Senator Sessions Has Black Friends. So, What?

by Dr. Elsie L. Scott, Director, Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center, Howard University

Many people offering support to Senator Jeff Sessions in his nomination for U.S. Attorney General have stated that he has black friends such as former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.  So, what?  Senator Strom Thurmond fathered a black child, who he financially supported, while at the same time he used his public service platform to try to deny basic rights to black citizens.

Throughout history, whites have been “friends” with and have had sex with black people while at the same time working to ensure that blacks do not have equal protection under the law.  What is most important to our survival and our thriving?  That he hired a black person or that he tried to suppress the black vote?

It is argued by some that Senator Sessions is being judged by actions he took and statements he made 30+ years ago. Let’s look at his Senate record.

Does it show that he would seek justice and equal treatment for all?  No, it doesn’t. He has consistently voted against the confirmation of judicial  and executive nominees who have been engaged in civil rights activities or who use their positions to support civil rights, e.g., Judge Wilhelmina Wright, Secretary of Education, John King, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  He voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. He has opposed immigration reform that would lead to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

We must not get caught up in symbolic politics such as Sessions’ sponsoring of the Congressional Gold Medal for Selma marchers of 50 years ago. It did not take courage, and it has little or no meaning when this symbolic gesture is placed against his support for Shelby County v. Holder and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965..

The position of Attorney General is the chief law enforcement position in the country.  Little, if anything, in Senator Sessions background indicates that he is the right person for Attorney General at this time in the history of the country.  Presently, the country is divided with blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, Muslims and other minorities fearful of what will happen to them if Senator Sessions is confirmed as Attorney General. They are afraid that they will have nowhere to turn when they are discriminated against, physically assaulted, harassed, and subjected to voter intimidation and suppression.  They are afraid that he will make “states’ rights” the order of the day, leaving them hostage to local and state officials who will show their true colors with no threat of federal oversight.

In opposing the nomination of Thomas Perez for Secretary of Labor in 2013, Senator Sessions stated: “he seems to have a strong bent toward allowing his own ideological and political views to affect his decisionmaking process–all of which is unacceptable for a high position in this government of the United States of America.”  Many argue that Senator Sessions has allowed his ideological and political view to affect his decision-making process. Does this meet Senator Sessions’ standard for the U.S. Attorney General?

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.

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.

His Brother’s (and Sister’s) Keeper: Lessons Learned from a Black Father

Witness to the Truth

Dr. Elsie L. Scott

My father was different from most black fathers in my small hometown in Louisiana.  He wore a white shirt and a bow tie every day.  He did not eat “greasy” food after 2:00 p.m. because he said his body would not digest it before he went to sleep. He drank herbal teas before they were marketed, and he promoted walking and physical exercise before it became the norm.  He read a lot and did not buy us a television because he said it was the “ignorant box.” He talked about civil rights for black people to anyone who would listen.

He did not drink, smoke, dance, go to clubs, curse, gamble or even play cards.  Yet, he was well respected in our hometown to the point that when he walked down Levee Street (the block where the nightclubs were located), even the winos straightened up and hid their bottles as they spoke to Rev. Scott.

With a “saint” as a father, it was not easy growing up.  All the boys were afraid to try to “court” me because they were afraid of my Daddy.  When I went to parties and started dancing, I would hear people saying, “I didn’t know Rev. Scott let her dance”.  Other children would be surprised to know that I knew all the words to the top ten hits.  One girl told me that she thought that all we did was sit around the house and read the Bible.

Beyond my father’s religious “sainthood”, he was the Moses of the civil rights movement in our section of the state.  He was not afraid to speak out for the rights of black people.  He refused to back down even when he was harassed, his family threatened, crosses burned near his house, his office burned down and he was shot.

At the time I was growing up, my father’s activism and its negative impact on our lives was not appreciated by me.  I longed for normalcy–whatever that was.  I knew I wanted to be able to sleep at night without worrying about someone bombing our house.  I knew that I wanted a life where I did not have to jump every time the dogs started barking.  I did not want to answer any more threatening phone calls.  I blamed my father for staying in Louisiana and subjecting us to all of these things. I once told my father that I did not know why he married and had a family because we were all suffering for his fight. I had to go to college before I could truly appreciate why it had to be my family that made the big sacrifice.

