Celebrating the Life of Former Congressman Louis Stokes by Dr. Elsie L. Scott

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I met Congressman Louis Stokes when l became President and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) in 2006. I had seen him at CBC events and on the Hill, but I had not interacted with him.  I was pleased to find that he was always responsive when I reached out to him for assistance. In a town of big egos, he came off as very humble and happy to praise others rather than draw attention to himself. He liked the fact that as CBCF President, I reached out to the CBC Founders and other former CBC Members to include them in CBCF events, and that I sought historical knowledge and context for our programs from them.

His legacy of service is rich, and the fact that there are many programs and buildings named for him demonstrates his impact. A number of buildings around Cleveland bear his name, including the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Administration Hospital, the Louis Stokes Annex of the Cleveland Public Library, and the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Center at Case Western Reserve University. His influence did not stop in Cleveland. He was not a Howard University alum, but a Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library was built on the campus in recognition of the role he played in advancing minority health issues and the health sciences. CBCF has the Louis Stokes Health Policy Fellowship and the Louis Stokes Health Scholarship, and the National Science Foundation has the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program.

Rep. Stokes was a founding member of the CBC, and the founding chair of the CBC Health Braintrust.  Over the years, the braintrust has addressed health policy issues and the problem of health disparities. The foundation he laid for the Health Braintrust was so strong that it has earned the reputation of being the strongest and most effective of the CBC braintrusts.

In 1999, after spending 30 years in Congress and having made his mark, Rep. Stokes decided to step down from his seat. He selected a woman prosecutor and former judge, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, to succeed him. He knew he left big shoes to fill, but he felt that she would be a great representative for the 11th District of Ohio–and she was.

In 2012, when CBCF published, The Conscience of the Congress, a retrospect for the 40th anniversary of the CBC, Rep. Stokes was asked to write the Foreword.  We were honored to have him accept, but he seemed more honored to have been asked to contribute to the book. In the Foreword, he explains that the 13 founding members of the CBC did not see themselves as civil rights leaders as some would have wanted them to. Instead, they recognized that they were legislators, and that their role was to spread themselves “out as far as we could within the committee system of the House….[M]ore importantly, we could begin to offer a black perspective on important legislation.”  He was proud of the accomplishments of the CBC and felt that the future of the CBC was bright.

Rep. Stokes lived a full life during his 90 years on this earth.  He leaves a rich legacy in his work and in the lives he touched.  Over the years, I have met members of the Stokes family, who are successful in their own right.  I see his influence in Shelley Stokes-Hammond, Eric Hammond, Lesli Foster and other family members. We know they and the rest of the Stokes family are feeling the pain of the loss of a loved one, but we know they will find plenty to smile about as they remember not just the times they had with him, but the positive impact of his living.

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A Letter From Your “Illegitimate Children” on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

Dr. Scottby Dr. Elsie L. Scott

The term “illegitimate children” is not used very often any more, but at one time, it was used to describe children born to parents who were not married. These children did not enjoy the same legal rights as children who were born to married parents. In addition to not having the same legal rights, these children were often subjected to social discrimination. They were not accepted in certain social circles, and some churches would not even baptize or christen them.

On this the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), we, the African American citizens of the United States are feeling like “illegitimate children”. We are asking why, after all these years, you do not want to accept us as your children. Like “illegitimate children” we did not ask to be brought here, but like them, we have suffered just because society has placed an X on our foreheads, labeling us as less than.

We have done everything to win your love and acceptance. We worked your land, built your landmarks, raised your children and followed your rules, but you still do not want to give us the same rights as your other children. There have been periods when it seemed like you were going to accept us. You changed the laws to make us “legitimate”, but you allowed the laws to be ignored. Discrimination against us was no longer de jure, but de facto, as we suffered discrimination in almost every aspect of our existence.

