- Created on 13 September 2013
The Birmingham church bombing that killed four African-American girls fifty years ago was no isolated racial horror. At the time, the Sixteenth Street Baptist church bombing was just another in the decade long train of racist terror attacks that included beatings, shootings, mob attacks, ambushes, and, of course, bombings. Dozens were killed in the attacks. The victims had two things in common. They were either targeted for their civil rights work, or targeted solely out of racial hate and revenge. The other was that in nearly every case their killers were never prosecuted, and in more cases than not, were not even arrested though their identities were often well-known. In several cases, they were known because the FBI had fingered them.
The Birmingham bombing was a near textbook example of how officials turned a blind eye toward murder. The man who actually planted the bomb, Robert Chambliss, was quickly identified. He was arrested but not on murder charges, but simply illegal possession of dynamite. He got a paltry fine and a hand slap six-month sentence. His other three accomplices, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry were also soon identified. They were not arrested. It would take nearly two decades before Chambliss was finally tried and convicted and got a life sentence for the bombing and more than two decades after before Blanton and Cherry (Cash had died) were convicted and got life sentences.
This closed the legal book on this horror. In a few other cases federal prosecutors and D.A.'s in the South were determined to nail the perpetrators of old racial crimes. They scored some notable victories. State prosecutors in Mississippi convicted Byron De La Beckwith in 1994 for the 1963 murder of civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, and former Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers in 1998 for the 1965-firebomb murder of Mississippi NAACP official Vernon Dahmer, and conviction of three Klansmen in the 1964 Birmingham church bombing. For years the murdered men's relatives pressed prosecutors to bring charges against the killers.
While their prosecution and jailing, is commendable, the racial atrocity book still remains wide open on many others. Some of them were well-known and shocking.
• 1959, Mack Charles Parker was seized from a Mississippi jail by a group of armed white men. Parker was accused of raping a white woman. Ten days later Parker's mutilated body was fished out of a river in Louisiana. Within three weeks of the killing, FBI agents identified his killers. They had solid evidence that the murderers had crossed state lines, and that law enforcement officers had conspired with the killers. No state or federal charges were ever brought.
• In 1961, a white Mississippi state representative murdered Herbert Lee, a NAACP worker, on an open highway during a traffic dispute. He was unarmed. No state or federal charges were ever brought.
• In 1965, Jimmy Lee Jackson, a black church deacon was gunned down by an Alabama state trooper following a voting rights protest march and rally in Marion, Ala. Eyewitnesses insisted that Jackson was unarmed and did not threaten the officer. No state or federal charges were ever brought.
According to FBI reports, the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a para-military terror squad in Mississippi, committed nine murders between 1960 and 1965. In nearly all cases, FBI agents quickly learned the identities of the suspected killers through Klan informants, or the men's own boasts of the killings. There was only a token effort made to bring them to justice.
Federal prosecutors have, and in fact always have had, the legal weapons to indict the suspected killers. Two federal statutes have long been on the books that give the Justice Department the power to prosecute public officials and law enforcement officers who committed or conspired with others to commit acts of racial violence.
The four children massacred in the Sixteenth Street Baptist church on that nightmarish Sept. 15 day a half-century ago and the other cold case victims were not solely victims of Klan terrorists, hostile local sheriffs, and state officials, but at times of a racially indifferent federal government. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson cautiously and reluctantly pushed the FBI to make arrests and the Justice Department to bring indictments in the murders of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, army major Lemuel Penn in Georgia in 1964, and civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in Alabama in 1965. Even then it took mass outrage and pressure to get legal action against them.
The fiftieth anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing is a reminder of how far the nation has come from its ugly and violent racial past. But at the same time, it also tosses another terrible glare on the period in the South when blacks were murdered with the tacit approval of Southern state officials, and the cold shoulder indifference of the federal government. The commemoration of the bombing presents yet another chance for federal and state prosecutors to permanently close the book on all the nation's old unsolved racial murders. Without that, the ghosts of that atrocious past will continue to haunt America.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. His latest ebook '47 Percent Negro': A Chronicle of the Wackiest Racial Assaults on President Obama is now available (Amazon).
