Although more African Americans live in the South than any other region, Blacks elected to state legislative bodies there have become virtually powerless as those bodies have shifted from Democratic to Republican control.
That’s the conclusion reached in a Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies research brief titled, “Resegregation in Southern Politics?” by David A. Bositis.
“Following the election of President Barack Obama, many political observers — especially conservative ones — suggested that the United States is now a post-racial society,” Bositis wrote in the introduction. “Three years later, in the region of the country where most African Americans live, the South, there is strong statistical evidence that politics is resegregating, with African Americans once again excluded from power and representation. Black voters and elected officials have less influence now than at any time since the civil rights era.”
Prior to the 1994 elections, 99.5 percent of southern Black state legislators served in the majority party. Following the 2011 elections, that percentage has been dramatically reduced to 4.8 percent. Most Black state legislators serving outside the South continue to be in the majority.
“In fact, more than 10 times as many Black legislators outside the South serve in the majority compared to their southern counterparts, 162 versus 15, or 54.4 percent versus 4.8 percent,” the Joint Center report found. “All Republican state legislative caucuses are predominantly white, while an increasing number of southern Democratic state legislative caucuses are majority Black.”
Conservative whites, now firmly in control of state governing bodies, are exercising their political power.
“And since conservative whites control all the power in the region, they are enacting legislation both neglectful of the needs of African Americans and other communities of color (in health, in education, in criminal justice policy) as well as outright hostile to them, as in the assault on voting rights through photo identification laws and other measures,” the report states.
The erosion of Black political clout in state legislatures mirrors the decline in Democratic power throughout the South, a shift that began with the 1994 GOP landslide and became almost complete in the last election.
From the Post-Reconstruction Era following the Civil War to the 1990s, Republicans controlled only one state legislative body — Tennessee — in the South. During that period, Democrats were so anti-Black that they were known as Dixiecrats.
“When southern Democrats in the Old South first engaged in diluting Black votes (i.e., splitting them among multiple districts), their aim was to diminish Black influence,” the report explained. “However, as southern whites began voting more Republican, the Democrats found themselves having to rely on Black votes to remain in office, and growing numbers of them accepted the goals of the Civil Rights Movement and became ‘national’ Democrats. Accordingly, the purpose of Black vote dilution evolved from thwarting Black political aspirations to protecting white Democrats and Democratic majorities.”
Georgia Democratic state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, an African American who has been in office for more than three decades, told the Associated Press: “The perception across the state is the Democratic Party is the party of Black folk. When you have a racially polarized body politic, race becomes a major factor.”
That lesson was not lost on the GOP.
“Republicans actually encouraged the creation of Black districts because they believed the bleaching process that occurred in districts surrounding Black majority districts would open up opportunities for them,” the report stated. “They supported Black districts not to increase Black influence but to win legislative majorities for themselves.”
And that strategy paid dividends for Republicans.
In 1994, they gained majorities in the Florida state senate and in the lower house in both North and South Carolina; Democrats regained control of the North Carolina House in 1996 as the GOP won control of the Florida House, giving them control of both state bodies. In 1999, Republicans gained control of the Virginia Legislature, and between 2000 and 2002 won control of the state legislatures in South Carolina and Texas. The Georgia senate switched from Democratic to Republican control in 2002, followed by the House two years later. Tennessee’s state senate went Republican for the first time in 2004.
The net result of the party switches was that Black Democrats, who exerted influence when Democrats controlled the state houses, have been politically neutered.
Of the 318 state legislators in the South, only three are Republicans. And those three represent majority white districts.
With many Republican policies viewed as anti-Black, it is unlikely that Blacks will switch to the GOP in significant numbers.
The best — and perhaps the only — hope for statewide change in the South is changing demographics.
The Joint Center report observed, “Looking at the 2010 Census figures for a few key states shows the significance of the changes taking place. Texas is now a majority-minority state, and between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population there increased by 42 percent and the African-American population by 24 percent. Florida’s Hispanic population increased by 57 percent, and its African-American population by 28 percent. Georgia’s small Hispanic population almost doubled, but more important, its large African-American population increased by about 26 percent.”
Clearly, any resurgence of Black political clout in the South will depend on the effectiveness of Black–Latino coalitions. Without those coalitions, Black lawmakers may as well begin whistling Dixie. — (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
TRENTON, N.J. — Groups representing minorities in New Jersey have appealed to Gov. Chris Christie to make the state Supreme Court more diverse.
The Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter this month urging Christie to use his next appointment to nominate a minority. The NAACP, Latino Action Network and others wrote to Senate lawmakers in September asking that they approve only nominees who increase the court's diversity and independence.
Christie, a Republican, will make two nominations to the court in March.
The current court is made up of five women and two men, all of whom are white.
Blacks, Latinos and Asians make up more than 40 percent of the state's population.
"The court should reflect the diversity of the citizenry of the state," said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Black Democrat and a member of the group that sent the letter. "I know the governor is very proud of the gender representation on the court. We also have to have racial and ethnic diversity."
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, also a Black Democrat and a member of the group, said New Jersey courts have long been respected around the country for diversity, fairness and independence and that the governor had put that reputation at risk by allowing the Supreme Court to convene without any minority representation.
"Nominees must be a reflection of our population," she said.
Christie did not reappoint the court's last Black justice and nominated a white woman to fill a vacancy when the court's only Hispanic resigned.
Christie said in May he would be mindful of minority concerns when making his next appointments.
"We have an obligation to put the very best people on the court and to have a court that represents all of the interests of the people of New Jersey," Christie said at the time. "Certainly that's something I'll be mindful of as I consider nominees for those two seats."
His spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said Thursday he had nothing new to add.
The high court had been integrated since 1994, when the first Black justice, James Coleman Jr., took his seat, Judiciary spokeswoman Winnie Comfort said. Coleman was followed by John Wallace in 2003. The only Hispanic justice, Roberto Rivera-Soto, finished a seven-year term in September and declined to seek reappointment.
The struggle over the composition of the court began about 18 months ago when Christie became the first governor in memory not to reappoint a sitting justice for tenure. His action — which he said he took to reshape a bench he viewed as too activist — left the highest court without a Black representative for the first time in 16 years.
Infuriated Democrats refused to consider Christie's nominee, corporate lawyer Anne Patterson, for more than a year. Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Christie eventually brokered a deal to move Patterson's nomination — as a successor to Rivera-Soto, who had decided not to seek tenure on the court. Meanwhile, Democrats vowed to keep Wallace's seat vacant until March, when the jurist would have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Justice Virginia Long will also reach age 70 in March.
Jerome Harris, who heads the state's Black Issues Convention, said the issue of judicial diversity was being closely watched, especially because big court issues such as affordable housing, public school funding and racial profiling can have dramatic effects on minority communities.
"Maintaining diversity on the court contributes to its independence," he said, noting the available pool of qualified minority lawyers seeking judgeships. "Under no circumstances are we suggesting that the quality of the appointments be diminished to achieve diversity." -- (AP)
I know, I know. Here he goes again with his “thing” about the Washington Redskins. Forgive me, readers, but let me start by saying that I am quite pleased that the Washington Redskins have not been doing particularly well this season. No, I am not a Dallas Cowboys fan — of which there are many in the Washington, D.C., area. Until the Washington Redskins change their name away from a derogatory reference to Native Americans I simply hope that they keep losing.
What troubles me most, however, is not that Redskins owner Dan Snyder refuses to change the name of the team and dismisses such suggestions without a respectful response. My biggest concern is actually about African Americans and how we treat the question.
In the D.C. area if you raise the problem with the name of the Washington Redskins with many African Americans you get this very peculiar response. It is hard to describe unless you can actually see and hear it yourself. In order to explain it, let me first back up and remind you, the reader, that the reference to “redskins” is the equivalent of calling an African American a n-----. Sorry, folks, that is the real deal. There is no good usage of the term. It is aimed at putting down Native Americans, a point that Native American activists have been making for years.
So, what happens when you raise this problem with many African Americans?
• They look at you strangely, as if you have just spoken to them in Turkish.
• They shrug their shoulders and look away, often mumbling something like “...yeah...” but you usually cannot hear the end of the sentence.
• They then either walk away or change the subject.
When I have pushed the matter and pointed out that I suspect that few African Americans would appreciate a football team called the “Tennessee Niggers” or the “Atlanta Sambos,” there is generally an acknowledgement that this is correct, but, again, the discussion ends.
So, let me ask this: do we really think that it is unimportant that there is a patently racist name for a football team? And, would we actually be so passive if the team were the “Washington Uncle Toms”? Seriously, I would like to hear an answer to the question.
There is a disconnect that we as African Americans, and only we as African Americans, have to address. Racism is not simply about what happens to us. The same people that feel comfortable using the term “redskins” are not that far from using the terms “niggers” or “spics”.
So, what do we do? Actually the answer is quite simple. If there was an initiative among African Americans around the USA, but certainly in the Washington, D.C. area, to change the name of the Washington Redskins, I would bet a dollar to a donut that the name would change. The embarrassment for Snyder and company would just be too much, and even with his arrogance, they would give in.
Anyone want to start a petition? — (NNPA)
The groom can’t help himself.
His smile is ear-to-ear as he watches his bride slowly make her way down the aisle. He’s so in love with her, and for good reason: It’s their wedding day and she’s lovely, both inside and out, a vision in white. But what color is her skin?
According to Ralph Richard Banks, the odds are that it’s not Black. Learn more in his new book, “Is Marriage for White People?” (Dutton/$25.95).
How many of your African-American friends are married?
Probably fewer than those who wish they were. Ralph Richard Banks says that “African Americans have become the most unmarried people in our nation.” Nearly 70 percent of Black women are unmarried and three in 10 may never marry.
Marriage used to be the ideal, says Banks. It was the only socially acceptable way to be sexually active and to procreate — but in the 1970s, things changed, due in part to the availabilities of birth control and no-fault divorce. Still, marriage is the “goal” for most Americans.
One of the main issues within the African-American community, says Banks, is that there’s a shortage of college-educated, single Black men. Incarceration is the “most talked-about aspect of the numbers problem” and it’s one that lasts: Jail records tend to confer a long-time stigma of prison that women won’t generally accept. Not even a post-prison college education erases that reluctance.
So what are the ramifications of the lack of available, desirable Black men?
Black women rarely “marry down,” so a lot of single sisters are more willing to “man-share,” says Banks. More and more single Black men are rotating several girlfriends because they’re “having fun” and because there’s no urgent reason to behave otherwise. Black women feel powerless to stop this because “Black men are in short supply” and a part-time relationship is better than nothing.
So what can be done?
Banks has one main idea: Black women don’t need to remain single. They can open their minds and “marry out.” Though it seems to be a conundrum, “if more Black women married non-Black men, more Black men and women might marry each other.”
Without a doubt, there will be some readers who’ll want to throw “Is Marriage for White People?” out onto the street. Like any author with a potentially contentious subject, Ralph Richard Banks may anger some people — but there will be many who will applaud what he has to say.
