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George Curry

A Southern Governor Breaks with the Past

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(NNPA) There are some painful things from my childhood in segregated Tuscaloosa, Ala., that I will never forget. At the top of the list is Gov. George C. Wallace’s June 11, 1963 “Stand in the School House Door” at the University of Alabama. I had just completed my sophomore year at Druid High School when Wallace came to my hometown to prevent two African Americans – Vivian Malone and James Hood – from registering for classes at Foster Auditorium.

In his inaugural address as governor, Wallace had promised, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” In an attempt to maintain segregation, Wallace showboated at the university with a state’s rights speech in which he had the gall to mention that the federal government was formed on the premise that “individuals are endowed with the rights of life, liberty, and property…” Of course, he was referring to White individuals, not people who looked like me.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asked Wallace to step aside and allow Malone and Hood to register. After Wallace refused, Katzenbach left and placed a call to President John F. Kennedy. The president federalized the Alabama National Guard and Katzenbach returned later in the day with Gen. Henry Graham, who was now under federal command.

Graham told Wallace, “Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under the orders of the president of the United States.” After a few more comments, Wallace stepped aside and Vivian Malone and James Hood registered as students.

That was a joyous day on the west side of town, where most Blacks lived.

A year earlier, riots erupted in the state immediately west of us when James Meredith desegregated the University of Mississippi at Oxford. Another segregationist governor, Ross Barnett, led the opposition to Meredith’s enrollment. U.S. Marshals and Army military police were called in to restore order. Two people were killed during the riots – a French journalist on assignment and a jukebox repairman. Meredith graduated with a political science degree on August 18, 1963, about two months after Wallace’s Stand in the School House Door in neighboring Alabama.

In 1966, Meredith returned to Mississippi to embark on what he called the “March Against Fear,” an effort to encourage Blacks in Mississippi to vote. Thirty miles into his 220-mile march from Memphis to Jackson, he was shot several times by a White sniper. Meredith survived the bullet wounds.

On the east side of Alabama, Lester Maddox was elected governor of Georgia in 1966, largely on his reputation as a staunch segregationist. When Blacks tried to integrate his restaurant in 1964, Maddox confronted them with an ax handle. He sold his restaurant rather than comply with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue broke with that racist past when she made the bold decision to pardon the Wilmington Ten just before completing her term. Upon issuing the pardons – the only ones she signed in office – Perdue said, “I believe the Wilmington Ten were victims of the times, and victims of a deep-seeded prejudice and racism that circumvented any kind of likelihood that their trial was fair.”

A federal appeals court reached the same conclusion in 1980 when it overturned their conviction on arson and conspiracy charges in connection with the firebombing of a White-owned grocery store. Although an earlier governor had commuted the sentences of the Wilmington Ten, only Perdue would issue pardons of innocence, which had the same effect of their never having been convicted of a crime.

At a luncheon last week sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, Perdue has honored for her courage.

For all the talk of a New South, nothing symbolized a changed region more than Perdue sharing a stage with Ben Chavis, the leader of the Wilmington Ten, and Mary Alice Thatch, whose activist father preceded her as publisher of the Wilmington Journal.

Mary Alice Thatch said, “I don’t know if you remember Michelle Obama saying, ‘For once in my life, I’m proud of my country.’ I want to say to Gov. Perdue, for once in my life, I am proud of North Carolina. Thank you so much.”

Perdue said she was only doing what was right.

As we have seen, doing the right thing has not always been the hallmark of White governors in the South.

The sight of the former governor standing beside Chavis and Thatch was another memory I will always cherish. I’ll never forget George Wallace, Ross Barnett or Lester Maddox. Nor will I ever forget Beverly Perdue, a Southern governor who had the strength and courage to make sure justice was finally served.

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.

The Rich are Treated Differently

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(NNPA) F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right when he said the rich are different.

We are witnessing that in the sequester fiasco and we heard it in another form last week when Attorney General Eric H. Holder offered an asinine reason for not prosecuting bankers/gangsters known as banksters.

Testifying before Congress, Holder said, “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.”

Holder is not the Secretary of Treasury. While he, like all of us, might be concerned about the economy, that’s not his area of responsibility. His job as the nation’s chief law enforcer is to enforce the law. And that should apply to banksters like it applies to gangsters. But, as we know, the rich and institutions they control are treated differently.

This variation of banks being “too big to fail” is essentially telling us their CEOs are “too big to jail.” If banks are too big to fail, we should remind ourselves who allowed them to grow that large. Each time big banks gobbled up smaller ones like ATMs suck in your check deposit, they had to first win approval from the federal government. That is the same federal government that bails them out when they get in trouble and the same federal government that now whines that their CEOs are two big to jail. Try explaining that to a first-time, non-violent drug user who is rotting away behind bars.