- Created on 12 September 2013
It's time for a radical change at the top: The next president of the NAACP should be a woman.
After 104 years, the nation's largest – and oldest – civil rights organization should evolve and move into the future for the first time with a woman at the helm.
From Benjamin Hooks, to Benjamin Chavis, to Kweisi Mfume, to Benjamin Jealous, it's not only time for the NAACP to elect a woman president, but there shouldn't be another NAACP president named Benjamin either.
The top job is open because Benjamin Todd Jealous, the youngest president ever elected to lead the NAACP, will resign on Dec. 31 saying he wants to spend more time with his wife and children.
"Leadership knows when to step up and when to step down," Jealous said. "This day I can say with pride that I'm prepared to step down and make room for the next person who will lead this organization to its next chapter."
- Created on 11 September 2013
So listen, you guys know sometimes how things can be right in your face and you don't know about it, right? I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for the show yesterday. I was talking to your producers and I said, what am I going to do? And I took my dog out for a walk, and you know what street I live on up in Harlem. It's Fredrick Douglas Boulevard. Then we walked across the Adam Clayton Powell cross there...
So that's what I want to talk to you guys about on my first day here on the Tom Joyner Morning Show. I want to talk to you about leaders. Leadership. Specifically Black leaders. I want to talk about who they are really these days, but more importantly I want to talk to you and ask the question about the ones that we have, are they relevant? Do they help or hurt, not just black people, but society as a whole. Have you ever thought about that? Who are the Black leaders? Whoever your black leader might be.
That's one of the biggest differences, I believe, between our leaders of today and the leaders who came out of the struggle. The ones who came out of the struggle, they wanted us to question everything, even then. Dr. King said you should question everything. And the ones we have today, do they do that? I'll let you decide for yourself. But could they possibly be keeping us from advancing as individuals and collectively as a people because they have a stake in our thinking remaining the same stagnant?
Might some of them be keeping us from evolving because of their idea of Dr. King's dream hasn't evolved past 1963. Now I would venture to guess that if Dr. King were still alive his dream in 2013 would've evolved and changed into a bigger and better version of the one that he had 50 years ago. And the strategy to realize that dream would've evolved change expanded over the past 50 years as well. And I wholeheartedly believe that just as Dr. King aligned himself with black power brokers and cultural influences of the 1960s, the unions, the churches, the preachers, and as Tom schooled me a couple of weeks ago, the radio hosts, the DJ's.
TOM JOYNER: Right.
DON LEMON: I think he would do the same thing with the black cultural influences of today. And who do you think that is?
TOM JOYNER: Tell me.
DON LEMON: Any idea? That's our young artists like Jay-Z. Like Kanye West.
TOM JOYNER: Good point.
DON LEMON: Like Pharrell, like Frank Ocean. Why am I so sure about that? I want you to ask yourself the last time you heard a young person walking around singing a church hymn?
Because just yesterday, just yesterday, I'm walking on St. Nicholas Avenue, two separate young men were singing a French Montana rap song: N- Ain't worried about nothing. You know that song? N- Ain't worried about nothing, right? They actually say the word. They're walking with their headphones on, their screaming on St. Nicholas Avenue.
So that's why in my work as a journalist, I constantly challenge and urge the rap, Hip-Hop and music powerbrokers to step on to the stage of positive influence and into the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, because whether they realize it or not they are the new breed, they are the new Black leaders. They are the influences of our time. And I don't mean that I challenge them in a negative way. I mean that in the best possible way, that their names can too be one day be worthy of boulevards, and avenues and streets.
Yep, you Waka Flocka, Gucci Mane, you TI, Luda can be the next Harry Belafonte of the struggle. Beyoncé, Rihanna, you can be the next Lena Horne or Mahalia Jackson; of course, in your own way.
