NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Southern Baptist leader apologized this week for any hurt caused by explosive remarks accusing President Barack Obama and other Black leaders of exploiting Trayvon Martin's death for political gain.
"I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated," Richard Land wrote in letter to Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright. "It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life."
The head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, Land also issued an apology for not telling listeners to his radio show that several of his comments were not his own, but were taken from an editorial in the Washington Times.
He faced plagiarism allegations over the weekend after blogger Aaron Weaver did an Internet search on Land's comments.
Weaver is a doctoral student of religion and politics at Baylor University. He said he was surprised that Land would lift his commentary from another source.
"He's a pretty articulate guy," Weaver said. But Weaver said he also found it troubling because Land, as president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for 23 years, is the denomination's ethicist.
Land issued a statement on Monday calling the lack of attribution an oversight. He said there was no attempt to deceive his listeners and that he always provides links to his source material on his website.
"I am grateful this oversight was brought to my attention. One can always do better and I certainly pledge to do so," the statement reads.
Land declined to be interviewed for this story.
Martin was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26 in the central Florida town of Sanford. Zimmerman said he fired his 9 mm handgun after Martin attacked and beat him. Martin's family and supporters claim Zimmerman was the aggressor, targeting the unarmed Martin for suspicion mainly because he was Black. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother Hispanic.
Last week, Florida prosecutors charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder in Martin's death. Zimmerman, who is claiming self-defense, faces up to life in prison if convicted.
As of late last week, Land had said that he stood by his assertion that Obama "poured gasoline on the racialist fires" when he addressed the killing of Martin.
Land had alleged that Obama and two civil rights activists — the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — had used the case "to try to gin up the Black vote for an African American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election." Land, who is white, had also said he was confident that a vast majority of Southern Baptists agreed with him.
His comments came at a time when the nation's largest Protestant denomination is trying to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional white, Southern base. And Southern Baptists say their efforts have been working.
SBC spokesman Roger S. Oldham has said that ethnic congregations made up about 13 percent of SBC churches in 1998. That had increased to 18 percent by 2008, with African-American and Hispanic congregations each making up about 6 percent of SBC churches, Asian churches at about 3 percent and other ethnic churches making up another 3 percent.
Last year, the 16-million-member denomination for the first time elected a Black pastor to its No. 2 position of first vice president. The Rev. Fred Luter is expected to become the first Black president of the SBC at this year's annual meeting in June.
Luter was among those concerned that Land's remarks could hurt the denomination's efforts to diversify.
In his letter of apology, Land reiterates his commitment to racial reconciliation, noting his key role in the SBC's 1995 apology for past support of slavery and racism.
"I look forward to the day when our convention membership reflects the ethnic and demographic diversity of the general population, with no difference between Southern Baptists and the nation," the letter reads.
While this week's letter does not appear to apologize for the substance of the comments, Land does commit himself to addressing controversial issues with more sensitivity in the future.
"I appreciate him coming forth and giving the apology," James Dixon Jr., president of the SBC's National African American Fellowship, said in an interview Tuesday. "I accept his apology and I hope this has been a teaching moment for him."
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin, who has been one of the chief promoters of Fred Luter's presidency, tweeted, "Thankful. Wish he had said more. 4give. Move 4ward." -- (AP)
Al Sharpton has patterned his career so closely after the Jesse Jackson model that he could be justifiably charged with identity theft. Like Jackson, he began wearing a Martin Luther King medallion around his neck. Like Jackson, he started his own civil rights organization. Like Jackson, he ran for president of the United States. Like Jackson, he now has his own radio and television shows. And like Jackson, he has become a confidante of the man who occupies the White House.
At a ceremony last week at Georgetown University to celebrate Jesse Jackson’s 70th birthday and a half-century in the Civil Rights Movement, Sharpton proved that he not only had studied Jesse Jackson, but the Civil Rights Movement just as carefully.
“We try to go from ’68 to ’08 — like we leapfrogged from Dr. King to the president of the United States, Barack Obama,” Sharpton explained. Much of the progress in Black economic and political development between the time Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis and the election of Obama in 2008 should be largely attributed to Jackson, Sharpton suggested.
Jesse Jackson was among the handful of top aides to Dr. King. When King was killed in Memphis, Ralph Abernathy succeeded him as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but it was Jackson who assumed the mantle as Black America’s top civil rights leader.
Jackson, who was selected by King to head Operation Breadbasket in Chicago, challenged major corporations to not only hire more Blacks, but to expand opportunities for African Americans to own automobile dealerships and fast-food franchises and provide goods and services to Fortune 500 companies.
Sharpton listed Richard Parsons, former CEO of Time Warner, and American Express CEO Ken Chenault as beneficiaries of Jackson’s early work.
