t r u t h o u t | Address
Delivered at the 2002 NAACP Convention
George Brown Convention Center Houston, Texas Freedom Under Fire
by Julian Bond
Sunday, 7 July, 2002
To Board member Herb Powell, Vice-Chair Roslyn Brock, other members of the Board of Directors, SCF Trustees, CEO Kweisi Mfume, NAACP staff members, NAACP members, friends, and guests - welcome to hot Houston!
This year's convention theme - Freedom Under Fire - is appropriate in many ways. So too is the city and state in which we gather.
Texas grows presidents - from the mighty oak of civil rights, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to Bushes.
Texas has given birth to legal precedents which make up our legacy, such as Smith v. Allwright and Sweatt v. Painter, and to those which seek to destroy that legacy, such as Hopwood v. Texas.
This state is home to almost twice as many anti-government militia groups as any other state in America. It has the second highest number of both blacks and Hispanics of any state in the country. It has recorded the highest number of executions in the country this year - more than half of the national total. And 66% of the people on death row here are people of color.
And Texas and Houston both have a rich NAACP history.
Houston has long had a pool of well-educated black professionals and entrepreneurs and a vibrant black community which exercised independence and strength. One hundred years ago, black Houston boasted 9 lawyers, 4 dentists, 16 doctors, 10 real estate agents, 5 newspapers, 30 restaurants and 40 stores.
The Houston NAACP Branch is 90-years strong this year. As one historian writes, "If black Houstonians and Texans were anything, they were organized!"
And they were quick to act when their rights were restricted or threatened, when freedom was under fire.
In January 1921, when the City Democratic Executive Committee adopted a resolution excluding black voters from the upcoming primary, the black leadership of Houston promptly sued.
It would take four United States Supreme Court cases and 23 years, but in the end they would emerge victorious. They would win because of what was described as "the only organized body financially equipped and possessing the legal expertise to launch a sustained attack on the white primary" - the NAACP.
From Charles Love and H. L. Davis, who were plaintiffs in the first lawsuit, to Julius White and Dr. William Drake, who filed suit in 1938, the hall of heroes in the fight against the white primary is large and luminous:
All of them were propelled by the belief, which we share today, that a voteless people are a hopeless people. They suffered many setbacks and disappointments, as have we, but they persevered.
What better place than here, what better time than now to honor them - by vowing to turn out in massive numbers in November and cast our votes.
They remind us that freedom isn't free - it takes strategy, organization, and hard work.
In 1940, black Texans had already been fighting to end the white primary for almost 20 years. That was the year Arthur Spingarn became President of the NAACP and William Hastie accepted the Chairmanship of the National Legal Committee.
That was the year that Houston NAACP leaders issued a call to blacks across Texas and to national NAACP officials to attend the Annual Conference of Branches in Corpus Christi. There, they met with Thurgood Marshall and drew up a ten-year plan. Their chief goal was to eliminate white supremacy from Texas' Democratic primaries.
The Houston Informer, whose staff had voted unanimously to take out an institutional membership in the NAACP, reported that the conference decided to ask all black Texans to contribute to the legal fund.
They raised the money. They filed suit. Then, because of an intervening Supreme Court decision, they had to drop their case and start over. Julius White was said to have warned Thurgood Marshall that if he didn't win the next case he'd better "not return to Texas."
He won the next case - and we've come back to Texas!
We return under circumstances eerily similar to those facing black Americans during the Smith v. Allwright years - 1940 through 1945.
Then, as now, the nation was at war.
Freedom was under fire then as it is now - at home and abroad.
Then, as now, we fought for freedom on two fronts - on foreign battlefields and on American soil.
Then, the NAACP and the Crisis took every opportunity to connect the struggle for racial equality at home to the democratic ideology that powered the Allied forces. Black newspapers used the war emergency "to persuade, embarrass, compel and shame our government and our nation" into a more enlightened attitude toward race.
Today's times require no less - in fact, they insist on more.
