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Civil Rights Icon Lawrence Guyot Dies

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By Barrington Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

For the many years he lived in the District of Columbia, Lawrence Guyot could be counted on to be at the forefront of any issue that involved equality, justice and fair play.

The tall, husky, barrel-chested Mississippi native marched, agitated, confronted, and instigated for change. He was a common presence at D.C. Council meetings, challenging those he felt ignored or overlooked the needs of the poor and the vulnerable. And he served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner seeking to change from the inside as well as outside.

On Friday, Nov. 23, Guyot’s large heart, that embraced every righteous cause, was stilled. He died at age 73 after a long illness.

“I regard him as one of the real unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement,” said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who had known her friend, community activist and lawyer for 50 years. “Most of those who were as badly beaten as him didn’t live to tell it much less live a life of struggle. He was much respected for carrying on many different struggles in this town. He didn’t confine himself. He knew injustice when he saw it because he had seen it at its worst.”

Norton, 75, said she first met Guyot when he, famed Civil Rights Campaigner Fannie Lou Hamer and 14-year-old June Johnson were imprisoned in Winona, Miss., for registering black people to vote at a time when racist elements in the state and other parts of the South resorted to murder, intimidation and violence to ensure that blacks there would never have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights.

“I first met him when I was a law student in Mississippi, went to Greenwood, Miss., and was told that he’d been put in jail in Winona. I went there to try to get him out of jail,” Norton recalled. “They let him out of jail to allow him to be beaten by the White Citizens’ Councils. When you meet someone under those circumstances, you form a lasting bond. At that time there was almost no Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. It had spread throughout the South and the last place to go was Mississippi.”

“There was terrorist violence for anyone who threatened the regime – from the courts to the police to all parts of the community.”

Local political consultant, political analyst and commentator Chuck Thies said Guyot was a unique man and activist.

“He is an irreplaceable force in the District. I am saddened by his death,” said Thies, 47. “He was a civil rights warrior who used his background in D.C. politics. Lawrence was different from the civil rights leaders of that era who are still around today. He was jailed and beaten and risked his life for the cause of civil rights. Don’t get me wrong, people like Eleanor Holmes Norton, Marion Barry and Ivanhoe Donaldson were courageous, but Lawrence did not use his civil rights background as a way for upward mobility.”

Thies detailed just a small snapshot of Guyot’s activities in the city.

“In 2003, he worked with whites to have the District as the first Democratic primary in the 2004 presidential race. He legitimized the effort in the D.C. civil rights and black community. In 2004, at a discussion of a Ken Burns film, he said that D.C. is racially divided and the only thing that is bringing the people of the city together is Howard Dean and Kwame Brown. That is a classic Guyotism.”

Longtime Civil Rights Activist Dorie Ann Ladner said it will be hard not to be able to call Guyot every day to discuss politics and to get updates on scuttlebutt and the latest political information percolating not just in the city but nationwide.

“It really will be hard to not have those discussions. He was a fearless warrior in civil rights, housing, jobs, and justice,” said Ladner, who met Guyot as a teenager in 1961. “He was a political animal. I’d call him every day and ask what was on the agenda.”

Ladner said her friend was “always there advocating for the poor and downtrodden.”

“He supported group homes in D.C. neighborhoods when a lot of people were opposed to them,” said Ladner, 70. “We fell out when he supported [former Mayor Adrian] Fenty. I chased him across Turkey Thicket. He got up and started trotting and I was on a crutch after him. I told [Kwame] Brown I was looking for him.”

“And when he supported Carol Schwartz, I got up and gave him a piece of my mind and after that, I gave him a ride home. Our core beliefs were the same. That is where we were joined at the hip. You couldn’t separate us.”

Ladner said she met Guyot at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., in 1961 when she was a sophomore and he was an upperclassman. She said she and her sister Joyce became involved with Freedom Riders “in the body of Diane Nash, James Bevel, Paul Brooks, and Marion Barry, who remained in Mississippi around the right to vote.”

“When I met them, it was like Hallelujah. We wanted to get involved and those few of us went into Jackson to talk … about our rights,” said Ladner. “I asked Guyot if he wanted to go with us. We lived about 10 miles from the city limits. It was something he liked and he stayed with it.”

