Approaching 100 Years…NAACP And the Beat Goes On.Posted in Social Justice, Speeches
Delivered at the Western Wayne County Branch NAACP Inkster, Michigan, October 26, 2008, Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III
I want to thank co-chairpersons Edna Parker, Aaron Sims and Carl Johnson, Community Coordinator Vivian Holifield, branch President Lucille Flint Johnson, and members and friends of the Western Wayne County Branch of the NAACP for extending the invitation to me to present to you this evening as this great organization prepares to celebrate 100 years of outstanding service.
What a great honor and privilege to be with you this evening; to stand at this podium to share with so auspicious a group on such a sterling occasion. What a privilege to recall the many years of heroic struggle, the great legacies of freedom born of that struggle and to honor the stalwart and consistent record of the NAACP’s fight for truth, justice and equality. To survive 100 years, which have been some of the most critical, turbulent, and stormy years for African Americans in this nation is quite an accomplishment and could not have transpired without the grace of God, and the hopes, prayers, dreams and blood of countless many.
I stand here this evening as a proud beneficiary of its myriad achievements and in solemn remembrance of the many thousands here and gone who have fought for liberty, vouched safe its gifts and sought to preserve its hallowed promises for future generations. I stand here this evening humbled by this opportunity to share with you tonight.
In preparing for this evening’s message, I am reminded of several disturbing conversations that I have had with numerous young people over the last few months about how certain Civil Rights organizations have lost their fire and relevancy. One man said almost boastfully one day that “The NAACP is dead and organizations like SCLC and NAACP have outlived their usefulness.”
I proceeded to remind this individual that I had not heard of last rites being performed for the NAACP, nor had I heard when Rev Al Sharpton and other leaders were recently burying the “N” word that a grave site had been set aside for the NAACP. I knew that while they were putting shovels in the ground to build a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Washington D. C, they were also putting shovels in the ground to bury affirmative action in Michigan but I had not heard that shovels had gone into the ground to entomb the NAACP.
Furthermore, I told this person that I had not read anything in the obituary columns of the newspapers of the land that said the NAACP had breathed its last breath. I said that I would be going to Western Wayne County NAACP to help celebrate 100 years of service of the national organization and tell the story not only of how the beat goes on as it still advocates progressive change, but how the heartbeat goes on because it is still alive and well.
In fact, I told him the NAACP is preparing for another century of service, and as with all organizations and organisms, that it has gone through its cycles of history and its myriad challenges and changes but will move forward and continue the work for truth, freedom and justice until there is no longer any need for it.
I thought about this and other conversations that I have had with people who announce prematurely the obituaries of our civil rights organizations and leaders without verifying the facts. And although we have made tremendous gains over the years in the area of human and civil rights, the struggle for those rights has not perished or gone out of style, for many of the same issues that precipitated the NAACP’s birth are some of the same issues confronting it today. Obtaining equal justice under the law and preserving the right to vote for all Americans is not obsolete. These issues still have currency.
In many respects, the history of the NAACP is not only the history of one of America’s premier Civil Rights organizations, but is a chronicle of the universal struggle for human dignity, equality and justice for all people in this nation and around the world.
Tonight I want to share with you some highlights of that history. You are keenly aware of it so bear with me if you will, as we revisit some of the NAACP’s landmark achievements.
Let me say that the movement grew out of a concern for freedom, justice and equality as shared by its founder both white and black; citizens who were concerned about the erosion of democracy; the dismemberment of freedom for America’s Negro Citizens.
We find “In the summer of 1908, the country was shocked by the race riots in Springfield Illinois, the home of Abraham Lincoln. A mob containing many of the town’s best citizens raged for two days, killing and wounding scores of Negroes, and driving thousands from the city. Atrocities and lynching were common against African Americans during that era, and crimes committed against blacks across the nation received regular press in the nation’s newspapers.
Ralph Ginsburg’s 100 Years of Lynching, tells us that mob violence and lynching of Negroes was not uncommon during that period, and many newspapers South and North regularly carried gruesome and graphic accounts of those horrific events.
These disturbances, which occurred in Springfield, Illinois, the adoptive home of Lincoln, on the eve of the centennial of Lincoln’s birth, presented a strange irony and tarnished the memory and legacy of the great emancipator.
The original founders of NAACP wanted to make a statement by launching a new movement, in the spirit of Lincoln; a movement that would dramatize in full measure the urgent need to obtain the full rights of Negro citizens.
As Mary White Ovington, a founder of the organization reminds us in a 1914 article, “We would choose Lincoln’s birthday to open our campaign. She goes on to state:
(Read pages 2 and 3 of Ovington’s 1914 reminiscence.Then go to NAACP timeline and read it.)
