secure the release of 83 American prisoners.

*In 1970, President Richard Nixon pressured Israel, Switzerland, West Germany and Britain to release Palestinian prisoners after two airlines were hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

*During the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to 1981, President Jimmy Carter agreed to unfreeze $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets after more than a year of negotiations with the Iranian revolutionaries.

*In perhaps the most famous swap, after seven Americans were captured in Beirut, Lebanon, President Ronald Reagan agreed to send missiles to Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.

*President Bill Clinton’s administration sat down with Hamas in attempts to negotiate peace with Israel. His administration also worked directly with the Taliban nearly two decades ago on several occasions to see if the group would hand over Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

The Website added, “Reiss also noted that President George W. Bush engaged in negotiations with Iran and North Korea even after decreeing them part of the ‘Axis of Evil.’”

Defending such actions has become a sophisticated game of hair-splitting technicalities.

Factcheck.org observed, “…The U.S. does not consider detainees held at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba to be prisoners of war. The State Department calls the detainees ‘enemy combatants.’ In fact, the U.S. specifically declared in 2002 that ‘Taliban detainees are not entitled to POW status. … The Taliban have not effectively distinguished themselves from the civilian population of Afghanistan. Moreover, they have not conducted their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.’ That complicates any assertion that this was a simple swap of prisoners of war.”

The word game does not end there.

‘For what it’s worth, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said in a press conference on June 4 that the State Department doesn’t claim that it won’t ‘negotiate’ with terrorists, but rather that it does not make ‘concessions’ to terrorists,’” Factcheck.org noted. “She said the swap was not a concession to terrorists, but rather was part of a longstanding, historical precedent of exchanging prisoners “‘during a time of war.’”

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.

Right Wing Media Pretends Racism Doesn't Exist By

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(NNPA) A new posting by MediaMatters.org, the media watchdog group, sums up the conservative strategy under the headline, “Don’t Litigate It, Don’t Ever Talk About It: Right-Wing Media’s Solution to Racial Discrimination.”

The report recounts the media storm touched off by “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’ excellent cover story in the Atlantic magazine. Media Matters said, “…The Atlantic has given right-wing media a fresh opportunity to argue that the best way to address racially discriminatory laws or policies – such as housing segregation – is to never speak of them, let alone litigate them under civil rights law.”

Media Matters observed, “In Coates’ essay, which ultimately calls for a congressional study on the long-term effects of the treatment of African-Americans in the United States, he explores the country’s history of racism and oppression, from slavery to the Jim Crow laws to the present. Although right-wing media have been known to erroneously claim that racism is no longer a problem, the systemic effect of state and federal laws that favored whites and oppressed people of color is still felt today.”

For example, “…agencies like the Fair Housing Administration often refused to insure mortgages in neighborhoods that they deemed unsuitable, perpetuating systematic housing segregation that in turn fueled other disparate racial impacts that continue today, such as separate and unequal schools. Despite the fact that redlining was outlawed in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the housing market is still hostile to black buyers and renters, even in neighborhoods that have taken steps to improve residential housing segregation.”

But you would not know any of this if you only consumed conservative propaganda.

According to Media Matters, “Naomi Schaefer Riley, who once called for the elimination of black studies from college campuses, wrote in a recent New York Post column that we’ve talked enough about race. According to Schaefer Riley, Americans are ‘done with a national dialogue on race’ and Coates’ essay ‘offers nothing new.’ She also complained that Coates’ advocacy for HR 40 [John Conyers bill to study reparations] was evidence that ‘our country’s media elites are still stuck on a liberal baby boomer racial narrative,’ and concluded that the way forward now is not discussion, but ‘colorblindness.’”

And she was not alone.

“Right-wing outlets like The Wall Street Journal, NRO, and radio host Rush Limbaugh have come out against governmental efforts to remedy past harms using litigation to enforce fair housing laws and promote residential integration programs. When the Department of Justice went after banks who had racially discriminated against people of color, the WSJ called the lawsuit an attempt to ‘shake down banks for not lending enough to minorities,’ and complained the agency was attempting to impose an unconstitutional ‘quota’ system on lenders. The WSJ also claimed that the lawsuit, and other initiatives on the part of the DOJ, had done nothing more than “’saddle a lot of minorities with foreclosed homes, huge debt burdens, and bad credit scores.’”