Ladner said Guyot wasn’t on the staff of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) but both of them worked with SNCC Project Director Bob Moses and others from the Congress of Racial Equality to register disenfranchised black voters and to integrate public accommodations.

Ladner was a founding member of the Council of Federal Organizations in Clarkesdale, Miss., an umbrella organization which included Civil Rights martyr Medgar Evers, SNCC, the NAACP, Congress on Racial Equality and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“We launched ‘Freedom Summer’ and in the summer of ’61, ’62, I went home and told my mother I was going back to Jackson to get my freedom,” she said.

Ladner said Guyot paid an awful price for his fight for freedom and equality.

“He was in Parchment Prison at least two times that I know of,” she said. “In Greenwood, he looked like one of the Somali refugees. He’d lost 100 pounds and had his head shaved. They turned on the heat at night, tortured them. Once, they had to jump out of a window in Greenwood. I often joked with him about how he got out the window because he was always robust, but he said ‘you gotta do what you gotta do…’”

In 1962, Guyot began work with SNCC and two years later was named director of the Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was also the founding chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to include African Americans in the Democratic Party’s Mississippi delegation.

“He became the chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and went to Atlantic City in 1964 and challenged the seating of an all-white delegation. We had taken Miss Hamer from the cotton fields to Atlantic City.”

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1965, Ladner said she, Guyot and other Civil Rights pioneers had already been in the trenches fighting for these rights for years. And in later years, she said, Guyot always expressed concern that the act was constantly under threat.

Guyot said as much last year after watching PBS’ screening of ‘Freedom Riders’ at the Newseum with several hundred viewers.

After the show, at a watering hole in downtown Washington, Guyot was his usual boisterous, funny self as he explained in detail the ways that blacks and their allies needed to protect this cherished right.

He also recounted his days as a soldier on the forefront of the civil rights struggle, tying those struggles with D.C.’s statehood push and the scandals embroiling council members.

“I find this absolutely astounding,” Guyot said during an interview earlier this year. “If you’re going to do a criminal investigation, it’s good to start with a crime that has been committed. This is not a serious investigation; its intent is to inhibit this government’s operations,” Guyot said about the federal investigation into businessman Jeffrey Thompson’s involvement in political donations to elected officials. “It is an issue framed as if it’s only about purity. We should have as much concern for having a functioning government as a pure government.”

“I don’t want this government stymied by discussions of who’s the purest in the group. When I go to the polls, I go to elect politicians, not saints.”

Ladner said Guyot was an unabashed supporter of President Barack Obama. She said he went to North Carolina and elsewhere in 2008 to campaign for him and although he was unable to travel this year, he worked the phones. She and others who knew Guyot said he was a die-hard Democrat and predicted Obama’s victory on Nov. 6.

Local journalist Adrienne Washington said she is stunned by her friend’s passing.

“He said he was the president of my fan club,” said the former Washington Times columnist and writer. “He would come and lecture in my classes and talked a lot about the Civil Rights movement. He always repeated the quote about race relations: there was the USA, the South and then there was Mississippi.”

“He registered Fannie Lou Hamer to vote. He was beaten almost half to death for registering people to vote and he was very involved in the Mississippi Teaching Project – making civil rights relevant to children today.”

“It used to bother me that people thought he was stuck in the ’60s but they didn’t understand him. It was always a springboard to tie it to current issues. And he wasn’t as predictable as you would think. He supported Fenty. He never got his due. He should be up there with Hamer, [Ella] Baker and King. There’s a bunch of unsung heroes and soldiers. He was at the top of that list. He really cared about D.C. and poor people. He wore those people out at the city council.”

WI Staff Writer James Wright contributed to this story.

Scrambling to Provide a Good Education

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By Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Federal housing assistance recipients usually do not reside in areas near high performing schools, keeping many educational opportunities from reaching poor and minority students, according to a recent study by the D.C.-based Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC).

The study shows, the schools nearest a third of public housing and Section 8 tenants are ranked in the bottom tenth percentile based on performance, meaning 90 percent of schools perform better on standardized tests. Around 25 percent of Housing Choice Voucher holders, who are allowed to choose where they want to live through the program, reside near schools that perform at roughly the same level.