“There would not have been anybody in the corporate elite had it not been a movement led by Jackson to say you can’t put a glass ceiling on how far we can go,” Sharpton explained. “It wasn’t that Blacks weren’t qualified to be chairmen of major corporations until the ’80s. There was no movement that had broken the ceiling.”
Lifting the ceiling from national politics was also part of the Jesse Jackson legacy. Although other African Americans had run for president — including Frederick Douglass, Shirley Chisholm and Dick Gregory — none were as successful as Jackson in 1984 and 1988.
Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson, who organized the appreciation event with his wife, Marcia Dyson, who served as Operation PUSH Trade Bureau’s first chief of staff, said what many in the audience were thinking: “Without Jesse Jackson, there would be no Barack Obama.”
The Jackson-Obama relationship turned sour after Jackson was recorded saying that the then-presidential candidate talks down to African Americans and he would like to dismember a certain part of Obama’s body. While that crude comment hurt Jackson’s standing among African Americans excited about the prospect of electing the nation’s first Black president, it does not alter the fact that Obama would not be in the White House without Jackson’s presidential campaigns.
Sharpton was uncharacteristically diplomatic in how he addressed the relationship between Obama and Jackson, noting that after King had helped Carl Stokes become the first Black mayor of Cleveland, he was excluded from the victory celebration.
“The misnomer is that students watching think because you weren’t at the party that you had nothing to do with the achievement,” Sharpton said. “Don’t get confused by the invitation list to the party with those who created what you are celebrating.”
At the tribute to Jackson, he was celebrated for developing a long list of leaders, including Sharpton, former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, political strategist Donna Brazile, activist Marcia Dyson, assistant Agriculture Secretary Joseph Leonard, Black Leadership Forum Executive Director Gary Flowers, ACLU Washington Director Laura W. Murphy and Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association For Equal Opportunity (NAFEO).
The Rev. Freddie Haynes of Dallas, in what he called an oratorical thank-you note to Jesse Jackson, spoke about the impact of Jackson’s presidential campaigns.
Looking at Jackson, he recalled: “After your speech I was in the barbershop — and you know how we kick it in the barbershop in the ’hood — and some brothers were talking about, ‘Did you hear Jesse?’ Jesse. Jesse. Jesse. And I wasn’t feeling them disrespecting Rev. Jesse Jackson like that. So I said, ‘Do you know Rev. Jesse Jackson?’ And the brother jumped right back at me and said, ‘I don’t know Jesse, but Jesse knows me.’”
Sharpton said Jesse Jackson led the way in urging children to spend less time in front of TV, curbing violence in the Black community and getting youth to believe that “I Am Somebody.”
Sharpton stated, “In many ways, I would say that from the economic fights from the end of the decade he started in the ’70s to the political empowerment that resulted in the first Black attorney general and the first Black president to the whole concept of coalition-building, he has defined the last part of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century.”
Michael Eric Dyson put it this way: “Like Muhammad Ali, he shook up the world.” — (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.
Credit Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter for using a word during his Democratic National Convention speech last week that President Barack Obama seemingly has purged from his public vocabulary: poverty.
Nutter, just four full sentences into his DNC speech delivered the same night that President Obama spoke, used that “P” word that has practically disappeared from public political discourse among America’s elected leaders and leading media pundits.
Poverty grew by 27 percent increase across America from 2006-2010 according to an Indiana University study released earlier this year.
Poverty in America is “remarkably widespread” that study concluded.
Over fifty-million Americans are living in poverty the IU study stated.
That crushing condition guts over one-third of Philadelphia’s residents daily… the highest among American large cities.
And little surprise, that IU study noted that the largest increases in poverty afflicted Hispanics, African-Americans, children and households headed by women.
America’s child poverty ranks second-highest among 35 developed nations. (A three-person household with $17,900 annual income lives in poverty according to the federal government.)
It’s outrageously ironic that while poverty soars across America critically wounded by the wealth-greed enflamed Great Recession, anti-poverty discourse disappears from policy initiatives advanced by Democratic and Republican leaders.
Conservatives, especially Republicans, have long pushed the falsehood that America’s impoverished are solely responsible for their impoverishment.
That falsehood fudges foundational facts fanning impoverishment like what Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders castigates as America’s “grotesquely unfair distribution of wealth” — were the top 1 percent controls 41 percent of all wealth compared to the bottom 60 percent controlling just 2 percent of America’s wealth.
Irrespective of conflicted understandings about poverty’s root causes, at least one observable certainty exists about those tens of millions of Americans living in poverty or living near falling into poverty.
