Tag Archives: civil rights

In Remembrance – Martin Luther King, Jr.


Today marks the 83rd anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most important political and social figures of the 20th century.  King was born Michael Luther King, Jr., in Atlanta, Georgia.  He later changed his name to Martin and started a successful career as a pastor with Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

King is most closely associated with the modern civil rights movement, but that was a task with no easy beginning and a blatantly violent end.  In 1957, as Southern Negroes began to clamor for more freedom and equality, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed primarily to provide leadership for fledgling civil rights activities.  King adapted Christian ideals to the structure of the SCLC and followed the mantra of India’s Mahatma Gandhi who preached non-violent and peaceful resistance to achieve equality.

Before King could convince White Americans that entrenched racism was morally and constitutionally wrong, however, he had to convince Black Americans – especially Black Southerners – to brave uncharted territory.  It seems almost ludicrous now, but King had to rally Black Americans to rise up and protest against the institutional bigotry that ruled their lives.  They had maintained a tremulous existence for decades; one they obviously didn’t like, but a life they generally felt powerless to do anything about.  There were no anti-discrimination laws to protect someone against the White male aristocracy that ruled America with an iron fist.  Women and non-White men had to be prompted to risk everything to demand the nation hold true to its constitutional values of freedom and justice.

From 1957 until his death, King traveled over 6 million miles and spoke over 2,500 times against social injustices towards Black Americans.  Other groups, such as Hispanics and Native Americans, took their queues for action from King.  His 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was seminal to the Black civil rights movement.  It won him the Nobel Peace Prize; making him the youngest man ever to be awarded that honor.

I guess it was destiny that he would not live to see much of his dreams come to fruition.  He was gunned down on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, while doing what he did best – speaking out against discrimination and oppression.

His memory still lives, though – vibrant and strong.  The battle for justice and human dignity continues.

Image courtesy W. James Taylor.

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Tribe Wants Re-Examination of Reservation Deaths

In this May 21, 2012, photo, Oglala Sioux Vice-President Tom Poor Bear, in sunglasses and black vest, stands with American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks, front row left, during a protest in Rapid City, SD.

You know the old saying: justice delayed is justice denied.  It’s not a quaintly poetic statement.  For many non-Whites in America, it’s a cold hard truth.  The federal government has spent a great deal of time in recent years prosecuting the murders and suspicious deaths of African-Americans, especially in the South during the civil rights era of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Now, officials with the Oglala Sioux nation are asking the government to do the same with unresolved deaths and disappearances on their reservation, including one that dates back nearly 50 years.

Tribal officials presented the list of names to U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson during a meeting in Rapid City.  The list adds to the 28 deaths on or around the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota that Johnson agreed to re-examine nearly a month ago.  Pine Ridge is the poorest of the 3,143 counties in the U.S.

As with the first list – submitted in May – the majority of cases presented Wednesday are from the 1970’s, when the murder rate on the reservation was the worst in the nation, and tensions between the American Indian Movement and federal authorities was high.  But the new list broadens the scope of the requested investigations by several decades by including the 1964 death of Delbert T. Yellow Wolf, the oldest case presented for re-examination so far, and the 2010 death of Samantha One Horn.  One person on the list is missing but has not been declared dead.

Jennifer Baker, an attorney with the Colorado firm of Smith, Shelton Ragona & Salazar, which is working with the tribe, said Sioux leaders expanded the original list after uncovering new information.

Johnson said prosecutions on the Pine Ridge reservation increased last year, and that active cases will continue to take precedent over inactive cases.  Some of the old cases could be reviewed in as little as six to 12 months, he said, while others “could take a long time.”

The original list contained 28 cases that Oglala Sioux officials wanted reopened because they said the FBI didn’t investigate them sufficiently.  Eleven more cases resulted in prosecutions, but the tribe believed those prosecuted “were inadequately charged and/or received insufficient sentences.”

Baker acknowledged further prosecution was unlikely because the American judicial system doesn’t allow for suspects to be tried twice for the same crime.

