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Blacks Still Underrepresented at All Levels of Politics

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Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies President Spencer Overton says there is a heated debate over how much progress we have made over the past 50 years. (Courtesy Photo)

Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies President Spencer Overton says there is a heated debate over how much progress we have made over the past 50 years. (Courtesy Photo)

 

By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although Blacks have made tremendous improvement in holding elected office since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, they remain underrepresented at the federal, state and local levels, according to a report scheduled to be released Tuesday by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“Based on the most recent data, African Americans are 12.5% of the citizen voting age population, but they make up a smaller share of the U.S. House (10%), state legislatures (8.5%), city councils (5.7%), and the U.S. Senate (2%),” the report said.

The 38-page report titled, “50 Years of The Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics,” was produced for the center by four prominent political scientists: Khalilah Brown-Dean, Zoltan Hajnal, Christina Rivers and Ismail White.

Joint Center President Spencer Overton said in a message introducing the report, that there is a heated debate over: How much progress have we made since 1965?  How much more work is there to do?

He said, “These are contested questions, subject to ideology and opinion. A study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, for example, shows that on average whites and African Americans differ on the amount of racial progress we have made, with whites now believing anti-white bias is more prevalent than anti-black bias.  We have elected an African American president, but studies have shown that some government officials are less likely to respond to inquiries from citizens with seemingly black or Latino names. The questions are also at the core of many ongoing debates about voting rights in the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress, as well as in many states, counties, and municipalities.”

What is not contested is that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the political landscape for African Americans, with the number of Black elected officials leaping from fewer than 1,000 in 1965 to now more than 10,000.

The change was particularly dramatic in the South, where 55 percent of African Americans live.

“Since the 1870s, white elected officials in many parts of the South had used violence, literacy tests, interpretation tests, poll taxes, and other devices to exclude African Americans,” the report recounted. “The Justice Department filed 71 voting rights lawsuits in the Deep South before 1965, but cases were typically complex, time-consuming, and expensive.  When a court struck down one type of discriminatory device, local officials simply erected a different device that effectively excluded most African Americans.”

Selma, Ala. and surrounding Dallas County was typical. Deploying rigged tests about the U.S. Constitution and a requirement that voters be in “good character,” as defined by White registrars, a White minority was able to suppress the Black majority.

In 1965, more than half of Dallas County was Black. Of the county’s 15,000 voting-age Blacks, only 156 were registered to vote. By contrast, two-thirds of voting-age Whites were registered in the county. Throughout Alabama, only 19.4 percent of African Americans were registered. In neighboring Mississippi, just 6.4 percent of Blacks were registered.

As part of a massive voter registration campaign in 1965, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and local residents launched a Selma-to-Montgomery March to dramatize the lack of access to the ballot box.

On April 7, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” peaceful marchers in Selma were savagely beaten by Alabama State Troopers and local policemen as they attempted to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin the 54-mile journey to Montgomery, the state capital.

The merciless beating of children, the elderly and adults was beamed in homes throughout the nation and provided the momentum for President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act into law four months later.

“Only in the wake of the Voting Rights Act did black voter registration in the South begin to approach that of whites.  Five years after the passage of the Act, the racial gap in voter registration in the former Confederate states had closed to single digits.  By the start of the 1970s, the black/white registration gap across the Southern states was little more than 8 percentage points,” the report stated.

“In Louisiana, the gap between black and white voter registration rates decreased by nearly 30 percentage points from 1960 to the end of 1970s, and it continued to decrease over the next three decades.  By 2010, black registration rates in the state of Louisiana and many of the other former Confederate states had exceeded white registration rates for the first time since Reconstruction.  The Voting Rights Act had delivered a Second Reconstruction.”

In fact, in four of the 12 presidential elections since 1965, Black Southerners turned out at the polls at a higher rate than their White counterparts. Nationally, Black turnout exceeded White turnout in the 2012 presidential election and possibly in 2008, according to the report.