Not one among the tens-of-millions of impoverished were among the scores of millionaires/billionaires that recently paid a $1-million apiece for a private audience in Tampa Bay with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney aboard the ritzy 150’ yacht “Cracker Bay” that flew the flag of the Cayman Islands where the wealthy often off-shore income to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Mayor Nutter referenced the word poverty when extolling the necessity of all people acquiring solid educations. Nutter scored Republicans for slashing educational funding from kindergarten to college.
Nutter stated that education was essential for achieving his goals in Philadelphia that included reducing poverty.
“In Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “Our public safety, poverty reduction, health and economic development all start with education.”
Obama’s rare referencing of poverty, either from political reticence or refusal, has sparked criticism from within his political constituency.
“This year, both Governor Romney and President Obama at least mentioned the ‘P’ word in their convention speeches, but neither pledged to make the alleviation of poverty in America a priority,” Obama critic Tavis Smiley wrote recently.
It speaks volumes that self-applauded businessman Romney doesn’t practice what he preaches about the virtues of private enterprise generating paycheck producing jobs that keep people from falling into unemployment induced poverty.
Very few Black businesses around Tampa Bay, Fla., received any revenue from the millions of dollars expended on and generated by the RNC that recently anointed Romney.
The presidents of the Tampa Bay Black Chamber of Commerce and the Sun Coast African American Chamber of Commerce both said economic exclusion ruled at Tampa’s RNC.
“There was not big tent of inclusion,” said Tampa Bay Black Chamber head Willis Bowick. “The RNC had no real outreach to Black businesses here.”
Before dismissing this Tampa Bay Black business criticism of GOP exclusion as partisan soar-grapes recognize that Bowick is the president of the African-American Republican Club of Hillsborough County that includes Tampa Bay.
Shortly before the Tampa Bay RNC, a leading Republican activist in that city, Joseph Robinson, resigned from the GOP citing frustrations with the GOP’s persistent lack of response to issues important to African Americans including the lack of Black business inclusion at the RNC.
Robinson, who owns an engineering consulting firm, said things for blacks worsened within the GOP during the past few years paralleling the ascendancy of Tea Party influence.
“With the GOP they do not even give us trickle-down crumbs,” Robinson said.
In contrast to the black business exclusion at Tampa’s RNC, Black business received more equitable access to economic opportunities generated at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
Dr. Renae Sanders, chair of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, said “several” Black owned companies received DNC related contracts including construction firms and event planners.
That Black business inclusion during the DNC, while commendable, does not off-set the exclusion Black businesses experienced in federal contracting from Obama’s ARRA stimulus.
Between Feb. 2009 and November 2010 black businesses received a paltry 3.5 percent of stimulus contracting compared to white firms receiving 81.3 percent of stimulus-funded contracts.
While the Democrat and Republican parties again pledged to protect Israel from external violence (increasingly exacerbated by Israel’s increasingly intransigent government) neither Obama nor Romney are addressing the urban violence epidemic wrecking America, as noted in a recent article by Philadelphia Tribune reporter Larry Miller.
Miller’s article quoted attorney/activist Michael Coard observing that neither Obama nor Romney address urban violence because “Romney doesn’t give a damn and Obama is afraid to give a damn.”
Civil Rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson recently said Obama “must address poverty and violence in a different way.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.
Activist cites Civil Rights Movement, offers encouraging message to protestors
Hoping to spur religious and civic leaders to help the Occupy movement become a mass movement, the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited with interfaith leaders on Monday during a trip to the Occupy Philly encampment.
“This is the lineage of Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s struggle,” Jackson said. “If we fight with discipline and non-violence — we win.”
Jackson made a brief appearance at Noon, stopping by the sprawling encampment on Dilworth Plaza, on the west side of City Hall. It was his third consecutive day at the tent city at a time when the fate of the encampment remains uncertain.
Occupiers are under increasing pressure to move as the city tries to push forward on a $50 million renovation of the plaza expected start any day, and will take more than two years to complete. Last week, city officials posted an eviction notice — but Occupiers have yet to vacate the plaza.
Jackson declined to be drawn into the fray over location.
“There’s enough space in the city,” he said when quizzed by reporters after meeting and praying with several of the Occupy Philadelphia spiritual leaders.
His main purpose was to continue to offer his support for the cause of economic equality by drawing parallels between Occupy and the Civil Rights Movement. He urged civic and church leaders to push for “mass mobilization.”
“We need to get more involved. I am reminded of Dr. King’s last campaign to bring the war on poverty home,” he said. “Dr. King’s last effort in Washington was to occupy the national mall.”
Not everyone welcomed the veteran civil rights leader’s support.