The FBI typically investigates murders on reservations while the U.S. Attorney prosecutes the cases.

Tom Poor Bear, Oglala Sioux vice president, said the requests for new investigations stem from tribe members’ “lack of trust in the FBI.”

“I would like to see a special team of investigators other than the FBI come down and investigate these deaths,” he told the Associated Press in June.

The original list includes the deaths of Poor Bear’s brother, Wilson Black Elk, and cousin, Ron Hard Heart, whose bodies were found in 1999 on reservation land across the border from Whiteclay, Nebraska.

In 2000 the FBI issued a report detailing their investigations into the deaths of 57 people that occurred during the 1970’s.  The report said the bureau was right in closing the cases, even in situations where no one had been prosecuted for a death deemed unnatural.

I know there’s one unfortunate component to this quandary: many of the deaths and disappearances may have been Indian-on-Indian crimes.  It’s not like White people were sneaking onto the reservation under the cover of darkness and attacking innocent people.  But, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the victims and the assailants, violence is violence, and it must be prosecuted.

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Race Splitting

There’s nothing like hatred for homosexuals to bring people together – or split them apart.  The National Organization for Marriage, a conservative group determined to protect the institution of marriage by keeping queers from getting married, hoped to use Blacks and Hispanics accomplish their goal.  Documents from 2009 reveal that NOM wanted to turn Blacks and Hispanics against one another over the gay marriage issue in an effort to split the Democratic Party. 

“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies,” says one of the memos.  It also suggests “interrupting” the process of cultural assimilation for Hispanics in hopes of curtailing support for same-sex marriage.  Court officials in Maine – where NOM successfully defeated a gay marriage referendum in 2009 – unsealed the documents last month. 

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization, distributed the documents immediately, and its president, Joe Solmonese, condemned NOM’s strategies.  “With the veil lifted, Americans everywhere can now see the ugly politics that the National Organization for Marriage traffics in every day,” Solmonese said.  “While loving gay and lesbian couples seek to make lifelong commitments, NOM plays racial politics, tries to hide donors and makes up lies about people of faith.” 

Veteran civil rights leader Julian Bond also criticized the attempt to drive a wedge between Blacks and Hispanics.  “NOM’s underhanded attempts to divide will not succeed if Black Americans remember their own history of discrimination,” said the statement from Bond, a former chairman of the NAACP.  “Pitting bigotry’s victims against other victims is reprehensible; the defenders of justice must stand together.”

NOM’s president, Brian Brown, remained unapologetic, issuing a statement hailing his organization’s collaboration with other black and Hispanic leaders, including Bishop Harry Jackson, a Maryland church pastor, and New York state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.

“Gay marriage advocates have attempted to portray same-sex marriage as a civil right, but the voices of these and many other leaders have provided powerful witness that this claim is patently false,” Brown said.

The NOM documents depicted Democratic Party leaders as “increasingly inclined to privilege the concerns of gay rights groups over the values of African-Americans.”

“Find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots,” one memo said.

The memos also emphasized the political role of Latinos as a swing constituency.

“Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values?” one NOM memo asked.  “We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity … a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.”

I think it’s obvious NOM wanted to use the concerns of some African-Americans that gays and lesbians often compare their own civil rights struggles to that of Blacks, as well as the strong religious convictions of both Blacks and Hispanics to further their own agenda.  Blacks and Hispanics have endured enough prejudice and bigotry in decades past, however, without groups like NOM trying to roll back years of social progress over this one solitary issue.  The institution of marriage has been under attack from within for years.  Some 50% of marriages now end in divorce, and I’ve even heard of some people entering into “starter marriages” to see if they’re suited for wedded bliss.  At most gays and lesbians represent 15% of the U.S. population, so how do laws allowing just a handful to get married pose a threat to anyone?  Unemployment, poverty, domestic violence and other quandaries have more negative impacts on marriage than a small percentage of queers.  But, NOM, like most hate groups, just doesn’t see the whole picture.


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