Banks, a married educator, has statistics and facts to back up his information — so much so that about a third of this book is referential. He takes things further with interviews and an explanation on how he came to his thought-provoking conclusions. This is an intriguing book, both for the information that Banks presents and for the results he ends up with.
But will it work? That remains to be seen but, in the meantime, “Is Marriage for White People?” is guaranteed to start a lot of conversations. If you’re single and don’t want to be, vow to read this book soon.
WASHINGTON — In a shift in White House tactics on the cusp of an election year, President Barack Obama isn’t shying away these days from saying that many of his policies were designed with African Americans in mind.
Until now, the nation’s first Black president has carefully avoided putting any emphasis on race, ascribing to a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats approach to governing. That has drawn heavy criticism within the Black community, so much so that, while dedicating the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the National Mall, Obama noted that even King faced rebuke “from his own people.”
But on Wednesday, the White House convened a gathering of Black business, political and community leaders to share a report on the multiple ways the president’s agenda has benefited African Americans. The president made a direct appeal for help on proposals “where we don’t have to wait for Congress” to act. And he asked for initiatives he can pursue administratively “that would make a difference in the communities that all of you represent.”
Obama acknowledged that Black Americans have faced “enormous challenges,” especially with unemployment, on his watch. He told the African-American Policy Agenda Conference that his three years of accomplishments have “lessened the severity” of the economic crisis for millions of people, made sure millions have health care and unemployment benefits and kept millions out of poverty.
The achievements were summed up in a report given to attendees who were encouraged several times to share its contents with their networks and communities.
The current 15.1 percent unemployment rate among Blacks is “way too high,” the president said, and various other problems that plagued Black communities before he took office, such as housing and education, have worsened.
“We know tough times,” the president said. “And what we also know, though, is that if we are persistent, if we are unified, and we remain hopeful, then we’ll get through these tough times and better days lie ahead.”
But Obama and members of his administration also worked hard to drive home the message that the president has not neglected the Black community or ignored the fact that joblessness among African Americans runs chronically higher than the overall unemployment rate, which is 9 percent.
“Since Day One, the president has fought for the policies that matter to the African-American community,” senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told reporters leading up to the summit.
The summit’s first two panels, which featured Cabinet members, high-level White House advisers and deputy secretaries, gave laundry lists of the programs they said had benefited African Americans. The lists mentioned a crackdown on states that have done a poor job of enrolling people who qualify for food stamps, bailing out the auto industry and helping community colleges to work with local businesses.
Increases in spending on college grant loans, making sure children with pre-existing conditions can get health care, tax credits and education improvements were among the many things mentioned.
Obama, who popped by the summit in a detour from the agenda, trumpeted elements of his jobs bill, which he noted is still pending in Congress, and said his plan is the only one out there that will put people back to work.
He also mentioned that his administration has sped up payments to government vendors so they are paid in 15-day rather than 30-day increments.
“This is something that can benefit folks right away, and we can start seeing a difference in our communities,” Obama said.
Michael Eric Dyson, an author and sociology professor at Georgetown University, has criticized Obama for de-emphasizing race and called on him to craft policies more targeted to the Black unemployment issue. He said the White House message on Wednesday showed that the White House had listened to some of the criticism that Obama was not talking enough about race.
“I’m glad they are sensitive to that need,” said Dyson, who is Black. “This is a chance to embrace what they have done.”
The House is in recess this week so most members of the Congressional Black Caucus were not in Washington for the summit. — (AP)
The long, drawn-out 2012 Presidential Election has, mercifully, come to an end, President Barack Obama has been re-elected and Black voters appear to be ecstatic, vindicated -- and still just a little too content.
In the wake of a hard-fought political battle, which saw the President clobber the challenger, 332 to 206, in electoral votes, he also won the popular vote, 50.5 percent to 48 percent. The fact that the President’s popular vote margin dropped from 7.3 percentage points, in 2008, to 2.5 percentage points, in 2012, is not, however, the most surprising piece of data coming out of the election, so far.
No, perhaps the bigger surprise, with nearly $2 billion having been raised among the candidates – to “define” one another and to “get out the vote,” is that the actual number of Americans that actually voted, in 2012, declined from 131,032,799, in 2008, to 120,531,631, in 2012, or about 9 percent.
According to the Washington Post, that made the 2012 Presidential Election the first since 1996 to show a decrease in the overall number of voters over a previous, four-year comparison date.
Who were these 10.5 million voters who simply didn’t show up, this time? What did they look like? What were they thinking? Does it have anything, at all, to do with the threat of Photo ID, at the polling place?
It’s still a little early, and although media have informed us that President Obama received 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, and 73 percent of the Asian vote, that’s all just based on “exit surveys." Those, of course, were taken as people left the polling place and may not match what those voters actually did behind their curtains. We’ll find that out soon enough.
The "exit polls" also told us that Mitt Romney pulled down 60 percent of the white vote, the majority of voters over the age of 40, and 55 percent of the “male vote."
What we don’t know yet, however, is exactly how many registered Black, white, Hispanic or Asian voters, specifically, actually showed up on Election Day (the turnout numbers.)
For example, the previous Presidential Election was held in 2008, but it wasn’t until April 2009, five full months later, that the Pew Research Center had gathered enough data to tell us precisely what happened in “Obama vs. McCain."