Beyond Daddy’s civil rights involvement, he was always helping others.  We developed a spirit of service from observing Daddy. From the time we were very young, I remember my father taking us to visit the sick and the people in nursing homes. I remember him taking us to the parish prison farm to visit people there.  Even though I did not like the smell of the nursing homes, I felt good going to visit (We also went without our parents) the seniors because for some, this was the highlight of their week.  I developed my zeal for justice from watching my Daddy advocate for those who had been unjustly incarcerated. My father never went to law school, but he studied law books so he could provide legal advice to those who did not have the money to hire a lawyer (or who did not trust the advice they were receiving from the white lawyers).

My father taught us sharing. I remember my father coming to my closet asking me to take some of my clothes and give to a family that had lost everything in a fire. He and my mother taught us to be kind to everybody regardless of their station in life, so we were always sharing even though we did not have a lot.

Daddy taught me the lesson of not letting others control you through finances. He paid for everything with cash because he knew credit could be used by the white people to control him.  He did not want to have anything that would compromise his ability to lead and his involvement in securing rights for black people. As a result, we never had a new car, but our family had no debt.

I grew up to embrace some of the values instilled in me through the teachings of my parents, but most of all through the examples they set. Of course I never embraced Daddy’s social values of not dancing and social drinking, but I did adopt his health and fitness values, and the spiritual and service values will always be with me.

My father liked to talk politics and enjoyed a spirited debate about politicians and issues.  He would probably OD on all the political shows that are now on television.  I inherited my interest in politics from him.  I remember arguing with him about integration–that he had fought for–and Black Power–that I had embraced.  Despite our different world views about the way we could achieve equality, he respected my opinions. When my brother was arrested and expelled from college for “inciting” students to riots again conditions at his college, Daddy was his biggest supporter. He fell out with some of his political friends who refused to stop the unfair prosecution of my brother.

It was not easy growing up the daughter of Rev. Scott, but I survived and I am a better person for all that I learned from him.

Can’t We Just All Get Along

Can’t We Just All Get Along
Dr. Elsie L. Scott
Director, Ronald W. Walters Leadership & Public Policy Center
Howard University

When Rodney King finally spoke after his beating by Los Angeles police officers, many were expecting him to say something about his beating, but he uttered the words, “Can’t we just all get along?”
These words came to me when I realized that today, April 29, was the 22nd anniversary of the verdict in the Rodney King case was issued, and rioting started in Los Angeles. There are no cities burning today, but the headlines and the blogs are full news and reflections on race in light of the leaked tape of Donald Sterling. It is not just the Sterling case that has us talking about race. It is also the Cliven Bundy case and the Supreme Court decision in Schuette v. Bamn. These are the topics of the day, but there will be other race-related topics in the future because we refuse to deal with the race issue in this country.
People of African descent were held in involuntary servitude for close to 250 years. Then a proclamation was issued stating that they are free, and later some Constitutional amendments were added to give them legal standing. The “freed” people were not given land or compensation for their labors. No schools or few schools were established to educate their children, but they were expected to catch up with the born free citizens. When they started businesses and found other ways to provide for their families, their businesses were destroyed, their rights were taken away, they were re-enslaved through the criminal justice system, and they were asked why they could not succeed like others.
Many blacks have tried to just get along and have found themselves falling further behind economically through unfair labor, banking and legal practices. They have tried to get along and found discrimination in housing. They have tried to get along and found they have been profiled, restricted, labeled and stereotyped.
Despite the dream of many Caucasian Americans that they would not have to deal with the issue of race, race issues are woven into the fabric of American society. The framework was established by the founding fathers when they allowed slavery to be legalized, and they allowed enslaved people to be defined as property. There was an opportunity to do something about it when slavery was abolished, but weak government “leaders” allowed the defeated South to continue a form of enslavement.
Notwithstanding all that African Americans have gone through, many have tried to find a way to just get along. Affirmative action was seen as one way to make the playing field even and to adjust for some of the past discrimination, but the term “reverse discrimination” was coined and this measure was stripped of its effectiveness.
What seems to be the final nail in the affirmative action coffin is the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Schuette v. Bamn. Affirmative action was needed because we all cannot just get along. The University of Michigan, in arguing for keeping the policy, stated that universities must have race-sensitive admissions plans to ensure diversity.
We have seen the impact that the change in admissions policy has had on California universities. At UCLA, for example, only three percent of the law students are black (33 out of roughly 1,100 students).
It was sad to watch two black female law students on the Melissa Harris Perry Show talk about what it means to be part of the three percent. The experiences they talked about were similar to my experience as the only black in my graduate school program at Iowa years ago. (I was the only black in my program, and we had no black professors.)
Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion in Schuette, essentially stated that the will of the people supersedes concerns about racial equality as long as it does not violate the Constitution. He seemed to question “race-based categories” (affirmative action) when he wrote: “Government action that classifies individuals on the basis of race is inherently suspect and carries the danger of perpetuating the very racial divisions the polity seeks to transcend.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a brilliant dissent in this case. She outlined three prominent areas in which race matters. “Race matters…because of the long history of racial minorities being denied access to the political process.” “Race also matters because of persistent racial inequality in society.” “And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away.”
We did not magically enter into a post-racial society when an African American was elected president. Many people had hoped that they would not have to hear anything else about racial discrimination and inequality. They hoped that we could just all get along, but nothing had been done to weed out the Donald Sterlings and Cliven Bundys.