The same year Smith v. Allwright was decided, in 1944, a black corporal was traveling
from an Army camp in Arizona to one in Louisiana. He wrote about his experiences:
"The only place we could be served was at the railroad station, but of course we had to go into the kitchen. ... about two dozen German prisoners of war, with two American guards, came to the station. They sat at the tables, had their meals served, talked, smoked, in fact had a swell time. I stood on the outside looking on, and I could not help but ask myself these questions: are we not American soldiers, sworn to fight and die if need be for our country? Then why are they treated better than we? Why does the government allow such things to go on?"
The black Americans who fought World War II returned home determined to make democracy safe for America, to fight as fiercely for freedom here as they had abroad. They had fought for a country that would not fight for them. When they came home, democracy was standing on its head, and they helped turn it right side up.
As they did, they proved once again that black people are profoundly American, deeply committed to the values on which America was founded - even as those values remained a distant dream.
As Langston Hughes, whose centennial we celebrate this year, wrote:
"Oh yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath: America will be!"
Or today, when another poet, Ray Charles, sings "America the Beautiful" you know he's never seen the "spacious skies" or the "amber waves of grain." He's never seen the "the purple mountain majesties."
Ray Charles has never seen the "fruited plain", but he's singing about an America he knows is out there, an America he knows can exist. That's the America we've fought and died for all these years.i That's our American dream.
We know America's twin towers - freedom and justice - are still standing. It is our job to keep upright what others would weaken or destroy. America is strongest when she is just; she is fiercest when her people are free.
Those who died on September 11 were a diverse group. Most were Americans, but they died with people from more than 50 other countries, from Chile through Zimbabwe.
That's why they called it the World Trade Center.
Among the Americans were blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, Christians, Muslims and Jews - as diverse in death as we are in life.
One of those who escaped from the World Trade Center said, "If you had seen what it was like in that stairway, you'd be proud. There was no gender, no race, [and] no religion. It was everyone, ... helping each other."ii
But away from that stairway, back in America's streets, there is gender, there is race, there is religion. Since the attacks, people who look like Arabs or Muslims have been harassed, assaulted, even killed.
On the Saturday following that terrible Tuesday, in Mesa, Arizona, a gunman shot to death the Sikh owner of a gas station and fired on a Lebanese clerk at work and an Afghan family at home. When he was arrested, the suspect said, "I'm a patriot. I'm a damn American all the way."iii
What he really is is a damn fool.
Less than a week after the attacks, President George W. Bush stood in his stocking feet at the Washington Islamic Center and vowed to prevent hate crimes and discrimination against Arabs and Muslims in the wake of the attacks. The Administration's two stated goals - retaliation against terrorists abroad and promotion of tolerance here at home - are also reminiscent of the Double V campaign waged by blacks during World War II - victory against fascism abroad and racism at home.
With the events of September 11 we realize we have not yet achieved either victory - not yet against tyranny abroad, not yet against racism here at home.
Just as this enemy - terrorism - is more difficult to identify and punish, so is discrimination a more elusive target today.
And just as we know a lot about discrimination, we know a lot about terrorism too.
As Vernon Jordan said recently:
We learned that lesson long ago, on the eve of America's entry into World War I, in 1918.
One of our founders, W. E. B. DuBois, swept up in the emotionalism and passion that patriotism sometimes brings, asked black people to quiet our voices and quash our complaints.
"We will forget our special grievances," he said, "and close ranks shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy."
The criticism he faced was immediate and loud. He quickly realized his call for a retreat from our rights was terribly wrong. He understood then - as we must today - that when wars are fought to save democracy, the first casualty is usually democracy itself.
So both because of and in spite of the war against terrorism, we will insist on our right to dissent, to petition our government for a redress of our grievances.
We do so as patriots, not as partisans.
To do otherwise would be a denial of the democracy we are defending, a repudiation of the rights we revere.
What Martin Luther King, Jr. once said about communism we can say about terrorism now:
The world doesn't need more weapons and walls; it needs less intolerance, ignorance, and disease. We don't need more tax cuts; we need fewer tax cheats in corporate suites.
The police and intelligence agencies don't need more powers; they need more professionalism.
But we are seeing freedom shrink and fear expand.
We have a President who owes his election more to a dynasty than to democracy. When he spoke to our convention in Baltimore in 2000, he promised to enforce the civil rights laws. We knew he was in the oil business - we just didn't know it was snake oil.