Even in clear-cut cases of gangster behavior, there is a double-standard. Take the case of HSBC, which signed a $1.9 billion settlement with the U.S. after CEO Stuart Gulliver acknowledged the bank’s failure to catch at least $881 million in drug trafficking money that was laundered through the institution’s accounts. Officials admitted their bank had facilitated illicit financial transfers on behalf of rogue nations, including Iran and Libya, as well as Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.

Their punishment? A fine that equaled 11 percent of last year’s profits and a promise to do a better job of monitoring their accounts. And they avoided criminal prosecution.

Like other banks, HSBC will continue to benefit from American taxpayers underwriting its deposit insurance.

Senator Elizabeth Warren [D-Mass.] observed, “It has been almost five years since the financial crisis, but the big banks are still too big to fail. That means they are subsidized by about $83 billion a year by American taxpayers and are still not being held fully accountable for breaking the law.”

The $83 billion a year Warren referred to represents the amount taxpayers pay in insurance to make sure U.S. bank deposits are guaranteed.

Think about that. Banks are profit making entities yet the public pays their insurance. Does anyone else pay for your homeowner’s insurance? Health insurance? Car insurance? So why should the public share in banks’ expenses, but not their profits? It is yet another example of the rich and their powerful institutions being different?

Contrast that different treatment with what’s happening in our nation’s capital.

In the never-ending game of chicken, Republicans are threating yet another budget showdown. They are adamant that whatever comes out of the ongoing sequester and deficit debates, all cuts must come from the spending side, including Medicare and Social Security.

Although President Obama has used strong, protective language in his State of the Union and inauguration speeches, he has a tendency to cave in when negotiating with Republicans – and that has many Democrats worried.

Obama and his advisers have already stated that they are amenable to a “grand bargain” whereby the White House and Republicans will reach an agreement on budget cuts.

So far, 107 of the 200 House Democrats have signed a letter to the president threatening to vote “against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits – including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

In the alternative, they want the grand bargain to “rely on economic growth and more fair revenue-raising policies to solve our fiscal problems.” Those policies should include putting an end to subsidies for big businesses and raising the taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Speaking on CNBC last week, House Speaker John Boehner said, “Listen, we’ve got a structural spending problem that has to be addressed. The president’s sequester is in effect, and it will be in effect until there’s an agreement on cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years.”

But none of those cuts and reforms on the patch to a balanced budget involve touching the banksters or the rich. After all, as well all know, they are different.

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.

Republicans Advance Discredited 'Entitlement' Lies

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(NNPA) Even after the White House and Congress stagger to reach a last-minute deal to avert yet another budget crisis, there is a fundamental difference in approach between the Obama administration and House Republicans. And those two stark approaches to governing goes to the type of society we want to be: one that protects the needy or one that protects the greedy.

Surprisingly, the Republicans’ position is crystal clear: they favor extending special favors to the wealthy at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society.

“Republicans say that from here on, we should do only spending cuts, focusing on entitlement programs. But their approach to entitlements is highly selective — they seek to cut the entitlement programs on the spending side of the budget, whose benefits go overwhelmingly to middle-class and poor families. But they want no deficit reduction to come from the most wasteful and inefficient of entitlements — those embedded in the tax code,” observed Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Republican leaders say they will not budge on cutting tax expenditures, a term for tax deductions, exclusions, credits, and other tax preferences that disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed in an op-ed … ‘I have news for [President Obama]: the moment that he and virtually every other elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over,’” Greenstein wrote. “Similarly, House Speaker John Boehner’s staff declared, ‘As far as we’re concerned, the tax issue is off the table.’ This, despite the fact that Boehner proposed several hundred billion dollars of additional revenues during his negotiations with President Obama only a few weeks ago.”

What is it that Republicans are so adamant about protecting?

As Greenstein notes, “Tax expenditures cost about $1.1 trillion a year, far more than Social Security or than Medicare and Medicaid combined and nearly two-thirds more than the total cost of all non-defense discretionary programs.”

It is such a logical – and fair – place to cut that Martin Feldstein, former chair of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that “cutting tax expenditures is really the best way to reduce government spending.”

The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center estimates that for tax year 2011, the top fifth of the population will receive 66 percent of the $1.1 trillion in individual tax-expenditure benefits (the top 1 percent alone will receive 23.9 percent of the benefits), the middle 60 percent of the population will receive slightly more than 31 percent of the benefits, and the bottom 20 percent of the population will receive only 2.8 percent.

