Tri-State Defender Opinion Stories


Public transportation in Memphis does matter

By Nicole Lacey, Special to The New Tri-State Defender After reading the most recent issue of The New Tri-State Defender, I was pleased that the newspaper has begun coverage of the Memphis Transit Vision initiative, which actively is involving members of the community on their...


By Jason Johnson, The Root

“You know that’s just a Klan rally without the hoods, right?” “Bring Kevlar.” “SMH.” None of my friends was all that hot about me going to the National Rifle Association’s convention in Atlanta this year. No one. Not even my friends who owned guns. And definitely not those who hunt, and none who otherwise support the Second Amendment. But who could blame them? It didn’t exactly sound welcoming or even remotely wise to go to an NRA convention full of mostly white, conservative, gun-brandishing folks, and where Donald Trump is the keynote speaker. I went because the NRA is all about telling Americans that guns keep you safe from everything: crime, terrorists and those jack-booted, gun-hating liberal thugs in the government. Which should be right up my alley as a black person. On top of fearing random crime and crazy white vigilantes who shoot us for being black on a sunny day, black people have much more to fear from an aggressive government, in the form of killer cops, than just about anybody else in America. I wanted to see if the NRA was offering a gun for my type of real-world #SayHerName kinds of fears. Of course, what I discovered is, there’s no gat for that. We are not the target audience for their gun play. Stoking white fear of imaginary terrorists, black thugs and immigrants – and keeping in place the guns and policies that support it – is what the NRA convention is all about. I went to the convention on Friday; it was held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, literally across the street from CNN headquarters. As I walked in with the mostly white, men-of-all-ages crowd, snide comments about “fake news” whizzed past my ears. Once inside, I saw that there were guns everywhere – free guns, guns from raffles, gun-training classes. Gun companies were handing out weapons as if they were T-shirts at a Hawks game. I thought President Barack Obama spent the last eight years taking everyone’s guns away? Maybe they hid these until they were sure he was out of office. Almost all the people I talked to at the NRA convention said that they love guns but hate politics. They said that they enjoy and employ their guns safely and just want the government out of their way. Which almost makes sense, given that studies and history show that gun ownership and policy are driven by white racial resentment, not public safety or good government. However, I didn’t want to let things like facts and history deter me. The NRA is one of the largest, most powerful lobbying groups in America. There had to be a place for gun-comfortable or gun-curious black folks like myself in the NRA protection racket, right? I spoke to Colion Noir about the connection between “gun culture” and racism, and why places like the NRA convention are perceived as being unwelcome for black folks, even those who are comfortable with guns. Noir is a lawyer, a gun advocate, a host on NRA TV and one of the few black faces I saw on any poster or brochure at the whole convention. “We’re talking about an issue that has been engrossed in politics. I’m not naive enough to think they (guns, politics, race) don’t crisscross, but I try to separate them. I have to,” Noir said. He talked about how welcome he was at the convention and how many times, “both sides” refuse to talk to each other about issues relating to guns, race or shootings. “I get pulled over all the time because I can’t stop speeding,” he joked. One time, Noir was driving with 10 guns in his car and got pulled over by a “redneck cop,” and they ended up having a great 20-minute conversation about gun culture. “My experience isn’t everybody’s,” he acknowledged. Which is true – just ask John Crawford, Tamir Rice and Philando Castille, all of them black people shot and killed by police while having real or toy guns, despite being in open-carry states. But according to Noir, these shootings aren’t about institutional racism; they’re about ignorance, gun culture and a few bad cops. I, along with a 30-something black man listening to our conversation, wasn’t trying to hear Noir’s “Gotta hear both sides” rhetoric, so I pushed back. “The consequences for white ignorance aren’t the same as for black ignorance,” I said. “We have a legal system that has repeatedly said white fear, either out of ignorance of racism, is enough justification to employ lethal force, whether you’re a private citizen or a cop. It’s not the same for us.” Noir, ever the lawyer, agreed that bad cops should be punished, but he quickly went back to arguing that we have to look at every shooting on a case-by-case basis rather than see an overarching problem. Which would work fine, if the entire convention weren’t selling the exact-opposite message. Everywhere you go in the convention, you’re being told that the world is a dangerous place and you have to be ready. Even at the convention itself. I started up a conversation with a 50-something suburban-looking white guy named “Chris.” It was his fourth NRA convention, and we were talking about seeing Donald Trump Jr. walk through the building with not nearly as much security as you’d expect for the son of the 45th president. “The Secret Service must be going nuts, right? With all these guns in here?” he said. “I’m pretty sure Donald Trump Jr. is safe,” I responded. “Nobody here wants to take a shot at him. These are all responsible hunters, right?” “Oh, I love the NRA, but I couldn’t bring myself to hunt,” Chris said. “My wife and I have three rescue dogs, and I just couldn’t bring myself to take … to take an animal’s life, you know? But I’m OK if other people want to hunt.” Wait, what? Despite Chris’ concerns, the NRA seems much more interested in the dangers posed by ISIS terrorists, illegal Mexican immigrants and “urban thugs” than a room full of non-background-checked men with enough weapons to save Morpheus and John Wick in one afternoon. As much as I could find use for a metallic pen that doubles as a glass breaker or a pair of hearing aids so strong I could hear a deer piss on cotton, none of these toys makes me any safer. At one display, a guy was selling an actual Gatling gun. I’m thinking, who in the hell needs a Gatling gun? For a second I thought maybe it was just for display, like a sword on the wall or old cannons as lawn decorations. “Nope, it’s real; it actually works,” the dealer said. I’m all in favor of gun ownership, but unless you’re planning on mowing down a group of attacking Zulu warriors, who in his or her right mind needs to drop $47,000 on a functioning Gatling gun? For that much money, I could just buy a nice car and run somebody down in the street. Moreover, do I really want that person as my neighbor? What if he or she confuses a group of brown kids at a pool party with burglars? Let’s not forget that for years the Gatling gun was used by British invaders in Africa because the weapon was deemed too terrifying and brutal to use against Europeans. Selling this weapon is like selling Zyklon B: Yes, it’s technically a pesticide, but we all know the racial history of how it was really used. The monetization of the racialized fear at the NRA is perfectly encapsulated in the biggest rollout of the weekend: the NRA’s Carry Guard insurance program. For just $31 a month, when catching these hands isn’t enough, Carry Guard provides legal coverage to individuals who catch a case after shooting someone in “self-defense.” Commercials for Carry Guard are a supercut of horrible crimes, from convenience stores to roadside stops (with mostly white victims), where shooting your way out of it is the only option. The program covers 20 percent of your legal costs up front and anywhere from $150,000 to $1 million in fees if you’re found innocent or the case is dropped. You’d think this would be a great program for Juwan Alexander Plummer, the 19-year-old from Detroit who shot two cops last week, fearing that they were burglars. Or, even better, Florida’s Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Or nah. The NRA isn’t offering plans targeted at black ladies’ fears and safety. So if the NRA isn’t quite offering you the safety protection and training for black folks’ daily fears, who is? Well, there’s the recently formed (2015) National African-American Gun Association, whose membership has skyrocketed since Trump took office. But if you’re looking for something a little more around the way, you might want to call up the services of Maj Toure. Toure is the founder of Black Guns Matter, an organization that teaches inner-city youths and families about gun culture, safety and protection. I talked to him after he did an interview with NRA TV in the main room of the convention. Toure knows that the program name is a bit provocative, but he’s trying to make a point. “I’m not in the business of trying to convince someone else that my life matters,” says Toure. “Imma reach out to whomever and talk to people. If you’re from an urban area and wanna learn, let’s get it done.” Toure is more concerned with black folks creating safety for themselves, by themselves, since it’s pretty clear that no one else really is. When I asked him how he was treated at his first NRA convention, he was mostly positive. “I get tons of support here,” he said “People say some slick (stuff) on social media, but whatever; I have work to do.” How convenient. In the end, the NRA convention was not a Ku Klux Klan rally without the hoods; it was something equally disturbing but much less obvious. It was all of the ridiculous, cognitively dissonant ways that race, guns and American policy intersect. A convention where people of color walk around freely buying guns from people who would justify shooting them out of fear in any other space. A world where a relatively pro-gun person like myself doesn’t see my image or my concerns reflected in any commercials or merchandise. A world where gun advocacy means that some lives matter more than others and some don’t matter at all. In other words, the NRA convention was a lot like America: at one point familiar, but in so many other ways making it clear that there’s no real space for people who look, sound and live like me. (Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor, political analyst and public speaker. He is the political editor for The Root, where this piece first appeared.)


By Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Sports changed the trajectory of my life. If it had not been for the game of basketball, I likely never would’ve made it out of Benton Harbor, Mich. I probably never would’ve landed in Memphis almost 20 years ago. As far back as I can remember sports have schooled me, teaching me about life. For years my mother would lecture me to, “Play basketball. Don’t let basketball play you.” Her insight was intended to direct me to see past the horizon of the lines and into the broader structures of life. I recall my freshman coach, Lou Harvey, philosophizing about how “the ball has eyes.” Later I find out that means there are certain things in life that don’t have to be forced, they just happen in their own way, in their own time. My junior college coach, Doug Schaffer, taught me the importance of sacrificing individual gains for team glory. I was the best scorer on my Junior College team, as well as the best passer and ball handler. This mandated me to have to focus more on getting my teammates involved, putting other people in positions to be most successful to improve the potential of my team winning. Legendary LeMoyne-Owen Coach Jerry Johnson (and his spunky assistant Curtis Hollowell) shared many insights with me that I am unable to repeat publicly without retribution. They are responsible for teaching me the need for a unique brand of competitive tenacity that is willing to go against even the most obvious odds. They also helped me to racialize the game enough to recognize how athletes have been conditioned to respond to white coaches differently than black coaches. Recently, a passionate, righteous and rage-filled response to a Game 2 loss by the Memphis Grizzlies at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs (arguably with a little outside help) has caused what I’ve learned about and lived from the game to resurface. Head Coach David Fizdale mounted the post-game-press-conference podium, and in 2.5 minutes, meticulously laid out clear and concise statistics contextualizing the disparities in officiating that gave an unfair advantage to one team over the other. All across the city we saluted this young African-American coach for his justifiable rage, passion and courage to speak out irrespective of consequence. Let the church say, “Amen.” Coach Fizdale exemplified the necessity of paying attention to the details. He implored all of us to raise our consciousness – to #StayWoke. He was providing for us a methodology describing how people will try to treat some human beings as if we are unworthy of fair and just dealings based upon where we’re from, how long we’ve been where we are, and, yes, even what we might physically look like. Coach Fizdale reminded me of the importance of using our platform in service of others and not simply in service of self. In this regard, he reminded me of why we advocate for social justice and black liberation all across the city. Ironically, most of us are ridiculed for our righteous indignation. But, “you’re not gone rook us!” Grizz fans didn’t allow a lackluster first half to compromise our ability to acknowledge injustice when we see it. Nobody cited blame black-on-black crime as the source for the officiating disparities. It was obvious. And the injustice in our communities is equally obvious. To paraphrase local activist Tami Sawyer, our city values the grit and grind of black bodies on the hardwood, but not the grit and grind of black workers who work full-time jobs but don’t make livable wages. One player for the Spurs shooting more free throws than the entire Grizz team is almost as bad as the top 20 percent of earners in Memphis bringing in more than half – 50.7 percent – of the whole city’s income. We’ve found millions of PRIVATE dollars for police departments and bridge lights, the city council is even considering a dog park...but we’ve given zero dollars to PUBLIC education. Take that for data. But, maybe Coach Fizdale and the Grizz can teach us something about The Movement for Black Lives and something about our own personal responsibility to be involved in the struggle for freedom. It is incumbent upon all of us to recognize the places where righteous indignation and visual resistance are the most adequate expressions and responses to injustice. We ought not be more readily embracing of those who advocate for justice for athletes than those who are a lot more unfortunate. Let’s find ways to affirm, resource and reconsider those who fight for justice at the grassroots level because we all have a duty to be informed and insightful. In this current climate it is just as bad to be loud and wrong as it is to be right and silent. Dr. King was right; injustice anywhere (even on the hardwood) reflects the threat to justice everywhere. And Malcolm X was equally righteous when he said, “I’m for justice no matter who’s against it. And I’m for truth no matter who’s speaking it!” (The Rev. Earle J. Fisher is senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and co-spokesperson for the Memphis Grassroots Organizations Coalition.)

How Obama’s education law can help black parents bridge the education gap

By Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., NNPA

All parents want the best for their children. We all acknowledge that attaining a high-quality K-12 education is probably the single most important factor that will determine the future life success of a student in the public school systems throughout the United States. Yet, the reality for millions of Black American parents in the U.S. is that there is a lingering educational achievement gap between Black students and White students. This is why I believe that raising awareness about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) among all parents, especially Black parents, is vital. This should be a national priority for all who stand for equality in effective high-quality public education for all students. Now that states have begun the tedious process to refine and submit their ESSA state plans to the U.S. Department of Education, Black parents should increase their input into these plans in each state. Recent national studies have pointed to what some researchers have concluded as “low expectations” about the academic achievement levels of Black students being a major contributing factor to their underachievement in the classroom. Unfortunately, sometimes these predictions based on external research about Black America can become self-fulfilling prophecies and mere justifications for the current educational disparities and inequities between Black students and White students. Black parents do not have low expectations about their children’s academic potential to achieve excellence and scholarship. Most Black parents encourage and expect their children to do well in school. Black parents do have, however, low expectations about the priorities that state boards of education, as well as county and city boards of education, have presented thus far in response to the inclusive accountability mandates of ESSA. Inclusion presupposes involvement. Parental involvement is a key factor that determines the effectiveness of our public school system. The National Newspaper Publishers Association is, therefore, pleased to join and to support all efforts that will increase Black American parental involvement concerning ESSA and its implementation at both the state and federal levels. Yes, Black student K-12 educational achievement gaps that now exist in too many school districts in the U.S. can be bridged going forward, if there is a substantial and measurable increase in the consistent involvement of Black parents at all levels of decision-making and public policy implementation of ESSA. Please pass this message to others that you may know who are likewise concerned about these issues. The future of our families and communities is at stake. Our collective awareness and involvement can help to make a positive difference in improving K-12 education in America. I have faith that Black American parents will once again rise to this challenge. Learn more about how you can get involved with the Every Student Succeeds Act in your state at

How about sparing the kid and not using the rod?