In addition to attracting the attention of the press, Jackson’s visit drew a number of hecklers. One young firebrand ran up to civil rights leader yelling, “Where’s your illegitimate child, Jesse?”
The heckler refused to be silenced as a couple of Occupy members moved him away from Jackson, he continued screaming, “we don’t want you here” until finally he quieted down. Though he was quiet he remained in the background — his right arm raised and his middle finger extended for the benefit of the news cameras.
Angry, incoherent youth was not the only voice of dissent.
Another man, Scott Strader of South Philadelphia, circled Jackson with a sign noting that 800 jobs were on hold as Occupiers decided whether to leave Dilworth Plaza to allow the renovation to proceed.
“I don’t think this cause supersedes that work,” he said, in a tone more rational that his fellow heckler.
The angry young man turned his heckling from Jackson to Strader.
“Why does his voice matter?” he asked the reporters gathered to ask Strader questions.
Jackson stuck to his message of support for the movement as a whole, taking in stride yet another outburst from a woman who kept screaming for her children.
“We’re all in this together,” he said, noting that budget cuts reduced services to the homeless and mentally ill who were suffering along with people facing foreclosure, huge credit card debt and towering student loans.
Strader, who said he had no ties to the construction project and worked as a server in a restaurant, said he couldn’t support the Occupiers.
“There’s a socialist bent here,” he said. “People have to become self-sufficient.”
Jackson predicted that the Occupy movement would prompt political change regardless of the local politics surrounding each individual chapter, or any attempts to shut any one organization down.
“Occupy is a spirit that cannot be arrested and Occupy is not about a place but about a space,” Jackson said. “The space between the rich and the poor.”
CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a Chicago Democrat who took a hushed medical leave two months ago, is being treated for bipolar disorder, the Mayo Clinic announced Monday.
The Rochester, Minn.-based clinic specified his condition as Bipolar II, which is defined as periodic episodes of depression and hypomania, a less serious form of mania.
"Congressman Jackson is responding well to the treatment and regaining his strength," the clinic said in a statement.
Bipolar II is a treatable condition that affects parts of the brain controlling emotion, thought and drive and is likely caused "by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors," the clinic said. The statement also mentioned that Jackson underwent weight loss surgery in 2004 and said such a surgery can change how the body absorbs foods and medications, among other things.
The statement Monday was the most detailed to date about the congressman's mysterious medical leave, which began June 10. But it raised new questions about when the congressman can return to work.
A Jackson aide said last week that the congressman was expected back in the district within a matter of weeks, but Jackson's spokesmen declined to comment Monday.
His father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, wouldn't say much about the diagnosis.
"I'm glad he's getting the treatment he needs and is responding well," the elder Jackson said, adding that "there's no timetable" for his recovery.
Experts and mental health advocates say many people are able to work and function in their daily lives while managing treatment.
Treatment includes medication and psychotherapy, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The institute estimates about 5.7 million American adults suffer from the disorder, which can be a lifelong disease.
At least one other member of Congress has suffered from it while in office.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island has talked openly about his lifelong struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction. He's was a leading voice in Congress for removing stigma linked with mental illness. The son of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy was a congressman for 16 years and retired last year.
The younger Kennedy was arrested in 2006 after an early morning car crash near the U.S. Capitol that he said he could not remember. After spending a month at Mayo for treatment of addiction and depression, Kennedy pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
"I had two of the biggest successes in politics after I went to treatment," Kennedy said, referring to getting nearly 70 percent of the re-election vote in 2006 and his legislative victory of getting a bill requiring mental health parity passed in 2008.
"It was because I ran toward the problem and not away from it. When I returned to my district, I spoke openly about it," he said.
Kennedy said he planned to visit Jackson on Thursday. He said he and Jackson had a lot in common: Both served on the House Appropriations Committee together and had famous fathers.
Jackson's office didn't announce his medical condition until nearly two weeks after he went on leave, and it initially described the problem as exhaustion. Later, his office disclosed that Jackson had "grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time." A statement from an unnamed doctor said Jackson had a "mood disorder."
Earlier this month, Jackson's office announced he was at Mayo and being treated for depression and gastrointestinal issues, after a transfer from the Sierra Tucson Treatment Center in Arizona.
Though the Mayo Clinic mentioned Jackson's weight loss surgery, its statement Monday stopped short of directly tying it to his mental health problems. Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Traci Klein declined to comment.
Dr. Jaime Ponce, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, said there is no evidence that the type of surgery Jackson had can cause bipolar disorder. A deficiency of the nutrient thiamine can cause a brain condition that could mimic bipolar disorder, Ponce said, but "bipolar disorder is totally different."
Jackson underwent a duodenal switch procedure in 2004, which involves removing part of the stomach and rearranging the intestine so less food is absorbed. He lost 50 pounds.