We have an Attorney General who is a cross between J. Edgar Hoover and Jerry Falwell.
And too often one political party is shameless and the other is spineless.
Only one Senator - Russell Feingold of Wisconsin - voted against the first hastily
prepared and ill-considered terrorism measure proposed after September 11. He explained
his vote this way:
Nor do we want to live in a country that permits surveillance and infiltration of religious and political organizations. Yet, the new FBI guidelines announced by J. Edgar Ashcroft do just that.
Just as we remember J. Edgar Hoover, we remember his counter-intelligence program, called COINTELPRO.
And whose intelligence did they want to counter?
In a program called "Racial Matters", the FBI tried to disrupt the civil rights movement. They wanted to smear Martin Luther King, Jr. They not only wanted him discredited, they wanted him dead, threatening him with the release of damaging information if he did not commit suicide.
The excuse for COINTELPRO was the perceived threat of communism.
We thought we had put a stop to Hoover's program of spies and lies in the 1970s after its abuses were exposed. Now, under the guise of fighting terrorism, the FBI is going back to spying on law-abiding citizens.
The CIA and the FBI kept files on me in the 1960s; they may be keeping files on me today. But while they watched and followed and photographed and wiretapped those of us working nonviolently in the freedom movement, a wave of white terrorism was sweeping across the South nearly unchallenged. It has taken 40 years to bring a pitiful few of the terrorists of that period to justice.
There is nothing the FBI could not do before September 11 that they need to do now in order to bring today's terrorists to justice or prevent another attack. And there's every reason to keep them from returning to the discredited policies of the past.
They also want to return to the more recently discredited technique of racial profiling. Its return was heralded by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D. -Ca.), who claimed "the racial profiling debate has [had] ... a chilling impact on the FBI."v
American white men commit most domestic, homegrown terrorism - does the name Timothy McVeigh ring a bell? Or what about racially profiling white male multi-millionaires like Houston's own 'Kenny-boy' Lay or the executives of WorldCom or Tyco?
We know all about crime in the streets - who's protecting us from crime in the suites?
While the Administration is busy asserting sweeping police powers over the American people, it is sweeping voting rights violations from the 2000 election under the rug.
The Justice Department whittled eleven thousand election complaints down to five potential lawsuits, including a mere three in Florida.
Those focus on Florida's failure to provide language assistance to Spanish- and Creole-speaking voters in three counties.
We support language-assistance to voters, but most of the thousands of black Floridians who were denied the right to vote speak English. The margin of their disenfranchisement surpassed the margin of victory for candidate Bush.vi The margin of the Justice Department's cynicism is surpassed only by their hostility to civil rights.
When you take the JUST - J-U-S-T - out of JUSTICE, that leaves I-C-E - ICE.
So let us say in plain English -Florida will freeze over before you freeze us out!
African-American voters turned out in massive numbers in 2000, and in 2002 we're going to do it again.
Freedom isn't free, and those who oppose it will pay a price.
The failure to uphold voting rights is only one example of promises made and promises broken. It is part of Attorney General Ashcroft's failure to uphold his sworn duty to enforce the civil rights laws.
We know he is offended by naked justice.
He has sought to undo the work of career lawyers in the Civil Rights Division. He even tried to release the notorious Adam's Mark Hotel chain from the decree designed to remedy their egregious discrimination against black guests.
Among those staffing the Voting Rights Section in the Department of Justice is a lawyer who helped run the purge of Florida's voter rolls. Another is a former senior counsel for the misnamed Center for Equal Opportunity, founded by Linda Chavez to, in its own words, "counter the divisive impact of race conscious public policies."vii
Hers is but one of the many organizations dedicated to overturning the gains of the civil rights movement which are now dictating public policy.
Their very names - the Institute for Justice, the Campaign for a Color Blind America, the American Civil Rights Institute - are fraudulent, and their aims are frightening.
They have already stolen our vocabulary, and they want to steal the spoils of our righteous war. Sophisticated and well funded, over the past decade they have scored several victories in their plot to dismantle affirmative action.
Now as George W. Bush has ascended to the presidency, they have ascended to unprecedented positions of power within the federal government.