The Present Day
And now, as we move towards the centennial celebrations of the Great Emancipators birth, 200 years later, we still face continuing challenges to the preservation of freedom, equality and justice in our land. The NAACP must continue the work begun the last 100 years. America has come a long way but there is still a distance to travel. While the nation is poised to elect its first African American president, we cannot stop there. We must not rest on those laurels. Times have changed, thank God, but the issue is still freedom. The players have changed on the stage of history but the issue is still democracy. Will American democracy survive? Will the freedoms for which so many have lived, fought and died from the American Revolution to the present live on?
While the NAACP has spent much of the last 100 years addressing the legal rights and survival of African Americans within American democracy, the question today may have to do with the survival of democracy itself.
Today, as we look out over our beloved country and as we poise to make history with the next presidential election, would it be an exaggeration to say that our democracy is facing serious challenges; that the ship of state appears to be nose-diving into a deep abyss; that our basic rights and freedoms are still at risk; rights that have been historically the hallmarks and bedrocks of our Constitutional Republic?
Thurgood Marshall said it best when he observed: “It must be remembered that during most the past 200 years, the Constitution as interpreted by this court did not prohibit the most ingenious and pervasive forms of discrimination against the Negro. Now, when a state acts to remedy the effects of the legacy of discrimination, I cannot believe that the same constitution stands as a barrier.”
America is a unique country, one of the only nations in the world to establish government for the people, of the people and by the people. If current trends continue and we are not careful, our children and grandchildren could grow up in a country where democracy and freedom are merely relics or artifacts of the past. If we are not careful, democracy could give way to plutocracy and the law of power can eclipse the power of law.
Under the Bush administration, some alarming trends have emerged that should cause us all concern. For some, the very future of American democracy is at stake. These concerns include:
- Launching an preemptive war in Iraq, causing the death of over 4,000 American soldiers with over 20,000 seriously wounded and the death of nearly 100,000 Iraqi citizens. The costs of this war will be estimated at 1.27 trillion dollars, which equates to $1,000,000 dollars each day for 3,487 years from the time Moses left Egypt until now. Some estimates now have the war costing $8 billion dollars per month or some 3 billion dollars per week.
- Not only is the war costly, but soldiers who have gone to war are reported to not have proper body armor and equipment. The news carried the story of one father who had to purchase adequate body armor for his son in combat.
- Moreover, we now have a stop loss policy that forces soldiers to stay in combat months after their contracts with the military are complete. 72% of US troops in Iraq say the US should get out, according to a February 2006 poll.
- Cut 11 billion from Medicaid over five years. Prevented low income Americans from getting Medicaid by a requiring birth certificate and or passport as proof of citizenship.
- Refused to allow Medicaid to negotiate better prices with drug companies as part of a disastrous Medicare Drug Plan which has stranded the elderly without needed medications.
- Implemented 2003 tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. These cuts will cost 150 billion over 10 years. 97% of that money will go to $200,000 plus households.
- An economy in which 13% of people do not have enough food. 37 million are poor, up for the fourth straight year. The number of people without health care has reached a record 46 million. Homelessness continues to increase dramatically. Wage gains have not kept up with inflation. Income inequality continues to grow. In 2003, income of the richest 1% rose and the bottom 75% lost ground.
- Changed bankruptcy law to make it more difficult for ordinary Americans to get debt relief. Credit industry spent $40 million lobbying to get desired results.
- Attacked the elderly, working poor and students by passing $39 billion in budget cuts over five years.
- Reneged on the Kyoto treaty to combat global warming. Allowed corporations and lobbyists to help determine climate change policy.
- Allowed pharmaceutical and insurance industries to help write and determine legislation influencing costs of prescription medicine and insurance premiums.
- Enacted Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which three separate federal courts have ruled unconstitutional because it does not contain provisions safeguarding women’s health.
- Ignored and vehemently opposed important gay and lesbian rights issues such as child adoption, equal benefits for couples; funneled faith-based funds to churches that teach homophobia.
- Violated the rights of women by reversing gains made, not just in past decade, but over much of 20th century. Attacked health care, reproductive rights, poverty and education programs.
- Censored Justice Department lawyers who found that Texas redistricting plan and Georgia voter ID law both violated Voting Rights Act. Prohibited these non-partisan lawyers from voting analysis in the future.
- Subverted Bill of Rights by extending USA Patriot Act, most of which was written before 9/11.
- Authorized National Security Administration illegally to wiretap international communications involving US citizens without obtaining warrants.
- Rammed Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) through Congress in spite of massive grassroots opposition from unions, freedoms and many other rights now in jeopardy.