Dr. Vivek Prachand, associate professor of surgery at University of Chicago, said people already taking medications for depression can undergo weight loss surgery but may need their medications adjusted afterward. Prachand added that surgery is a drastic change that can trigger an episode in someone with a history of depression.
Jackson aide Rick Bryant said last week that Jackson appeared in good spirits and wanted him to push forward on projects in the district, which includes Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. Jackson, who first won office in 1995, is on the November ballot with two little-known candidates and is widely expected to win re-election.
The timing and manner in which the medical leave was handled has invited scrutiny.
Jackson is under a House Ethics Committee investigation for ties to imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Jackson's office announced his leave just days after a former fundraiser connected to the probe was arrested on federal medical fraud charges.
Jackson has denied wrongdoing. -- (AP)
I watched Al Sharpton on “The Wendy Williams Show” last week. Reverend Al has really reinvented himself. Gone are the long, permed tresses inspired by his early mentor and employer “Godfather of Soul” James Brown. They’ve been replaced by a shorter, more conservative “do” that he informed Wendy he had done once a week at a Harlem hair salon. He’s slimmer, too, down 125 lbs. from his peak weight of 305. Rev. Al also has a new nightly cable show on MSNBC, “PoliticsNation,” an opinion program where he talks issues and current topics with guests, a radio show “Keepin’ It Real” broadcast on New York City’s WWRL-AM and “The Al Sharpton Show” which airs on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Reverend Sharpton did not morph into this kind of acceptable, mainstream, media darling overnight, it’s been a long time coming. Sharpton first appeared on my radar with the Tawana Brawley accusations in 1987, in which a 15-year-old Black girl from Wappinger Falls, New York alleged that a group of white men had raped her. Sharpton was one of the young woman’s advisors at the time, along with attorneys Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason. The bizarre case ended with a Grand Jury finding Brawley’s charges false and Sharpton and his cohorts were looked upon with a very jaundiced eye.
Before the Brawley incident, New York City was already unhinged and Al Sharpton was the go-to guy when there was trouble impacting the Black community. There was Howard Beach in 1986, where three Black men were assaulted by a white mob and one of them, Michael Griffith, was hit by a car and killed trying to escape the brutality. Rev. Al organized a nonviolent protest in which more than 1,200 African Americans marched through the all-white Queens, N.Y. neighborhood protesting the assault and death. Then Bensonhurst happened in 1989. Again, Black youth were assaulted by a white mob and this time, Yusuf Hawkins, a 16-year-old, was killed in the predominantly white Brooklyn community. Rev. Sharpton led a march with Hawkins’ family through the streets of Bensonhurst as an angry white crowd taunted and spat on the marchers. And in 1991, Crown Heights, also in Brooklyn, erupted after 7-year-old Gavin Cato died from injuries sustained when he was hit by a car driven by a Jewish man. Rumors spread throughout the predominately Black and Jewish enclave that the two young Black children pinned by the car received medical care from the driver and passengers in the car. After several days of rioting and clashes between Black youth and Hasidic Jews, Sharpton organized a march through the Hasidic community to protest the death of Cato.
Sharpton’s ability to be at the center of major events that involve racial and social injustices, and his skills of mobilizing people around specific issues, has catapulted him to the national and international stage. In 2001, Rev. Sharpton was arrested for protesting the practice bombings by the U.S. Navy on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, along with nine protesters including political leaders from the Bronx. Other prominent demonstrators who were arrested included: environmental lawyer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; actor, Edward James Olmos; and New York labor leader, Dennis Rivera. The Reverend received the longest sentence, 90 days, for trespassing on the Navy firing range on Vieques. While in prison, Sharpton was visited by the who’s who of politics including Senators from New York Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, as well as civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and the Mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson.
Rev. Al Sharpton has been consistent with his message and commitment to social injustices and does not shy away from the consequences. His support of President Barack Obama has been unflagging and in the interview with talk show host Wendy Williams recently he explained his position. “He [Obama] inherited the worse economy … since the depression. I think the fact that the president was able to come forward and bring this country from the threshold of a real depression ... fought, got healthcare through, the first president to do that, I think he’s done a good job. I’m with him. I think he’s gotten a bad rap … And I’m not one of these fair-weather friends.”
On Saturday, Rev. Sharpton led thousands on a March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. The crowd on the National Mall included members of labor unions, government officials, demonstrators from Occupy D.C., and employed and unemployed Americans. Organized by Sharpton’s National Action Network and partners from labor, education, civil rights and religious organizations, the rally was a platform to bring attention to a wide range of issues impacting Americans including President Obama’s jobs bill which failed passage in the U.S. Senate, the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia and voter identification cards now required by some states at polls.