Phil Tegeler, the executive director of PRRAC, a civil rights advocacy organization, wasn’t surprised by the reports overall findings, but was taken aback by the findings among Choice Voucher holders.

“It’s supposed to be expanding choice for families, but many of the 100 largest metro areas are still placing students in areas with lower-performing schools and schools with high levels of poverty,” Tegeler says. “A study like this raises some interesting questions about assistance. Namely, is the purpose to put a roof over your head or provide access to opportunity?”

The schools nearest Housing Choice Voucher Households have a median proficiency of 26 percent with 74 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch. For Black households, the percentile rank drops 6 percent and the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch increases to 80 percent.

While the majority of public housing recipients are White, the characteristics of schools near White households are less daunting with schools ranking in the 40th percentile and an average of 56 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch.

But, what does that mean for the students?

Research by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance shows schools with high levels of poverty have been shown to have lower access to high-quality teachers and face issues like low-performance on standardized tests.

Nationally, African American students already underperform White students by as many as 29 points on standardized tests in math and 26 points in reading. However, research published in “Whither Opportunity?” a compilation of studies on economic inequality and education, has shown that the gap between poor and wealthy students is nearly twice that Black and White students.

Consequently, many of these policies, which inadvertently keep children from obtaining a quality education, could be hitting poor Black students twice as hard.

Dawn Hawk is a principal at a elementary school in southwestern Chicago where 96 percent of the students live in poverty.

“It’s just a cycle for a lot of kids in high poverty areas, you have to break the cycle and the way to break that cycle is to provide the same resources that are available to those kids who are privy to those resources from birth,” says Hawk.

Five years ago her school, McKay Elementary, was at 27 percent proficiency, now nearly 60 percent of students perform at or above their grade level.

Hawk strives to develop a safe school environment that students can feel comfortable in, but also provide a quality educational experience for students regardless of their economic background.

“Equity in education is lacking,” says Hawk. “If you have resources you can do so much more, you can take your students places they’ve never been before—you could push schools like mine to another level.”

“The idea that in this country we don’t provide excellence for every student is simply wrong,” says Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, which advocates for quality public education. “Lack of education in the 21st century, not having a high school diploma and beyond that, will hurt students for the rest of their life.”

Despite the general findings of the report, there are glimmers of hope among the metropolitan areas where educational opportunities among federal housing recipients are close to the national average.

In parts of Texas and California, the percentile ranking of schools closest to public housing tenants reaches as high as 75 in places like Vallejo, Calif. and 58 in El Paso, Texas.

Tegeler says this could be attributed to lesser amounts of segregation in western areas.

“With this question of access I think you see more integration and access in western states in newer metro areas, “ Tegeler says. “The federal government knows what it needs to do get more balance so more families have access to better performing schools, but people will need to speak up and demand that these programs give kids access to better opportunities.“

Crime Down, Black Arrests Up

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although crime is on the decline in the United States, the rate of arrest of Blacks continue to exceed that of Whites, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute.

The Justice Policy Institute, a non-profit organization that advocates for reforms in the criminal justice system, examined the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2011 Uniform Crime Report and found that Blacks accounted for 28.4 percent of arrests in 2011 compared to 69.2 percent for Whites. In 2010, according to the FBI, 28 percent of those arrested were Black and 69.4 percent were White.

In other words, the arrest rate for Blacks was more than double that of Whites. At this point, researchers are unsure whether this trend will hold as crime continues to decline.

Violent offenses fell 3.8 percent and property crime decreased 0.5 percent in 2011 compared to 2010. Drug arrests plummeted 6.57 percent, but still account for 1.5 million arrests.

Spike Bradford, a researcher for the Justice policy Institute, said that, it’s hard to know what accounted for the drop in drug-related arrests.

“Hopefully, it reflects a growth in understanding of drug abuse as a problem better addressed through the public health systems,” he said. “It may also reflect shrinking federal funding for police, so law enforcement departments are focusing more on protecting public safety and less on meeting arrest quotas to get drug task force funding.”

JPI reported that federal, state and local government spending on law enforcement topped $100 billion in 2010, despite violent crime and property crime each falling more than 40 percent since 1991.

Criminal justice advocates say that ending the war on drugs is critical to decreasing the number of arrests in the Black community.