By Kelley Evans, The Undefeated

Spanking, or “whupping” as it is referred to in some households, is usually accepted under the pretenses of the “spare the rod, spoil the child” concept. This six-word phrase is part of an old adage that many families, including those in communities of color, use to justify disciplining children. But author and journalist Stacey Patton fights for the rights of children and speaks out against corporal punishment. Her new book released on March 21, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America, examines this theory. Patton, a professor of journalism at Morgan State University who has a doctorate from Rutgers, once lived that reality. She is a child abuse survivor who explains in Spare the Kids how black parents’ particular attachment to corporal punishment reflects and reinforces racist ideology in which black children are seen as inherently inferior, less civilized and in need of punitive forms of control. Patton also deconstructs the historical roots and cultural logic behind the assault on young black bodies — in the streets, as well as in the home. Patton recently wrote that “black children are also disproportionately likely to suffer treatment at home that’s so bad that they want to flee. In 2015, black kids had the highest rate of abuse and neglect, at 14.5 per 1,000 children, compared with 8.1 per 1,000 for white children, according to the Children’s Bureau, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 3,600 black children in the United States have died as a result of maltreatment in the past decade, a rate three times higher than for all other racial groups. Suicide rates among elementary-age black children have nearly doubled since the 1990s, while the rates for white children have fallen, according to a 2015 report from the Journal of the American Medical Association.” The New Jersey native’s first book, That Mean Old Yesterday, was a memoir published in 2007 that deals with corporal punishment from a more personal perspective. She spoke with The Undefeated about her new book, her journey and her beliefs. How did you become involved with this subject matter? I survived it. When I was a kid, I was adopted by a middle-class African-American couple from New Jersey. They believed that ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ philosophy. I had never been hit while I was in foster care until I came to their house when I was 5, so it was pretty earth-shattering for me. The people who were supposed to be taking care of me, loving me, nurturing me, actually hurt my body. I never normalized it. It never felt like love or protection. I never forgot how afraid I was, how much it hurt. I ran away the first time when I was 7, and then again when I was 12. I was just totally unsuited to be violated in this way. It was my experiences in foster care, meeting other kids, mostly kids of color, who were injured in this way by their parents and caretakers, and I knew that I wanted to grow up to write something or advocate against this kind of treatment of children. I knew from the time I was a young girl that I would be involved in this work in my life. How long did it take you to write this book? Eight months. Where did you do most of your writing? I wrote most of it at home. I think all of it, really, yeah. All of it at home. How old were you when you first started getting that itch to tell your story? I always wanted to say something about it, even when I was a kid. I didn’t have the language. I didn’t have the emotional literacy. This conversation happened amongst adults. Adults were the ones who joked about it, who preached about it, who argued that it was a good thing, that it was necessary. I didn’t agree when I was a kid, but I didn’t have the language. When I was in foster care again — when I was 12, 13 — I started writing. I started first writing about my own experience. I needed to figure it out. I needed to understand it. That’s when I first started from a therapeutic perspective talking about it in foster care, but I started seriously wanting to write a book about it when I was in college. That’s when I started writing the first book. How were your college years? I spent my first two years at Johns Hopkins but I hated it, and so then I transferred to NYU. I was a basketball player in college, so I was heavily recruited, but I also wanted the academic experience. Then, once I got to graduate school to do a Ph.D. in African-American history, that’s when I started really seeing the parallels between the experiences of enslaved children and children who grew up during Jim Crow and my own personal experience when it came to this issue. I really started delving into slave narratives and Jim Crow narratives, and I could see that even though whipping children might be something that’s prevalent in black communities, it’s not intuitive to our culture. That’s when I started really understanding how this is a result of historical trauma. What do you want readers to take from Spare the Kids? I want them to be inspired to stop hitting their kids, and to treat them with respect, and to accept this idea that children should enjoy the same right to bodily integrity as adults. I want them to go through each chapter and really, really take in the information, whether it’s talking about the historical roots of the issue, to see where this practice came from, to know that it did not come from Africa, the principal regions of West Africa where African-Americans’ ancestors came from. It’s not something we did. That colonialism, slavery, indoctrination into Christianity and hundreds of years of racial devaluation are to blame for this. This is not something that’s native to us, so we need to stop and ask, where did this come from and why do we embrace it? Why do we think it’s a good thing, when it’s really counterintuitive and it’s at the root of a lot of our issues in our communities? Whether it’s the school-to-prison pipeline, whether it’s disparities in educational achievement, racial disparities in foster care and child fatalities. Black people have the highest child maltreatment rate, also fatalities. I want ministers to stop preaching ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’ It’s not even in the Bible. I want comedians to stop joking about it, radio hosts to stop joking about it, and to look at how this is damaging. How it was damaging to us, those of us who survived it, and how it’s continuing to damage our children and our communities. Have you spoken to your adoptive parents about the pain you faced when you were younger? No, I haven’t seen or lived with them since I was 12 years old. That’s when I left. I haven’t had conversations since I was a kid with them about this. I moved back into foster care, a series of foster homes, youth shelters, group homes, until I finally won a full scholarship to a boarding school in New Jersey. I was an athlete, so that helped. I got an academic scholarship, and it really altered the trajectory of my life. I never turned back. I never looked back. Do you know your birth parents? I met my biological father in 2009; I believe it was about a week before he died from cancer. Basically, I said hello and goodbye at the same time. My biological mother died when I was a kid, so I have no memory of her. Is writing for you a form of healing? I think my first book was helpful. It was certainly very cathartic because I got to say everything I couldn’t say when I was a kid. I got to cuss on the page and all that kind of stuff. A way to be heard, because I’d spent an entire childhood with people saying, ‘Kids should be seen and not heard.’ In that regard, it helped me find my voice. My writing has changed over the years, and I’ve become a lot more unapologetic and irreverent. It has empowered me to be authentic and also be an example to other people on how you tell your truth and how you’re fearless about it. It’s less therapeutic than it was when I was younger and still trying to figure it out. Now it’s more just like, ‘Here it is.’ I don’t care what people do with it. I don’t really have any emotions about it. It’s just something I do, part of my life, whether I’m doing it on social media, or for The Washington Post or The New York Times, or writing a book. It’s a gift. It’s a responsibility, a duty for me, and so I just do it. What cultural value do you see in your stories? That it’s going to upend some cultural myths. It’s going to upturn those. That I’m airing dirty laundry, so a lot of people aren’t going to like that. I want to shift the cultural conversation, the generational lie that you have to process a black child’s body through pain in order for that child to live, to behave, to learn, to be kept safe. I’m resisting that cultural attitude and cultural conversation because it’s destructive. I tell people when I go through the whole history of how this process got embedded in our culture. I have to remind people that it doesn’t start on the plantation during slavery. It doesn’t even start in West Africa. It starts 2,000 years ago, when Europeans were being absolutely sadistic with their own children. They went through centuries and centuries of trauma and brutality, and when they ventured out of Europe and started colonizing and slave trading, they brought those traumas with them on top of their racism and manifest destiny and religiosity, all of that stuff. Their trauma and brutality and greed and racism cascaded across generations and cultures. When people tell me that whupping kids is a black thing, I say that’s an absolute lie, because if you know anything about history, particularly how Western brutality got implanted into other cultures, you will understand that whupping is perhaps the whitest and most effective thing you can do to destroy a black child. What was the hardest part of writing this book? It was listening to the testimonies of people who talk about the pain they suffered during their own childhood, and how so many people couldn’t even talk about this because it was considered culturally taboo to do so. It’s disrespectful to their mothers and other elders. It was listening to their tears. Sitting in other people’s pain was really difficult. It was difficult for me too. I have a whole chapter on the rise of digi-punishment, parents who pick up their cellphone and record themselves standing there beating their kid. Watching those over a period to analyze them, listening to black comedians who joked about this kind of stuff. Kevin Hart jokes about punching his infant daughter in the throat. Bernie Mac jokes about beating kids until the white meat shows. All of those things, if you look at them all together, it’s just really depressing. It’s awful, and just over and over again, the number of black people who believe that they’re a successful athlete, or successful celebrity or politician, or didn’t go to jail, didn’t turn out to be a crackhead or a criminal, that all of this happened because somebody beat it into them, which just cosigns the racist logic that the only way to make black people moral, law-abiding, successful, healthy, loving people is by beating them. I guess I had my moments of cynicism, where I felt like OK, I could sit here and unpack the historical roots of this. I could look at this issue from a scientific perspective, from a sociological perspective and so on, and also bring people’s voices to the table, and there will still be a lot of people who walk away from this and say, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ and all the other tired old clichéd lines that people like to throw out there to legitimize hurting children’s bodies, or to absolve their parents or grandparents, other caretakers, who were wrong for assaulting them as children. It doesn’t mean they didn’t love them. Yeah, the love was there, but they were still wrong, and it still caused damage. Are there any concepts in your book that may be new to readers? I think that some of the data. For example, in the past 10 years, if you look at the annual child maltreatment reports that are put out by the Association for Children and Families, African-Americans have killed over 3,600 children. A lot of people will say, ‘It’s better for me to whup my child than the police,’ but when you look at the data, yes, we’ve seen instances of state violence against unarmed black children, but when you look at the data for the past 10 years, African-Americans kill an average of 360 children a year. If you line that up against the police killings, it pales in comparison. African-American children are more at risk of being assaulted, physically injured or killed by their own parents than by the police. There’s that. Another disturbing statistic was to discover that since the 1990s, the number of children in foster care who are given psychotropic medications. Most of them, a disproportionate number of them, are black girls. We have a predominantly white-taught welfare system. You have these professionals who already have their racial biases and ideas about black children and their behavior, and instead of helping them, instead of giving them the treatment that they need to heal and to become productive, thriving young adults, they’re being destroyed in the system. Many of them are being put along the pathway from foster care to the juvenile justice system. For me it’s these connections, these types of things that people don’t think about, when we have these conversations about corporal punishment. Everybody wants to do these anecdotal arguments: ‘I was whupped, and I turned out fine.’ Hopefully it is a gift to people who want to heal and who want to change. It’s sharpened my analysis and my ability to talk about this with a bit more savvy. It makes people very uncomfortable, but I’m completely unfazed because I think about the 360-something children, black children, who are killed in our communities every year. That’s what keeps me going. What has been the most difficult part of your entire journey? I think for me was being an adoptee and never getting to meet my biological mother, not being able to ever ask her certain questions, never knowing what she smelled like, what it had felt like to be hugged by her, never hearing her voice, never having that connection. Every year I blamed her. I was like, ‘If she hadn’t given me up, I would have never gone through all of this,’ but I’ve evolved spiritually to understand that from a karmic level, a spiritual perspective, we choose our lives. My spiritual adviser explained that to me. I would have never been able to do this work if I had come into this world with a mother who stayed, who nurtured me in a healthy way. I wouldn’t have been able to do this work, so I’ve evolved beyond the anger, the sense of victimization, the abandonment, the ‘Oh, why me’ to an appreciation. There’s nothing to forgive. She provided the best hope for me to get here, and I realize that sometimes the only investment that a parent can give you is life. That was hard for me, but I found peace with my mother and my father. I thank them. I’m grateful for my life, for a mind, a body. I understand why I’m here. I’ve never known them, but I love them for that. Even my adoptive mother. I don’t have the rage and the anger that I’ve had for her for much of my life. I haven’t forgiven her. I have no plan to, but I understand that she, too, was fulfilling that part of this agreement. She didn’t kill me. I survived to do this work, and once again there’s nothing to forgive. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? To always find the positive intent in every situation, no matter how absurd it is. … When things happen, even bad things, you have to step back and say, ‘What’s the lesson that I was supposed to learn from this?’ Once you get that lesson, you can then choose to be bitter about things that have happened or you can choose to be grateful for the lesson.