The march for jobs and justice preceded the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Sunday, which brought together 10,000 people on the National Mall. President Barack Obama was among the speakers, as was Rev. Al Sharpton. The legacy of Dr. King continues and the methods that he and the leaders of the civil rights struggle employed to change American society reverberates across the globe today — in the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. — (NNPA/The Westchester County Press)
Linda Tarrant-Reid is an author, historian and photographer. Her book, “Discovering Black America: From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-First Century” will be published in September 2012. Visit her blog at, www.discoverblackus.wordpress.com. Send your comments to Linda Tarrant-Reid, c/o The Westchester County Press, P.O. Box 152, White Plains, N.Y. 10602.
The pressure continues to mount from grassroots organizations nationwide to bring charges against Sanford, Florida, town watch member George Zimmerman over Zimmerman’s admitted killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman has alleged that Martin was the aggressor, and Zimmerman shot and killed him in self-defense. Martin supporters, however, point to the 911 call, and to Martin’s phone call with his girlfriend just moments before the shooting as just two pieces of proof that Zimmerman escalated the confrontation. That Zimmerman is white while Martin is Black has only escalated matters, with some calling for hate crime charges to be added.
Martin’s killing and the lack of formal charges has prompted marches, demonstrations and petitions from around the country. Over Easter Weekend, dozens of Florida-area college students marched 40 miles from Daytona Beach to Sanford, raising money and awareness on Martin’s behalf; that group, the “Dream Defenders,” also planned on marching on the headquarters of the Sanford Police Department.
“This movement doesn’t hinge on George Zimmerman of the Trayvon Martin case. It was a catalyst,” participant Phillip Agnew told Bay News. “It awoke, or woke up, a lot of people to what’s going on in America.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also weighed in on Martin’s shooting, recently stating that she was disturbed by the manner of his death while vowing to answer every question.
“I am both devastated and deeply troubled that young Trayvon Martin lost his life in a shooting. When someone loses his life at the hands of another, there cannot be any questions surrounding the circumstances of the death,” Bondi said through a statement released by her office. “I have spoken with Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, whose agency is now involved, and I know that a complete and thorough review of the facts will be conducted. FDLE has skilled investigators of the highest caliber, and no stone will be left unturned in this investigation.
“While the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office has the sole authority regarding a charging decision by law, I will remain vigilant in ensuring that questions are answered.”
The fate of the Zimmerman/Martin case now rests in the hands of State Attorney Angela Corey, when Florida Governor Rick Scott named Corey the special prosecutor amidst complaints of judicial impropriety. And while there has been a growing sense that Corey would call for a grand jury hearing as early as Tuesday, by late Monday afternoon it was reported that Corey declined to convene a grand jury — which means the decision to bring charges against Zimmerman is one Corey’s office alone will make.
Previously, Corey told the Miami Herald that she is so confident in this case that a grand jury may not be needed.
“I always lean towards moving forward without needing the grand jury in a case like this,” Corey told the Herald. “I foresee us being able to make a decision and move on it on our own.”
If a grand jury were to be convened, Corey has the authority to then release its findings, but the identities of the witnesses and much of the testimony would remain sealed.
While many have staunchly defended Martin and claim that Zimmerman is another in a long line of white racists going on African-American hunting sprees, Zimmerman’s supporters — most vocally his friends and family — have claimed that Zimmerman is not a racist, and echoed Zimmerman’s statements that he acted in self-defense.
Civil Rights leaders Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson both chimed in and led marches in Florida and in other locales to bring attention to Martin’s case.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been at the forefront of the Martin case. Local chapter president Jerry Mondesire — who also owns the Philadelphia Sunday Sun — refused to comment on the Martin case overall, the official stance of the NAACP regarding Martin’s shooting, or the lack of involvement by the Philadelphia branch.
Philadelphia did host a series of rallies and press conferences in the past few weeks, and Ron Felton, president of the Wilkes-Barre branch, did release a statement, in which he talked not only of Martin’s death, but the tragic and underreported murder of 14-year-old Tyler Winstead.
“A candlelight vigil was held on the Public Square by the Wilkes-Barre NAACP and the Peace Center in a show of support to the family of Trayvon Martin … his parents are seeking justice in that the man who murdered their son is arrested and brought to justice,” Felton said through a statement first reported by Times Leader. “Less than 48 hours after the candlelight vigil, another innocent, unarmed 14-year-old boy was shot and murdered less than three doors from his home.”
On that front, the NAACP remains steadfast. It has hosted a series of rallies and marches, with the latest one occurring on March 31 in Sanford.
