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George Curry

'Never' Say We Haven't Made Progress

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(NNPA) Selma, Ala., the county seat of Dallas County, was a bastion of White supremacy in 1965. At the time, of the 15,000 potential Black voters, only 300 were registered. In response to chants of “We Shall Overcome,” by civil rights protesters, Sheriff Jim Clark wore a button on his uniform declaring, “Never.”

That did not stop Rev. C.T. Vivian, a close aide of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from leading daily marches to the courthouse in an effort to register Blacks. On February 5, 1965, Clark blocked the entrance to the courthouse with his deputies.

“If we’re wrong, why don’t you arrest us?” Vivian said.

Instead of arresting Vivian, Clark hit him so hard in the face that he fractured a finger. After being knocked down the steps, a bloodied C.T. Vivian rose to his feet and said, “We’re willing to be beaten for democracy, and you misuse democracy in this street. You beat people bloody in order that they will not have the privilege to vote.”

Vivian and other activists persisted. Though John Lewis and others were pummeled by Clark’s deputies and Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” Blacks did overcome after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When Sheriff Clark sought re-election in predominantly Black Dallas County in 1966, newly-empowered Black voters said “Never” and kicked him out of office.

Surely, President Obama had Vivian and others like him in mind when he said at the Aug. 28 commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington: “To dismiss the magnitude of this progress – to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed – that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years…”

Obama recently announced that he is awarding Vivian, one of the most courageous figures of the Civil Rights Movement, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Vivian joins other movement veterans, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (posthumously), James L. Farmer, Dorothy Height, John Lewis, Benjamin L. Hooks, Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Joseph Lowery, Clarence Mitchell, Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin (posthumously), Roy Wilkins, Andrew Young and Marian Wright Edelman in receiving the distinguished honor.

Because so much work still needs to be done, sometimes we neglect to stand back and appreciate just how much America has changed in the past 50 years.

The Census Bureau provided the following comparisons:

INCOME

1963:

$22,266 (in 2011 dollars)

The median family income for blacks was 55 percent of the median income for all American families.

$25,826 and $14,651 (in 2011 dollars)

Median income of black men and black women who worked full time, year-round

2011

$40,495

The median family income for the Black-alone population was 66 percent of the median income for all American families

$40,273 and $35,146

Median income of single-race black men and black women who worked full time, year-round.

POVERTY

1966

41.8 percent

Poverty rate for Blacks (1966 is the closest year these statistics are available to the historic speech). Nationally, the poverty rate for all races was 14.7 percent.

2011

27.6 percent

Poverty rate for single-race Blacks. Nationally, the poverty rate for all races was 15 percent.

HOUSING

1970

41.6 percent

Homeownership rate for Blacks (the earliest this information is available for race).

2011

43.4 percent

Homeownership rate for Blacks.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION

1964

25.7 percent

Percentage of Blacks age 25 and over who completed at least four years of high school.

2.4 million

Number of Blacks 25 and over with at least four years of high school.

2012

85.0 percent

Percentage of Blacks age 25 and over who completed at least four years of high school.

20.3 million

Number of Blacks 25 and over with at least a high school diploma.

COLLEGE STUDENTS AND GRADUATES

1964

234,000

Number of Black undergraduate college students.

3.9 percent

Percent of Blacks age 25 and over who completed at least four years of college

365,000

Number of Blacks who had at least a bachelor’s degree.

2012

2.6 million

Number of Black undergraduate college students in 2011 — More than 10 times as many as 1964.

21.2 percent

Percent of Blacks age 25 and over who completed at least four years of college.

5.1 million

Number of Blacks who had at least a bachelor’s degree.

Yes, we have made progress as a direct result of the modern Civil Rights Movement. And instead of denying that fact – preferring to see the glass as half empty instead of half full – we should celebrate that progress let it be proof that with our efforts, we can continue to make progress over another 50 years.

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.

D.C. Marches Inclusive – Up to a Point

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(NNPA) Organizers of the two recent marches on Washington – one called by Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III and the other engineered primarily by King’s sister, Bernice – almost stumbled over one another praising the diversity of their respective marches.

However, not one addressed the elephant in the room: Why was more emphasis placed on bringing in groups that were not part of the push for jobs and freedom in 1963 than assembling a broad coalition of Black leaders? To be even more direct: How can you justify excluding Minister Louis Farrakhan? After all, he managed to draw more Black men to the nation’s capital on Oct. 16, 1995 than the combined crowds at the 1963 March on Washington, the Sharpton-led march on Aug. 24 and the Aug. 28 commemorative march. In fact, the Million Man March at least doubled their combined attendance.