Pew was eventually able to tell us, for example, that nearly one-in-four votes cast in 2008 were delivered by non-whites, based on its analysis of Census Bureau data. The researchers were also able to tell us that whites comprised 76.3 percent of every 2008 vote, while blacks represented 12.1 percent, Hispanics 7.4 percent and Asians 2.5 percent. Pew made it clear, also, that the white share was the lowest percentage in U.S. presidential voting history, yet, it was still higher than the 65.8 percent "white share" of the U.S. population.
We learned, in that April 2009 report, also, that Black “turnout” increased from 60.3 percent in 2004 to 65.2 percent, in 2008. With that performance, Black participation was virtually the same, for the first time in U.S. Presidential Election history, as the white turnout level, at 66.1 percent, and that white turnout actually declined from 67.2 percent in 2004.
Before leaving the Black turnout data we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that, for the first time in history, the 68.8 percent turnout for Black females exceeded all other racial, gender or ethnic categories. The same report advised us that Hispanic turnout rose just 2.7 percentage points, from 2004 to 2008, from 47.2 percent to 49.9 percent. Asian turnout, it was reported, increased 2.4 percentage points, to 47 percent.
For this year, however, it's still way too early to know, definitively, what actually took place on Nov. 6. We know who won, but we still don’t know precisely how it happened. And, in circumstances this important, we don’t want to be satisfied with knowing that pollsters have “estimated” that the Blacks who went to the polls gave Barack Obama 93 percent of their votes. We also want to know how many votes that represented and what percentage of all votes cast that constituted.
Why is that important? Well, Blacks who watched CNN on election night should have been disappointed to see and hear the under-emphasis of the effect of Black votes on all that was going on that evening.
Even more unsettling has been the strong emphasis on how important the role white females, Hispanic and Asian voters have played in the 2012 outcome.
As you can readily surmise, however, even if 73 percent of Asian voters supported the president, their total votes cast were probably very much in the range of the 2.5 percent of the electorate they represented, in 2008. And, even if Hispanic voters increased their support of the President from 67 percent, in 2008, to 71 percent in 2012, we need to remember that they only represented 7.4 percent of all presidential votes cast, in 2008, as compared to 12.1 percent for black voters.
Somehow, I’m not feeling, yet, the recognition in media circles that the black votes carried significantly greater impact than other voting blocs, as the 2008 report clearly indicated.
That’s especially disturbing because this is the time when people begin to make up their minds about how elections are actually won or lost. Indeed, we’re hearing that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Hurricane Sandy sunk Mitt Romney’s campaign and were the reason that Barack Obama won the election. Then we hear that it was the “binders full of women” comment that did the job, or even Romney’s unwillingness, during the campaign, to visit the David Letterman Show, as Barack Obama certainly did.
While some of these claims are clearly not as serious as others, we do need to hear, as the president shapes his agenda, as he decides on the makeup of his cabinet, and as he establishes his job-creation priorities, just how important the Black vote actually was, and how that support should be reflected in White House policies and statements, moving forward.
You know, I wish I had a nickel for every Black person who insisted -- and hoped -- leading up to the Election, that President Obama would finally get around to black-specific issues, in his second term.
I’d be rich.
These were the people who believed that the president actually had a long-range plan for moving the country to Black-white economic parity. They said it was “smart politics” that he avoided such issues, in his first term, to ensure his re-election. They also cautioned that people like me shouldn’t even bring up such topics "in polite company." It could only hurt the president.
Well, even without having all of the data, we need to begin to make our case for full inclusion, now. I have a hunch that once the numbers are made available, we’ll find that, even though their issues went largely unaddressed, even though their media outlets had to settle for the “crumbs off the campaign budget table," ever-loyal Black folks actually got up early, went out to the polls and voted, and they did so at a rate greater than any other voting bloc in this country – for Barack Obama.
It seems that it’s now time for the president, the national media and all Americans to get comfortable with that, and to understand, completely, if the U.S, government begins to work to eliminate race-based net worth, unemployment, education, health and housing disparities in this county.
Blacks have certainly been more patient than any other group of voters has ever been.
They voted. Their candidate won. To the victors, belongs, at least, a fair percentage of “the spoils.”
Now, let’s get that done.
It is, after all, “the American way.”
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.
Blacks voted at higher rates than whites in 2012, helping to lift President Barack Obama to re-election victory, according to new data from the Census Bureau.
The turnout rate of African American voters surpassed the rate of whites for the first time on record in 2012, as more Black voters went to the polls than in 2008 and fewer whites did, new census data show.
According to the census report released last week, 66.2 percent of eligible African Americans voted in the 2012 election, compared with 64.1 percent of eligible non-Hispanic whites. The overall turnout rate was 61.8 percent in 2012, a decline from 63.6 percent in 2008.
Exit polls showed an estimated two million fewer white Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008, just as about 1.8 million more Blacks went to the polls, more than 90 percent of them voting to re-elect Obama.
The increase in African-American voter turnout was attributed not only to African Americans seeking to re-elect the president but it was also a positive and proactive response to new efforts at voter suppression by Republican lawmakers.
In several states including Pennsylvania, Republican legislators tried to either increase voter ID requirements, limit voting times or make registration more difficult.
Civil rights groups, African American elected officials and others rallied voters to get registered and vote in response to efforts to make voting more difficult.
The historic increase in African American voter turnout is something to celebrate while exercising caution.
Michael McDonald, a George Mason University professor who specializes in voter turnout, told the Associated Press: “Obama’s win in 2012, despite the important Democratic constituency of young voters not participating at a higher level, is good news. The bad news is that voting is a habit — and the fact that we saw turnout declines among younger African Americans suggest Democrats will have to work even harder to excite these voters in future elections.”
