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Blacks Still Underrepresented at all Levels of Politics

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although Blacks have made tremendous improvement in holding elected office since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, they remain underrepresented at the federal, state and local levels, according to a report scheduled to be released Tuesday by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“Based on the most recent data, African Americans are 12.5% of the citizen voting age population, but they make up a smaller share of the U.S. House (10%), state legislatures (8.5%), city councils (5.7%), and the U.S. Senate (2%),” the report said.

The 38-page report titled, “50 Years of The Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics,” was produced for the center by four prominent political scientists: Khalilah Brown-Dean, Zoltan Hajnal, Christina Rivers and Ismail White.

Joint Center President Spencer Overton said in a message introducing the report, that there is a heated debate over: How much progress have we made since 1965? How much more work is there to do?

He said, “These are contested questions, subject to ideology and opinion. A study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, for example, shows that on average whites and African Americans differ on the amount of racial progress we have made, with whites now believing anti-white bias is more prevalent than anti-black bias. We have elected an African American president, but studies have shown that some government officials are less likely to respond to inquiries from citizens with seemingly black or Latino names. The questions are also at the core of many ongoing debates about voting rights in the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress, as well as in many states, counties, and municipalities.”

What is not contested is that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the political landscape for African Americans, with the number of Black elected officials leaping from fewer than 1,000 in 1965 to now more than 10,000.

The change was particularly dramatic in the South, where 55 percent of African Americans live.

“Since the 1870s, white elected officials in many parts of the South had used violence, literacy tests, interpretation tests, poll taxes, and other devices to exclude African Americans,” the report recounted. “The Justice Department filed 71 voting rights lawsuits in the Deep South before 1965, but cases were typically complex, time-consuming, and expensive. When a court struck down one type of discriminatory device, local officials simply erected a different device that effectively excluded most African Americans.”

Selma, Ala. and surrounding Dallas County was typical. Deploying rigged tests about the U.S. Constitution and a requirement that voters be in “good character,” as defined by White registrars, a White minority was able to suppress the Black majority.

In 1965, more than half of Dallas County was Black. Of the county’s 15,000 voting-age Blacks, only 156 were registered to vote. By contrast, two-thirds of voting-age Whites were registered in the county. Throughout Alabama, only 19.4 percent of African Americans were registered. In neighboring Mississippi, just 6.4 percent of Blacks were registered.

As part of a massive voter registration campaign in 1965, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and local residents launched a Selma-to-Montgomery March to dramatize the lack of access to the ballot box.

On April 7, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” peaceful marchers in Selma were savagely beaten by Alabama State Troopers and local policemen as they attempted to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin the 54-mile journey to Montgomery, the state capital.

The merciless beating of children, the elderly and adults was beamed in homes throughout the nation and provided the momentum for President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act into law four months later.

“Only in the wake of the Voting Rights Act did black voter registration in the South begin to approach that of whites. Five years after the passage of the Act, the racial gap in voter registration in the former Confederate states had closed to single digits. By the start of the 1970s, the black/white registration gap across the Southern states was little more than 8 percentage points,” the report stated.

“In Louisiana, the gap between black and white voter registration rates decreased by nearly 30 percentage points from 1960 to the end of 1970s, and it continued to decrease over the next three decades. By 2010, black registration rates in the state of Louisiana and many of the other former Confederate states had exceeded white registration rates for the first time since Reconstruction. The Voting Rights Act had delivered a Second Reconstruction.”

In fact, in four of the 12 presidential elections since 1965, Black Southerners turned out at the polls at a higher rate than their White counterparts. Nationally, Black turnout exceeded White turnout in the 2012 presidential election and possibly in 2008, according to the report.

Activists credit much of that progress to the Voting Rights Act requirement that jurisdictions that previously discriminated against Blacks had to pre-clear voting changes in advance with federal authorities.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby took away that tool and there is a measure pending in Congress that would reverse some of the damage. A House bill sponsored by “Bloody Sunday” veteran John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) would update the act.