It is not just the white men over 60 who are preventing us from just getting along. There are numerous hate incidents of college campuses such as the white students at San Jose State University barricading their Black roommate his room, displaying a Confederate flag, writing the word “nigger” on a white board in a common area, attaching a metal bicycle lock around his neck and calling him “three-fifths”. Black faculty at majority institutions are being charged with discrimination for highlighting black history, and young white people moving into inner cities are not showing respect for the institutions and culture of original residents–black people.

No, we cannot just all get along because the majority refuses to admit that race matters and that racial discrimination and inequality are still prevalent in society. No, we cannot just all get along because to too many people, getting along means subservience for people of a darker hue. We cannot just all get along because we are not all starting from the same place. We cannot just all get along because there is no real communication between the races. No, we cannot just all get along because people in the U.S. want to be able to wish away racial problems, by closing their eyes and by some type of magic, we would all just get along.

Visit to the W.E.B. DuBois Center in Accra, Ghana

By Dr. Elsie L. Scott
Director, Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center
Howard University

When I visited Ghana last month (March 2014), I made certain that the W.E. B. DuBois Center was on our list of places to visit. I contacted a person I knew in Ghana and asked her to arrange our visit. Apart from my academic and intellectual interest in Dr. DuBois, I wanted to see if any improvements had been made since Dr. Ron Walters visited there in 2007. I recall Dr. Walters speaking with me about his disappointment with the condition of the Center. It was only after I returned from Ghana that I read a column he wrote about the DuBois Center. I have included some excerpts in this blog. Members of my delegation made some of the same observations made by Dr. Walters. I concluded that the state of the Center has not improved since 2007—in fact, things have probably gotten worse.

We visited the DuBois Center on our first full day in Accra. We were all looking forward to the visit and were very disappointed when the person sent to greet us was a tour guide with a rehearsed speech. Our expectation of meeting with the Center’s director or a professional staff member was not realized.

In the first room we entered, there was a wall of famous African Americans, but all the pictures in the display were drawings like you would find on an elementary school bulletin board for Black History Month. Throughout the Center, we found poor quality presentations of the artifacts and a paucity of material and items on display. We had the same observation as Dr. Walters about the state of preservation for DuBois’ books. Without professional quality museum preservation, the books and other documents on display probably will not last very long.

“On my recent trip to Ghana, I visited the W. E. B. Du Bois Center in Accra, to lecture on the importance of African unity in the 21st century. I was guided through the grounds by its new, hard-working director, Dr. Anne Adams, who recently retired from Cornell University. There, I saw one building on the grounds with a well-kept mausoleum that held Dr. Du Bois’ and his wife’s remains. In the small main building a minimal staff heroically conducted programs, showing visitors to an equally small museum where Du Bois’ various university gowns are displayed. But I was horrified to see the small room where his books were kept in glass cases that were neither professionally bound nor protected from the salt sea air”.