Fifty years ago, we celebrated when President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After years of discriminatory laws and practices, it seemed like this legislation would accomplish what the 15th Amendment and various civil rights laws had not been able to achieve. Even though many African Americans registered and voted during Reconstruction, and African Americans were elected to political office at the local, state and national levels, in 1965, no one was thinking that Post-Reconstruction history would repeat itself. They were not thinking that less than 50 years later a Supreme Court decision—Shelby v. Holder—would gut the VRA and states would rush to pass legislation that would disenfranchise many African Americans.

The right to vote is one of the fundamental tenets of democracy. We cannot understand people who profess to believe in democracy but work to deny this right to African American citizens. You continue to hide behind such code words as reducing fraud. We, your black children, say that we are concerned about the fraud you have perpetrated on us–The fraud of pretending that you want us to have the right to vote while continuing to place roadblocks to prevent us from voting.

On this the 50th Anniversary of the VRA, we, your black children, your black sisters and brothers, your black grandchildren are emphatically stating that we are here, and we are not going away. We are not going to accept “illegitimate” status because we have invested as much or more into building this country into the power that it is as you have. We are asking the Members of Congress to come together across party lines (as the Congress did 50 years ago) and pass a voting rights act that will once and for all let the world know that you have removed the “illegitimate” stigma from your black children.

An Open Letter to my Father on Father’s Day and the 35th Anniversary of his Death

Witness to the Truth[The writer’s father, Rev. John H. Scott, died on June 22, 1980. His life story is recounted in the book, Witness to the Truth: My Struggle for Human Rights in Louisiana by John H. Scott with Cleo Scott Brown.]

Dear Dad,

When I first anticipated writing an anniversary letter to you on the 35th anniversary of your passing, it was going to be a cheerful letter.  I was going to talk about the good things that have happened in the lives of your children and grandchildren.  I was going to talk about how proud you would be that our mother’s lessons about family love are being practiced not just by your children, but also by the grandchildren, many you never met.  But something happened on the way to this letter.

I have been distracted from the good in my life to focus on the evil in society.  Last Wednesday night, a white man went to a black church for Bible Study and after sitting in the class for about an hour, he pulled out a gun and killed the innocent people who were assembled.

I thought back to the Birmingham bombing that killed the little girls attending Sunday School, but I also thought back to the Wednesday night that you were shot.  You and most of the family were coming home from Prayer Meeting, talking about the service, when out of nowhere a car pulled into the pass lane, paused and filled your car with buckshot.  If things had gone as the shooter had planned, I would have lost not only you, but my mother and four siblings.

I thank God that he spared all of your lives and you lived long enough to see all of your children become adults.  Rev. Clementa Pinckney will not have the opportunity to see his children grow up because a cold-blooded killer chose to end his life and the lives of eight other people ranging in age from 26 to 87.

The shooter supposedly said to the 26-year old black man who was killed that black men “rape our women”.  If he was concerned about the black rapists, why did he go to a church and shoot 6 black women?

It is not enough that nine innocent lives–6 women and 3 men–were taken, but the many reactions, especially from public officials, have not engendered much confidence that the country is taking away any lessons from this tragedy.  For example, the governor of South Carolina said that there is only one person to blame for the shootings–the shooter.  She and others are not willing to accept the fact that something needs to be fixed to stop these types of actions. One person pulled the trigger, but many others helped to enable him or took no action to prevent such a tragedy.  One person pulled the trigger, but so many others are destroying black people every day through their overt and covert actions. Yes, Daddy, thirty-five years later, we still have a long way to go to address racism and white privilege in the United States.

Daddy, the Confederate flag is still flying at the South Carolina Capitol.  Why?  Because state law mandates a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to take it down.  I remember when you needed two white people to identify you so you could get registered to vote and you could not find them. Similarly, the black S.C. legislators have not been able to find enough white legislators to vote to remove it, and the governor, who is of Indian descent, has refused to support its removal.  Yes, there are still people who refuse to acknowledge that the South lost the Civil War in 1865.  Some of those same people refuse to accept the 2008 election results when an African American was elected U.S. President.