“The proposed legislation would apply preclearance to jurisdictions with a record of voting rights violations within the previous 15 years, would make it easier for courts to block discriminatory rules before they are used in elections and harm voters, and would require disclosure of voting changes nationwide,” the report stated.

Efforts to expand the Black vote is also under attack in others quarters as well. The Joint Center report cited moves to purge voters, requiring proof of citizenship, requiring voter ID, felony disenfranchisement and restricting voting registration drives.

The report also addressed the elephant in the room – race.

“In urban local elections, race is a more decisive factor than income, education …religion, sexuality, age, gender, and political ideology. The 38-point racial gap exceeds even the 33 point gap between Democratic and Republican voters,” the study said.

According to the report, African Americans “were the least advantaged group in America in terms of policy outcomes.”

Not all of the problems were external. The issue of low Black voter turnout, especially in local elections, is a major challenge that warrants further study, the report said.

It noted, “ …In 2014, when there was great unrest over a police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, African Americans made up 67% of residents of Ferguson, Missouri. In 2012, a solid 100% of Ferguson precincts went for President Obama, but during Ferguson’s municipal off-cycle elections voters selected Ferguson’s Republican mayor and six city council members, all of whom except one were white.”

The report shatters the notion that we’re living in a post-racial society.

“Despite discussions about the declining significance of race, over the past few decades, racial divides along partisan lines have actually grown. African Americans have increasingly favored Democrats, and recently Latinos and Asian Americans have become more loyal to the Democratic Party as well. The shift to the left has been particularly pronounced for Asian Americans,” it said.

“On the other side, whites have moved slowly and unevenly – but inexorably – to the Republican Party. Fifty years ago, the Democratic Party dominated the white vote. Today, nationwide, whites are more apt to favor the Republican Party.”

It concluded, “Division is a normal and healthy part of democracy, but when a core dividing line in a nation becomes so closely aligned with race and ethnicity, larger concerns about inequality, conflict, and discrimination emerge.”

President Meets with Black Civil Rights, Political and Religious Leaders

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By Shantella Y. Sherman
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

President Obama met with African-American civil rights and faith leaders to provide an update on the administration’s priorities as described in the State of the Union. The meeting was also an opportunity to have a dialogue with the leaders about the issues facing their communities, including criminal justice, education, health care and economic development.

Participants included Sherrilyn Ifill, of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Marc Morial, of the National Urban League; the Rev. Al Sharpton, of the National Action Network; and, Maryland Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, Majority Leader, Maryland State Senate, District 40.

In addition to highlighting the upcoming release of a special report from the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, President Obama acknowledged the Feb. 28 anniversary of his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and continuing efforts to reduce restrictions to voting.

Pugh, who is also the President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, said, “Our agendas – the president’s and mine – are right in line with each other. I was elected by a very diverse population in Baltimore; one thing we want to do is be more inclusive [with] opportunities available to help to improve the lives of all of those for whom we are responsible,”.

Citing her own diligent work to push forward the “Healthy Working Families Act” legislation that allows family members necessary time off with earned paid sick leave, Pugh said it compliments Obama’s push for better, more accessible health care. Achievements can be found in the fact that 31 percent more Americans now have health care through Obamacare, as well as the increased number of programs designed to help improve African-American neighborhoods.

Pugh said that it was important to use the president’s readout as a gauge for African-American social advancement since the Civil Rights Movement. Pugh described Obama as the “most disrespected president ever,” and encouraged the nation to view the film Selma to gain a larger understanding of his efforts to solidify economic and social equity.

“Everyone needs to go see the film Selma because often we forget the struggle Blacks faced in this country. We were enslaved here. The Declaration of Independence talked about freedom and justice for all – but these were laws that did not apply to us,” Pugh said. “It is important not to make the same mistakes made in the past.”

America’s Record of Black Lynchings Worse Than Previously Thought

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Almost 4,000 Blacks—about 700 more than previously reported—were lynched in 12 Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative.

“Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” is the result of five years of research and 160 visits to sites across the South. The report makes the argument that these killings were a form of racial terrorism aimed at subjugating the Black community and maintaining Jim Crow segregation.