This secret form of voter suppression might be the civil rights issue of our time

By Michael Harriot, The Root

When federal judge Nelva Gonzales struck down Texas’ discriminatory voter-identification law on Monday, voting rights advocates applauded the ruling as if the minorities barred from casting ballots had won the Super Bowl. Amy Rudd, the attorney who represented the NAACP Texas State Conference and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said, “We hope today’s decision sends a strong message to the Texas Legislature that any deliberate attempt to restrict Texas minority citizens’ right to vote will not be tolerated.” They all hope that the court’s rejection of Texas’ draconian S.B. 14 will set a precedent for other states with laws designed to disenfranchise minority voters, paving the way for fair and equal elections. Except it won’t. Voter-ID laws are just the latest tool used by Republicans to silence the voices of people who don’t fall within the usual bounds of the conservative demographic, but they are not the most effective. The most potent and practical form of election rigging has been practiced since America was founded. It is neither rare nor frowned upon. It is an anti-democratic open secret used in every election to silence the voices of millions in every state and national election. It is a nasty tactic employed by everyone from the Founding Fathers to Donald Trump, and yes, it is legal. It rewinds many of the advances made by the civil rights movement and laughs in the face of its detractors. It goes by many names: redistricting, electioneering, voter mapmaking and too many others to list. Most people just call it “gerrymandering.” What is gerrymandering? If Kevin Hart were explaining this, he would begin by saying, “Well, the way our democracy is set up ... ” Most cities and states are divided into voting districts. The city council members, state legislators and congresspeople for whom votes are cast represent these districts, which were traditionally divided by neighborhood boundaries, municipal borders and geographic characteristics (rivers, mountains, roadways, etc.). In 1810, one of the original signers of the Constitution, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, was running for re-election and redrew the lines of a voting district to favor his party. When one of his colleagues noted that the redrawn district resembled a salamander, the term “gerrymander” was born. Since then, lawmakers have increasingly found ways to carve out districts that are favorable to their political purposes. One of the most famous instances of gerrymandering is Illinois’ 4th District—a perfect illustration of the political term “packing.” The 71-percent-Latino congressional district follows no natural path but packs all of Chicago’s Hispanic neighborhoods into one congressional district. This blatant map drawing ensures that the citizens will always have one Hispanic member in the House of Representatives, but reduces the impact that this large population could have throughout the city to a single blot on the map and a single voice among the 435 House members. That’s gerrymandering. Who gets to draw the maps? In most states, whoever is in power gets to shape the districts, which—because of gerrymandering, usually means Republicans. There are only six states that use bipartisan commissions to draw their districts. And the GOP continues to extend its no-holds-barred political approach to gerrymandering. In 2010 the Republicans devised the Redistricting Majority Project, or REDMAP, a plan to redraw the entire country’s political map to fit their needs. In the 2012 election, Democratic congressional candidates received 100,000 more votes than Republican candidates but lost 13 of the 18 seats. In other words, 51 percent of the vote equated to 28 percent of the seats. But how do they know where to draw the lines? Well, like most political issues, race and economics play a major role. They use demographics information, historical patterns and voting data, but isolating poor and minority neighborhoods is a key part of gerrymandering. Isn’t this illegal? Yes ... well ... kinda, but not really. You know America—a complex duality of racism and equivocation. Basically, the Supreme Court allows politicians to use race to draw districts as long as race isn’t the “predominant” factor and the mapmakers don’t have the “intent” to discriminate—even if the results are racist. The same ruling (Shaw v. Hunt) affirms that legislators can have blatantly partisan reasons for redistricting, but they must be subtle when it comes to race. They can use all kinds of tricks to get the results they want. But if the population doesn’t change, how can gerrymandering change the results of an election? Math. Tricks. Imagine a town with 50 precincts. A good gerrymanderer can decide whomever he wants to win beforehand and engineer the results. This chart explains it clearly. Wow! That’s nefarious, but does that rise to the level of election rigging? Yeah, you’re right. Maybe that sounds a little hyperbolic—until you realize that: According to Pew Research, 48 percent of registered voters identify as Democrat, while only 44 percent call themselves Republican, yet 80 percent of the country lives in a state whose government is under partial or total Republican rule (legislature and governorship). In the 2016 election, Democrats got more votes in the Senate but lost seats. Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million but won the Electoral College. The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead. OK, maybe that last fact is irrelevant, but the rest are true only because gerrymandered districts have predetermined the outcome of every election. That is—by definition—rigged. How is gerrymandering equivalent to voter suppression, though? In 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, it had nothing to do with voter-ID laws, closed polling places, shorter registration hours, purged voter rolls or any of the other tricks conservatives constantly keep up their sleeves. Shelby County v. Holder was about a gerrymandered district in Calera, Ala., that purposely eliminated the town’s only black City Council member. The Supreme Court ruling released all of the states with a history of voter discrimination from having to get their maps’ boundaries checked by the Justice Department—or preclearance—before drawing new maps. Every state that passed voter-identification bills, shut down early voting and limited absentee ballots used the gutting of the Voting Rights Act to do so. Gerrymandering is always the first step toward voter suppression. How can this be stopped? Some people advocate for a national popular vote for presidential elections. Others say the solution is to have nonpartisan commissions draw all district borders according to a set of fair criteria. Perhaps the best hope we have of ending gerrymandering is the three upcoming cases the Supreme Court will hear this year. In two of them, the high court will consider whether states can use racial criteria in gerrymandering, but the third case—Whitford v. Gill—will determine if states can draw voting maps for purely partisan reasons. Doesn’t all of this subvert the idea of democracy? Could you hold on for a minute while I try to stop laughing? America has never been a real democracy. It wasn’t until 1965, 11 years shy of the country’s 200th birthday—that every citizen got the right to vote. Five of the nation’s 45 commanders in chief (more than 10 percent) won the presidency while losing the popular vote. In America everyone gets to vote, but every vote doesn’t always count. The system was designed to be rigged, and for 200 years, politicians have used gerrymandering as the glitch in the system to rig the popular vote for the people in charge. Even though the Washington Post has called gerrymandering “the biggest threat to democracy,” no one protests because it is too wonky. It is not a glamorous-enough cause to hold a sit-in or storm a watchtower over. It cannot fit on a protest placard, so we accept it, which is exactly why politicians can continue to silence voters without fear of penalty. Marvin Simkin once wrote: “Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch.” Why must we always be the lamb?

OPINION: How would MLK respond to Trump’s America?

By David Love, theGrio

On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, this is as appropriate a time as any to ask how the slain civil rights leader would react to President Donald J. Trump. There’s reason to believe Dr. King would respond to Trump the way he responded to the racists, the white supremacists, the Jim Crow segregationists and the bigoted bullies of his day. And he dealt with many of them, from small-time sheriffs and petty local officials to governors and Washington politicians. Trump is the ideological heir of the Jim Crow official who stood in front of the schoolhouse door, his supporters the descendants of the thugs and hooligans who bashed in the heads of civil rights workers at the segregated lunch counter — or in the streets, using the authority of a police badge, gun and a billy club to terrorize nonviolent protesters. These days, not unlike the days of the civil rights movement, are filled with great turmoil, uncertainty and danger for people of color, the poor and the vulnerable. The Trump White House, which came to power with the slogan “Make America Great Again,” has utilized what Dr. King called the drum major instinct, “a need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first.” Full-fledged Nazis and white nationalists are running the show from the West Wing, developing policies designed to humiliate and oppress disadvantaged populations and erase the civil rights legacy of the past five decades. Trump is benefiting from the racism and xenophobia plaguing the land and feeding an environment allowing hate crimes to flourish at the same time. And Dr. King would be speaking out against that. Dr. King had much to say about unjust laws in Letter From Birmingham Jail. He spoke about the moral duty to disobey an unjust law, which a “majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” An unjust law such as the Jim Crow segregation statutes “distorts the soul and damages the personality,” he wrote, and “gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.” Trump’s America is replete with unjust laws, with executive orders that target Muslims because of their religion and undocumented immigrants because of their status and Latino ethnicity, all for the sake of white supremacy. Surely King would react vehemently against ICE raids, the rounding up of people like fugitive slaves, deporting them and separating them from their children. America, King said, “is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” The Trump administration — with its love for tyrants and human rights abusers and a plan to increase funding for the military and for police by decimating social services — has done nothing to disprove King’s statement. Rev. King and his followers withstood police dogs unleashed by two-legged police dogs, as Malcolm X would have said. He would understand too well Trump’s “law and order” regime — which gives deference to police, encourages law enforcement to racially profile black communities, and brands protesters and the press as the enemy. Let us not forget that King also cared about economics. He spoke of the need for America to “undergo a radical revolution of values” and “rapidly begin … the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” When he was gunned down in Memphis, Martin Luther King was fighting for the rights of striking sanitation workers and was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to demand economic justice and human rights to the poor across all racial lines. What would King make of the Trump cabinet, a mostly white male group, predominantly millionaires and billionaires, with a combined net worth greater than a third of Americans combined, and policies designed to benefit those wealthy cabinet members and their friends? This is the wealthiest cabinet in history, and the worst, King would conclude, with nominees and appointees selected based not for knowledge of their agencies but on their propensity to dismantle them. Whether the gutting of women’s rights, labor rights, environmental protection, civil rights, voting rights, public education, LGBTQ rights or what have you, the government is not only turning its back on its responsibilities; the government is dismantling itself under Trump. And this would concern King, who pushed the federal government to take a more active role in improving lives and upholding justice. Trump’s America would look very familiar to Dr. King, a nation that has failed to live up to the lofty rhetoric found in its Constitution. And African-Americans still have that blank check that came back marked “insufficient funds.” Then and now, King would see a country crying out for justice.