The magistrate in the bail hearing for the shooter called the family of the shooter, “victims” and singled them out for sympathy.  The Governor of Texas called the shooting an “accident”, but the shooter reloaded and killed people who were trying to pray with him and for him.  I remember pinning a letter to you on the first anniversary of your death saying that at least you left the earth before you had to witness the election of Ronald Reagan as President.   Well Dad, we have elected officials now that almost make Reagan look like a moderate.

Even though there were early reports that eight people had been killed in a black church and that the shooter was a white man, the news networks did not see the need to cut away and give full coverage to the developing story.  Coverage did pick up the next day, but Wednesday night, I had flashbacks to when you were shot–when there was a complete news blackout. If it had not been for the black press, there would not have been any coverage.

What would be your message this Sunday morning if you were still here.  I know that you were a believer in forgiveness because you forgave the men who shot you. But how do you explain forgiveness and God’s will to children who are not able to make sense out of what happened in Charleston?  Your words would be similar to the words of our Bishop William P. DeVeaux who stated, “If you don’t give it up and forgive, you will never get it right.” I know you would explain the importance of forgiveness.  You would talk about what the Bible teaches us about forgiveness, but also the damage that holding in hatred and anger does to the victim.

Since you are no longer here to give me the message I need to move forward past this tragedy, I went to your book, Witness to the Truth, and found these words:

“Never let a hateful or unkind person pull you down to their level….Anger and bitterness give other people control over your mind, your thoughts, and your behavior….Sometimes unforgiveness can even make you physically sick while the object of your unforgiveness generally is not even being affected. On the other hand, forgiveness works on the other person rather than you and it works from the outside in.”

Beyond forgiveness, I know you would want me to see the lessons learned.  You would want some positive change to come out of the killings.  You would not want us be so fearful in church that we will not be able to worship God. You would want to see my faith strengthened by the tenacity and resolve being demonstrated by the families of the victims. You would want us to come out of this adversity with stronger faith and great resolve to chip away at racism, injustice, bigotry and inequality.

Thank you for being a good role model and for leaving me, my siblings, your grandchildren and all who read your book with life lessons that we can apply at a time like this.

Love Always,

Your Daughter, Elsie L. Scott

Congress has more minorities than ever. Can they make a difference?

Reprinted from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/congress-has-the-most-african-americans-ever-can-they-make-difference

Congress has more minorities than ever. Can they make a difference?
02/05/15 01:45 PM

By Elsie Scott

As the nation begins to celebrate Black History Month, it is a fitting time to note that the 114th Congress has convened with a record number of African American members. For the first time in history, the U.S. Congress has 48 persons of African descent: forty-six in the House (including two non-voting delegates), and two in the Senate. The 114th Congress is also historic because of the record 20 African American women serving in the House.

“The sense of urgency is well placed. The past year has been a stark reminder of the need for a renewed focus on issues that have prevented the nation’s economic recovery from reaching too many black households.”
Elsie Scott
Considering the makeup of the rest of Congress, will the record number of African Americans in Congress make any difference in the everyday lives of blacks and other minorities? The breakdown in the House is 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats; in the Senate there are 44 Democrats, 54 Republicans and 2 Independents. Since all the black members with seniority are Democrats, there will be no African Americans in leadership positions.

Yet, if the African American members of the 114th Congress embrace the founding ethos of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), to serve as the “Conscience of the Congress,” they can have a positive impact on the lives of many African Americans despite their minority status.

That’s true even though close to half of the black members of Congress represent districts that are not predominantly black – meaning their obligations to their constituents may sometimes conflict with their ability to promote an “African American” agenda. Furthermore few of the Republicans presently serving in Congress are cut from the same cloth as former lawmakers Connie Morella, Jacob Javits or Jack Kemp. In fact, a number are Tea Party conservatives who seem intent on thwarting any progressive legislation.

