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George Curry

Shelby County to Washington, D.C. March Needed

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(NNPA) After ceremonies wrap up Sunday in Alabama commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a group of die-hard demonstrators will re-enact the full march.

“We are re-enacting the full 54-mile March this year,” Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) President Charles Steele announced at a press conference in Montgomery. “The March will begin in Selma on Sunday, March 8th, with the Commemoration of Bloody Sunday, and will conclude on Friday, March 13th, with an 11:00 a.m. event on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.”

At the news conference, Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma) correctly noted, “The right to vote is being challenged at every turn. From voter photo ID (modern day poll tax), proof of citizenship to register (modern day literacy test) and reduction in voting and voter registration days to the Shelby County v. Holder decision gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act and more, Americans are losing the right to vote, which so many people sacrificed their lives and blood to secure.”

In Shelby V. Holder, by a margin of 5 to 4 in June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to gut Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required jurisdictions with a proven history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any election law change with the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The case grew out of a decision by Calera, a small city in Shelby County, Ala., to implement a redistricting plan that led to the defeat of the city’s lone African American City Council member. Under the plan, a district that was 71 percent Black was redrawn so that its Black population was reduced to 23 percent. The plan was never submitted for pre-approval.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, more than 40 bills have been introduced in 17 states that would restrict access to registration or voting.

In view of these politically motivated efforts to suppress the Black vote in particular, I am hereby proposing a Shelby County, Ala. to Washington, D.C. March, with the goal of getting Congress to protect the integrity of voting in the U.S. Just as the Selma-to-Montgomery March led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a Shelby County to D.C. March could pressure Congress to act again to protect the sacred right to vote.

The march would kick-off in Calera, about 30 minutes south of Birmingham, and address the relevant voting issues along the march route.

After Calera, Ala., the next stop would be in Georgia, where marchers could express support for proposed legislation that would expand opportunities for eligible citizens to vote, and provide for or expand the electronic transfer of voters’ information between state agencies.

In South Carolina, demonstrators could support a bill that would relax voter ID or citizenship laws and legislation that would make it easier for people with disabilities to cast a ballot.

Crossing into North Carolina, demonstrators can join an effort to overturn the Voter Information Verification Act, a voter suppression bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The controversial measure requires government-issued voter ID, ends same day voter registration, bans Sunday voting and discontinues pre-voter registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. Several organizations, including the NAACP State Conference of Branches, have sued to overturn the law.

Marchers might want to spend some extra time in Virginia before moving on to D.C. to oppose a bill that would restrict access to registration and voting and support a competing one that would increase access to voting, oppose a bill that would require proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate) to register or to vote, support proposed legislation that would expand early in-person voting, back a proposed legislation to reduce waiting times for voting, endorse a bill to expand opportunities to vote by absentee ballot, support a bill to protect voters from having their name wrongfully removed from voting lists, and back a proposed bill to increase the likelihood of contested provisional ballots being counted.

In Washington, demonstrators should underscore the embarrassing reality that D.C. is the only capital of a democratic country in the world that does not enjoy voting representation in its national legislative body or true home rule.

I am glad we’re commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But after the celebration, it’s time to undo the damage the Supreme Court and largely-Republican state legislatures have done to the landmark voting legislation. The Brennan Center report stated. “This year, the courts – including the U.S. Supreme Court – are again poised to rule on voter ID and other election laws. Courts failed to block a number of restrictive laws last year, and without clear limits, states appear ready to move forward with harsh new measures.”

We must block those measures.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. 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. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns

DuBois and Trotter: My Civil Rights Heroes

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(NNPA) In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a W.E.B. DuBois fanatic since my teenage years in Tuscaloosa, Ala. I have a healthy collection of books by and about DuBois, including David Levering Lewis’ two-volume biography of DuBois (W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963 and W. E. B. DuBois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919), each a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

I first became enamored of DuBois at Druid High School when I learned he was the polar opposite of Booker T. Washington. In his Atlanta Compromise speech in 1895, Booker T. said in defense of racial segregation, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

DuBois, on the other hand, was unwilling to settle for anything less than full economic, social and political equality for African Americans.

When I learned that DuBois and I shared the same birthday – February 23 – I was ecstatic. I was born at 11:30 at night and told Mama if she had waited another 31 minutes, I don’t know if I would have ever forgiven her, not that the timing of my entry into this world was under her control.

Enough disclosure.

As much as I admire William Edward Burghardt DuBois – my middle name is also Edward – in temperament, I am probably more like William Monroe Trotter than DuBois. And we both pursued full-time careers in journalism.

