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Defending Democracy: 50 Years Later, the Civil Rights Act Remains Embattled

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Editor’s Note: In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act (CRA), BVN chose to analyze the legacy of the CRA and re-examine why the landmark legislation is relevant and must be protected. This editorial is a retrospective of the CRA that provides context to the political landscape 50 years ago in comparison to today’s issues.


It wasn’t too long ago that America was on the wrong side of history. Today, 50 years later, lessons of the past are being relearned as the rights minorities painstakingly earned on July 2, 1964 are once again besieged on a new battleground.

Jim Crow is no more, but for segregation to meet its demise, civil rights activists dedicated years of their energy to relentless strife to demonstrate their will and be included in civic participation. Their argument was clear: all men are equal under God and African-Americans were worthy, contributing U.S. citizens who should not be segregated or discriminated against anywhere, including at the polls. President John F. Kennedy was an early proponent of the Civil Rights Act. During this time and as years passed, America became torn at the seams in the Jim Crow South, where civil unrest devolved into violent clashes and deadly confrontations. In the midst of this, legislation was making its way up the chain in Congress and finding support on both sides of the aisle. The Civil Rights Act had more than its fair share of detractors who amplified and validated the opposition’s dispute with the pending legislation. However, President Lyndon B. Johnson, undeterred, chose not to wade out of the issue before he ultimately signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act also became the marquee for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Next to the Emancipation Proclamation, Johnson’s stamp of approval on both acts was the most significant and sweeping landmark legislation in black American history. Gone were the shuttered polls when black voters would arrive. Gone were the senseless competency tests. (Remember the jelly bean test?) Black voters were often subjected to a demeaning impromptu quiz at their polling office that would require them to calculate the number of jelly beans in a jar.

Unlike today, Democrats were not as supportive of the civil rights agenda. Many of the jelly bean test administrators were Democrats. About 15 years before, some Democrats who harbored segregation sentiments branched out and became a part of the later-defunct “Dixiecrat” movement. But Republicans like Rep. Bill McCullough (R-Ohio) and Rep. Clarence Brown of (R-Ohio) were staunch supporters of the Civil Rights Act so it was not uncharacteristic for Republicans to welcome African-American voters – sans the jelly beans – to cast their ballot during elections. Once an ally, to the behest of Tea Party conservatives, the Republican establishment has seemingly pivoted from its stance 50 years ago in several key ways.


Almost exactly one year ago, minority voting rights were dealt a serious blow when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 25 in the Shelby County v. Holder case. A 5-4 majority ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional because the formula used to determine coverage for preclearance was antiquated.

Largely, Republicans didn’t refute the decision. Conservatives are pushing back against President Obama at the expense of anyone who supports him, i.e. minorities.

From the filing of the Shelby County v. Holder case to the Supreme Court’s ruling, this was a compounding issue that allowed personal ideology to prevail. Upon dissecting the background of this case alone, the picture becomes clear.

The case was Shelby County V. Holder. It was filed against Eric Holder, current U.S. Attorney General, an Obama appointee.

Shelby County is in Alabama, which was a hotbed for visceral racism and violence. It was often the heart of the Civil Rights Movement.

The ruling was supported by a majority of conservative-leaning justices.

In 2012, one year before the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Republicans came under fire for attempting to suppress voters, particularly minority voters in ethnically diverse jurisdictions.

The long push for altering racially-gerrymandered voting districts hasn’t helped either. The issue remains prevalent and divisive – and probably one of the reasons why the U.S. House of Representatives will remain red after the 2014 mid-term elections in November.


Many conservatives now want to walk black America back in time. They cannot win all of their battles in court so they seek out legislative avenues. They rely on code words such as “urban” and “low-income” to infer blacks and Hispanics. They identify their targets with far-reaching mediums that relate to the minority circumstance. Step by step, they have gained ground, but the blueprint designed by our predecessors cannot be easily undone.