And on its site — www.naacp.org — it is petitioning for signees of its online open letter to Corey, and the organization has also reconfigured its Facebook page — www.facebook.com/naacp — with “Justice for Trayvon” links and information.
And now it’s Newt?
Why has former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suddenly surged in the polls from near-oblivion to the top tier of Republican presidential hopefuls? Credit short memories in the ABM, the “Anybody but Mitt” movement.
The ABM faction of the Grand Old Party has road-tested so many alternatives to persistently high-scoring former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney that they apparently have forgotten all of the perfectly good reasons why they didn’t go for Gingrich months ago.
After all, the man has baggage, personal and public, of the sort that conservatives would decry in Democrats. Twice divorced, he left his first wife following her treatment for cancer. He left his second wife for a staff member who is now his third wife, Callista. Social conservatives don’t like that.
He’s also viewed by many as ethically challenged, having been the only speaker of the House to have been disciplined for ethics violations.
Even right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter vigorously pounces on his electability. “In addition to having an affair in the middle of Clinton’s impeachment; apologizing to Jesse Jackson on behalf of J. C. Watts — one of two Black Republicans then in Congress — for having criticized “poverty pimps,” and then inviting Jackson to a State of the Union address; cutting a global warming commercial with Nancy Pelosi; ... appearing in public with the Rev. Al Sharpton to promote nonspecific education reform; and calling Paul Ryan’s plan to save Social Security “right-wing social engineering,” we found out this week that Gingrich was a recipient of Freddie Mac political money.”
Yes, the money from Freddie Mac, which Gingrich claimed during a recent debate to have been for duties as a “historian,” but later turned out to be as a consultant, is particularly damaging politically. Today’s tea party right views the government-sponsored enterprise as Public Enemy No. 1 in the recent housing and economic crisis.
But for now, at least, many conservatives are willing to overlook those negatives. They want someone who not only can unseat President Barack Obama but also promote “authentic” conservative principles.
Despite his occasional joint appearances with liberals, mostly outside of Congress, Gingrich has unquestionably conservative credentials. His “revolution” earned street cred among conservatives as instigator of a partisan divide in Congress that resulted in a government shutdown in 1995 — and persists in today’s gridlock over budget issues.
Gingrich’s resurrection came after recent debates in which he showed the ferocity of a Rottweiler, not against his fellow Republicans but against an all-purpose whipping boy, the “mainstream media.” The ABMs hope Gingrich is a guy who will spank Obama in debates. If nothing else, they long for the entertainment value.
Gingrich happily endorsed that possibility, telling Politico’s Jonathan Martin Thursday in Des Moines, “If we nominate somebody utterly inarticulate, Obama gets a billion dollars, he spends two months smearing the Republican Party with negativity and we have a candidate who can’t debate him, he might pull it off.”
But even debate victory is not a slam-dunk for Gingrich, who himself admits he has an occasional lack of discipline in staying on message. The former college professor loves to talk — and talk. After he denounced Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s radical budget, for example, as “right-wing social engineering,” he famously reversed himself and warned: “Any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood.” At least he was thinking ahead.
When actual voting is held, I still agree with the conventional wisdom that Romney has the best chance to win the nomination. His moderate views frustrate the GOP right wing, but the party’s more mainstream voters recognize he has the crossover appeal to win. Recent polls show him beating Obama among independents these days, the always-persuadable group that ultimately decides the winner.
But I’m not writing off Gingrich or anyone else, considering how the conventional wisdom four years ago at this time was predicting victories for Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Real votes, not just polls, will determine how far Republicans have moved to the right and whether ABM anger has a future.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.
The question still remains. Did President Barack Obama make a mistake by endorsing gay marriage? Will the African-American community still support him?
“I cannot support the idea of gay marriage, considering I believe marriage should certainly be between a man and woman. After all, that’s the way God meant for it to be,” said one of Philadelphia’s more prominent ministers. “But, I still believe that President Obama is the best man for the job. Sometimes we have to put aside our personal beliefs for the betterment of this country. We are not always going to agree with the decisions of our president, or our leaders in general.”
By now it’s no secret that a significant number of the nation’s Black clergy have not agreed with President Obama’s decision to support gay marriage. Some were even offended. Needless to say, the results are varied.
Last Sunday, most of the African-American churches throughout the country had something to say about the issue. And while there was a serious outcry deriding the president’s resolution on the subject — most still spoke highly of the man himself. There was a minority, like the Reverend Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who spoke in favor of the decision and the president’s growing change of heart.
Bishop Timothy Clarke, head of the First Church of God, a large African-American church with a television ministry in Columbus, Ohio, was perhaps most typical. He addressed the president’s comments after receiving a flood of calls, emails and text messages from members of his congregation.