It remains unclear if the increase in Black voter turnout will last and if the next Democratic nominee in 2016 and beyond would generate the same kind of enthusiasm as Obama.
Efforts to suppress the vote will have to be fought against in the courts and through voter education and mobilization.
During a campaign rally in the 2012 presidential election campaign, Obama said the best revenge is voting.
As African-American voters clearly demonstrated in 2012, the best response to restrictive voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and other states, reduced voting hours, voter purging and other voting suppression efforts is strong voter turnout.
DETROIT — When Eva Nelson-McClendon first moved to Detroit's Birwood Street in 1959, she didn't know much about the wall across the street. At 6 feet tall and a foot thick, it wasn't so imposing, running as it did between houses on her street and one over. Then she started to hear the talk.
Neighbors told her the wall was built two decades earlier with a simple aim: to separate homes planned for middle-class whites from Blacks who had already built small houses or owned land with plans to build.
"That was the division line," Nelson-McClendon, now, 79, says from the kitchen of her tidy, one-story home on the city's northwest side. "Blacks lived on this side, whites was living on the other side. ... That was the way it was."
That's not the way it is anymore. But the wall remains, a physical embodiment of racial attitudes that the country long ago started trying to move beyond.
And slowly, in subtle ways, it is evolving into something else in its community, something unexpected: an inspiration.
To those in the know, it goes by different names. For some, it's simply "The Wall." Others call it "Detroit's Wailing Wall." Many like "Birwood Wall," because it refers to the street and sounds like the "Berlin Wall."
It's still a half-mile long, interrupted only by two streets, much as a developer envisioned it in the early 1940s. It couldn't separate people on its own — people and policies would see to that — but it was enough to satisfy the Federal Housing Administration to approve and back loans.
Aside from the mural that appears at the wall's midpoint, much of it is easy to miss. In fact, it's impossible to follow it completely as the wall disappears behind homes and in spots is overgrown by vegetation. Where it's exposed, it's whitewashed or a drab earth tone — and sometimes marred by gang graffiti. On one corner it says, "Only 8 Mile," referring to the divisive road just yards to the north.
The wall never fell, but it didn't really have to. The area became primarily African-American in the decades to come, as most whites and even many Blacks left. The pattern was replicated across much of the 139-square-mile city that was built for two million people but fell to about 700,000 in the 2010 Census.
The story of the wall has been largely lost in larger narratives, such as the 1943 and 1967 race riots and Eight Mile Road. The wall ends, almost invisible, just shy of the thoroughfare that serves as the boundary between Detroit and its suburbs and symbolically represents the divide between Black and white.
Race remains a flashpoint in a city beset by an interrelated stew of crime, corruption and high unemployment. And some accuse the state of further disenfranchising Detroit's majority Black population as Michigan's governor recently declared a financial emergency in the city and the state took financial control.
Still, the wall is not forgotten. An artist descended on it several years ago with an army of about 100 fellow artists and community volunteers to create a vast, eye-popping mural with images and messages of equality and justice on a section overlooking a playground. And now, a faith-based nonprofit is giving work to men who have struggled to keep a job or a home, having them make sets of coasters that incorporate images from the wall and use materials from abandoned homes that were razed in the city. Every sale of a $20 set of coasters helps to make something good out of something bad.
"It's recycling, giving jobs to people who are having a tough time with unemployment and, at the same time, creating a very nice piece of art that could and should lead to some great discussions about race in the city of Detroit and in our country," says Faith Fowler, director of Cass Community Social Services and its Green Industries program.
Tightly clustered one-story homes dominate the neighborhood around the wall, which still has well-kept houses like Nelson-McClendon's but also suffers from a rising number of vacant, gutted structures. More tear-downs in the making. And, perhaps, more wood for the coasters.
The homes on Birwood end at Alfonso Wells Memorial Playground, where the eye is immediately drawn to the massive mural.
It's impossible to take it all in at once, but certain images pop out in a slow pan: Rosa Parks boarding the bus that would make her a household name in the civil rights struggle, followed by a man carrying a sign that says, "Fair Housing." Houses and more houses of all colors. A group of men singing a capella under a streetlight. Children blowing bubbles that pop up throughout the wall and contain various things, including an auto plant and words like "peace" and "flowers."
"Bubbles are a form of creation. Children's imaginations create the future," says Chazz Miller, the artist who designed the mural and teamed up with the Motor City Blight Busters in 2006 on the community project. "Also, bubbles capture images and distort them and give you a new perspective."
Creating a new perspective was part of Miller's goal with the mural, but he knew the wall had to delve into the past for those who didn't know history. He took them back to the early migration of Blacks in Detroit, including to the Sojourner Truth Housing Project, which had been nearby and was named after the 19th century abolitionist and women's suffragist. When the project opened, Blacks moving in were harassed and assaulted, and many view the event as a catalyst for deadly riots the following year.
"Sojourner Truth is coming out of the underground railroad at the very beginning of the wall," Miller says, pointing to the picture that's now behind a fence on private property. "And in the very tiny corner there's a Ku Klux Klansman that's pissed because she got away, and he has a burning cross.
"Of course, she has a light — and the light symbolizes leading the way," Miller says.