And Rush Limbaugh rushed to add his two cents.

“For his part, Limbaugh has argued that the Housing and Urban Development Department’s mandate to ‘affirmatively further’ fair housing was nothing more than ‘social engineering’ and a plot on the part of the government to ‘force’ people to move to integrated neighborhoods.”

The conservative-dominated Supreme Court also plays a key role.

“Even worse, the Supreme Court has contributed to modern racial divisions by rolling back affirmative action policies, gutting key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and making it nearly impossible for public schools to implement proactive integration initiatives that would help diversify heavily segregated schools. Such decisions have allowed states to impose restrictive voter identification laws, have whitewashed college campuses, and nearly driven a stake through the heart of Brown v. Board of Education, the case that outlawed state-mandated segregation in public schools. Unsurprisingly, right-wing media also determined that the recent 60th anniversary of Brown, one of the most significant civil rights victories in history, was no time to discuss racial inequalities.”

The article continued, “If Chief Justice John Roberts had his way, we’d all follow right-wing media’s lead and stop talking about race. As Roberts famously stated, ‘the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.’ In her dissent opposing the majority’s decision to uphold Michigan’s ban on affirmative action, however, Justice Sonia Sotomayor countered, ‘the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.’”

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.

Republicans are Veteran Hypocrites on the VA

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(NNPA) If you let the Republicans tell it, President Obama is directly responsible for the fiasco at the Veterans Administration. But they don’t tell you that fresh off of Memorial Day parade appearances, they are responsible for scuttling legislation that would have expanded benefits for the nation’s 22 million veterans and their families.

A measure backed by Obama would have lengthened the period veterans are eligible to receive health care from the VA from five years to 10 years after deployment. The bill also would have allowed the VA to open 27 new health facilities, expand medical and dental care, make more veterans eligible for in-state tuition at public universities, repeal the recent cut in cost-of-living adjustments for new enlistees and extend a program that provides care for veterans with mild to severe brain injuries.

More than 20 military organizations – including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Wounded Warriors Project and Disabled American Veterans – supported the bill.

William A. Thien, commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, submitted a letter saying, “This legislation is the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation to be introduced in decades. It contains many of the VFW’s priority goals, which will implement, expand and improve both health care and benefit services to all generations of veterans and their families.”

Senate Bill S.1982, known as the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014, was favored on Feb. 27 in the Senate 56-41. But the measure fell four votes shy of the number needed to overcome a threatened GOP filibuster.

Every Democrat voted for the bill and only two Republican Senators – Jerry Moran of Kansas and Dean Heller of Nevada – voted for the measure.

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the committee, said: “We have veterans dying from long waits for basic, necessary tests like colonoscopies. Veterans waiting for their disability claims to be processed know all about frustrations and delays at the VA, and adding more individuals to an already broken system doesn’t seem wise.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky, accused Democrats of engaging in election-year politics, a charge Senate Veterans’ Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), denied.

He told reporters after the vote: “The point of the matter is if we had won today…both parties could have gone out and said we finally overcame all of the partisanship we see here in Washington. This could have been a political winner, if you like, and certainly a public policy winner for both Democrats and Republicans.”

More than two dozen veterans groups had supported the measure. According to the Washington Post, Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, said, “I don’t know how anyone who voted ‘no’ today can look a veteran in the eye and justify that vote. Our veterans deserve more than what they got today.”

According to MediaMatters, the watchdog group, the media failed miserably in letting the public know Republicans were blocking the legislation.

“While mainstream media coverage of the serious allegations of improper practices at certain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health clinics has been extensive in recent weeks, a bill to expand health care for veterans that was blocked by Senate Republicans in February received little attention,” it noted.

“…Based on a LexisNexis search television transcripts from February 26 to 28, the veterans health bill was not covered by ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, or CBS Evening News,” the media monitoring group said. “Based on a LexisNexis search of news articles from February 26 to 28, neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal reported on Senate Republicans’ obstruction of the legislation that would have allowed the VA to open 27 new health facilities.”

The media has also done a poor job describing how proposed budget cuts will impact veterans.

For example, the Republican-led cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, will hurt veterans as well other low-income families, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington-based think tank.

“Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011, a previous analysis of Census data estimated,” a report by the CBPP noted. “…For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families.