“No church or group is monolithic,” Bishop Clarke said to USA Today. “Some were powerfully agitated and disappointed. Others were curious — why now? To what end? Others were hurt. And others, to be honest, told me it’s not an issue and they don’t have a problem with it.”
Like others around the country, the bishop told his congregation that he opposed gay marriage. It is not just a social issue, he said, but a religious one for those who follow the Bible. “The spiritual issue is ground in the word of God.”
“That said, I believe the statement the president made and his decision was made in good faith. I am sure because the president is a good man. I know his decision was made after much thought and consideration and, I’m sure, even prayer.”
The conflicted sentiments within African-American churches reflect a broader struggle in the American public. A USA Today Poll showed that slightly more than half of Americans agreed with the president’s decision. A scientifically valid breakdown of African Americans was not available, but past polls have shown Blacks generally to be opposed to gay marriage.
The Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have also weighed in behind President Obama. Long-time segregation fighter and now U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina has gone further than Obama, saying it is a question of civil rights and should not be left to the states.
None of the local leaders believes the issue will have much effect on support among African Americans in the next election. “We are not one-issue people,” one minister said.
African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic, but they also have a strong history of following their religious leaders. The Black community has been among the least supportive of gay issues, even of African Americans coming out of the closet.
A Pew study last month found the percentage of Blacks favoring gay marriage has increased from 26 percent in 2008 to 39 percent now; those opposed, however, numbered just under half. Others note that even the conversation sparked by recent events was almost impossible a decade ago.
This divergence from other usually liberal sectors showed up in 2008 when Californians voted on Proposition 8 in support of a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to separate genders. A CNN exit poll showed that 70 percent of African Americans supported Prop 8; at the same time, 94 percent voted for President Obama. Majorities of other ethnic groups also backed the measure, but not by numbers as large as the Black voters.
Although not loudly, President Obama himself opposed the amendment, which federal courts have since ruled unconstitutional, but without removing the stay on gay marriage.
The president, who also has belonged to African-American Christian churches, has said his position on same-sex marriage has been developing. Polls find that many consider his recent declaration in favor of same-sex marriage to be politically motivated in an election year after he was put in a corner by statements by Vice President Joe Biden.
When a few days later North Carolina voters passed an amendment to ban same-sex marriage, partnerships and civil unions (similar restrictions have been written into other states around the country), President Obama issued his ground-breaking statement. That landed him on the cover of Newsweek, which declared him the nation’s “first gay president.”
Pastor Enoch Fuzz of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church of Nashville, Tenn., said last week that he understood why many pastors opposed gay marriage, although he supports gay marriage. “I know many in the Black community have trouble accepting gay marriage,” he said. “But all of us have gay friends or family, and we love them.”
Fuzz said he thinks the president’s comments won’t hurt him politically, although some African-American Christians may be upset with him.
“There’s really no better option,” Fuzz said to Religion News Service. “People are not going to go out and vote for Mitt Romney.”
In Columbus, Mayor Michael Coleman is confident Black churches and voters will stick with the president, even if they disagree over gay marriage. The four-term African-American mayor made the same conversion himself on the issue of gay marriage — for the same reasons — this year.
“I had to evolve on the issue and think it through, too, and I came to the conclusion it was the right thing,” said Coleman, a Democrat who supports Obama. “When it is the right thing to do, politics is irrelevant.”
Obama won’t be abandoned by Black churches either, not in the key swing state of Ohio, Coleman said. “Many in the pastoral community appreciate his courage in making the decision, even if they disagree,” Coleman says.
In North Carolina, where Black churches helped pass a constitutional amendment last week banning gay marriage, Ron Gates, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Asheville/Buncombe County, decided not to focus on gay marriage in his sermon last Sunday, but instead make it “a footnote,” so his continued support for the amendment was clear.
“I support my president and love my president, but I think he is wrong,” said Keith Ogden, pastor of the predominantly Black Hill Street Baptist Church in Asheville, to Religion News. “He is not God, and he doesn’t speak for all Black folk because he is African-American.”
Religion News Service and USA Today contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will deliver the keynote address and Aretha Franklin will headline the entertainers at this weekend's dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.
The dedication was postponed from late August because of Hurricane Irene.
Journalist Roland Martin will be the emcee. Besides Obama, speakers will include civil rights leaders Julian Bond, Rep. John Lewis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and members of the King family. Journalist Dan Rather will also speak.
A ceremonial dedication will be held at 11 a.m. on the grounds of the memorial, where the queen of soul will perform.
The towering 30-foot monument is the first dedicated to a black leader on the National Mall.
King stands with his arms crossed, carved from a stone and looking toward the horizon. -- (AP)