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.

Advertisements

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

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.

The Continuing Problem of Police-Black Community Relations

Dr. Elsie L. Scott

385113_4385411685056_1615582471_n

The recent shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year old African American male by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 focused the country’s attention on relations between African Americans and law enforcement agents once again. In the 1960s, a number of cities experienced violent uprisings that resulted in property loss and damage, and loss of lives. Since that time, incidents involving the police and black civilians have resulted in uprisings in a number of urban areas. After each of these incidents, public officials, media representatives and citizens have assessed the causes and suggested improvements.

The reaction to the 1960s riots that started with the Watts riot of 1965 was unlike the reactions to the other uprisings in that national attention was placed on the incidents. The President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, appointed an 11-member commission (the Kerner Commission) to review the causes, the effects and preventive measures. The Kerner Commission found that police action was a major precipitating factor for all of the uprisings they studied. Federal and local resources were invested in actualizing some of the Kerner Report’s recommendations. Some of the reforms implemented were changes in police policies related to police misconduct, changes in citizen complaint process, recruitment and promotion of black police officers, and the implementation of programs designed to increase positive police-citizen interaction.

Despite the positive changes in police-community relations that were implemented in the 1970s, another major uprising took place in Miami, Florida in 1980. The not-guilty verdict of four police officers charged in the killing of a black motorcyclist led to three days of rioting that resulted in deaths, injury and property destruction. Reacting to the riot, a citizens’ review board was created, but there are questions about its effectiveness. More black and female officers were hired and promoted, but the culture did not immediately change.

The police case that personified problems with the police in the 1990s was the Rodney King case in Los Angeles. A tape of police officers beating a black man captured the nation’s attention, and when the police officers charged in the beating were acquitted, rioting started. Over one billion dollars in property damage resulted, and 53 people were killed. The chief of police who helped to create a culture of suppression and confrontational policing was forced out, but it took time and a federally-mandated consent decree to change the culture to one that was more community focused.

Cincinnati took center stage as the major uprising of the first decade of the 21st century. In 2001, four nights of looting and rioted followed the shooting death of a teenager by a police officer. The city was placed under a federal consent decree that resulted in training for officers in handling the mentally ill, changes to the foot pursuit policy, establishment of a Civilian Complaint Authority and the collection of race-related data during police stops.

In the second decade of the 21st century, the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri has taken the headlines. It is too early to know what the results of case will be. What is known is that the Ferguson police seemed to have learned little or nothing from the earlier cases. Some examples of mistakes they made were 1) not releasing details of the incident; 2) shooting the “suspect” multiple times even after he seemed to walking away; 3) refusing to name the officer who shot Brown; 4) responding to the uprising with military equipment; 5) leaving the dead body in the street for hours.

In some of the cities that have experienced unrest, improvements have been made in police processes, but the improvements often have not been sustained, and they have not been holistic in approach. The problems with the police cannot be isolated from the problems within the rest of society. In many urban areas, people have risen up in part because of the economic oppression they are facing. The police shooting is just a spark that ignites a flame after years of frustration around unemployment, underemployment, housing conditions, etc. Until investments are made in addressing economic and social disparities, uprisings will continue to occur.

After an incident, rhetoric is heard from the various sides, bandages are placed to stop the bleeding or a stop-gap solution is applied. Business goes on as usual or people find a way to move on in a new environment, but the core of the problem remains. At the core is the legacy of slavery and racism. The stereotyping of black men as criminals has become ingrained in society to the point that police officers and other people are quick to act upon mistaken assumptions of the motives of black men, whether they are walking or driving. Until the country is willing to develop and implement a long-term strategic plan to address deep-seated racial problems and issues, Fergusons will continue to occur.