Activists credit much of that progress to the Voting Rights Act requirement that jurisdictions that previously discriminated against Blacks had to pre-clear voting changes in advance with federal authorities.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby took away that tool and there is a measure pending in Congress that would reverse some of the damage. A House bill sponsored by “Bloody Sunday” veteran John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) would update the act.

“The proposed legislation would apply preclearance to jurisdictions with a record of voting rights violations within the previous 15 years, would make it easier for courts to block discriminatory rules before they are used in elections and harm voters, and would require disclosure of voting changes nationwide,” the report stated.

Efforts to expand the Black vote is also under attack in others quarters as well. The Joint Center report cited moves to purge voters, requiring proof of citizenship, requiring voter ID, felony disenfranchisement and restricting voting registration drives.

The report also addressed the elephant in the room – race.

“In urban local elections, race is a more decisive factor than income, education …religion, sexuality, age, gender, and political ideology. The 38-point racial gap exceeds even the 33 point gap between Democratic and Republican voters,” the study said.

According to the report, African Americans “were the least advantaged group in America in terms of policy outcomes.”

Not all of the problems were external. The issue of low Black voter turnout, especially in local elections, is a major challenge that warrants further study, the report said.

It noted, “ …In 2014, when there was great unrest over a police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, African Americans made up 67% of residents of Ferguson, Missouri.  In 2012, a solid 100% of Ferguson precincts went for President Obama, but during Ferguson’s municipal off-cycle elections voters selected Ferguson’s Republican mayor and six city council members, all of whom except one were white.”

The report shatters the notion that we’re living in a post-racial society.

“Despite discussions about the declining significance of race, over the past few decades, racial divides along partisan lines have actually grown.  African Americans have increasingly favored Democrats, and recently Latinos and Asian Americans have become more loyal to the Democratic Party as well.  The shift to the left has been particularly pronounced for Asian Americans,” it said.

“On the other side, whites have moved slowly and unevenly – but inexorably – to the Republican Party.  Fifty years ago, the Democratic Party dominated the white vote. Today, nationwide, whites are more apt to favor the Republican Party.”

It concluded, “Division is a normal and healthy part of democracy, but when a core dividing line in a nation becomes so closely aligned with race and ethnicity, larger concerns about inequality, conflict, and discrimination emerge.”

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Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee Applauds 2nd Round of Workforce Funding from COVID Community Care Act Legislation

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.

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Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.

Announced on July 27, these awards are funded with resources from provisions within the American Rescue Plan Act that Lee led through her COVID Community Care Act.  This reflects the second of two funding opportunities announced in May 2021 for community-based efforts to hire and mobilize community outreach workers, community health workers, social support specialists, and others to increase vaccine access for the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities through high-touch, on-the-ground outreach to educate and assist individuals in getting the information they need about vaccinations.

The first round of funding, which was administered in June, included an $11 million award to the Public Health Institute in Oakland and a $9.5 million award to the Association of Asian/Pacific Community Health Organizations in Berkeley. Three Oakland based organizations, the Public Health Institute, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases, and Safe Passages, are recipients of this round of funding, bringing the total funding brought to organizations in CA-13 to nearly $23 million.

“We are facing another inflection point in this pandemic. We must make meaningful investments in getting everyone vaccinated—especially communities of color and medically underserved communities,” said Lee.  “I worked hard in Congress to invest in trusted messengers at the community level to build confidence in vaccines and COVID-19 prevention efforts. This is a much-needed continuation of that work, and we’ll see over a million dollars of investment on the ground in our own East Bay community.

“Our Tri-Caucus – the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Native American member Congresswoman Sharice Davids, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott and Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro deserve credit for their hard work and support in getting this across the finish line in the American Rescue Plan.  We can see that the work of House Democrats is making a real-life impact on the ground for communities.  This is an important step, but we must continue our work to dismantle systemic racism in our public health system and ensure that vaccines are equitably and adequately distributed.”

