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Rev. William Barber and North Carolina Christian writer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove recently authored the following essay on the close connection between modern “religious freedom” proposals and the dark history of racial discrimination in the U.S.  We’re delighted to publish it here.

Extremists also remember Selma:
The ugly history behind “religious freedom” laws

By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

From Ava Duvernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmond Pettus Bridge, to the thousands we crossed the Bridge with and the millions that joined by TV, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grassroots leaders who organized for years, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers, and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960’s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history. Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.

Many able commentators have pointed out the problem with laws which purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate another’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle out of which the 14th Amendment was born—a struggle which continued to play out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s state houses today. We cannot understand the new “religious freedom” law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was part and parcel of America’s first Reconstruction, guaranteeing for the first time that people who had been legally codified as three-fifths persons would enjoy equal protection under the law in this country. The very notion of equal protection for black Americans was so offensive that it inspired an immediate backlash. Two features of resistance to America’s first Reconstruction are essential to note.

First, it was deeply religious. White preachers led the charge, calling themselves “Redeemers” and framing equal justice for black Americans as a moral danger. At the same time, the threat was explicitly sexualized. Black men were portrayed in respectable newspapers as “ravishing beasts,” eager to rape white women.

Here in our native North Carolina, white vigilantes were armed and encouraged to defend their women, leading to the “Wilmington Race Riot” of 1898. Violent demonstrations of white men’s sexual fear led to lynchings throughout the South and Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ida B. Wells, the courageous African-American journalist from Memphis, did the dangerous investigative work to show that the great majority of these lynchings were not about sex but political power.

When the Civil Rights Movement—a Second Reconstruction—was finally able to draw national attention to the vicious patterns of Jim Crow in the 1960’s, the challenge to white power was again conflated with sexual fear. As Danielle McGuire has chronicled in her book “The Dark End of the Street,” civil rights workers were consistently accused of wanting interracial sex and/or having homosexual tendencies.  Read More

Commentary

#ConfirmLoretta2It’s no particular news that conservatives in Washington continue to raze basic rules and traditions of American governance. When a block of U.S. Senators starts trying to seize authority to conduct U.S. foreign policy from the chief executive, you know things have hit a new low. Still the ongoing stonewalling of Attorney General nominee and North Carolina native Loretta Lynch (which even includes North Carolina’s two senators, for crying out loud) is an especially offensive exercise in dysfunction (and maybe something worse).

As Roll Call’s David Hawkings writes:

“The most amazing thing about the Loretta Lynch story is that the congressional community no longer views it as amazing….

For essentially the first two centuries under our Constitution, senators afforded the president free rein to stock his Cabinet as he chose, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. Getting over the ‘advice and consent’ hurdle was about proving competence for public service, demonstrating good manners and keeping your moral nose clean.

It would not have been newsworthy at all — let alone a rationale for disqualification — for an attorney general nominee to take the same position as the president who nominated her in a balance of powers battle with Congress. (In fact, it would have been much more problematic for a nominee to openly break with the president in such a dispute.)”

Now, as Hawkings points out, a majority of Republican senators would deny Lynch the job merely because they disagree with her position of sticking up for the President’s immigration policy.  They can’t even point to some broad ideological divide with the well-respected prosecutor as was the case when some Democrats balked at approving the far-right conservative John Ashcroft back in 2001.

Of course, the elephant in the room of which Hawkings fails to take note is the little matter issue of who and what Lynch is. That is to say, isn’t it interesting that Senators feel free to break such extraordinary new ground when it’s an African-American president nominating someone who would be the first African-American woman Attorney General?

Commentary

DeanSmithI didn’t attend UNC and had only lived in North Carolina for a year when Coach Dean Smith won his final NCAA championship in 1993. I do have two daughters who are both Chapel Hill grads, but save for that and my admiration/appreciation for the school, any connections to Coach Smith that I have ever enjoyed have been, to say the least, extremely attenuated. Indeed, for my college basketball coaching hero — the late, great John Robert Wooden — Smith was an up and coming rival back in the day.