“We’re focusing on lynchings of African-Americans because when Whites were lynched it was really more about punishment — it wasn’t sent to terrorize the White community, it was intended to actually make the White community feel safe,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Alabama-based nonprofit in an interview with National Public Radio. “The lynching of African-Americans, on the other hand, was really a direct message to the entire African-American community — it was designed to traumatize and terrorize.”

To put in a modern-day context, the number of Blacks who were beaten, burned and ultimately hung while picnicking Whites cheered, is more than twice the number of Americans who died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11, more than twice those who died in the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan and comparable to the number who died in Iraq.

And these acts of terror against Blacks were often state-sanctioned killings, Stevenson added.

“In most of the places where these lynchings took place — in fact in all of them — there was a functioning criminal justice system that was deemed too good for African-Americans,” he said. “Often these men were pulled from jails and pulled out of courthouses, where they could be lynched literally on the courthouse lawn.”

The inequalities reinforced by lynching has left its mark on the Black community and on public policy as seen in policies of mass incarceration, racially biased capital punishment, excessive or disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color, the report concluded.

“We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it,” Stevenson said in a separate statement. “The geographic, political, economic, and social consequences of decades of terror lynchings can still be seen in many communities today and the damage created by lynching needs to be confronted and discussed. Only then can we meaningfully address the contemporary problems that are lynching’s legacy.”

Civil Rights Lawyer Barbara Arnwine Launches Talk Radio Show

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Outspoken civil rights leader Barbara Arnwine is taking to the airwaves with a weekly news talk radio show on Radio One’s WOL 1450 AM, which airs in the Washington, D.C. area, beginning March 3.

“Igniting Change with Barbara Arnwine” is meant to serve as a catalyst for change. The show will feature“provocative and empowering” information and discussion to inspire people to act to bring about racial and social justice, and equality.

“I am honored for the opportunity to expand my civil rights outreach in such a significant manner as I continue to touch lives across the country and around the globe,” said Arnwine in a statement. “Activism at every level is indeed critical in advancing race relations and I endeavor to engage, challenge and equip listeners as activists as I feature guests, information and resources to foster justice and equality for all, particularly people of African descent. My show is designed to answer those questions lots of people have after hearing about a major issue, [such as] ‘What Can Be Done About This?’ [and] ‘What Can I Do?’”

Arnwine has served as the president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law since 1989. She is renowned for her instrumental contributions to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the 2006 reauthorization of provisions of the Voting Rights Act. And, she continues to be a leading voice on civil and racial justice issues worldwide, in the areas of voting rights, housing and lending, criminal justice reform, employment, education, environmental justice and much more.

“WOL welcomes Barbara Arnwine to the Radio One family,” said Karen Jackson, general sales manager for Radio One’s D.C. stations, in a statement. We look forward to her enthusiasm and expertise in encouraging our listeners to actively participate in effecting change.”

The show will broadcast live on Tuesdays, 12-1 p.m. EST, on WOL 1450 AM and is accessible by listeners worldwide via the Internet (BarbaraArnwine.com and woldcnews.com) and the free Tune In app.

Critics Say GOP Education Reform Would Hurt Poor and Black Students

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By Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the Republican-led Congress prepares to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), civil rights groups, educators and student advocates fear that current proposals leave many poor and Black children behind.

According to analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington, D.C. –based progressive think tank, the bill submitted by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), eliminates accountability for low-performing schools, lowers academic standards, and abolishes targeted, state-level graduation goals for students of color.

A White House brief on the ESEA reauthorization bills said that the proposal being considered in the House of Representatives will cap spending on the ESEA for the next six years at $800 million lower than it was in 2012, eliminates “guarantees that education funding reaches classroom,” and “some especially high-poverty school districts would see cuts as large as 74 percent.”

In her weekly column, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, said no ESEA bill would be better than the one now making its way through Congress.