Regardless of your personal view of Farrakhan, he has demonstrated that he has a significant following in the Black community and deserves to be part of any serious attempt to address the numerous problems facing Black America.

Of course, the reason Farrakhan was excluded is because he is anathema to Jews, who view him as a virulent anti-Semite. Essentially, the choice for Black leaders is that they must choose between Jews, longtime allies of the Civil Rights Movement, and Farrakhan, who inspires and motivates some segments of the Black community that establishment leaders can’t reach.

Over the years, Black leaders have sided with Jews. Except for a couple of months under Kweisi Mfume, the Congressional Black Caucus, one of the strongest pro-Israel voting blocs in Congress, and the NAACP under Ben Chavis have consistently distanced themselves from Farrakhan.

At its 1993 CBC Weekend town hall meeting on “Race in America,” Mfume declared, “No longer will we allow people to divide us. We want the word to go forward today to friend and foe alike that the Congressional Black Caucus, after having entered into a sacred covenant with the NAACP to work for real and meaningful change, will enter into that same covenant with the Nation of Islam”’ and other Black organizations, such as fraternities, sororities and professional groups. But after Farrakhan assistant Khalid Abdul Muhammad gave a speech at Keene College in New Jersey denouncing Jews as “blood suckers” and the Pope as a “no good cracker,” CBC members pressured Mfume to withdraw the offer of a covenant.

Non-Blacks never understood that Mfume wasn’t endorsing Farrakhan’s or Muhammad’s views of Jews. Rather he was advocating what civil rights leaders call “operational unity,” meaning that they will cooperate to collectively address some of the ills in the African American community while maintaining their independence.

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told the Los Angeles Times, “There is a failure of many Jews to understand the sense of crisis in the black community.” But he added, “There is a lack of appreciation by blacks of Jewish anxieties over their embracing people like Farrakhan who are vicious anti-Semites.”

Although he spoke at Sharpton’s rally, Jesse Jackson was noticeably absent from the array of speakers at the Aug. 28 observation that featured President Barack Obama and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Jackson, who had his own share of problems with Jews after he referred to New York City as “Hymietown” during his 1984 presidential campaign, was probably omitted from the program because of his strained relationship with Obama.

Jackson alienated Obama supporters when he was caught on tape disparaging then-candidate Obama. As Jackson prepared to be interviewed on “Fox & Friends Weekend,” he was overheard saying Obama had been talking down to Black people. Jackson told a fellow guest that he wanted to cut off Obama’s testicles. He quickly apologized for what he called “crude and hurtful comments.”

Jackson’s comments hurt his standing in the Black community more than it hurt Obama, who accepted Jackson’s apology before going on to win the general election.

Although Obama accepted Jackson’s apology, Jackson is not been among the civil rights leaders who meet regularly with the president or Valerie Jarrett, a top White House adviser. And many African Americans, who overwhelmingly support the nation’s first Black president, have yet to forgive Jackson for his comments. Few will admit that in one respect, Jackson was right – Obama sometimes comes across as lecturing Black audiences while not doing the same when speaking to mostly White groups.

Jackson acknowledges that he was wrong for saying he wanted to dismember a certain part of Obama’s lower body. However, that was five years ago and the civil rights leader has contributed too much over the past four decades to be forever excommunicated from the Black race.

The two recent marches on Washington are over and shouldn’t be the yardstick by which we judge the value of Black leaders. The Black community is in a crisis and needs all of the help it can get, regardless of how unpopular that might be with others.

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.

Marching Orders for the Future

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(NNPA) Now that we’ve had two events at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, it is important to remember a few things about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. beyond his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The question is always asked: What happens after the marches are over? Demonstrators left Washington, D.C. in 1963 determined to change the American landscape. Consequently, we had passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Those laws were passed not because of a speech in the nation’s capital, but because of the hard work and dedication of people at the local, state and national level to bring about change.

While the “I Have a Dream” speech might have been Dr. King’s most popular oration, it was not his most substantive one. In 1963, Dr. King etched a prosaic picture of what America should look like in the future. But a far more important one was his “Mountaintop” speech, delivered in Memphis the night before he was assassinated.

In that speech, Dr. King outlined a plan for economic empowerment and told us how to strengthen our institutions to accomplish that goal. He reminded us, “Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.”

Dr. King explained, “We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, ‘God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda—fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

He urged us to “strengthen our Black institutions” by patronizing them.

Instead of placing so much emphasis on what Dr. King said in 1963, we should look at what he was doing at the time of his death. He wasn’t trying to create a special commission or hold conferences on how to strengthen the middle class. He was organizing a Poor Peoples Campaign, a trek to Washington, D.C. to dramatize the urgent need to help the least among us.