The headline of another CBPP report says it all: “Contrary to ‘Entitlement Society’ Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households.”

According to the study issued last year: “…”More than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households – not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work.”

Mitt Romney was arguing the opposite position in a surreptitiously recorded video that contributed to his defeat against President Obama.

“In Obama’s ‘entitlement society,’ everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk,” Romney charged. “Once we thought ‘entitlement’ meant that Americans were entitled to the privilege of trying to succeed in the greatest country in the world. Americans fought and died to earn and protect that entitlement. But today the new entitlement battle is over the size of the check you get from Washington.”

That was a callous lie. In fact, the CBPP study notes, “Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households. People who are neither elderly nor disabled – and do not live in a working household – received only 9 percent of the benefits.”

Moreover, the study found, “the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.”

Contrary to public perception, it is Whites who benefits disproportionately from entitlements.

“Also, contrary to what a substantial share of Americans may assume, non-Hispanic whites receive slightly more than their proportionate share of entitlement benefits,” the CBPP study found. “Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 64 percent of the population in 2010 and received 69 percent of the entitlement benefits.”

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.

Lessons from Mark Essex and Christopher Dorner

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(NNPA) Over a 43-year career in journalism, I have been blessed with some memorable experiences: I have covered presidential and vice presidential campaigns, I have flown on Air Force One, I have gone to parties at the White House, met Pope John Paul II, spent two weeks in Egypt, visited former slave dungeons in Dakar and Accra and have traveled around the world, including Rome, Paris, London, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Havana, Vienna and recently Beijing and Shanghai.

Of the thousands of stories I covered since I began my career in 1970 – primarily for Sports Illustrated, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune, Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service – one has affected me more than any other. It was the violent death of 23-year-old Mark Essex on Jan. 7, 1973.

Essex, who was known as the New Orleans Sniper, killed nine innocent people, including five police officers, and wounded 13 others. I was sent to Emporia, Kan. to interview relatives and friends in an effort to learn what triggered Essex’s outburst. What has stayed with me over the years is not the carnage he inflicted – though that’s unforgettable – it’s the events that led up to that point. Essentially, Essex felt that he had been harassed in the Navy, an account partly supported by friends, and he became so embittered that he was ready to die.

In fact, that’s exactly what he wrote home to his parents shortly before his death. I interviewed Essex’s mother and father after his bullet-riddled body was pulled from the roof of the Howard Johnson Hotel and sent back to Emporia for burial. Family members told me how a quiet, happy go lucky youth became embittered in the Navy. So bitter that he began hating all White people and was never the same again.

I suspect the reason the story has stuck with me for four decades is because I realized that had I not been able to handle the stifling racism while growing up in segregated Tuscaloosa, Ala. during the 1950s and 1960s, that could have been me. Because I had relatives and adults who coached me on how to deal with overt racism, I didn’t go down that bloody path.

When I first heard about Christopher Dorner, the former Los Angeles cop who also went on a murder spree, I was reminded of Mark Essex. Like Essex, he complained of reporting racist acts to his supervisor and nothing was done about it. His manifesto, while rambling, gave clear details of his torment.

Dorner wrote about a White police officer using the n-word. Dorner said when he challenged the officer to not use the word in his presence, the officer replied, “I’ll say it when I want.” At that point, Dorner said he jumped over the passenger seat and began strangling the officer until they were separated by other cops.

Dorner also wrote about the blue line, the code of ethics that prevents cops from testifying against one another, even when that officer is wrong.

Interestingly, while in the midst of killing innocent people, both Essex and Dorner spared some lives. In his case, Dorner did not shoot the person whose vehicle he hijacked toward the end of the police chase. He also did not harm two maids who had arrived to clean the cabin he had staked out in the mountains.

At the Howard Johnson hotel in New Orleans, a Black maid said Essex told her, “Don’t worry. We’re not killing Blacks today, just Whites.”

In the aftermath of the deaths of Mark Essex and Christopher Dorner, there is something we can take away from their lives.

One of our greatest challenges when dealing with young people, especially, is that we must teach them how to survive life’s slings and arrows without going over the edge. It would be interesting if community-wide forums were organized for young people to listen to what their elders went through. Not just listen to them, but learn from them.

Alex Haley said his grandmother taught him to listen more than he spoke. She said if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, He would have given us two mouths and one ear.

Like you, I don’t know exactly how we can prevent people from resorting to self-destructive deadly violence. But I know we must start somewhere in our community – whether it’s school, church, home, community centers or a combination.