“The main thing we need to deal with is stopping the bleeding,” said Major Neill Franklin, a 34-year veteran in law enforcement and executive director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). “We have to focus on first contact.”

If first contact is reduced, can prevent continuing arrests, Franklin said.

“As a cop in Baltimore, as a cop in any city, I can walk up to you and in three words have probable cause: ‘I smell marijuana,’” said Franklin. “They use it all the time, all day long.”

Franklin said young people should know their rights and learn how to exercise those rights.

During the State of the Black World Conference in Washington, D.C. last week, civil rights leaders and criminal justice advocates discussed strategies to get the churches, law enforcement officials and civil rights organizations involved in fighting mass incarceration and reducing arrests in the Black community.

Community policing, increased civic engagement to affect local public policy, and educating young people on their civil rights arrests were listed as possible solutions.

“It’s an old issue of community control of the police. Many of us have been struggling with this for decades,” said Khalid Raheem, president of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice. “We need to fight to change public policy around what is appropriate police conduct and how they do the work that we pay them to do.”

GOP's 'Racist' and 'Sexist' Attacks on Susan Rice

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Representative Marcia Fudge, the newly-elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, says politically-inspired charges that United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice is “not very bright” and is “unqualified” to be named Secretary of State by President Barack Obama are racist and sexist in addition to being untrue.

“All of the things they [Republicans] have disliked about things that have gone on in the administration, they have never called a male unqualified, not bright, not trustworthy,” Fudge [D-Ohio] said last week at a news conference called by a dozen women members of the House of Representatives to defend Rice. “There is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments being made by unfortunately Senator [John] McCain and others.”

McCain attacked Rice, who is under consideration to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State, for saying in September that the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was the outgrowth of spontaneous demonstrations protesting the release of an anti-Muslim film made in the U.S. rather than a planned attack by al-Qaeda, which turned out to be the case.

“Susan Rice should have known better and if she didn’t know better, she is not qualified,” McCain said Nov. 14 on “Fox and Friends.” He continued, “I will do everything in my power to block her from being the United States Secretary of State.”

McCain and other Republican senators, including Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, have been extremely critical of Rice’s initial comments.

In a round of Sunday morning television interviews four days after the attack in Libya, Rice presented the administration’s official position on the tragedy. In each interview, she emphasized that the views she was expressing was based on information that the administration had at the time and that an FBI investigation would ultimately determine the facts.

Appearing on ABC News’ “This Week,” she told guest host Jake Tapper: “Well, Jake, first of all, it’s important to know that there’s an FBI investigation that has begun and will take some time to be completed. That will tell us with certainty what transpired. But our current best assessment, based on what we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.”

Rice used almost identical nuanced language in interviews that same Sunday with “Face the Nation” and “Meet the Press.”

It was later disclosed that Rice was using talking points about the situation that had been supplied and approved by the CIA.

McCain described Rice as “not very bright.” Rice graduated from Stanford University with honors and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. at Oxford University.

McCain, who had the bright idea of selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, finished fifth from last in his graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy – 894 of 899. According to the book, The Nightingale’s Song by Robert Timberg, the senior senator from Arizona was a “below par” Navy pilot who lost five military aircrafts before later being captured as a prisoner of war.

Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.] said he does not trust Rice.

“I think she was a political choice, telling a political narrative, and either she didn’t know the truth about Benghazi – so she shouldn’t have been on T.V. – or she was spinning it,” Graham said. He added, “I don’t think that’s a good resume to be secretary of State.”

Rice’s resume speaks for itself. Her late father, Emmett, was an economics professor at Cornell University and a former governor of the Federal Reserve System. Her mother, Lois Dickson Fitt, is a policy scholar at the Brookings Institute.

Rice also worked at the Brookings Institute as a Senior Fellow, was Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council and served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during President Bill Clinton’s second term. The Senate confirmed Rice as U.N. Ambassador by unanimous consent on Jan. 22, 2009. At his news conference, President Obama said last week that he hasn’t made a decision on who will become Secretary of State in his second term. But he made clear that if he decides to select Rice, he will not back down from a fight with Senate Republicans over the nomination.

“…Let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace.

“As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”

In closed door congressional hearings last week, former CIA Director David Petraeus confirmed that Rice’s talking points had been approved by the CIA.