After President Lyndon B. Johnson shifted his focus from the War on Poverty to the war in Vietnam, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched an effort in 1968 to seek economic justice for poor Blacks, Whites, Latinos and Native Americans. The idea was to have another March on Washington that would force political leaders to address the issue of poverty.

“We ought to come in mule carts, in old trucks, any kind of transportation people can get their hands on,” King said. “People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, ‘We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way… and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.”

SCLC continued the Poor People’s March after King’s death, erecting a tent city on the Mall. After six weeks, demonstrators were evicted.

Today, the poor are still suffering. Poverty is defined as a family of four being able to live off of $23,021 a year. Today, a record 46.2 million people –15 percent of the U.S. population – are living in poverty.

One of the goals of the 1963 March on Washington was a minimum wage that could lift a family of four out of poverty. They demanded that the minimum wage of $1.15 an hour be increased to $2 an hour. As a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) titled, “The Unfinished March: An Overview,” noted, “The inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage today is about $2.00 less than it was at its peak value in 1968.”

Worse than living on below-poverty wages is to have no job at all.

“Even when the national unemployment rate has been low, the African American unemployment rate has been high,” the EPI report stated. “For example, in 2000, when the national unemployment rate was 4.0 percent, and the non-Hispanic white unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, the unemployment rate of non-Hispanic blacks was still 7.6 percent. Put another way, even when the economy was booming in 2000, the black unemployment rate was still higher than the national unemployment rate during recessions.”

When he was assassinated, Dr. King was helping organize garbage workers in Memphis. He was not dreaming because he was not asleep. We honor him by continuing his work, not by merely continuing to recite his “I Have a Dream” speech.

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.

Why We're Still Marching

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(NNPA) For a while, it looked like the 50th anniversary observance of the March on Washington would expose a sharp split in the Civil Rights Movement. Al Sharpton jumped ahead of his colleagues by cornering Martin Luther King III and the two of them announced a March on Washington for Saturday, August 24. Other civil rights leaders were planning events around that time and complained privately that Sharpton and Martin III had locked up key funding from major labor groups, a primary source of funding for the movement.

A series of high-profile events – the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutting the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, remanding a University of Texas affirmative action case back to the appellate level for stricter scrutiny and George Zimmerman being found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. – left African-Americans and their supporters clamoring for an outlet to express their disgust.

Suddenly, the march organized by Sharpton became the focal point. With Sharpton still working on other leaders in the background, urging them to come aboard, the pieces began to quickly fall in place. At this point, it looks like all of the major civil rights leaders – including Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National League; Charles Steele, CEO of Dr. King’s old organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, among others – will join Sharpton and King as headliners of the Aug. 24 march.

Of course, there are the usual detractors who argue, as conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams does, that we’ve been marching so long that we should have reached wherever we were marching to by now.

The reality is that we haven’t reached our destination. Black unemployment has been twice that of Whites for the past five decades. The progress made by expanding the Black middle class has been eroded by the Great Recession and Blacks are profiled while walking the streets of New York City or Sanford, Fla.

At a panel at the recent National Urban League convention assessing the progress made since the original March on Washington, Al Sharpton said, “You say why march about voting? Well, that’s how we got it the first time. We did not get voting rights at a cocktail sip, trying to have racial harmony sessions. We got it by organizing and galvanizing and the only way we are going to make changes is by organizing and galvanizing.”

Let’s not forget that Trayvon Martin’s name became a household word only after marches led by Sharpton, college students and activists around the nation, insisting that George Zimmerman be brought to trial for murder.

It’s the combination of marching and a specific agenda that leads to change. And while we’re on the subject of marches, not everyone marched in the demonstrations of the 1960s. There was not unity among civil rights leaders – Roy Wilkins, for example, was intensely jealous of Dr. King – and many people did not jump on the King bandwagon until after he was assassinated in Memphis and lived thereafter through his “I Have a Dream” speech and on U.S. postage stamps.

Unfortunately, there will be two observations of the 1963 March. One on Aug. 24 co-chaired by Sharpton and Martin, III and another one, more of a celebration of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, on Aug. 28, the actual date of the original March. President Obama, who has had difficulty in the past uttering Dr. King’s name in public, will speak at the second event organized by Bernice King, the sole surviving daughter of the slain civil rights leader.