She wrote, “H.R. 5 also removes strong accountability provisions required to make sure the children who need help most will actually be helped. It is morally indefensible and extraordinarily expensive that we have 14.7 million poor children in our country – 6.5 million of them living at less than half the poverty level. All of these poor children exceed the combined residents in all 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a network of more than 200 national research and advocacy groups, said that the ESEA reauthorization proposals currently pending in Congress would strip millions of students and their parents of the protections and resources that have helped them to hold their schools accountable for equitable funding and treatment.

“For the students we represent, students of color, students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students, a strong ESEA is vital to ensuring that states and school districts are living up to their obligation to provide a quality education for all on an equal basis not just for the most privileged or wealthy,” said Henderson.

On a recent call with reporters, Henderson said that the coalition of 34 national civil rights and education groups supported annual statewide assessments to evaluate student progress, transparency of the test results and additional data that empowers parents to advocate on behalf of their children.

Chanelle Hardy, the executive director and senior vice president for policy at the National Urban League, said that the legacy of the Black community’s commitment to education stems from the days of slavery when Blacks learned to read in secret and at risk to their own lives.

“This is not a conversation about how we need to convince our community to care about achievement,” said Hardy. “This is about our nation’s commitment to a system of education that prepares every child for college work and life. This is a fundamental civil rights principle and a fundamental principle of justice.”

William Hayes, the principal at Franklin D. Roosevelt Academy in the Glenville community of Cleveland, Ohio, also expressed concerns about the Republican proposals for reforming the ESEA, which was last updated more than a decade ago through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) under President George W. Bush.

“This vote is about equity and accountability, yet everyday my students face the brutal reality that they live in a society that has not achieved its promise for a more equitable distribution of outcomes and opportunities,” said Hayes.

Hayes said that 98 percent of the students at his school are African American, 100 percent qualify for free lunch and 28 percent receive special education services.

One of Cleveland’s wealthiest subdivisions borders Glenville to the north and the city’s cultural center with museums, botanical gardens and the Cleveland Institute of Music to the south, Hayes said. The Cleveland Clinic, perennially ranked by as one of the best hospitals in the nation, is just a 15-minute walk to the east of Glenville.

“Surrounded by so much prosperity and bright images of the American Dream, my students could easily be forgotten, were it not for our federal government ensuring that communities remain accountable,” added Hayes.

Hardy said that civil rights groups were extremely concerned about resource equity and ensuring that low-income students at majority-minority schools have access to early childhood education and high quality teachers.

Researchers at CAP found that school districts spent $733 less at schools that were 90 percent minority compared to schools that were 90 percent White. That money could be spent on veteran teachers, school counselors and laptop computers.

“It’s no secret that more than 50 years after Brown our communities and schools are still very much segregated however the concentration of poverty has become more exacerbated as affluent families of color have left our communities to go elsewhere,” said Hayes.

Nancy Zirkin, the executive vice president of the Leadership Conference, said that no one can deny that NCLB has room for improvement, “but the proposals in front of Congress now throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Zirkin explained, “These proposals bend over backwards to accommodate state and local entities that have both failed our children and avoided any real accountability for their failures.”

NCLB was characterized by high stakes testing that led some school districts to trim physical education and arts programs to make room for more rigorous reading and math course work. Educators railed against “teaching to the test” and questioned the need for multiple assessments throughout the school year.

Hayes said that he wasn’t naïve to the unintended consequences of the “accountability movement” that came with NCLB, including the narrowing of the academic curriculum and the over-testing of students linked to controversial teacher evaluations, but he still didn’t believe the shortcomings of the law warranted a complete hands-off approach from the federal government.

Hayes said he was frustrated at the thought of a federal government willing to step away without stepping back to the table to help to fix NCLB.

Hayes added: “As a school leader I can’t imagine a time where my administrative team could ever see a problem with our students and say to teachers, ‘It didn’t work so I’m just going to let you figure it out by yourselves.’”

But in the eyes of some educators and civil rights leaders that’s exactly what the Republican proposals do.

“We can’t go back to a time when these schools were ignored,” said Zirkin.

Hardy agreed.

“We can’t assume that we have good information on student achievement based on socio-demographic factors,” said Hardy. “We have to do our part with our federal tax dollars to concentrate those resources where they need to be.”

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BVN National News Wire