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.

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.