The purpose of this program is to establish, expand, and sustain a public health workforce to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.  This includes mobilizing community outreach workers, which includes community health workers, patient navigators, and social support specialists to educate and assist individuals in accessing and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.  

This includes activities such as conducting face-to-face outreach and reaching out directly to community members to educate them about the vaccine, assisting individuals in making a vaccine appointment, providing resources to find convenient vaccine locations, assisting individuals with transportation or other needs to get to a vaccination site.

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Bay Area

Where Do Negotiations Go Now After A’s “Howard Terminal” or Bust Ultimatum?

The A’s are seeking to develop 55 acres at the Port of Oakland. The proposal includes a 35,000-seat baseball stadium, which would cost $1 billion, or 8.3% of the total project.

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Oakland A's Photo Courtesy of Rick Rodriquez via Unsplash

FILE – In this Nov. 17, 2016, file photo, Oakland Athletics President David Kaval gestures during a news conference in Oakland, Calif. TheAthletics will be phased out of revenue sharing in the coming years as part of baseball’s new labor deal, and that puts even more urgency on the small-budget franchise’s plan to find the right spot soon to build a new, privately funded ballpark. Kaval, named to his new A’s leadership position last month, is committed to making quick progress but also doing this right. That means strong communication with city and civic leaders as well as the community and fan base. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

John Fisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikki Fortunato

Rebecca Kaplan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oakland’s City Council rejected the A’s proposed non-binding term sheet, which the team had presented to the City along with an ultimatum, “Howard Terminal or Bust.”

At a packed City Council meeting last week, attended by 1,000 people on Zoom, many residents were angry at what they viewed as the A’s real estate “land grab” at the Port of Oakland and either said that the team should leave or stay at the Oakland Coliseum in East Oakland.
Rejecting the A’s term sheet, councilmembers at the July 20th meeting voted 6-1 with one abstention to make a counteroffer, approving city staff’s and Council’s amendments to the A’s term sheet.

Council’s vote was to continue negotiating with the A’s, and the A’s gained substantial concessions, $352 million, enough to return for further negotiations, in Oakland. The Council’s vote didn’t derail A’s pursuit of Las Vegas.

Now, over a week since Council’s vote, neither A’s President Dave Kaval nor owner John Fisher have spoken publically on the A’s intent to continue bargaining with Oakland for their proposed $12 billion waterfront development at Howard Terminal.

The A’s are seeking to develop 55 acres at the Port of Oakland. The proposal includes a 35,000-seat baseball stadium, which would cost $1 billion, or 8.3% of the total project.

In addition to the stadium, the development features 3,000 condominium/housing units; over a million square feet of commercial space (office and retail); a 3,500-seat performance theater, 400 hotel rooms and approximately 18 acres of parks and open space.

The most fundamental sticking point, along with all the other complications, is whether a commercial/residential development, ‘a city within a city,” in the middle of a working seaport are compatible uses for the land. Many experts are saying that the existence of upscale residences and thousands of tourists strolling around will eventually destroy the Port of Oakland, which is the economic engine of the city and the region.

According to Kaval, who had pushed for the Council to approve the ultimatum, “We’re disappointed that the city did not vote on our proposal … we’re going to take some time and really dig in and understand and ‘vet’ what they did pass and what all the amendments mean.”

Although the A’s stated a willingness to be open to the amended terms Council approved, Kaval expressed uncertainty whether the Council’s amended term sheet offers “a path forward.”

“The current [amended] term sheet as its constructed is not a business partnership that works for us,” said Kaval, saying the team would have to examine the Council’s counter-offer before deciding to resume negotiations or return to Las Vegas or focus on finding a new home someplace else.

City Council President Bas and Mayor Libby Schaaf joined city and labor leaders to discuss the Council’s vote. Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan made it clear that the amended term sheet the Council approved should be considered a “road map for future negotiations … a baseline for further discussions.”

