A NEW CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
I want to explain my background on civil rights, and why I feel there is a need for a new civil rights movement; a coda to the moral imperative this country set about to rectify but never fully achieved. And now, when we have risen to the pinnacle of success to that promise there has been a reversal of fortune. When I was born my birth certificate had my father’s and mother’s name, and who the doctor was who delivered me. And it identified me as being ‘colored’. It was not until I was six years old that legislation was passed that would guarantee me a right to a vote when I became eighteen years of age.
Many things happened between 1964 and 1976, for me and my family. My father had returned from Europe in WWII; thrice decorated with bronze star medals for bravery. He had a ninth grade education, a respect for himself and love of his country. He made himself a painting business, and befriended a black minister who came to town and moved next door into the house we formerly occupied. Reverend Ware liked the property because it had an abandoned church on it. He and my father worked together to repair it, to give the 6% of the black population of the town a church of their design.
It irritated some neighbors. One summer day, in 1966, a motorcycle gang drove back and forth on our street, flying the confederate flag. They didn’t say anything to us…just kept driving their motorcycles up and down the streets trying to intimidate us.
That night, they came back. Supported by whites in the community who were upset that the congregation was growing, they vandalized the church. They put racist writing on the wall with black paint. Made swastikas. That was what the people saw when they came to worship that Sunday morning. We were Christian Scientists, at the time. But we had attended the inaugural service of Reverend Ware’s church. That is where my father decided he needed to take action.
He began to organize in the community. He talked with people in the town who were Black, Mexican, Polish, and formed the Streator Interracial Council. It was a grass roots civil rights organization that worked to get housing for minorities in the town. It made the police and city government more responsive to the needs of its marginalized citizenry. Reverend Ware left, but the malignancy that forced him out of our midst was still in my town.
Daddy continued. His business grew, along with the Interracial Council. Maybe, because of it. Sometime, in the closing months of 1967 or early 1968, a conference by the HUD department was going to be held in Chicago, Illinois on April 5, 1968. I found out Bobby Kennedy had asked Vernon Jordan to reach out to my father and to invite he and my mother to the conference. He had said he hoped to be able to meet them when he would come to speak at the keynote.
Robert F. Kennedy did not come to the conference, however, because the night before Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. My mother and father were in downtown Chicago when the city began to riot. We were watching all the events from a close family friend’s home. Where we were safe, but worried about our pregnant mother, and our father. God watched over them, and they made it back to us safely, but I would never forget it. And then, the whole thing got the scab tore off again, months later, when Bobby was killed.
Civil rights, and fighting for them, is in my DNA. My father gave me that legacy. When I was an assistant principal at a high school district on the coast of Central California, I stood up to teachers and administrators who were discriminating against black students.
They demoted me because of it and I took them to court. Of course, I didn’t have the money to afford an attorney, but I had an education. I knew how to find the answers needed. I took what knowledge I had from a year of law school and filed a discrimination suit in the Ninth District. The NAACP would not help me. Al Sharpton would not help me. Jesse Jackson would not help me. But I kept forward. For four years. The school district did everything they could to kill my case. The federal judge did not want to hear it, and refused to manage the case objectively. He gave a summary judgment, without speaking to the merits of the case. I appealed, and a new review was done of the case.
The Ninth Appellate District read my briefs and set my case for oral argument. Now, that is quite a feat, but then they reneged on that and did a panel review. Their response to the appeal was something to the effect: though you have proven three out of the four prerequisites for a discrimination action, you have not filled the most important requirement. You cannot prove that you are a descendant of slaves, or that your forefathers are African.
That was a bridge to the 1854 Chief Justice Toney decision where he said, “No negro will ever have a cause of action against a white man, that that white man is bound to honor.”
So…there we had it. A complete EEOC hearing, and a court litigation enlightened me tremendously on what to do, and not do, when seeking redress of civil rights. I said to myself that it would be knowledge that I would use to continue fighting for others. And then this election season came around.
As of November 8, 2016 America has lost the high moral ground as leader of the free world. The president-elect has appointed a man for the attorney generalship who is a racist, immigrant-hating man, who chaired a House sub-committee on immigration. Now, as attorney general, he can work with the Congress to enact legislation that will allow for the rounding up of illegal immigrants, of all colors.
The idea of such a thing ever happening in this country is appalling. What message is sent to our citizens whose families were irreparably harmed by the last time America stood by as fascism gathered Jews in ghettos in Europe? As Japanese Americans were placed in interment at Manzonar. We vowed as a country, “Never Again”, but our memory is short term, it seems.
A third of my brothers and sisters are gay. I have bi-racial children, and grandchildren. And I am sitting in a classroom where, through the walls, I hear 10th graders listening to the audio of the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. To hear the word “nigger” used in teaching while disciplinary students sit in front of me, hearing it just as well. And yet, if they said that it would be wrong. As wrong as me not being protected from that. America is so much more. It was.
We endeavor to still form the more perfect union. There are still self-evident truths that propaganda and hate cannot incinerate because the literal fact of the matter is: there are more people in this land who want to live together in peace, than those who don’t.
It is in that spirit, that I seek to lead the American Interracial Council. With your help, and God’s blessing, we will all join together again to say, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, We are free at last.”