- Recurring voting irregularities in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, where voter fraud and other constitutional violations occurred in Florida and Ohio. Enlistment of Debold electronic voting systems that are easily tampered with and manipulated to rig elections.
Moreover, during these times we have witnessed the continuing assault on affirmative action; the vilification of Christians who are left, leaning or moderate in political ideology and theology; the persecution of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent; the stigmatizing of gays and lesbians, the denigration and disparagement of members of the judiciary whose task is to maintain a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government; the global ascendancy of multinational corporations some of whom have their own armies and some of whose budgets are larger than some Third World Countries; the detention and torture of prisoners at Abu Gharib without due process; the deterioration of public education in the central cities and urban and rural areas; the erosion and retrenchment of various personal freedoms; the virtual abandonment and neglect of “refugees” and victims of Katrina; an assault on science; the co-optation and monopoly of conglomerate owned media; the emergence of Corporatism, Corruption and Crony Capitalism and the bankruptcy of America where China and Saudi Arabia own much of our debt estimated in the trillions of dollars; (the US borrows 3 billion a day from China whose trade surplus is 500 million a day;) the exportation of various jobs for foreign countries whose cheap labor undermine the American worker and the American middle class; union busting and an attack on the rights of workers to form unions and the religious proseyltization of America, promoting a kind of mindless, Christian fascism that precipitates the dumbing down of America and the devaluation of other religious faiths and beliefs and the abolishment of true dissent. The statement read “One Nation Under God. ” The subtext read “Whose God? ” What we have had the past ten years is a coalescence of Republicanism and Dominionism, which appears to be undermining the basic tenets of a representative democracy in the name of religion and in the name of God.
Moreover, we have a president who may have obviated the law over 700 times, a Congress that seems to have compromised itself to big money interests and appears to do the bidding of large Corporations rather advocate the interests of John and Mary Citizen.
The September/October issue of Public Citizen reports, “”In the midst of the worst lobbying and ethics scandals in more than three decades, our elected representatives turned a blind eye and did nothing to clean up their act. ”
Where are we headed as a nation? Where are the balancing voices of dissent? The old adage is true. “Ignore your rights and freedoms and they will go away. ” Have we come to a place in our nation where we place profits over people, secrecy over transparency, greed over ethics, and politics over morality and war over peace making and peacekeeping?
Government in Washington seems in the last five years to have evolved into a one party system where there is little honest debate, dissent and dialogue in the Halls and on the floor of Congress. What happened to the art of give and take, the art of compromise where we agree to disagree and move on with legislation in the best interests of all Americans and not just a select few who finance political campaigns? Rutherford B. Hayes once said, “Who serves his country best serves his party best. ” What happened to listening to and respecting the other man’s point of view? What is happening to our beloved country?
The great genius of American democracy is compromise, negotiation, conciliation but how can we compromise when we are enshrouded in fear and our public discourse replete with suspicion, venom, accusation and recrimination?
We live in a climate of fear, smear and scare where a once emboldened electorate now appears to be cowering under the threat of publically induced hysteria; where political opponents are unjustly vilified and un rightly smeared; where people who forthrightly speak out against such injustices are labeled fear mongers or unpatriotic. What is happening to our country? Could we be losing the very essence of democracy; freedom of speech, freedom of assembly; freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear?
What are at stake are not only democracy itself but the very principles and processes of democracy such as the right to vote and the right to have our vote counted fairly and squarely.
John Conyers in his book “What Went Wrong in Ohio,” and Robert F. Kennedy’s Jr’s., article, “Was the 2004 election Stolen? delineate in meticulous detail the fraud, corruption, in competencies and possible outright theft of the electoral processes in Ohio in the recent 2004 Presidential election.
“In recent elections we have seen machines that count backward, slice and dice districts, felon baiting, phone jamming and plenty of dirty tricks, ” says Sasha Abramsky.
In his article “Just Trying to Vote Here, ” Abramsky cites the eleven worst places to vote in America. They include Atlanta Georgia because of its New Poll tax; Beaufort North Carolina, Fort Worth Texas and Philadelphia Pennsylvania for machine melt downs; long lines in Franklin County Ohio, St. Louis Missouri and New Orleans Louisiana; incompetence in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, foul play in New Hampshire; gerrymandering in Travis County Texas; no felons allowed in the Mississippi Delta; voting while black in Charleston, South Carolina; suspect students in Waller County Texas; failing to register in Florida and Politicos in charge in Florida and Ohio.