Nevertheless, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), the new CBC Chairman, made clear in his first speech that he and other CBC members did not come to the 114th Congress waving a white flag of surrender. “If anyone has any doubt that this Chairman and this CBC will have any reluctance to fight for our communities,” Butterfield said, “you are mistaken.” He went on to outline an agenda that includes restoring Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), targeted funding for poverty-stricken communities, and criminal justice reform.

Chairman Butterfield’s sense of urgency is well placed. The past year has been a stark reminder of the need for a renewed focus on issues, from the need for criminal justice reform in cases like the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, to a distressing increase in discriminatory voting laws and practices, to the persistent opportunity gaps that have prevented the nation’s economic recovery from reaching too many black households. Fifty years ago, when civil rights advocates fought to pass the Voting Rights Act, their hope was that greater representation in the halls of Congress would lead to greater opportunity, and greater justice.

So it is important to keep in mind that while black lawmakers are a minority in Congress, they make up 10% of the House of Representatives. When the CBC was founded, there were only 13 blacks in Congress, but by presenting a united front they commanded the attention of the president, their colleagues and the country. For example, a boycott of President Nixon’s State of the Union Address convinced Nixon to meet with the CBC.

“When the majority party is looking to pass legislation, or to pass veto-proof legislation, forty votes can form a critical bloc to obtain a majority.”
In the months ahead, black members of Congress can join forces to remove objectionable provisions from proposed legislation. They can add items to bills that are designed to serve and protect the interests of the country’s, poor and underserved citizens, especially its African American citizens. And when the majority party is looking to pass legislation, or to pass veto-proof legislation, forty votes can form a critical bloc that is needed to obtain a majority.

Black members of Congress can also maximize the power of their votes by forming coalitions with groups such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) on legislative issues such as voting rights and poverty. Finally, by championing an agenda that advances the causes of equity, protects the rights of low-income Americans, and serves as a voice for the voiceless in the halls of Congress, the black members of the 114th Congress can not only serve as champions for black America, they can be a powerful force for the good of the entire country.

Elsie L. Scott, Ph.D., is the founding Director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University, and the former president and chief executive of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation from 2006-2012.

The Midterm 2014 Election: A Look at the Black Candidates for Congress

The Midterm 2014 Election: A Look at the Black Candidates for Congress
By Dr. Elsie L. Scott
January 5, 2015

A total of 91 African American ran for congressional (U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives) offices in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The majority of the candidates ran on the Democratic Party ticket—66.

Black Candidates by Political Party
Democrats 66
Republicans 21
Other 4

Incumbents

Of the 91 candidates, over half, 48 (52.7%) were victorious; 87.5 percent of the victors were incumbents. The 48 African American Members of Congress in the 114th Congress will be record-setting. The two incumbent Senators, Corey Booker (NJ) and Tim Scott (SC), 39 Members of the House of Representatives and one non-voting Delegate won reelection. Only one of the black incumbents did not retain his seat, Steve Horsford, a first term Congressman from Nevada. The 97.6 percent reelection rate for black incumbents is consistent with the reelection rate for Members of Congress in general. A total of 416 Members of Congress sought re-election, and 393, or 94.47 percent, were successful. All of the black Members of Congress, with the exception of Delegate Donna Christensen (VI) who chose instead to run for Governor of the Virgin Islands, ran for reelection. African Americans were elected in four congressional districts that previously did not have an African American representative—Michigan-14th; New Jersey-12th; Texas-23rd; and Utah-4th , and an African American was elected in the 12th District of North Carolina to the seat vacated by Mel Watt when he accepted a political appointment in the Obama Administration.