Even during Black History Month, I am surprised that Trotter’s name is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, Trotter grew up in Boston. He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard in 1895 – the same year DuBois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D from the university. A year later, Trotter earned a master’s degree from Harvard in finance but could not find a job in banking because of his race. Instead, Trotter worked at his father’s real estate company.

In 1901, he and George Forbes founded the Boston Guardian newspaper, an uncompromising voice for Black liberation that routinely denounced Booker T. Washington as Benedict Arnold, the Great Traitor and an errand boy for Northern philanthropists.

When Washington went to Boston to address a National Negro Business League meeting at a local Black church, Trotter repeatedly interrupted him, challenging his accommodationist views.

In his autobiography, DuBois wrote that Trotter attempted to make Washington “answer publicly certain questions with regard to his attitude toward voting and education.” Instead of getting an answer, Trotter got arrested in what was mislabeled “The Boston Riot” for disorderly conduct and served a month in jail.

It is widely recognized that the founding of the NAACP grew out of the Niagara Movement. But it is not widely known that the Niagara Movement was established as a direct result of William Monroe Trotter’s arrest after confronting Booker T. in Boston.

“…When Trotter went to jail, my indignation overflowed,” DuBois wrote. “I did not always agree with Trotter then or later. But he was an honest, brilliant man, and to treat as a crime that which was at worst mistaken judgment was an outrage. I sent out from Atlanta in June 1905 a call to a few selected persons ‘for organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth.’”

Answering that call for a meeting on the Canadian side of he U.S./Canada border were 59 African Americans from 17 states in what became known as the Niagara Movement.

Though instrumental in the Niagara Movement and the founding of the NAACP, Trotter refused to join the nascent national civil rights group because he felt its leadership and finances were controlled by Whites.

Trotter continued to press for civil rights through his National Equal Rights League. He remained an advocate for better treatment of African Americans in World War I, tried to get the racist movie “Birth of a Nation” banned in Boston and confronted President Woodrow Wilson over his policy of segregating of Black federal employees.

Trotter continued to fight for civil rights until his death on April 7, 1934 at the age of 62.

The William Monroe Trotter Institute at the University of Massachusetts publishes a scholarly journal called the Trotter Review. The editor of the journal, Kenneth J. Cooper, is a friend and former colleague from our days as reporters for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Several years ago, he asked me to serve on the editorial board of the Review. I quickly accepted. I just celebrated Feb. 23 as my birthday and the birthday of my hero, W.B. DuBois. But being affiliated with the Trotter Review, even from a distance, keeps me connected to William Monroe Trotter as well. DuBois and Trotter – it doesn’t get any better than that in Black History Month or any other month.

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.

Did NBC’S Brian Williams also Lie about Hurricane Katrina?

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(NNPA) “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams has finally admitted that he had incorrectly asserted that a helicopter he traveled aboard in 2002 while reporting on the Iraq War in 2003 was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, forcing an emergency landing.

“This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and by extension our brave military men and women veterans everywhere…” he said on air.

Williams’ admission came on the heels of a story published in the military publication Stars & Stripes that challenged his retelling of events.

“NBC News anchor Brian Williams has told a war story over the years since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It grew to where he was claiming to be on a Chinook helicopter that was forced down after taking rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire,” the newspaper reported. “In his on-air apology Wednesday, he backed off that, but said that he ‘was instead in a following aircraft.’ Soldiers who were in two Chinook companies say he was not in, nor ever near, a helicopter that was being fired upon.”

Williams, who makes $13 million a year, has drastically altered his story over the years, according to a timeline published by CNN.

Lt. Col. Jerry Pearman, the mission commander when one of the three Chinooks took fire, told Stars & Stripes, “I can say with 100 percent certainty that no NBC reporters were on any of the aircrafts.”

Following his public admission, Williams said that he would forgo his anchoring duties at the top-rated network news program “for the next several days.” Politico.com, describing what it called “a sign of deepening trouble,” reported on Sunday that Williams cancelled an appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” that had been scheduled for Thursday.

It was on an earlier Letterman show that Williams also gave his now-discredited account.

The New York Times reported, “In 2013, Mr. Williams told David Letterman that he had actually been on the helicopter that got shot down, adding that a crew member had been injured and received a medal. ‘We figured out how to land safely,’ he said, ‘we landed very quickly and hard. We were stuck, four birds in the desert and we were north out ahead of the other Americans.’”

Of course, none of that was true.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the media watchdog group, said, “Now that he’s cleared that up, there are some other tall tales that Williams might want to take back. Take his recounting of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (Dateline NBC, 8/22/10; Extra!, 10/10):

“You know, I’ve been around a lot of guns and a lot of dead bodies, and a lot of people shooting at people to make dead bodies. But you put them all together and you put it in the United States of America, and boy, it gets your attention….