It’s no secret our Congress is more polarized than ever, sometimes evenly divided along party lines because the spirit of cooperation is diminished. Despite this, President Obama and Holder pledged to move forward and find ways to protect citizens’ access to vote using every law possible. But what will the African-American constituency do? There is an endangered legacy to protect, one that required tears and bloodshed to materialize. Organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are only so strong – and relevant – without the guidance and input of black voters.

Standing on the eve of Independence Day, we should “let freedom ring” and reap the joys of what our forefathers have left for us. And that includes the equal opportunity, regardless of color, to shape our world and reclaim every single right intended for us.

Corey Arvin is a Contributing Editor for Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every week on blackvoicenews.com. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com and followed on Twitter at Twitter.com/CoreyArvin.

Bush Marched Us Off to War While Cutting V.A. Benefits

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(NNPA) In 2003, we were lied into a war with Iraq.  Just about everyone now admits that. At the same time that we were being lied into the war, the then Bush administration was cutting benefits to veterans. This was such an odd set of circumstances. At a point when the U.S. was preparing for war, at a point when one must expect casualties, the Bush administration cut benefits.

The current crisis in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has been described as a situation of long waits, in some cases allegedly leading to the deaths of patients, cannot be understood in the absence of a discussion of funding cuts, insufficient funding, and retaliation against workers who have identified the depth of the problems at the VA.  In fact, it is fair to say that many of the most vocal critics of the VA, on the Republican side of the aisle, were equally unwilling to fund the VA to the extent that it has needed funding.  Why?

The VA gets very high marks from veterans for the actual service that it delivers.  Their expertise with physical, emotional and psychological wounds and injuries simply cannot be matched in the non-VA health care systems.  It is, in effect, one stop shopping. This, however, is an anathema to many conservatives who wish to see all healthcare privatized.  It is for that reason that in the midst of the current VA crisis, there are those who are suggesting a voucher-like system for veterans rather than actually fixing the problems.  These critics would rather dismantle the VA and hand out vouchers, than repair a system that has worked for thousands of veterans.

In order for the VA to be repaired, however, the career managers have to be punished for retaliating against whistleblowers within the workforce.  VA workers, many of who are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, have spoken up to identify some of the problems that are currently coming to light, only to face various forms of retaliation from management.

One must ask the question of whether career managers who have watched the juggernaut of privatization proceed down the tracks since the time of the Bush administration, are more interested in preparing their own nests in the private sector over ensuring that veterans receive the service to which they are entitled.  How else can one explain retaliating against workers who speak up?

The VA needs to be repaired, rather than dismantled.  Veterans need improved and prompt service. But this also means that the atmosphere of panic that has been spread by both the Republicans and many people in the media must halt.  Here is an example of why.  Part of the reason for delays in care was the direct result of the expansion in VA service to veterans facing disabilities that had previously not been fully covered, e.g., Agent Orange; Gulf War Syndrome.  Yet, this has not been discussed in the mainstream media, most likely because to raise the fact that the VA was now serving additional veterans would beg a simple question:  Why is the VA not receiving additional resources in order to accomplish its mission?

It makes you wonder…

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial, labor and global justice writer and activist.  He is an employee of the American Federation of Government Employees but this column does not necessarily represent their views.  Follow Bill on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

The Black Press – The Voice of Black America ( Part I)

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(NNPA) Amidst last week’s annual convention of the  National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Annual Convention in Portland, Oregon, I was reminded repeatedly that Black Americans have had a long, storied tradition of newspaper publishing. Since the first publication of Freedom’s Journal  in 1827, Black American publishers have worked heroically to earn the title “Voice of Black America.”  From the east coast to the west coast, in big cities and in small towns, NNPA publishers continue have a sustainable economic development impact within the heart of the Black American community.

For more than 187 years, the Black Press in America has stood courageously to articulate and print the news interests of Black America.  But please do not take this history lightly or for granted.  We must never forget how the long struggle to attain the right to vote was “blood soaked” by the sacrifices and sufferings of civil rights leaders and activists.