Black Elected Members of the 114th Congress:
Incumbent Senators 2
Incumbent Representatives/Delegates 40
New Representatives/Delegates 6

Republicans

Less than one-fourth (23%) of the black congressional candidates were Republicans, but for the first time since Reconstruction one Senator and two Representatives of African descent will be members of the Republican Party. Tim Scott (SC) won election to fill the unexpired term of former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, becoming the first Republican of African descent to win a Senate seat in the South since Reconstruction. Hiram Rhodes Revels from Mississippi was the first African American to serve in the Senate in 1870. Scott will have to run again in 2016. Mia Love of Utah became the first Republican woman of African descent and the first Haitian-American to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She formerly served as Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah. Another first was made when Will Hurd defeated incumbent Democrat, Rep. Pete Gallego in Texas’ 23rd District to become the first black Republican U.S. Representative from the South since Reconstruction. Hurd is a 37-year-old former CIA officer.

Women

Black women scored some significant victories in the Midterm election. With the increase from 16 to 20 black women in the House of Representatives (including two Delegates), the 114th Congress will have the largest number of black women in history serving in Congress. Of the 12 new women Representatives elected, four were black women. Black women, who make up 12.7 percent of the U.S. female population, will make up 21.4 percent of the women serving in the U.S. House for the upcoming session of Congress.

As pointed out above, the first black female Republican Representative, Mia Love, was elected to represent the 4th District of Utah. N.C. Assemblywoman, Alma Adams, became the 100th woman to be elected to the House when she won election to fill the seat vacated by Mel Watt in the 12th District of North Carolina. She also won a full term in the 114th Congress. In New Jersey, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman became New Jersey’s first African-American congresswoman by winning election in an open seat. New Jersey, which has one of the highest percentage of women serving in the state legislature (30%), has not had a woman in its federal delegation since 2003. Southfield, Michigan Mayor Brenda Lawrence was elected to fill the seat vacated by Congressman Gary Peters (MI-14th) who was elected to the U.S. Senate. Stacey Plaskett was elected Delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Delegate Donna Christensen did not run for reelection because she ran for Governor of the Virgin Islands.

Percentage of Votes Received

Generally, the black incumbent Senators and Representatives received a high percentage of the votes cast in their state/district. Eighteen received 80 percent or more of the vote and of that number, three Representatives, all from Georgia, received 100 percent of the votes cast in their district. The common perception is that black Congress members get a high percentage of votes because they represent predominantly black districts. Only three congressional districts that are represented by black Representatives have black populations of 60 percent or more—Alabama 7th, Louisiana 2nd, and Mississippi 2nd. There is one congressional district in Tennessee with a 63.8 percent black majority that is represented by a white Representative. Sixteen of the black Representatives (over one-third) represent districts that are minority black (less than 50 percent black), and only 11 of the 44 Representatives represent districts that are 55 percent or more black. Three black Representatives won in districts that are majority Hispanic. In total, ten Representatives who received 70 percent or more of the vote represent districts that are minority black.

The two newly elected Republican Representatives represent districts with the smallest percentage of black voters, and they received the smallest percentage of the votes. Hurd from Texas won with 49.8 percent of the vote, and Love from Utah won with 50 percent of the vote. Hurd beat an incumbent Hispanic Democratic Representative in a 70.8 percent Hispanic district. Love won in an open seat in a predominantly white district.

The black Democratic incumbent receiving the lowest percentage of votes was Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri who received 51.6 percent of the votes. Cleaver’s district is only 21.5 percent black, but there are other Representatives who received much larger percentages of the vote with a smaller black population percentage. Representative Barbara Lee’s district is only 19.8 percent black, and but she received 87.3 percent of the vote. Representative Marc Veasey’s district is 15.6 percent black and 65 percent Hispanic, and he received 86.5 percent of the vote.

The South

Twenty of the black Representatives represent districts located in one of the former Confederate states. Despite the fact that the southern states are “red” states, all of the southern black Members are Democrats except for one new Representative and the incumbent Senator from South Carolina (who was originally serving in an appointed capacity). The Republicans have not done a good job of recruiting black candidates in the South where they control most of the congressional seats. Only six Republicans—including the two who won–ran for congressional seats in the South. On the Democratic side, 34 African Americans ran for congressional seats as Democrats—including the 18 who won.