“It was clear already there weren’t going to be enough cops…. Everywhere we went, every satellite shot, every camera shot, we were at the height of the violence and the looting and the—all the reports of gunplay downtown. Well, who’s bathed in the only lights in town? It was us….

“We had to ask Federal Protection Service guys with automatic weapons to just form a ring and watch our backs while we were doing Dateline NBC one night…. State troopers had to cover us by aiming at the men in the street just to tell them, ‘Don’t think of doing a smash and grab and killing this guy for the car.’”

FAIR stated, “As long as he’s in a confessional mood, Williams might as well admit that he didn’t see ‘a lot of people shooting at people to make dead bodies,’ nor would people have killed him for his car if he hadn’t been surrounded by feds – none of which appeared in his original reporting.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported in a Pulitzer Prize-winning story, “Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.”

To Williams’ credit he did air a week-long series called “After the Storm: The Long Road Back” in which the network tackled racial discrimination, among other issues. He said Katrina was different from most disasters and that NBC would “keep covering it.”

However, that was not the case.

FAIR observed, “… Katrina’s impoverished victims faded rapidly away from NBC’s coverage thereafter. By the six-month anniversary in February, NBC had joined its rivals in limiting coverage to a brief look at the struggles of putting on Mardi Gras in a depopulated city, then moving on before anyone could accuse them of peering too deeply into matters of race or class.”

Perhaps it was another ”bungled attempt” by Brian Williams to portray himself as a hero.

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.

How Dick Gregory Got his Hollywood Star

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(NNPA) Activist/ SiriusXm satellite radio host Joe Madison was helping on a campaign to get the Four Tops a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame when he noticed another serious omission from the world-famous tribute to entertainers.

“You go to Hollywood and Gene Autry had five (one in each category). Big Bird had a star. When we did our campaign to get the Four Tops a star, I said, ‘My God, Dick Gregory doesn’t have a star.” In 1997, seven years after getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Four Tops, – whose 1960s hits included such songs as “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Ask the Lonely,” “I Can’t Help Myself” and “It’s the Same Old Song” – finally were awarded a star.

But Madison couldn’t get over the fact that Dick Gregory, the first Black comedian to earn more than $1 million a year yet gave up his career to actively support Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), hadn’t been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“You can walk down there and not see Dick Gregory, but you’ll see Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Whoppi Goldberg,” Madison said. “ I don’t know of any entertainer from the era who sacrificed more than Dick Gregory.”

About 10 years ago, he set out to change that.

“The first time we tried it, we filled out a very complicated application and the committee – the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce – didn’t award him a star,” Madison remembered. “I tried again and they still didn’t accept it. We let some time go by. This time (in 2013), I said, ‘Look, this is ridiculous.’ That’s when I got Sheila Moses, who helped write Dick’s last book, help word the application. E. Faye Williams, president of the National Congress of Black Women, helped and we put the application together and sent it in. Finally, the committee accepted him in the class of 2015.”

At the age of 85, Gregory joins a class that includes Kool & the Gang, Pharrell Williams, Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. The induction ceremony was carried live Monday on national and international television.

Before Gregory could receive his honor, $30,000 had to be submitted on his behalf to cover the creation and installation of his star as well as maintenance of the Walk of Fame.

A small group of supporters got together to strategize. The first idea was to reach out to some of the biggest names in Hollywood who could write the $30,000 within the blink of the eye, including fellow comedian Bill Cosby and Hugh Hefner, who lifted Gregory to national stardom in 1961 by regularly booking him at Chicago’s Playboy Club. The second idea was to identify 30 people willing to donate $1,000 each.

But Joe Madison had a better idea.

He recalled, “I got with Sherry [his wife and radio producer] and said, ‘Let’s go on the air and make this very simple – 1,000 people with $30. If I don’t have 1,000 listeners who can afford $30, I need to be off the air.’”

Madison didn’t need to get off the air – the $30,000 goal of the Dick Gregory Hollywood Star Fund was reached in two weeks.

“What it really speaks to is Dick,” he said. And it’s hard to find anyone who has not been touched by Dick Gregory in some way.

As a teenager growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., I remember hearing him speak at First African Baptist Church, the nerve center of our efforts to desegregate my hometown. I was stunned by the way he boldly attacked segregation, keeping us laughing along the way.

He would say, “The last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this White waitress came up to me and said, ‘We don’t served colored people here.’ I said, ‘That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.’”