In Milwaukee Wisconsin, in 2004, fliers from non existent Milwaukee Black Voters League were distributed in black neighborhoods, warning residents that, “If anyone in your family has ever been found guilty of anything, even a traffic violation, you can’t vote in the presidential election, and if you violate any of these laws you can get ten years in prision and your children will get taken away from you. ” (Abramsky p. 54, Mother Jones, Sept-Oct 2006)
“Prairie View A&M is a black school in the heart of east Texas, where the local leadership has, over many decades, worked to deny the students claims to being full time county residents and thus eligible to vote. In 2003 Waller County District Attorney Oliver Kitzman wrote a letter to the elections administrator and the local newspaper warning that any students who tried to vote could face ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The NAACP filed suit, noting that as far back as 1979 the U. S. Supreme Court, ruling on a lawsuit brought by Prairie View students, held that students could register to vote in the communities in which they attend college. ”(Abramsky p. 55)
We not only have election fraud and the denial of the right to vote but outright intimidation of black voters. We all know about the thousands of blacks incorrectly purged from Florida’s voting rolls as felons in the 2000 presidential election. Few cogent explanations are offered for this fiasco. The truth is those responsible knew that many blacks generally voted democratic. Isn’t it strange that districts that were heavily African American largely voted Republican and those that were primarily Republican voted Republican?
And even today on the eve on the presidential election concerns linger about proper vote counts and that is why attempts have been made by NAACP and others to prevent voter suppression and intimidation by having competent lawyers watch the polls.
The NAACP must continue the fight for freedom, justice and equality. Its work is even more viable today because what is at stake may not only be the rights of minorities but the rights of all Americans, not only democracy for a few, but democracy for the many.
Julian Bond reminds us “There a no more signs reading “White” or “colored. The voter’s booth and schoolhouse door now swing open for everyone, no longer closed to those who skins are dark. Progress has been made. Segregations is no longer legal. But there are still many problems and still much work to do. ”(Civil Rights Now and Then.)
What’s at stake are not only the core values of our democracy but the various sacred, time honored practices and procedures by which democracy is established, enforced, monitored and maintained. It is the responsibility of every citizen and every organization to vouch safe those principles and fight for their continued preservation and the NAACP has historically and honorably led this fight.
With the emergence with all the recent election faux pas, there is talk of privatizing the election process. How could we even think of privatizing the elections by allowing private corporations to build the electronic machines and give oversight to voting? What have we come to as a nation? Do we really believe that private corporations can do a better job than private citizens and local principalities in counting votes and monitoring elections? Do you believe in the present climate of corporate cronyism, corruption and power politrics that corporations are above rigging the election process to favor the candidates that most favor them? Would you trust private corporations driven by private interests to be fair and just in counting ballots given the recent problems we have had in various voting precincts across this nation?
“In order for our vote to count, we must have our vote fairly counted.” But how can our vote be counted fairly when people, including private interests and public officials, are colluding to undermine our right to vote by doing everything from voter intimidation to questioning the weight of paper ballots? Perhaps the old axioms are true, “Never let truth get in the way of politics and nothing is as admirable in politics as a short memory. ”
What’s at stake is not only democracy in America and the core values that make democracy possible-such as life, liberty, truth, equality and justice, but the various procedures and processes by which democracy can thrive and survive. The corruption we see today is reminiscent of some third world countries. The collapse of Wall Street is just one example of freedom run amok. Democracy cannot survive through unchecked corrupting influences because they destroy the very foundation of a free society. Lord Acton was correct in observing that, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ”
The NAACP has historically taken a front line stand against such corrupting influences and must continue that work as it moves into the future. For what is at stake is not only the rights and privileges of some Americans but all Americans and what is crucial is the preservation of Democracy and freedom for all of her citizens.
One writer has observed that the more things change the more things remain the same.
Even with our progress, we must not take for granted our civil liberties and our concern for justice. Even with our progress, we must remain ever vigilant that freedom won is not freedom rescinded or taken away. Even with our progress, we must continue to work tirelessly, give ourselves tirelessly to the cause of freedom to make sure that it will be something that our children can have and their children can have and cherish.
This is why the next 100 years may be more important than the first 100 years for the NAACP. Just as this great organization stood on the scaffold of freedom and justice for African Americans in the past, it must continue the work begun by those great visionaries some 100 years ago.
No the NAACP is not dead. It is alive and well and with Ben Jealous and its new leadership can look forward to the future. Its work has just begun. You must continue the struggle for freedom, justice and equality, for what is at stake is the heart and soul of every woman, man and child who would long to live as free citizens of this land. Keep pressing on! Keep marching on. The beat goes on!
Let us go forth until victory is won for the next 100 years. Thank you! God bless the NAACP and God bless America!
Time line appropriated from National NAACP website.
All other portions of this document copyright by Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III, 2008.