Dr. Ronald W. Walters, 2007

We were pleased that the mausoleum was well kept, but we were not pleased with the cheap artificial wreaths placed around the tomb. To the two Clark Atlanta graduates in the group, we were saddened to see a worn Clark Atlanta University rug at the head of the tomb that seemed to serve no purpose. The “spider web” mounted over the tomb looked homemade and amateurish.

Dr. Walters was so stunned by the condition of the Center that he, for the first time, used his column to make an emotional appeal for funding for the Center from African Americans. He felt that scholars and others who have benefited from the works of DuBois should make a financial investment in preserving his legacy.

There was big contrast in the memorial to Nkrumah and the memorial to DuBois. The Nkrumah memorial has great historical artifacts, and it is well maintained. Of course, Nkrumah was the President of Ghana; DuBois was an American expatriate. Nevertheless, it is a national memorial and should be maintained as such. Additional documents and artifacts could probably be found and donated to the Center, if the proper appeal is made. Computers that allow for interactive engagement would be just one good addition. Even though Dr. Walters noted that the electricity went out during his time at the Center, I do not feel that should be a factor in deciding to place computers at the Center. The country seems to have energy challenges, but we only experienced power outages in the evenings at our hotel, and the outages were not for long periods of time.

“In this country, there are many organizations, schools and other institutions that are named after Dr. Du Bois and among black scholars at least, there is genuine love of the man for and appreciation for his contribution to the intellectual richness of our history and culture. He died in Ghana on Aug. 27, 1963, ironically the day before the March on Washington was being held in Washington, DC. There the word circulated among the leaders that “the old man is gone.”
But his work is still celebrated. In the last few years, Dr. David Levering Lewis (Fisk Class of 1956), the distinguished Black scholar at New York University, won two consecutive Pulitzer prizes for his two books on the biography of Dr. Du Bois, and Dr. Skip Gates of Harvard University’s African American Studies Department pioneered his own version of the Encyclopedia and has advised the Du Bois Center. His work lives in the thinking and writing of scholars all over the world.
So, why have we not sufficiently supported the Du Bois Center which houses his legacy? Perhaps it is because his papers are at the University of Massachusetts and there is an air of satisfaction that his intellectual legacy will be preserved there. Perhaps because there is little physical presence, even though there is a magnificent statue at Fisk University.
Du Bois originally came to Ghana to assist its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, further his vision of forging Pan Africanism among the newly independent African states, and to work on the Encyclopedia Africana. He lies in a compound in Ghana, a physical reminder of the persistent project of Pan Africanism and the government of Ghana graciously maintains that commitment, even to funding a working group in Accra on the Encyclopedia. The programming that occurs in the Center is devoted to keeping this concept alive through his legacy, but a great deal of the responsibility for refurbishing the Center’s work falls on our shoulders.”

Dr. Ronald W. Walters, 2007

The onus is not, and should not be, on African Americans alone. The Center’s leadership has to take responsibility and leadership for maintaining the Center and doing outreach to seek funds and other support. How many universities and scholars in the U.S. have been contacted by the Center to discuss how they can be engaged with the Center? The person in our group who was representing Clark Atlanta University came prepared to speak with the director of the Center about partnerships and collaborations, but there was no one there to speak with us. I wonder how many other missed opportunities come through the Center every year.

A better job should be done of taking advantage of the tourists who visit the center. A quality bookstore and gift shop could generate needed revenue to augment the admissions fee that is presently charged. The Center needs to maintain a website that provides its international audience with up-to-date information on the mission of the Center, its programs and activities, as well as, internship and fellowship opportunities. The website could be a source of revenue, selling books, tapes, etc.

There is evidence of the involvement of African American organizations, such as Alpha Phi Alpha and Clark Atlanta University, with the Center. I am certain that with the right outreach, there would be more involvement in and support from the African American community. Many would help to make the Center a place where scholars can come to spend time researching and writing about Dr. DuBois, and generations born well after his death could learn about DuBois the man, scholar and activist. The DuBois Center can become “a place where Africa and Black America and the rest of the African Diaspora can meet on a consistent basis and continue the dialogue on how to further practical aspects of our common destiny” as Dr. Walters envisioned.

We are hoping to connect with the director of the Center to convene a virtual discussion of these and other ideas we have for making the Center a true memorial to the greatness of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.