And there was this one: “Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?”

There was simply no one else like Dick Gregory. And callers into Joe Madison’s radio show shared their special memories.

Madison remembers the call-ins: “One guy, who’s a doctor in New Orleans, said, ‘Dick Gregory spoke at Xavier University. I was a student and I still have the notes from that speech.’ He was in school in the 70s.

“An executive from Caterpillar in Peoria, Ill. said, ’I am the only Black sitting up here on the 7th floor and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dick Gregory. I know you asked for $30, but I am sending $1,500.”

Most of the contributors were everyday people who donated $30.

“It had to be done,” Madison said of the campaign to honor Gregory. “People say, ‘Who cares about a star on the Walk of Fame? It’s about marking your territory.”

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.

Jimmie Lee Jackson Inspired Selma March

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(NNPA) Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis captured the headlines, it was the death of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson that inspired the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March.

After fighting in the Vietnam War, Jackson had returned home to Marion, Ala., which also happens to be the birthplace of Coretta Scott King, about 30 miles northwest of Selma in the soil-rich Black Belt region of Alabama. Although Blacks made up a majority of Black Belt counties, they were less than 1 percent of the registered voters.

A pulpwood worker, Jackson had attempted five times to register, none successfully. In an effort to expand voter registration in the area, James Orange, a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) field organizer, and George Best of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had moved to Perry County in early 1965. Before long, local residents were trying to register to vote, most of them for the first time.

On Feb. 18, Orange, who included students in the movement, was arrested, allegedly for contributing to delinquency of minors. That set off a round of protests.

Shortly after being released from jail in Selma, C. T. Vivian of SCLC was sent to Marion to address a mass meeting at Zion Chapel Methodist Church. The plan was to hold a night march to the jail, which would cover less than the length of a football field, to demand James Orange’s release. If confronted by police, demonstrators were instructed to kneel in prayer and return to the church.

But White law enforcement officials had another plan.

In his excellent book, Selma 1965: The March That Changed the South, Charles E. Fager recounted:

“But when the preachers at the head of the line came out of the door, the sidewalk was lined with helmeted state troopers, long, black billy clubs at the ready, and they were stopped less than a half block down. ‘This is an unlawful assembly,’ the police chief announced over a public address system. ‘You are hereby ordered to disperse. Go home or go back to the church.’

“Just then all of the street lights around the square went out, and troopers began clubbing the Rev. James Dobynes, a black minister at the front of the line.”

NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani was knocked to the ground, bleeding from a head wound, and another journalist, UPI photographer Pete Fisher, was also beaten and his camera was smashed into tiny pieces.

“The panicked crowd tried to get back into the church, but the doors were jammed full and the people spilled around it down a side street, taking cover wherever they could,” Fager wrote. “The troopers came after them, clubs swinging, splitting scalps and smashing ribs as they advanced. Two or three dozen people rushed through the doors of Mack’s Café, a few doors down, seeking refuge in its crowded, dark interior. Among them were Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young man of twenty-six years old, his mother, Viola and his grandfather Cager Lee, eighty-two. The old man had already been caught and beaten behind the church, and was bleeding.

“His grandson was helping him out of the door to get medical attention when a squad of troopers came toward them, chasing and beating people before them, and forced the two men back into the café. The troopers came inside, smashed all the lights within reach and began clubbing people indiscriminately. When one hit Viola and knocked her screaming to the floor, Jimmie Lee lunged at him. The trooper struck him across the face, and the young Jackson went careening into the floor himself. Then a trooper picked him up and slammed him against a cigarette machine while another trooper, a man named Fowler, drew his pistol and calmly shot Jackson point blank in the stomach.”

The author noted, “Jackson didn’t realize he had been shot until a few moments later, because the troopers continued beating him and the others unmercifully.”

Someone took Jackson to the Perry County Hospital. He was transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, where he died a week later.

The state trooper, James Bonard Fowler, was not charged until May 10, 2007 as a result of a cold case investigation. He pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to only six months in jail.

According to Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning At Canaan’s Edge, although Dr.. King had preached many funerals by then, a reporter noticed “a tear glistened from the corner of his eye as he rose to speak.”

King deplored “the cowardice of every Negro” who “stands on the sidelines in the struggle for justice.” King said, “Jimmie Lee Jackson is speaking to us from the casket and he is saying to us that we must substitute courage for caution…We must not be bitter, and we must not harbor ideas of retaliation with violence. We must not lose faith in our white brothers.”

Whatever its purported shortcomings, the movie “Selma,” allows Jimmie Lee Jackson to continue speaking to us from the grave.

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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