OPINION: 7 reasons black America should fight marijuana prohibition

By Michael Harriot, The Root

Take a deep breath. Can you smell the weed smoke billowing in from Colorado and California? Have you read about the citizens of Maine and Massachusetts who turned into zombies from puffing blunts all day? Have you seen the news reports about the scores of people in Oregon and Nevada who overdosed on marijuana? No. Because, nope, none of that happened. As of 2017, 28 states have passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form. While a majority of states now allow the possession and use of cannabis for medical purposes, eight states (plus Washington, D.C.) have fully legalized the use and possession of marijuana. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans (59 percent) believe that marijuana should be legal, including an identical percentage of blacks. So why are so many states still holding out on medical-marijuana reform? You guessed it: conservative Republicans. Sixty-two percent of people who identify as conservative Republicans believe that weed should be illegal, while 55 percent of all Republicans support cannabis prohibition. As with all things Republican, they choose to ignore the racial dynamics of their policies and how they affect people of color. Marijuana legalization is not just a political or legislative issue; it is also about race. It is intertwined with almost every issue facing African Americans and should be front and center on black America’s agenda. To be clear, no one is advocating smoking pot just for the hell of it. There are people who believe that ganja is the cure for cancer, the pathway to God, a psychotherapeutic remedy, the solution for the Middle East conflict and the perfect after-dinner mint. This is just a plea to end its unnecessary prohibition. Even if you don’t partake, here are the top 10 reasons black people should support marijuana legalization: 1. Marijuana prohibition was always racist. During alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, marijuana became the drug of choice, especially in the early jazz clubs, where black and white citizens commingled. Then came Henry Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (which would eventually become the Drug Enforcement Agency). In the 1930s, Anslinger used racism to promote the first ban on marijuana, writing, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” and most famously: There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others. In 1937, Anslinger convinced Congress to pass the Marijuana Tax Act, prohibiting marijuana and officially beginning the war on drugs. This war escalated when President Richard Nixon used drug laws to target and silence blacks and anti-war protesters. Harper’s Magazine recently unearthed a 22-year-old interview with former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, who revealed: The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. 2. We could use that money. Because the black unemployment rate is usually twice the rate for whites. Because—even when the income level and tax base is the same—the more black students a school has, the less funding it will receive. Think about what a company with $1 billion in revenue could do for employment. Imagine what an extra $200 million could do for school funding, scholarships and community programs, not to mention the exorbitant amounts of money communities spend enforcing, prosecuting and incarcerating people for weed. 3. Fewer black people will end up in jail. Blacks use marijuana at about the same rates as whites but are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. These charts tell the story of the disparity among weed arrests: 4. Police will kill fewer black people ... we hope. Police are more likely to use force against African Americans because they are more likely to stop or detain them. Maybe it’s time to take marijuana off the table, simply because it unnecessarily puts people of color in danger. Take the case of Chad Roberson, who tried to flee police because he had a small amount of marijuana in his pocket, and they shot him in the back. Twenty-four-year-old Deaundre Phillips ended up dead after an encounter with a plainclothes cop who said he smelled marijuana coming from the car. Pot is often a contributing factor to police brutality because it gives officers the freedom to detain and arrest, and search people based on nothing but suspicion. Speaking of stop and frisk ... 5. Stop and frisk is a marijuana-arrest tool. The policy was never about guns or safety. An analysis of the New York City Police Department’s 2012 data revealed that cops used stop and frisk to recover 729 guns but stopped 26,000, and arrested 5,000 people for marijuana possession. Blacks and Latinos were more likely to be stopped than whites but less likely to be found with a weapon or drugs. Since a court ruled stop and frisk unconstitutional, the NYPD has replaced it with ramped-up marijuana arrests, specifically targeting minorities. 6. It criminalizes black kids. By 12th grade, both white and black juveniles were found to have used marijuana at the same rate (pdf), but underage black children were arrested for it at higher rates than their white counterparts. Even though pot is illegal everywhere for juveniles, if your children were going to buy weed, would you rather have them purchase it from a drug dealer or a legal dispensary? 7. The long-term effects are dire. We’ve shown how marijuana laws are enforced unequally, but what are the effects of such disparities in enforcement? If black children are arrested more often for marijuana, the long-term effects can be dire. A drug conviction could render a student ineligible for financial aid and could pop up during employee-background checks, eliminating opportunities for employment. The disparity in sentencing affects the families of the people convicted, increases the number of parents taken away from their children, and trickles down into poverty and unemployment rates. Legalizing pot is not just a hot-button political topic; it is the first step in dismantling the war on drugs that has wreaked havoc on the black community for 80 years. Marijuana prohibition affects more than the people who partake of the substance—it is a critical issue that touches the lives of everyone in black America. Plus, when weed becomes a legal drug and Snoop Dogg becomes to marijuana what Colonel Sanders is to chicken, the Super Bowl commercials are gonna be lit! Read more here

OPINION: Just a Reminder: The NCAA Is a Plantation, and the Players Are the Sharecroppers