Their leading legal organization is the Federalist Society. John Ashcroft served on the Board of its St. Louis chapter. Theodore Olson, now Solicitor General, who litigated the Hopwood case ending affirmative action at the University of Texas, was President of the Washington, DC, lawyers' chapter of the Federalist Society. Larry Thompson, Deputy Attorney General, served on the Board of its Atlanta lawyers' chapter.
There is a right wing conspiracy, and it is operating out of the United States Department of Justice. And the Office of White House Counsel. And the United States Commission on Civil Rights - where Jennifer Braceras, formerly on the Executive Committee of the so-called Civil Rights Practice Group of the Federalist Society, now sits. She and others have set their sights not only on affirmative action, but also on Title IX, the 30-year-old law guaranteeing gender equity in higher education.
Gerald Reynolds, Bush's head of the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, has the same agenda and the same background - vice-chair of the Federalist Society's Civil Rights Practice Group.
There is an even wider conspiracy than this - an interlocking network of funders, groups, and activists, who coordinate their methods and their message.
They are the money, the motivation, and the movement behind vouchers, the legal assault on affirmative action and other remedies for discrimination, attempts to reapportion us out of office, and attacks on equity everywhere.
They've had a collection of black hustlers and hucksters on their payrolls for more than twenty years, promoting them as the new generation of black leaders.
They can't deal with the leaders we choose for ourselves - so they manufacture, promote, and hire new ones. Like ventriloquist's dummies, they speak in their puppet master's voice, but we can see his lips move and we can hear his money talk.
They've financed a conservative constellation of make-believe black organizations, all of them hollow shells with more names on the letterhead than there are people on the membership rolls.
They're purchasing seats at the table of influence, and they're buying blacks at a few bucks a head.viii
They want to constitutionally prohibit any governmental consideration of race and thereby do away with many of our rights and much of the legacy of the NAACP.ix
It was here in Texas, in 1945, that Heman Marion Sweatt attempted to enroll at the law school of the University in Austin, part of a carefully conceived attack by the NAACP on segregated education in the South. When the Supreme Court decided Sweatt v. Painter in 1950, it ended segregation in the nation's law schools, opening their doors.
Forty-six years later, as part of a carefully conceived attack by right-wing organizations against affirmative action, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in Hopwood v. Texas, slammed shut the doors the NAACP had opened.
The Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on university admissions. Weeks ago, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School.x
As the Law School Dean wrote, "Colorblindness is an ideal, not an idol, and the Constitution does not require us to sacrifice effective education and integration in its name."xi
Or, as I like to put it, whether race is a burden or a benefit is all the same to these theorists; that is what they mean when they speak about being color-blind. They are color-blind all right - blind to the consequences of being the wrong color in America today.
What they really want is to get rid of race: don't ask about it; don't count it.
Ward Connerly, affirmative action's poster child, is at it again. He was the fraud behind California's anti-affirmative action initiative, Proposition 209, which read: "The state shall not discriminate against ... any individual or group on the basis of race."
Sounds great, doesn't it?
Twenty-seven percent of blacks in California voted for Proposition 209. Exit polls showed that 27% of the Proposition's supporters thought they were voting for affirmative action, not against it.
Coincidence? Not likely.
Now, con-man Connerly is behind the deceptively titled Racial Privacy Initiative, which will prohibit any California public agency - except the police - from collecting racial data, and thereby eviscerate civil rights enforcement.
As long as race counts, we have to count race. Not counting means not knowing how many black or white children do well or poorly in school. Not knowing how many black or Hispanic or Asian or white men or women work in what jobs at what pay. Not knowing how many minority youngsters are sentenced to longer terms in jail.
What Ward Connerly will do - unless California's voters stop him - is to institutionalize the denial of different outcomes dictated by race.
We must work to defeat this insidious initiative - and to defeat the larger goals of those who want to privatize racism.
Freedom isn't free - it takes strategy, organization, mobilization, coalition and hard work.