Jamie Foxx, you guys saw Jamie Foxx at the March on Washington last week. He got it right. You guys are the guys who replaced all heads. You are the relevant ones right now. And you know why? Because unlike some of the Black leaders who get so much criticism today, your livelihood as artists don't depend on keeping people thinking the same way they did half a century ago.
Your art signifies that one of the great minds of our times were Christopher Hitchens said, "One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority." The Bible even says "test everything, hold on to God." Thomas Jefferson said, "question with boldness even the existence of a god." Buddha said, "Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders."
We must question everything including our leaders and especially ourselves. So here's my challenge for you today on my first day here, even if it's just for today, to question what you think you know. To take the exact opposite position that you would normally take in a conversation or discussion even if it's about race, whatever it is. And see where that leads you. Become curious today instead of judgmental. And in the process you might just change your mind.
- Created on 06 September 2013
The Naeem Khan Fall 2013 collection is modeled during Fashion Week in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The moment has arrived -- Bethann Hardison has finally launched her attack against fashion's glaring diversity problem. The fashion insider-cum-activist and former model, on behalf of The Diversity Coalition, sent out four letters on Thursday to the governing bodies of Fashion Weeks in New York (Council of Fashion Designers of America), Paris (Fédération Française de la Couture), London (British Fashion Council) and Milan (Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana) accusing racism on the runways.
The brief yet powerful letter reads:
Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches design houses consistently use one or no models of color. No matter the intention, the result is racism. Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond 'aesthetic' when it is consistent with the designer's brand. Whether it's the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society. It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.
At the end of the letter, Hardison includes a list of "fashion houses guilty of this racist act" based on last season's shows in each respective city. The roster of alleged offenders reads like a who's who of fashion's top designers and brands-- Donna Karan, Versace, Céline, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, BCBG, Prada and Chanel, just to name a few.
"This way there's no hiding," Hardison told The Huffington Post. "If you say who, then nobody can say, 'This has nothing to do with me.'"
"I'm trying to educate those with a careless attitude or [who] just don't care. But you have to care. This is a responsibility to many." she said
Hardison has dedicated a great deal of her career to combating ignorance. In 2007 and 2008 she attempted to inspire change in fashion's disregard for diversity with a series of town hall meetings. One of the results of those events was the inspiration behind Vogue Italia's "Black Issue" in 2008, which featured all black models.
Although Hardison said she thought the Vogue issue was a powerful representation of black beauty, she believes dedicating a show or issue to all black models is offensive -- and not a solution.
"Please don't give me an all black show," Hardison said. "This is about diversity -- all nationalities, races, colors and skin tones being equally represented."
So far, responses to the letter have been mixed.
The CFDA's Steven Kolb told WWD that he discussed the letter with the group's president, Diane von Furstenberg, and that they have pushed for and will continue to encourage diversity among their members. In fact, Kolb says the CFDA has sent two e-mails over the past two weeks urging its industry contacts and designers to be vigilant regarding the issue.
The British Fashion Council told Vogue UK that while it does not oversee model castings, it is "committed to model welfare and is more than happy to engage in tackling any issues regarding best practice and diversity at London Fashion Week."
Didier Grumbach, president of Chambre Syndicale in France, deemed the letter's call to action "unreasonable" and assured Vogue UK that the upcoming Paris Fashion Week will represent a wide variety of ethnicities. And last but not least, Mario Boselli of Camera said designers taking part in Milan Fashion Week have "complete freedom" in selecting their models. And while they encourage diversity they will not "impose" their power to achieve it.
As the fashion designers themselves start to weigh in on the letter, Hardison said she isn't concerned about any backlash or anger directed her way.
"While some of them might be annoyed or uncomfortable, I have a great deal of respect for these designers," Hardison said. "I think they are good people, and just not understanding what this is -- what their practice has been."
And lest you believe the fight is over -- think again. Hardison didn't offer any details on her next steps, but she left no question as to whether this is the end of her battle.
"This is just round one. There's more."
Click here to read all four letters sent out by Hardison and The Diversity Coalition.