Upon Kaval’s dismissal of the Council’s stated positions, Fife said, “I don’t know where we go from here,” abstaining from the vote on the proposed term sheet.

Many find Kaval’s statement confusing because he used words like partnership but apparently ignored and/or disregarded the City of Oakland – the A’s major stakeholder and a business partnership since 1968, more than 53 years.

Some are asking if the A’s understand that Oakland’s 53-year relationship with the team is the basis for the meme “Rooted in Oakland?” Are the A’s willing to accept, as the Council has determined, that the terms of the business “partnership” must be equitable and mutually beneficial for all of “us”?

And the question remains after a 53-year relationship, is it reasonable to terminate that relationship or negotiate further for an equitable and mutually beneficial business partnership?

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Community

Civil Rights Icon, Robert Parris Moses, 86

Dr. Robert Parris Moses, a Harlem native who became one of the architects of Freedom Summer, died at his home in Hollywood, Fla., on July 25. He was 86 years old.

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Dr. Robert Parris Moses

Dr. Robert Parris Moses, a Harlem native who became one of the architects of Freedom Summer, died at his home in Hollywood, Fla., on July 25. He was 86 years old.

“Throughout his life, Bob Moses bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice,” said Derrick Johnson, head of the NAACP on Twitter at hearing of Moses’ death. “He was a strategist at the core of the voting rights movement and beyond. He was a giant. May his light continue to guide us as we face another wave of Jim Crow laws.”

Among his contemporaries in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which Moses joined in a founding meeting in 1960, he was known for his quiet, measured demeanor, deliberately eschewing the spotlight.

By taking to heart the values taught by his mentor, NAACP youth leader Ella Baker, who believed in engaging the local population to enact change, he deliberately disrupted leadership norms in the Black community that centered the male, charismatic voice.   

It was Baker who sent Moses to the deep South in August 1960 where her NAACP contacts in McComb, Miss., wanted to do more than integrate lunch counters and bus waiting rooms. In the summer of 1961, they would embark on a voter registration campaign. Well-documented terror and violence ensued. Over the next three years, Moses would be beaten while escorting a Black couple up the courthouse steps to register to vote, waiting until that was done before seeking medical treatment. In another incident he and two others would dodge Klansmen’s bullets on country roads.

Moses was one of the organizers of 1964’s Freedom Summer, which saw mostly college kids flock to Mississippi to help register Black people to vote. Moses was also instrumental in creating the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which famously attempted to be recognized at the Democratic presidential election in 1964 and where sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer would embody the bottom-up philosophy espoused by Baker. It was her speech, broadcast on nationwide television and which then-Pres. Lyndon Johnson tried to pre-empt, that brought home to the American public the terror of living in Mississippi while Black.

Disillusioned by the policies of liberal Democrats, Moses disengaged from SNCC and, on his own, began to speak out against the Vietnam War. In 1966, at the age of 31, five years older than the normal maximum draft age, the married father was drafted. He moved to Canada and then to Tanzania with his wife and stayed there working in the Ministry of Education, returning to the U.S. in 1977 when he and 100,000 others were pardoned by Pres. Jimmy Carter.

A few years later, after completing his doctorate in philosophy, he visited his daughter’s school. Learning that algebra was not offered at the inner-city school, was what led him to founding the Algebra Project. In 1982, he received the MacArthur Genius Award for his program of helping schools and communities get the basic math classes that are the gateway to college admission.

In addition to the degrees he earned from Hamilton College and Harvard, he has received honorary degrees from Swarthmore College, Ohio State University, and the University of Missouri.

Other awards were the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship and the War Resisters League Peace Award among others.

He is survived by his wife, Dr. Janet Jemmott Moses; children Maisha Moses, Omo Wale Moses, Taba Moses, Malaika Moses and Saba Moses; and seven grandchildren.

The New York Times, The Nation, Wikipedia, National Public Radio, Reuters and The Miami Herald were sources for this report. 

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