In an interview Sunday night with blog radio host Zandra Conway, we discussed various coping techniques. I told her that whenever I feel down, I always visualize life as a Ferris wheel. I try to hold on while I am at the bottom because sooner or later, I will glide back to the top.

How do you manage to cope during difficult times? Don’t tell me, tell someone close to you. It just might save their life.

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.

Lil Wayne Insults the Memory of Emmett Till

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(NNPA) The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 was a watershed moment, marking the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement. While visiting relatives near Money, Miss., the Chicago native was murdered for allegedly whistling at a White woman. The brutal act was intended to send an unmistakable message to Black boys everywhere: If you even whistle at a White woman in the Deep South, you could pay for it with your life.

Like everyone else, I was appalled to learn that rapper Lil Wayne had made a vulgar reference to Till’s death. On a re-mix of an upcoming CD by Future called “Karate Chop,” Lil Wayne essentially spewed the line: “Beat that [female sex organ] up like Emmett Till.”

When I sat down to write this column, I planned to excoriate Little Wayne about his insult. I started to remind him that musical artists don’t have to be ignorant fools, even while showing their underwear on stage. I was going to say that Curtis Mayfield of my era and Chuck D of his generation demonstrated that African-American artists can make good music and provide uplifting race-conscious lyrics at the same time.

Rather than spend another nanosecond on Lil Wayne, we should use this Black History Month moment to educate young people who may not have ever heard of Emmett Till. While serving as editor of Emerge magazine, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett’s mother. For the 40th anniversary of his death in 1995, I wrote a story on Emmett Till.

This is how it began:

Mamie Till Bradley was about to experience a mother’s worst nightmare. She had to identify the corpse of her only child, 14-year-old Emmett Till, who had been abducted, beaten, shot in the head and tossed into the Tallahatchie River near Greenwood, Miss., for allegedly whistling at a White woman.

As she approached the cold, metal slab that held the mutilated body at A. A. Rayner & Sons funeral home in Chicago, the grieving mother thought to herself: “I got a job to do and it’s not going to be easy.”

Mamie Till wanted to look directly into her son’s face, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Not yet. So she started with the lower extremities and worked her way up.

“Those are his feet,” she concluded. The ankles? Yes, those were her son’s skinny ankles. Next, she surveyed the knees. Most people have sharp, pointed kneecaps. But the mother and son had flat ones. “Those are the Till knees,” she told herself.

Her eyes continued up her son’s body and stopped on his genitals. Later, she would be happy that her inspection included that section of her son’s body because some people later would say, incorrectly, that Emmett had been castrated. Now, she would know otherwise.

Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley Mobley — who will be called Mrs. Till hereafter to make it easier to follow the cast of characters in this drama — examined Emmett’s hands and arms, which provided more confirmation of what she did not want confirmed. Finally, she took a deep breath and looked at her son’s decomposed face. This, too, she did piece by piece, separating his face into imaginary compartments, starting with his chin and moving to the top of his head.

“Bo,” as he was known, had flashed a perfect set of teeth during his short life. Now, in death, only one or two were visible. “Oh, my God,” his mother thought. “Where are the rest of them?”

The bridge of his nose, though all chopped up, was recognizable. She looked for his right eye — it was missing. There was only an empty socket. She looked at the left one and it was detached, dangling from the socket.

“That’s his hazel eye,” Mrs. Till said. “Where is the other one?”

She searched for one ear and it, too, was missing. Peering through the ear hole, she could see daylight on the other side. The remaining ear protruded from her son’s head, just like hers— another family trait. “That’s Emmett’s ear,” she said, softly.

His hair? Yes.

After inspecting the outstretched body inch by inch, Mrs. Till came to the sad but inescapable conclusion that the remains of what remained before her were those of Emmett Louis Till. Still, she turned to Gene Mobley, later to become her third husband, hoping he might have noticed something that she had not, anything that would cast the slightest doubt about whether this was indeed Bo. But Mobley had identified young Till in his mind long before the child’s mother had finished her methodical examination. The barber had recognized the haircut he had given Emmett two weeks earlier, just before Bo left for Mississippi.

Mrs. Till had one thought over and over: What kind of person could do this to another human being, especially a 14–year–old boy?

Her second thought was that this was a sight so ghastly, so inhumane that people would have to see it for themselves to believe it.

“Gene, I want you to go home and get some of Bo’s pictures,” she said. “We’ll spread the pictures around.”

The undertaker politely asked, “Do you want me to fix him up?” Mrs. Till did not hesitate: “No, you can’t fix that. Let the world see what I saw.”

Obviously, Lil Wayne never saw that story. If he had, he would have realized this isn’t something to be taken lightly.

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.

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