Not that the path forward would be bright and easy. Competition for housing and jobs between white and Blacks was widespread in the city's boom years. Many Blacks had moved into the area in the 1920s and 1930s because there was so much vacant land — a far cry from the overcrowded, unpleasant conditions in the two Black enclaves near the city center. But a lot of white housing developments started spreading north as well and "pushing up against this Black enclave on the far edge of the city," says Jeff Horner, a lecturer in Wayne State University's Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
By 1940, the gap had closed. A developer of a proposed all-white subdivision managed to hammer out a compromise with federal housing officials: The loans and mortgage guarantees would come in exchange for constructing a wall. "This is the closest thing Detroit has to the segregated fountains or to the white-only swimming pools of the Deep South," Horner says.
Nobody had to tell Nelson-McClendon, who moved to Michigan from Alabama in 1951. "It was the same thing," she says. "Separation."
In an old warehouse a few miles to the southeast, several men are busy working at Green Industries. Among them is Jason Garland, who says he does "mostly everything" related to making the coaster sets. On this particular day, he's trying his hand at some of the final touches: spreading glue on the square pieces of paper containing images from the mural and affixing them to a small block of glass donated by a local windshield manufacturer.
Garland, 26, had been out of work for a year before coming to work for Green Industries in January. He says he had "gotten lazy at one point," but in his new job he often comes in early and on days off. The former automotive worker says he and his co-workers look out for each other, and he never wants to leave.
Garland is also learning history. He used to live near the wall but had no idea about why it was built or the meaning of the mural. "I used to always say, 'What is that?'" he says.
Cass launched Green Industries in 2007, after some clients couldn't get jobs anymore because of the worsening economy and lack of reliable mass transportation. The nonprofit started with welcome mats made from illegally dumped tires, then added a paper-shredding operation employing people with developmental disabilities.
The coaster idea grew out of collaboration between Cass and the University of Michigan. A class for business, art, design and engineering students called "Integrated Product Development" was challenged to come up with a new product for Cass that could be launched quickly and cheaply, and made with materials that would otherwise go to waste.
After months of near-miss attempts, class professor William Lovejoy devised the idea of the Detroit-branded coasters and fashioned prototypes. He presented the idea to Fowler, who says the men have made about 200 four-coaster sets and sold about 100 so far. Anytime she takes a boxful to a speaking engagement or event, she usually sells out — and gets people talking about the wall and, sometimes, their experiences with it. For most, it's a revelation.
"It gives them permission to have that kind of discussion — both Black and white, young and old," Fowler says.
For muralist Miller, who sees the vacant and trashed homes behind the concrete canvas he painted, the promise of a "new Detroit" is still possible. But it won't happen, he says, without a continued push by those who remain in the neighborhood and others like it across the shrinking, struggling city.
"It's really up to us to not cry on what's gone," Miller says. "Let's focus on what we have. ... We need to get people out do these kinds of projects so they can have conversations and get to know each other and find out who their neighbors are."
A metaphor from his mural is within arm's reach: A depiction of the city's famous Spirit of Detroit statue is on a cut-out board that extended above the wall but since has fallen off and is propped against the wall. The original Spirit of Detroit is lifting up a family; Miller's Spirit emerges from flames and rubble and holds up a migrant family to symbolize the migration of workers from the South to Detroit to fill its burgeoning factories.
"What is the Spirit of Detroit, and what does it motivate us to do? It motivates us to work hard and to persevere, and to keep going," he says.
When it comes to the wall, Eva Nelson-McClendon knows about perseverance. For her, it was and remains the only option.
"Did it make me angry to see that wall up there? It was something you grow accustomed to seeing, you know, although you don't like it. Getting angry over it is not going to solve anything," McClendon says. "What was important to me was bringing up my kids and getting them to get an education so they wouldn't have to be bothered with things like that in the future."
She thinks about progress, and acknowledges some. But she knows there are still neighborhoods, mostly in the suburbs now, where African-Americans can move but they aren't welcomed with open arms.
But on this day, she takes solace that people didn't stay in place. Even if the wall did.
"It all depends on the people, the individual, the heart," she says. "You're not going to stop progress, don't care how hard you try." -- (AP)
WASHINGTON — America's Blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time, reflecting a deeply polarized presidential election in which Blacks strongly supported Barack Obama while many whites stayed home.
Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when Black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly, according to an analysis conducted for The Associated Press.
Census data and exit polling show that whites and Blacks will remain the two largest racial groups of eligible voters for the next decade. Last year's heavy Black turnout came despite concerns about the effect of new voter-identification laws on minority voting, outweighed by the desire to re-elect the first Black president.
William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, analyzed the 2012 elections for the AP using census data on eligible voters and turnout, along with November's exit polling. He estimated total votes for Obama and Romney under a scenario where 2012 turnout rates for all racial groups matched those in 2004. Overall, 2012 voter turnout was roughly 58 percent, down from 62 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2004.
The analysis also used population projections to estimate the shares of eligible voters by race group through 2030. The numbers are supplemented with material from the Pew Research Center and George Mason University associate professor Michael McDonald, a leader in the field of voter turnout who separately reviewed aggregate turnout levels across states, as well as AP interviews with the Census Bureau and other experts. The bureau is scheduled to release data on voter turnout in May.
Overall, the findings represent a tipping point for Blacks, who for much of America's history were disenfranchised and then effectively barred from voting until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
But the numbers also offer a cautionary note to both Democrats and Republicans after Obama won in November with a historically low percentage of white supporters. While Latinos are now the biggest driver of U.S. population growth, they still trail whites and Blacks in turnout and electoral share, because many of the Hispanics in the country are children or noncitizens.
In recent weeks, Republican leaders have urged a "year-round effort" to engage Black and other minority voters, describing a grim future if their party does not expand its core support beyond white males.