We must also work to defeat predatory lending and its evil cousin, payday lending. We spend a lot of energy insuring that minorities can build wealth; we cannot let these pirates steal the little wealth we have, or allow them to prey on the poor.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, we now have to stop voucher programs at the state and local level. Vouchers are public welfare for private schools, and we know they are opposed by a majority of Americans, including African-Americans.xii
President Bush made a speech supporting vouchers in Cleveland on Monday, standing at a podium surrounded by black people, speaking to an audience that was nearly all white. He compared the Supreme Court's ruling in the voucher case to our victory in Brown v. Board of Education 48 years ago.
The difference, Mr. President, is that freedom loving people and the NAACP fought for Brown; today, freedom loving people and the NAACP are fighting against transferring tax dollars to private schools.
There's growing hostility to redressing discrimination and closing opportunity gaps through legal or legislative remedies. There is a "judicial assault" on civil rights led by the narrow five-member Supreme Court majority and some lower federal courts. They're taking us back to the dark and dangerous days of the Dixiecrats, challenging the authority of Congress to enact civil rights protections."xiii
The most important qualification for Executive and judicial appointments seems to be an absolute lack of experience in civil rights - or better yet, antagonism to the accepted remedies for discrimination.
We must continue to monitor judicial nominees and defeat those who are unacceptable; we picked off Charles Pickering, but he's only one of a long list of undesirable nominees - we've got to stop them too.
We must also work to end felony disenfranchisement. One hundred and thirty-one thousand black men in Texas alone cannot vote because of felony convictions - 21% of the black male population in this state.
We've got to defend affirmative action. The opponents of fairness keep telling us that affirmative action carries a stigma which attaches to all blacks - as if none of us ever felt any stigma in the days before affirmative action was born.
Why don't they ever make this argument about the millions of whites who got into Harvard or Yale because Dad was an alumnus? Or who got a good job because Dad was president of the company - or President of the United States? You never see them walking around with their heads held low, moaning that everyone in the executive washroom is whispering about how they got their jobs. Most of our elite professions have long been the near-exclusive preserve of white men. I seriously doubt if a single one of these men is suffering low self-esteem because he knows his race and gender won him his job.
And we've got to insure a massive turnout of minority voters in this year's elections - our future is on the ballot in every state. If we don't vote, we lose - and our children and grandchildren will lose too.
We have much to do - economic inequality is widening. The remedies we've used to address racial inequality are under attack.
None of our work is easy work, but we have always been equal to the task. And this year - for the first time in NAACP history - we know exactly who we are.
Last year, your NAACP Board of Directors commissioned the first scientific survey of NAACP members. We've known for years that we get high approval ratings from African-Americans in survey after survey, year after year.xiv
But we didn't know what our members thought about their organization. Here's some of what we found out.
Six of every ten NAACP members are female and eight of every ten are black. Twenty percent are under 35 years of age, 30% over 65. Half of us live in cities, while 35% live in suburbs. Fully 30% of us have advanced degrees, and 49% have white-collar jobs. Half of us earn between $30,000 and $100,000 a year, and 20% earn more than $100,000 a year.
We belong to the NAACP because membership carries prestige and because we meet people of similar interests, but mostly because we want to fight racial discrimination and we believe in racial justice.
In short, we are a force to be reckoned with - we are well educated, well informed, and strongly committed to social justice. And we vote!
In 2001, your Board of Directors and Senior NAACP staff produced our first-ever Strategic Plan; last year at the Convention in New Orleans, you endorsed it unanimously. In January 2002, we began to implement it, and in May, the Board heard progress reports from staff.
There is much good news from within the NAACP. We're planning our work - and we're working our plan.xv
It is particularly appropriate in Texas to say - as we always do - that at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, we believe colored people come in all colors. Anyone who shares our values and mission is more than welcome.
As we launch this year's convention, let us remember another time when freedom was under fire.
In 1844, James Russell Lowell wrote "The Present Crisis" in opposition to the proposed annexation of Texas to the United States as a slave state.
That poem, more than 150 years old, speaks to us now:
"Once to every man and nation,
i Thanks to the Reverend Al Sharpton.
(Julian Bond has been Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors since January 1998. He is a Distinguished Professor in the School of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and a professor of History at the University of Virginia.)
Copyright 2002 by Julian Bond
(c) 2001,2002,2003,2004,2005,2006, 2007 DemocraticFundamentalism.org, All Rights Reserved