Similarly, the historic struggle of Black Americans to engage in the enterprise of freedom of press has been also soaked with sacrificial blood, facing down lynch mobs, and enormous economic inequality challenges.  There is a long list of Black newspapers in the U.S. that have been dynamited, deliberated destroyed and the target of successive arsons.

During the 1898, race massacre in Wilmington, N.C, the Daily Record  was burned to the ground by 1,500 racist vigilantes who were angry at the audacity of Alexander Manly, the Black American publisher of the newspaper. Manly had written a bold editorial opposing the brutal and wanton patterns of unjust lynching of Black men and women in the state.

Sixty-five years later,  the Wilmington Journal, published by Thomas C. Jervay, Sr. and family, was bombed with sticks of dynamite by a paramilitary group known as the Rights of White People (ROWP).  Still, the Wilmington Journal never missed a week publishing. The Jervay family of Black-owned newspapers in Raleigh and in Wilmington emerged over the years to epitomize the history of moral integrity and high value of NNPA member publishers.

Some ask why it is necessary to be reminded of the history of the Black Press. It is necessary because we cannot afford to be ignorant of our past if we intend to have a better future for generations to come.  The Black Press is one of the most valuable assets that we have in our communities.

I wrote of series of columns recently on the “Civil Rights Movement and Hip-Hop.” We received positive responses from readers across generations. For the next few weeks, I will write a series of columns on “The Black Press: The Voice of Black America.”

Today, there are numerous vexing challenges facing Black America. At the same time, there are enormous opportunities to advance the cause of freedom, justice and equality for Black America and for all people who yearn and struggle for a better quality of life.

One of the most crucial recognized international human rights is the universal right to “self-determination.” Self-expression is key to self-determination. The NNPA is the epitome of self-expression of Black America. We live in a global media age.  The print media is the bedrock of multimedia and social media. Digital media augments – and not supplant – the printed word. That is especially true among African Americans who over index on technology.

Thus, we intend to strengthen the #VoiceofBlackAmerica @NNPABlackPress every second, hour, day, week, month and year. Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.  I am excited and passionate about helping to enhance and advance the significant interests of the Black Press in the U.S., in the Caribbean, in Brazil, across Africa and throughout the world.  Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 75th Anniversary of  NNPA: The Voice of Black America.

Our struggle for freedom, justice and equality continues.  I am optimistic about the future. We have been given the baton of history at a time when have some of best newspaper publishers, freedom-fighting journalists, business leaders, teachers, preachers, lawyers and other professionals, along with the most talented and gifted generation of youth that we have ever been blessed to witness.  Nothing can  hold us back from winning but ourselves.

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the Interim President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: dr.bchavis@nnpa.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc

Republicans Favor U.S. Going Back into Iraq

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In the context of the current crisis in Iraq, I have been astounded by Republican suggesting that Obama is not taking a tough enough stand; that that U.S. withdrew troops prematurely; and that the U.S. needs to exert its power.

Let’s start with a very fundamental point: the current situation in Iraq is the direct outgrowth of the U.S. invasion in 2003. In carrying out that illegal invasion, the U.S. set in motion the events that we are now seeing playing out. Our country encouraged the preexisting tensions that unfolded as a Sunni/Shiite split. The United States demobilized the Iraqi Army in such a chaotic manner that there was no institutional spine in the country. The U.S. sat back while Sunnis were excluded from the realm of power.

We in the U.S. have to begin with a sense of our direct culpability in this crisis. This is not about whether Obama pulled the troops out too soon. The troops should never have been there in the first place. Now what we are witnessing is a situation where there are multiple Sunni forces at war with a Shiite-dominated government that seems to have little interest in inclusion. These forces, fighting on the ground, also have regional sponsors, with the two most important being Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran and Saudi Arabia are deeply suspicious of one another and see the other as a threat to their own regional ambitions. Given that, the crisis in Iraq will not be resolved without the engagement of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and, of course, the forces on the ground in Iraq, including Sunni, Shiite, Kurd and secular social movements (the latter having been largely ignored in the media).