The 2012 data suggest Romney was a particularly weak GOP candidate, unable to motivate white voters let alone attract significant Black or Latino support. Obama's personal appeal and the slowly improving economy helped overcome doubts and spur record levels of minority voters in a way that may not be easily replicated for Democrats soon.
Romney would have erased Obama's nearly 5 million-vote victory margin and narrowly won the popular vote if voters had turned out as they did in 2004, according to Frey's analysis. Then, white turnout was slightly higher and Black voting lower.
More significantly, the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and Colorado would have tipped in favor of Romney, handing him the presidency if the outcome of other states remained the same.
"The 2012 turnout is a milestone for Blacks and a huge potential turning point," said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University who has written extensively on Black politicians. "What it suggests is that there is an 'Obama effect' where people were motivated to support Barack Obama. But it also means that Black turnout may not always be higher, if future races aren't as salient."
Whit Ayres, a GOP consultant who is advising GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible 2016 presidential contender, says the last election reaffirmed that the Republican Party needs "a new message, a new messenger and a new tone." Change within the party need not be "lock, stock and barrel," Ayres said, but policy shifts such as GOP support for broad immigration legislation will be important to woo minority voters over the longer term.
"It remains to be seen how successful Democrats are if you don't have Barack Obama at the top of the ticket," he said.
In Ohio, a battleground state where the share of eligible Black voters is more than triple that of other minorities, 27-year-old Lauren Howie of Cleveland didn't start out thrilled with Obama in 2012. She felt he didn't deliver on promises to help students reduce college debt, promote women's rights and address climate change, she said. But she became determined to support Obama as she compared him with Romney.
"I got the feeling Mitt Romney couldn't care less about me and my fellow African-Americans," said Howie, an administrative assistant at Case Western Reserve University's medical school who is paying off college debt.
Howie said she saw some Romney comments as insensitive to the needs of the poor. "A white Mormon swimming in money with offshore accounts buying up companies and laying off their employees just doesn't quite fit my idea of a president," she said. "Bottom line, Romney was not someone I was willing to trust with my future."
The numbers show how population growth will translate into changes in who votes over the coming decade:
—The gap between non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic Black turnout in 2008 was the smallest on record, with voter turnout at 66.1 percent and 65.2 percent, respectively; turnout for Latinos and non-Hispanic Asians trailed at 50 percent and 47 percent. Rough calculations suggest that in 2012, 2 million to 5 million fewer whites voted compared with 2008, even though the pool of eligible white voters had increased.
—Unlike other minority groups, the rise in voting for the slow-growing Black population is due to higher turnout. While Blacks make up 12 percent of the share of eligible voters, they represented 13 percent of total 2012 votes cast, according to exit polling. That was a repeat of 2008, when Blacks "outperformed" their eligible voter share for the first time on record.
—White voters also outperformed their eligible vote share, but not at the levels seen in years past. In 2012, whites represented 72 percent of total votes cast, compared to their 71.1 percent eligible vote share. As recently as 2004, whites typically outperformed their eligible vote share by at least 2 percentage points. McDonald notes that in 2012, states with significant Black populations did not experience as much of a turnout decline as other states. That would indicate a lower turnout for whites last November since overall voter turnout declined.
—Latinos now make up 17 percent of the population but 11 percent of eligible voters, due to a younger median age and lower rates of citizenship and voter registration. Because of lower turnout, they represented just 10 percent of total 2012 votes cast. Despite their fast growth, Latinos aren't projected to surpass the share of eligible Black voters until 2024, when each group will be roughly 13 percent. By then, 1 in 3 eligible voters will be nonwhite.
—In 2026, the total Latino share of voters could jump to as high as 16 percent, if nearly 11 million immigrants here illegally become eligible for U.S. citizenship. Under a proposed bill in the Senate, those immigrants would have a 13-year path to citizenship. The share of eligible white voters could shrink to less than 64 percent in that scenario. An estimated 80 percent of immigrants here illegally, or 8.8 million, are Latino, although not all will meet the additional requirements to become citizens.
"The 2008 election was the first year when the minority vote was important to electing a U.S. president. By 2024, their vote will be essential to victory," Frey said. "Democrats will be looking at a landslide going into 2028 if the new Hispanic voters continue to favor Democrats."
Even with demographics seeming to favor Democrats in the long term, it's unclear whether Obama's coalition will hold if Blacks or younger voters become less motivated to vote or decide to switch parties.
Minority turnout tends to drop in midterm congressional elections, contributing to larger GOP victories as happened in 2010, when House control flipped to Republicans.
The economy and policy matter. Exit polling shows that even with Obama's re-election, voter support for a government that does more to solve problems declined from 51 percent in 2008 to 43 percent last year, bolstering the view among Republicans that their core principles of reducing government are sound.
The party's "Growth and Opportunity Project" report released last month by national leaders suggests that Latinos and Asians could become more receptive to GOP policies once comprehensive immigration legislation is passed.
Whether the economy continues its slow recovery also will shape voter opinion, including among Blacks, who have the highest rate of unemployment.
Since the election, optimism among nonwhites about the direction of the country and the economy has waned, although support for Obama has held steady. In an October AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of nonwhites said the nation was heading in the right direction; that's dropped to 52 percent in a new AP-GfK poll. Among non-Hispanic whites, however, the numbers are about the same as in October, at 28 percent.
Democrats in Congress merit far lower approval ratings among nonwhites than does the president, with 49 percent approving of congressional Democrats and 74 percent approving of Obama.