By Michael Harriot, The Root

One of the biggest bait and switches ever pulled on American citizens was the ruse of collectively shared farming. It was a simple but effective long con. Farmers and plantation owners convinced newly freed slaves and poor people to work a portion of their land in exchange for a share of the harvest. In theory, this plan incentivized the workers to produce the biggest crop possible, and the landowners could maximize the use of their land, sharing the profits with labor. This system of “sharecropping” seemed like a perfect plan. But this farm-tenancy system eventually went south. Landowners found ways to bilk the sharecroppers out of their portion of the profits by charging them for food, housing, the use of equipment, interest on loans and anything else they could conjure up. The workers eventually ended up as indentured servants—in debt to the landlords, giving their blood, sweat and tears for a payday they never received. Incredibly, sharecropping was never outlawed. The mechanization of farming made it impractical, and the people who had been tied to the land eventually realized the nature of the con. But to this very day, if you could convince people to give their blood, sweat and tears for no pay except the promise of fortune and success down the road, you could start your own sharecropping system. Fortunately, no company is arrogantly evil enough to convince poor people to work for free while the business rakes in billions in profit, refusing to compensate the workers who sacrifice their bodies and minds ... ... except for college athletics. Funded by the federal government (that means us), the National Collegiate Athletic Association is nominally a nonprofit organization. Technically, however, the NFL (which made about $13.3 billion in 2016) is also a nonprofit because it distributes all the money it makes to its individual franchises. Calling them “not-for-profit” organizations is like saying Beyoncé and Jay Z are poor because Blue Ivy is going to end up with all the money anyway. The NCAA makes around $1 billion a year (figures for 2016 haven’t been released yet; it presumably takes quite a while to count the piles of money) on college athletics. Eighty percent of the NCAA’s revenue comes from the media rights to the NCAA tournament. If you add in the $3.4 billion for college football (the playoff championship is owned by the 125 Football Subdivision, or FBS, schools), the total revenue for college sports tops $4 billion—almost all of it from football and basketball. Four billion. Now guess how much players get. They get food, of course. They get to live in college dorms, so there’s free housing. Depending on which school you attend, there’s a $2,000-$5,000 stipend for the year (which amounts to $1-$2.50 per hour). There’s the free athletic gear. But the real allure of college athletics is the opportunity for fame, athletic glory, free education and more money than they could ever count. Welcome to the new sharecropping. Just as in sharecropping, when you talk about the student-athletes in money-earning sports, you’re really talking about black people. In 2012, the latest year for which figures are available (pdf), black players made up 51.6 percent of FBS football players (far more than their 13 percent of the American population) and 57.2 percent of Division I basketball players. For years, colleges have made hundreds of millions of dollars on the backs of these athletes with no regard for their future, and no one cares—simply because they’re black. That’s not supposition. That is what a recent study by UMass Amherst associate professor of political science Tatishe Nteta found. Nteta and researchers interviewed subjects on a number of topics and “devised a survey that weighed variables like age, sex and interest in college sports and negative attitudes towards African-Americans, a measure he calls racial resentment.” Nteta found that the subjects who held the most racial biases statistically opposed paying college athletes. Even white subjects who weren’t “racially resentful” leaned toward not paying college athletes when they were shown a picture of black athletes alongside the question. Of course, there are arguments against paying college players. Some people say that it turns college athletics into professional sports (even though teams, coaches, sponsors, television networks and everyone else involved with college sports make millions; it is already professional sports). Others argue that the players get a free college education (they don’t; athletic scholarships are one-year, renewable offers, and are only good as long as you can play) and kids are given a chance to play professional sports (less than 2 percent of players ever play professionally). The greatest argument is that college players basically get a degree for free, but every metric shows that it is the white players, not the black players, who end up with degrees. During the 2014-2015 academic school year, black men were 2.5 percent of undergraduate students but 56.3 percent of football teams and 60.8 percent of men’s-basketball teams. The average graduation success rate for college football players in 2016 was 68 percent. For white football players, it was 87 percent. College basketball is even worse—it graduated only 53 percent of its black ballers. If any other business in America had that much racial disparity in any of its industry practices, it would either be sued into oblivion or shut down by the government. But not on these special plantations, which get to do whatever they want. Only 18 percent of college basketball coaches (pdf) are black, while only 8 percent of FBS head coaches are African American. The billions of dollars earned by the black sweat dripping onto the beautifully manicured grass and waxed courts end up in the pockets of white coaches, white administrators and white network owners, and benefit white students at predominantly white schools. So tomorrow, while you watch the NCAA Final Four with millions of others, don’t imagine yourself making a last-second jump shot. Instead, imagine that you are one of the top people working in your field today, and you are recruited by a multibillion-dollar corporation. Suppose the job is incredibly difficult and requires you to travel, risk injury and endure bodily pain, but you know that your talent and expertise could make the company millions of dollars, give it global brand recognition and garner it worldwide acclaim. What would you think if—when you sat down to discuss compensation—the recruiters told you, “Oh no. We won’t be paying you. We expect you to do this for free.” Would you think they were evil? Would you accuse them of being exploitative users? Would you call them con men and tell everyone working there that they should strike, and beg everyone else to boycott their product? Or, as you stormed out, would you tell these new-millennium plantation owners that you are neither a servant nor a field hand, and if they expect to turn you into a sharecropper ... ... they must be out of their cotton-picking minds.


By Karanja A. Ajanaku, [email protected]