“..While the overall unemployment rate for veterans is lower than the national average, the unemployment rate for recent veterans (serving in September 2001 to the present) remains high, at 10.1 percent in September 2013. About one-quarter of recent veterans reported service-connected disabilities in 2011, which can impact their ability to provide for their families: households with a veteran with a disability that prevents them from working are about twice as likely to lack access to adequate food than households without a disabled member.”

Republicans need to do more than simply wave the American flag.

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.

The Browning of Public Schools after 'Brown'

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(NNPA) This is the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing “separate but equal” schools. And like most major anniversaries, incorrect information surfaces as purported fact, doing a disservice to the accomplishment being celebrated as well as truth itself.

In this instance, some have asserted that because of re-segregation, public schools in the South, where most African Americans live, are more segregated now than when Brown was handed down. That is simply untrue and if you want to read a comprehensive account of what has truly happened in school desegregation over the past 60 years, there is no better source than “Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future,” published by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

First, let’s dispense with the nonsense.

“The claims that black students in the South are no better off than they were before Brown, in terms of segregation, are obviously wrong,” the report stated. “They are ten times as likely to be in majority-white schools as they were when the Civil Rights Act passed.”

The 42-page report is packed with illuminating facts about progress made in the wake of Brown and the subsequent retrenchment. But to appreciate the significance of Brown, it is necessary to understand what our schools looked like before the court decision.

“Nine years after Brown, when President John Kennedy called for the first major civil rights act of the 20th century, 99% of blacks in the South were still in totally segregated schools,” the report recounted. “Virtually no whites were in historically black schools, nor were black teachers and administrators in white schools. For all practical purposes, it was segregation as usual or ‘segregation forever,’ as some of the South’s politicians promised. In the great majority of the several thousand southern districts nothing had been done.”

Actually, there were two Brown decisions. The first, issued in 1954, outlawed segregated public schools masquerading as “separate but equal.” The court ruled that “segregation is inherently unequal” and ordered the desegregation of schools. With no progress after a year, the court ordered in 1955, in a ruling sometimes called Brown II, that desegregation had to be carried out “with all deliberate speed.”

But racial segregation was deliberate and speed was missing in action. In fact, nine years after Brown, 99 percent of Blacks in the South were still in segregated schools.

“President Lyndon Johnson powered the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress with bipartisan support, and he proceeded to enforce civil rights law more forcefully than an Administration before or since,” the report stated. “After he also led the battle for the largest federal education aid program in American history, the Southern schools changed. Faced with the dual prospect of losing federal funds if they remained segregated, as well as the threat of a Justice Department lawsuit as a result of the Civil Rights Act, almost all the districts began to desegregate. Strongly backed by the federal courts, federal civil rights officials raised desegregation requirements each year. In 1968 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that desegregation in the historically segregated states must be comprehensive and immediate. By 1970 Southern schools became the nation’s most integrated.”

Nationwide, the percent of Blacks attending majority White schools has declined from a high of 43.5 percent in 1988 to 23.2 percent in 2011, about the same level it was 1968. This did not happen by accident.

“Throughout the l980s there was a strong legal attack on desegregation orders, led by the Reagan and Bush administrations’ Justice Departments and, in l991, the Supreme Court authorized the termination of desegregation plans in the Oklahoma City (Dowell) decision. The decline in black student access has been continuous since l991,” the report observed.

The report documents the strong connection between segregated schools and concentrated poverty.

“In schools that are 81-100% black & Latino, over three-quarters of the students are also enrolled in schools where more than 70% of the students live in poverty,” it stated. “In fact, half of students in 91-100% black & Latino schools are in schools that also have more than 90% low-income students. This means that these students face almost total isolation not only from white and Asian students but also from middle class peers as well.”

In its recommendations section, the report observes that while education is primarily a state responsibility, the federal government also has an important role to play. Sadly, the report points out, there has not been a major national study on school desegregation, its costs and solutions since Racial Isolation in Public Schools, a report requested in 1967 by President Johnson.

Non-government organizations also have a role to play.

The report stated, “Civil rights organizations need to develop new strategies and legal theories to end the reversal and restart the movement toward a successfully integrated, truly multiracial society, as was done by the NAACP and Howard University in the campaign that led to Brown.”

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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