William Galston, a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, says that in previous elections where an enduring majority of voters came to support one party, the president winning re-election — William McKinley in 1900, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 — attracted a larger turnout over his original election and also received a higher vote total and a higher share of the popular vote. None of those occurred for Obama in 2012.
Only once in the last 60 years has a political party been successful in holding the presidency more than eight years — Republicans from 1980-1992.
"This doesn't prove that Obama's presidency won't turn out to be the harbinger of a new political order," Galston says. "But it does warrant some analytical caution."
Early polling suggests that Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton could come close in 2016 to generating the level of support among nonwhites as Obama did in November, when he won 80 percent of their vote. In a Fox News poll in February, 75 percent of nonwhites said they thought Clinton would make a good president, outpacing the 58 percent who said that about Vice President Joe Biden.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, predicts closely fought elections in the near term and worries that GOP-controlled state legislatures will step up efforts to pass voter ID and other restrictions to deter Blacks and other minorities from voting. In 2012, courts blocked or delayed several of those voter ID laws and African-Americans were able to turn out in large numbers only after a very determined get-out-the-vote effort by the Obama campaign and Black groups, he said.
Jealous says the 2014 midterm election will be the real bellwether for Black turnout. "Black turnout set records this year despite record attempts to suppress the Black vote," he said. -- (AP)
WASHINGTON — Has the U.S. achieved Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a colorblind society? Fewer than half of all Americans say the country has made substantial progress in the past 50 years toward racial equality, a new poll shows.
Despite a heightened sense of racial progress immediately following the 2008 election of the first Black president, Americans' views of Black progress have waned.
The study, released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, offers a mixed picture of progress five decades after King made his historic "I Have a Dream" speech calling for racial equality. The center is a Washington-based research organization.
While large majorities of Blacks and whites say the two races generally get along "very well" or "pretty well," Blacks continue to substantially lag whites when it comes to household income and net worth, and nearly 8 in 10 African-Americans say a lot of work remains to be done to reach racial equality.
Blacks are more likely than other race groups to say they have been discriminated against in the past year — 35 percent vs. 20 percent for Hispanics and 10 percent for whites — with majorities of Blacks saying they are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with police, in the courts, in local public schools or on the job.
President Barack Obama's 2008 election only temporarily boosted perceptions of progress for Blacks. After initially rising across all races, the percentage saying Blacks had gained ground in the last five years has dropped to levels last seen in 2007.
Only 1 in 4 African-Americans say the situation of Black people is better now than five years ago, down from 39 percent in 2009. Among whites, it fell from 49 percent to 35 percent.
Overall, 49 percent of Americans say "a lot more" remains to be done to achieve racial equality. Among Blacks, the share climbs to 79 percent, compared with 44 percent for whites and 48 percent for Hispanics.
"The public seems to be saying that we as a society are heading in the right direction, but we aren't there yet," said Pew senior editor Rich Morin. "Most Americans realize we have made at least some progress in the past 50 years, just as large majorities say that we need to do more to truly become a colorblind society."
Howard University sociologist Roderick Harrison, a former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau, said waning perceptions of Black progress since Obama's election reflect a bit of a reality check. The recent recession also hit Blacks hard, particularly in employment, he said.
The Pew report shows many recognize the economic hardship facing African-Americans. Overall, Americans are four times as likely to say the average Black person is worse off than the average white person, though 41 percent say they are equally well off.
Recent analysis by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that confidence among African-Americans in Congress and the executive branch has dropped sharply since spiking in 2010, amid increasing political polarization and a divided government.
"Part of what we see over and over again is the limits of political power" to bring about economic equality, Harrison said, pointing in part to deeper structural obstacles for Blacks such as lower wealth or segregated neighborhoods.
"Our problem is that given current inequalities in where people start, many of them directly traceable to histories of discrimination and exclusion, these inequalities are likely to be preserved and perpetuated through future generations even if our society were to become genuinely colorblind," he said.
The Pew findings also coincide with an analysis by the AP-NORC Center showing optimism about the nation's future divided by race as well as income and education levels, with Blacks and Hispanics taking a more positive outlook than whites.
That finding comes despite economic hardship hitting those of all races. The AP reported last month that 4 out of 5 U.S. adults have struggled with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least part of their lives, with white pessimism about their economic future at a 25-year high.
In the Pew survey, perceptions of economic disparity by race were less pronounced among those with lower income levels. Both Blacks and whites with incomes below $50,000 annually were less likely than their higher-income counterparts to say Blacks are worse off than whites. More than 40 percent of the poor are white.
Census data show that whites outpace Blacks in median net worth — 14 to 1. In 2011, median Black household income was 59 percent of median white income, up modestly from 55 percent in 1967.
—By political party, about 56 percent of Republicans say the U.S. has made a lot of progress toward racial equality, compared with just 38 percent of Democrats. When asked how much more needs to be done, 35 percent of Republicans say "a lot" compared with 63 percent of Democrats.
—About 7 in 10 Blacks say they are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with police (70 percent) or in the courts (68 percent). And the Pew report shows that in 2010, Black men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated. That's up from 1960, when Black men were five times more likely to be in a federal or state prison, or local jail.
— Blacks are more likely than other race groups to say they are treated less fairly than whites on the job (54 percent); in local public schools (51 percent); in getting health care (47 percent); when voting in elections (48 percent); and in stores or restaurants (44 percent).
The Pew survey includes interviews with 2,231 adults by cellphone or landline from Aug. 1-11, 2013, including 1,471 non-Hispanic whites, 376 non-Hispanic Blacks and 218 Hispanics. Among all adults, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. It is higher for subgroups. -- (AP)