“From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics” is the first book by veteran journalist Otis L. Sanford, who holds the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Journalism at the University of Memphis Department of Journalism. In this conclusion to an interview with The New Tri-State Defender, Sanford – a Sunday Viewpoint page contributor at The Commercial Appeal and a WREG-TV commentator – completes a reflective journey of Memphis marked by Edward Hull “Boss” Crump and Dr. Willie W. Herenton, who he calls “King Willie.” The two former mayors and political dynamos are, he asserts, the two most significant political figures in the city’s history. ‘If Crump had been alive, I don’t think Dr. Martin Luther King would have been assassinated in Memphis. “I don’t think the garbage strike would have lasted that long. Crump would have figured out a way to resolve this thing without it getting there.” Otis L. Sanford, reflecting on his research about Memphis political history Karanja A. Ajanaku: One of the things that I think that the book will do is bring out characters – and I’m talking particularly from the African-American community – that a lot of the community never heard of or just barely heard of and had no way to put them in context. A.W. Willis (civil rights lawyer, businessman and the first African American elected to the Tennessee General Assembly since the 1880s) comes immediately to my mind. You interviewed his widow (Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis). What was that like? OLS: She was very honest with me on a lot of things. ... I don’t think she hesitated to say that A.W. (Willis, the namesake of the A. W. Willis Bridge) made some mistakes along the way. … First of all, she thinks that it was a mistake for him to go against (former U.S. Rep.) Harold Ford in 1974 when he (Ford) was running his first congressional race against Dan Kuykendall and he came out publicly for Kuykendall. …I think looking back at it, it was a mistake. He didn’t have to say anything at all, because it certainly – and I think she even said it – didn’t help him. And it didn’t hurt Harold. … Then Art Gilliam, who was writing a column (in The Commercial Appeal), blasted A.W. Willis in some pretty tough language. That I recount in the book. Yes, she was very honest with her assessment of that. Plus, he (Willis) was really upset when a lot of people in the black community did not support him for mayor in 1967. … KAA: From his point of view, the man really did a lot (for African Americans). OLS: He did. …He was the first African American to win a seat in the state legislature in modern times. He was part of that … legal group that said, “No, it’s time to make some changes around here. We’ve been trying to be slow and trod along the way Blair T. Hunt wanted us to do. …Or even (Lt.) George W. Lee wanted us to do. …But now it’s time to be a little bit more forceful.” KAA: Right. Willis, H.T. Lockhard… OLS: Ben Hooks... KAA: Ben F. Jones. OLS: And there might have been another lawyer involved, but it was that group. They are the ones that really said, “No, it’s time to stop asking and start demanding some things.” They did it. I think there’s a pivotal point in the book right after Edmund Orgill got elected mayor when H.T. Lockhard, who was then president of the local NAACP and sent those letters saying, “It’s time to integrate the schools. …And it’s certainly time to integrate the public parks and facilities.” Folks got into a panic. KAA: Let’s talk about Lieutenant Lee. OLS: Here’s a man that I see who was the closest thing to a brilliant guy in this town that we’re going to get. He was a brilliant orator. He had political skills up the wazoo. He was a World War I hero. He was a successful businessman. He knew how to navigate both the African-American community and the white community. He had white Republican leaders coming to him for help, and he accommodated them. At the 1952 Republican Convention, he seconded the nomination of a presidential candidate. This was a black man in Memphis, KA. KAA: Right, right! OLS: When he gets back to Memphis, he’s just another Negro not in city government; not in an appointed position. Not looked at, even though the newspapers paid attention to him ... Especially the (Memphis) Press Scimitar, they had him in the paper all the time. But why wasn’t he on some board? Why didn’t he run for public office and get elected? It was all because of racism, and I say it in the book. Brilliant man, great writer, and again a successful businessman and all of that stuff, but in segregated Memphis, he was not worthy enough for any mayor or anybody in elected office to appoint to some commission or some board or something like that. I think that’s a shame. KAA: He sort of becomes the most visible character for me relative to coming up against a mindset that people had. OLS: Yes, he did. KAA: (And) there was this ... (in the book) It just really jumped out at me… “Black speakers at the (Douglas) park dedication included Reverend T.J. Searcy and Reverend T.L. Fuller. Addressing the concerns of white residents, Searcy said he hoped the Negros of Memphis would make Douglas Park ‘A place for high class recreation and not one for idle frolicking.’” OLS: Right. KAA: The keynote address was the part that got me….The keynote address was delivered by Judge J.M. Greer … who represented Crump (at the dedication)… OLS: Right. KAA: (Reading) “Greer gave a lengthy speech, reminding his black audience how far they had progressed since slavery was officially abolished just 49 years earlier. Greer also acknowledged being born a slaveholder, and spoke fondly about a slave boy two years older than him who personally tended to his needs. ‘Out of this irresponsible menial condition the negro came into freedom with no property, no education, and with limited intelligence.’ Despite what he called progress, Greer still dismissed the notion that blacks were the equal of whites, and he said his audience should ‘always demand separation socially from the white race.’” OLS: That jumped out at you, didn’t it? KAA: Yeah. Because it sets the context for the cultural lock that people were in….They would never consider themselves “racists.” It was a way of life. So Lee and all others would be running up against that…. OLS: That happened in 1914. The whole issue around that Douglas Park is a hell of a story because most white folks didn’t want black folks to have a park, but it was Boss Crump that said, “Look, if they want a park, let’s give them a park,” and that actually endeared the African-Americans in this town to Boss Crump…. That judge (Greer) thought he was doing something good at that (dedication). The black folks who were there ... some of them may not have liked it, but they weren’t going to make no big deal about it. They were just happy to have a park and to just move on from his comments. But you’re right. People like George W. Lee and to a great degree Blair T. Hunt, they were fighting up against that kind of mindset. That’s why I believe they wanted to move slowly. KAA: Gradualism. OLS: “I’m a gradualist,” Blair T. Hunt said. …He thought that over time people will come to appreciate the Negro as someone who is worthy of inclusion. Well, if you’re going to sit up there and wait on it … It wasn’t going to happen. KAA: It’s important to keep those guys in context, right? OLS: Yeah, it is. KAA: I wonder, and maybe even worry a little bit about some people from today who might look back at them and draw a conclusion that might be technically correct, but might not be contextually correct. I think it’s important then to tie it back into this whole mindset thing that we’re talking about….(and) there’s also that sort of inferior thinking thing, too, that we have to deal with. OLS: It is, it is. KAA: You talk a lot about the importance of the African-American electorate. …Whether you’re talking about then or you’re talking about now, it gets down to the importance of there being sort of a consolidated strong voting populous, right? OLS: Right. KAA: When I look at the book, I guess you could say a little bit during the Crump period there were some (consolidated voting) here, and then during the (1991) People’s Convention (that yielded Dr. Herenton as a consensus African American candidate for mayor). It seems like by and large… OLS: It’s gone now. At least in my view it is. I tried to make this point with the epilogue, because the book actually ends … with the election of Dr. Herenton. I didn’t want to just leave it there completely. That’s why I wrote the epilogue. I could have made the epilogue even longer, but I didn’t want to come off as preachy. I said, though, that I believe that after the ‘91 election – I think for the most part – African-Americans in this town said, “Well, we proved our point.” And so ever since then voter participation on local elections have been going down, down, down, down, down. KAA: As you said in the book, we still have the nagging problems of poverty … violent crimes…Everybody’s affected by racial strife. OLS: Exactly. We did what we had been trying to do for a hundred years. We got a black man elected mayor. That was not the end of it all. I think a lot of people thought that was going to be the end of it all. KAA: Some people would argue that to solve a problem you have to make sure you know where the root of it is, right? Maybe it wasn’t a political root. OLS: Or it’s almost like mowing your grass. You mow the grass, get it where you want it to be, but the grass is going to grow back up … Yes, they accomplished something amazing in 1991 with the election of Dr. Herenton, but that didn’t mean that they needed to stop. I think a lot of people stopped…. KAA: You said in the epilogue that your goal was to help Memphians understand themselves and to learn the lessons of history. Do you think you met it? OLS: I like to think that people, after they read this book, will certainly know who a lot of people were…. At least I want people to understand who these people were….Beyond the names, I want them to understand just how steadfast and committed the majority of African-Americans were in this town to try to get some political parity or just some inclusion…. I want them to learn that you’ve got to be committed. You’ve got to be forceful and keep at it all the time, if you’re going to get some conclusion and effect change and effect public policy and get things going in the direction that it should be. You can’t be apathetic and just sit back. The majority of African-Americans, especially at the early part of the 20th century, were not apathetic. They were involved…. KAA: What do you want European-Americans to get out of the book? Is it the same? OLS: It’s pretty much the same. I want them to understand the history, too. I didn’t write this book just for African-Americans. I want the Europeans in this town to understand their history, too, because most of them, they don’t know who Frank Tobey is. They see Frank Tobey Park over there by the fairgrounds. They have no idea who Frank Tobey is. I think Frank Tobey is one of the most significant Europeans in the book, even though he didn’t last very long as a mayor because he died…. I didn’t put it in the book, but I think I imply it. If Frank Tobey had lived, because he had a great relationship with both the Europeans and African-Americans in this town, he would have gotten reelected in 1955. I believe if he had lived, we might not have had a Henry Loeb, because the Crump team didn’t like Henry Loeb at all. Crump even said, “This man doesn’t have the temperament. He can’t get along with anybody, so I don’t want him part of my group,” and they kicked him off the park commission because of that…. I didn’t make it in the book, but I made a claim to my publisher and to another (person) that if Crump had been alive, I don’t think Dr. (Martin Luther) King would have been assassinated in Memphis. KAA: Whoa. OLS: I’m serious. I don’t think he would have been assassinated. I don’t think that the garbage strike would have lasted that long. Crump would have figured out a way to resolve this thing without it getting there. That’s what I believe. I’m basing that on the history. Yes, I want Europeans to understand the history as well … have some understanding of what African-Americans had to go through here just to get some political parity…. Don’t get mad because African-Americans voted in a block in 1991 to put Willie Herenton in office. It wasn’t that they didn’t like (incumbent Mayor) Dick Hackett. They supported him four years before, but now they thought it was time, time to flex some muscle here in ways that we hadn’t done before. I want white folks to understand that, too. KAA: I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the conversation. OLS: Well, thank you.