Contemplating air strikes or other military involvement in Iraq is nothing more than a fool’s course. Among other things, who would be bombed? The situation on the ground is so complicated that military intervention could exacerbate the situation rather than stabilize it. If the U.S. wishes to help, it should first do no harm. It should then work with regional powers (plus Russia) in constructing a comprehensive settlement. Unilateral action by the U.S,, including but not limited to military involvement, will be the proverbial kerosene thrown on the fire.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the former president of TransAfrica Forum. ollow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Art of the Corporate Shakedown

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There is probably no poverty pimp that is lower than a leech. This type of hustler wants to suck up as much money as he/she can within a very short period. These guys are found all over the nation and many try to camouflage themselves by “representing” a nonprofit. As they demand money from reputable corporations who provide products and services to the public and create jobs by the thousands. They have no shame whatsoever. It is like a soft robbery. When they succeed there is damage to sincere groups trying to protect the under-served or under-represented. Money given to them is the money that was formerly earmarked for the community. That is where the damage is done.

It happens so much in the activist arena that when true accomplishments are achieved the leeches will claim, “He must have been paid off. How much did he get?” When we protested a United Air Lines billion dollar project in Indianapolis, no one believed we could make them do the right thing. When it was announced that victory was ours, a rumor went around claiming that I took a $300,000 payoff. I was enraged by this, being that Kay and I were having financial pains at the time and we would not have lowered ourselves even if it were offered to us. They didn’t want to talk about the $200 million we brought to the local Black businesses. They just called it a payoff.

Another good example is when the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) filed a discrimination suit against U.S. West (now Quest). This went on for a couple of years and it was contentious. The Black businesses of Denver were terrified that we would come from D.C. and sue their biggest employer. It was like “You going to get us in trouble.” I would reply, “You Negroes just sit back and watch how Black folks fight those who discriminate against our businesses.”

They actually thought we were going to be in trouble for challenging a Fortune 100 company. Every time I went to Denver, I would be given certain evidence to support our suit by anonymous citizens, mostly US West employees. During depositions, I would let the US West lawyers know that I had such information. The strategy worked and we settled. The last settlement discussion with the CEO was done on their corporate jet that took us to Washington Dulles Airport.

You would think the people of Denver would marvel at the victory for our five members who were made whole by the settlement money. No, they claimed that I sold them out during the flight. That’s silly. Our plaintiffs were happy with the settlement money they received and nothing bad happened on that plane – the NBCC did not receive a nickel. Nothing humiliates a leech more than someone playing the game correctly with honor and succeeding.

Mergers by major corporations draw leeches like no other transaction. AT&T was merging with Pacific Bell and officials of a California nonprofit decided they would file a lawsuit to contest the merger. This was their modus operandi whenever there was a merger in California. They would file suit, put up a major fit, and embarrass the companies in the public. Then they would offer an easy settlement. The settlement would be a couple of easy steps and no money except reimbursement for their legal fees. The law firm would be a one man shop. That man would actually be the real principal of the nonprofit and his legal fees would be $600 per hour. 500 hours of legal fees would amount to $300,000 in his pocket and a kick back to the nonprofit. I saw this guy and his nonprofit do this three times in two years.

High level leeches can receive more than a million dollars in a merger. They threaten to hold up the process, costing market share and value for the companies trying to merge. It can be intimidating to stock holders, board of directors and executives. One day I hope companies would stop submitting to this and hold their ground.

So now, Comcast and Time Warner have proposed a merger. This is major in terms of market share, annual sales and a number one position in the telecommunications industry. Its “tall cotton” as southerners would say. Trust me, the leeches will be coming. Some will be subtle and try to do the shake down behind the scenes and others will be boisterous and try to drag it through the “court” of public opinion. So let’s watch as they emerge and try to discredit these two major corporations in hopes of fast cash or hush money. I don’t think it is going to work this time. American corporations have had their fill of it.

Harry Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org

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