It is therefore, above all, a sense of gratitude that I feel today to the troubled, if unwitting, souls at the Pope-Civitas Institute for producing a list in recent weeks — the so-called “Map of the Left” — that would include us both. What a gift that they actually got the darned thing out before Coach Smith passed.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I am struck by what a great gift the Pope-Civitas people have given to the hundreds of caring and thinking folks who were named. From now on, all of us will always be able to proudly wear the badge of honor of having been associated with such a great man.

And as David Zirin of The Nation (among many others), explained this morning, there were loads of great reasons that Smith was included on the “map” — especially his passionate opposition to racism in all of its ugly manifestations (most notably the death penalty). Even if the silly Civitasers want to think of it as a “vast and shadowy network,” the so-called “map” is, for the most part, a list of people and organizations dedicated to truth, love, sunlight and modernity — i.e. the same things Smith fought for throughout his admirable life.

RIP Coach Smith. All members of the progressive cause in our state are honored to have had such a marvelous teammate.

Commentary

Tommy Tucker 2The last time any significant number of North Carolinians were aware of state Senator Tommy Tucker was probably a couple of years ago when the Waxhaw Republican made some incredibly arrogant statements to people trying to inform lawmakers of the truth about some controversial issues.

“I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to sit down,” was Tucker’s now infamous quote.

Now, Tucker is back in the news making another clueless and borderline offensive remark — this one regarding the victims of the state’s horrific forced sterilization program of the 20th Century and the new and ridiculously inadequate compensation program for victims.

As the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill reported this morning, advocates for eugenics victims are pointing out the existence of a truck-sized loophole in the compensation law. Under the law, hundreds, if not thousands, of people are being denied compensation because their sterilizations took place in county facilities rather than state facilities.

This is, by any fair assessment, outrageous. To think that victims will have to go to the expense and trouble of taking up their compensation claims against individual  counties after decades of effort to get a state compensation law through is simply astounding. Unfortunately, good ol’ Senator Tucker doesn’t see it that way. This is from the Observer article:

“Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican who co-chairs the Senate’s appropriations committee on Health and Human Services, said ‘the state’s done its part.’

‘They should go to the county where they were sterilized, not the state,’ he said of those victims. ‘The state’s done its part to right the wrongs that we did, but the county should be responsible for what it did.’

Uh, pardon us Senator, but the last time we checked, the counties of North Carolina were creatures of the state. Moreover, forced sterilization was, by any fair assessment, a monstrous state-supported initiative with disastrous statewide results. The victims have already been denied justice for far too long and the compensation packages available are already inadequate. That the state of North Carolina would attempt play a game of bait and switch with such an abused group of human beings is almost beyond comprehension.

Please do the right thing, Senator. Help get all of these injured people the money they deserve ASAP and then just sit down and be quiet.

Commentary

The Daily Beast reported yesterday on the fact that, despite America’s rapidly growing racial and ethnic diversity, the United States Congress remains an overwhelming white, male and Christian-dominated institution.

“The breakdown of the 114th Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male, and 92 percent Christian….It’s impossible to make the claim that our Congress accurately reflects the demographics of our nation. And it’s not missing by a little but a lot. If Congress accurately reflected our nation on the basis of race, about 63 percent would be white, not 80 percent. Blacks would hold about 13 percent of the seats and Latinos 17 percent.”

Sadly, a look at the North Carolina Senate and House of Representatives reveals a striking similar pattern.

In the North Carolina general population, less than one in three individuals is a non-Hispanic white male — around 32%. In state government, however, white men continue to monopolize government leadership positions. In the General Assembly, a quick count shows that more than 64% of the lawmakers (109 out of 170) are non-Hispanic white men. Minorities, who make up more than 35% of the state’s population inhabit just 20% of the seats in General Assembly. And all of those minority members are African American. Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are completely unrepresented despite making up as much as 13% of the population.

Interestingly, white women are also badly underrepresented in the General Assembly. Despite making up around a third of the population, they fill just 15.2% of the seats on Jones Street. Obviously, they fare better in the Council of State — filling five of nine positions. But, of course, the fact that the other four are filled by white men serves to highlight that racial diversity amongst statewide elected officials is essentially non-existent.

As for religion, the Daily Beast notes that: Read More