Conclusion

The 2014 Midterm election was historic in that a record number of African Americans ran for seats in the U.S. Congress. It was also historic in the number of African American women and the number of African American Republicans who were elected to Congress. The question to be answered now is “What effect will having such a large number of blacks in Congress have on the lives of African Americans?” Since the majority of the African American Members are Democrats and the majority of the House and Senate Members are Republicans, the black members will not hold significant leadership positions where they can guide legislation and influence the congressional leadership. They are, however, in a position to play their original role of being the “Conscience of the Congress.” The first Congressional Black Caucus members were only 13 in number, but they caught the attention of the President of the United States and of their colleagues by positioning with a united front. Forty votes can be a critical block when the majority is looking to pass legislation or pass veto-proof legislation.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved.

Don’t Lose Focus on Justice Issues

[Note: This editorial was published in 2013 as part of a series marking the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. I chose to focus on the Justice System at a time when many mainstream Americans were not paying much attention to it. With the protests following several high-profile police killings, everybody from the President of the United States to John Q Citizen is speaking out on criminal justice issues.]

Dr. Elsie L. ScottDr. Scott

This year, we are celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. As African Americans, we are pleased that this country has progressed from the forced enslavement of a race of people to the removal of the Jim Crow laws.

We are also celebrating the reelection of a man of African descent to a second term as President of the United States. There is a lot to celebrate in 2013, but there is still have a lot of work ahead.

One of the areas that that is seriously flawed is the “justice system”. It is commonly known that the U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other industrialized country. The fact that a disproportionate number of the persons convicted and imprisoned are African Americans is troubling.

According to statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in 2010, 4,347 out of every 100,000 black males were incarcerated in a state, federal or local facility. This number is seven times higher than the number of white males incarcerated. In 2010, African Americans made up 38 percent of the total state prison population compared to 34 percent whites and 21 percent Hispanics.

When arrest data is compared to prison data, the percentage of blacks in the total arrest numbers (27.8 %) is found to be ten percent lower than the percentage incarcerated. This seems to indicate that blacks are more likely to be convicted and sentenced to incarceration than whites.

An examination of felony conviction data shows that black felony convictions are more likely to result in incarceration than white felony convictions. According to BJS data for 2006, 39 percent of persons convicted on felonies were black and 60 percent were white.

Conviction data show that whites who are convicted are less likely to be incarcerated (66% to 72% blacks). For drug offenses, 72 percent of blacks convicted were incarcerated in 2006 compared to 61 percent of whites. Only 59 percent of whites convicted of drug trafficking were incarcerated compared to 70 percent of blacks. The mean maximum sentence imposed by state courts on white felons was 37 months compared to 42 months for black felons. If violent offenses are isolated, the statistics show that mean maximum prison sentence given to whites was 99 months, but the mean for blacks was 108 months.

Why are such large numbers of blacks in prison? There is the need to drill down into the issue of race and the criminal justice system. One can start with drug offenses. A large percentage of blacks have been incarcerated for drug-related offenses, including drug usage, yet, studies have shown that five times more drug users are white than black.

As long as many see the image of crime as a black man, this country will struggle with addressing race in the criminal justice system. Young black boys will continue to be placed in the prison pipeline beginning with childish pranks or school misbehavior. School discipline must be dealt with by the school system and not the criminal justice system. More must be done to reduce school dropouts because two-thirds of school dropouts are ending up in the criminal justice system.

Some good strides have been made around addressing the drug sentencing problems, but more need to be done. Drug usage and addiction are not criminal justice issues.

As the country reduces incarceration numbers, the issue of returning ex-inmates to the community must be addressed. Barriers to housing and employment, are giving them few legal options as they try to becoming productive citizens. They must automatically receive a restoration of their civil rights or they must be given a clear pathway to restoration.

So as we celebrate the equality and justice anniversaries, let us not lose focus on the justice issues that still loom before us.