At the news conference called by congresswomen last week, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said, “The baseless ad hominem attacks on Ambassador Rice by several members of the Senate – most notably Senator John McCain – calling into question her very character, basic level of intelligence, trustworthiness, and qualifications is not only disingenuous but at odds with the actions and stances they have taken in the past, with other potential nominees.”

Moore isn’t the only member of Congress who views McCain and Graham as hypocrites.

In commentary posted on the Huffingtonpost, Senator Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.], recalled: “In September 2002, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice appeared on a talk show and claimed that Iraq was importing high quality aluminum tubes that ‘are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.’

“But in 2004, shortly before she was nominated by President George W. Bush to be Secretary of State, Rice admitted ‘there was some debate’ at the time about the intelligence behind the aluminum tubes – information she had chosen to ignore during her 2002 appearance. In fact, both the State Department and the Department of Energy believed that the tubes were intended for conventional weapons – not nuclear weapons.”

Boxer added, “Tragically, the false assertions made by Rice and other top officials in the Bush administration helped propel our country into a devastating and costly war in Iraq that claimed more than 4,400 American lives. But somehow, Rice’s role in these profound intelligence failures did not prevent Senators McCain and Graham from championing her nomination to be Secretary of State.”

In remarks that could be easily flipped today, McCain said on the Senate floor in 2005 that the upper chamber had enough votes to confirm [Condoleezza] Rice to the job.

“So I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion,” McCain said at the time. “I can only conclude that we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election.”

Activists Ponder their Next Move

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Blacks were instrumental in the re-election of President Barack Obama and now it’s time for him to return the favor, according to panelists at a Town Hall-style meeting organized at Howard University last week by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century.

“Every time we vote for any politician there is something that they owe to us,” said civil rights activist, Mtangulizi Sanyika. “Our problem is that we get confused about what they owe us. The conditions of African Americans have gotten worse not better. There are things we need and we should fight for them.”

Julianne Malveaux, an economist and former president of Bennett College said the issue is larger than politicians.

“The economic crisis of African American people did not start with President Obama and it won’t end with President Obama,” she said “While the government can’t fix the gap it, can do some things to narrow the gap.”

Malveaux urged Blacks to become more creative and do things such as applying for federal discretionary funds to launch a green energy startup.

At times, the moderator, former Essence magazine editor Susan Taylor, pushed panelists for greater detail for a plan of action.

“How do we make this happen?” she asked. “What is the nucleus of this?”

Taylor was unrelenting: “What is the organizing force? How do we move beyond the discussion, so that when we come back four years from now we’re not talking about the same issues. How do we begin to move the needle?”

George Fraser, chairman and CEO of FraserNet, Inc. a global networking company dedicated to economic development, said, “We have a lot of PhDs. Now we need some ‘Ph dos.’”

Taylor said that Black churches, fraternities, and sororities need to do more.

“Unfortunately, the majority of our church leadership can’t do what you ask to be done,” said Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Wilson said that the prosperity theology is dividing congregations and that many ministers still struggle with pathologies that date back to slavery.

Jeff Johnson said, “I don’t care about the civil rights celebrities. I don’t care about the prosperity pastors. I care about the people that want to do the work.”

Johnson said that there are simple solutions to get kids off the streets while Blacks deal with long-term loftier goals.

“We don’t have to do one or the other, it’s about doing all of them together,” Johnson said. “We have to play chess, not checkers.” He explained Chess means you figure out the role you play and you play it.

“And when a pawn is gangster enough to do their job and can move into position, they can become any other piece on the board. Let’s do simple things in the process of developing these solutions,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that Blacks should utilize our churches as community centers rather than seeking funds to build new ones and rely on retired teachers and volunteers from our neighborhoods to mentor children.

They all agreed that what is not needed is a new civil rights group.

“We’re at this moment where people feel like they don’t need organizations,” said Marc Lamont Hill, a TV host, activist and associate professor at the Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York. Hill urged audience members to join existing organizations.

“We don’t need any more organizations, we don’t need 50 million non-profits. We don’t need 50 million NGOs,” said Hill. “We need people to make a commitment to join an organization to do the work.

Taylor agreed.

“Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray,” said Taylor. “We have to do the work.”

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