To those who question the need for another march, they should examine a graphic created by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that compares goals of the 1963 March with today’s reality:

  • Goal: We Demand an end to ghettos. Reality: We still live in ghettos. Forty-five percent of poor Black children but only 12 percent of poor White children live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.
  • Goal: We Demand an End to School Segregation. Reality: Seventy-four percent of Black children attend schools that are 50-100 percent non-White, resulting in fewer resources than majority White schools.
  • Goal: We March for Jobs for All. Reality: In 2012, the Black unemployment rate –14 percent – was 2.1 times the White unemployment rate (6.6 percent).
  • Goal: We March for a Living Wage. Reality: The minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, well below the $11.06 an hour a full-time worker needed in 2011 to keep a family of four out of poverty (36 percent of Black workers make poverty-level wages).

That’s why we’re still marching.

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.

Jackie Jackson: A Mother's Love

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(NNPA) On Wednesday, Aug. 14, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. was scheduled to be sentenced to prison in connection with using campaign funds for personal use. Dozens of letters were sent to the judge on his behalf, but none more touching than the one written by his mother, dated May 28.

She began by noting, “I am Jacqueline Jackson, the mother of five children, one of whom I am writing about, my son Jesse Jackson, Jr.”

Her letter shed light not only on her son’s problems growing up in his famous father’s shadow, but provided a peek into the family’s early struggles.

“…My husband was granted a Rockefeller Scholarship to attend Chicago Theological Seminary. With a family of almost three in 1964, we arrived at McGifford House on Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago. By the time my son was born, my husband was attending school and organizing the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (K.O.C.O) and was its first Executive Director (an unsalaried position),” Mrs. Jackson wrote. “Because of the success of this organization, and based on the recommendation of Rev. James Bevel, my husband was hired to work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for $75. If my memory serves me correctly, that was his weekly salary. To sustain our family, we were given food baskets by our Pastor, Rev. Clay Evans and the members of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, where my son Jesse Jr. chose later to be baptized. I learned to provide the other necessities by frequenting resale shops, lawn sales, learning to preserve and can foods, and sewing and mending things that did not fit. But most of all, I learned to express my appreciation and gratitude for the kindness of others.”

Just as her family struggled in the early stages, so did Jesse, Jr., Mrs. Jackson wrote.

“Contrary to the belief of many who only see us as we are today from a televised perspective, Jesse Jr., was not born with a silver spoon nor was he born privileged. Jesse Jr., my second child and my eldest son, was born during the turbulent sixties, the period of terrible hatred for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who followed Dr. King and the principles of non-violence he espoused. Our son, Rev. Jackson’s namesake, inherited his friends and enemies. As a child, Jesse Jr. held jobs waiting tables, cleaning floors and other odd jobs. Growing up in the shadow of his father, Jesse Jr. has always tried desperately to live up to the expectations we have had for him. I think perhaps too hard, he has tried.”

And she recalled that Jesse, Jr. was not always successful.

She wrote, “I recall how disappointed Jesse Jr. was when he discovered he could not enter high school without repeating the 9th grade. My husband finally convinced him to accept this as his challenge. Rev. Jackson said, ‘Sometimes you must go down to come up’ and Jesse Jr. prevailed. He completed his undergraduate studies in three years, received a Juris Doctor degree and received his Master’s degree in Theology. His passion for the word of God led me to believe and hope he would find his niche in Theology. However, he chose public service, the United States Congress, and we are proud of his choice and the good he accomplished during his 17 years of perfect attendance and sterling voting record.”

She recalled when Jesse Jr.’s illness was made painfully clear to her.

“I received a call from my daughter Santita, who requested that I check on Jesse Jr. because she was concerned for him,” Mrs. Jackson recounted. “Sometime during the last weeks of June 2012. I did as she requested, and found my son grossly underweight and in poor health. He asked that I take him to the office because he had an upcoming vote. When I took him to his Capital Hill office to prepare for the vote, the office was in total disarray, which was most unusual for my son. A security guard approached me and said, ‘Please take care of Jesse. Last week he collapsed on the floor of the House and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.’ My heart sank. No one had shared with me my son’s condition. I called my husband. We told our son to ‘come with us. We are going to get help for you.’ He did not offer any resistance which made us know his condition was dire. Everything that has happened since that day is public record. My son is much better now.”

She closed her letter with this paragraph: “My mother says, ‘there is always some good in all things.’ There was a transforming moment during the horrific trial experience. As my son Jesse Jr. faced the judge, he turned around to look for his father’s support just as he did when he had to repeat the 9th grade. His lips shaped the words, ‘I love you and I am so sorry.’ I shall never forget that moment because my heart leapt. I then realized the joy and love that sustains all mothers. I love my son. May God guide your decision.”

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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