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California State Bar Shaken by Personnel Issues Involving Two Black Women



Debbie Manning (left) and Fredericka McGee (right)

In less than one month, the State Bar of California has been roiled in high-level personnel snafus involving two prominent Black California women. 


In July, the California State Bar offered Fredericka McGee, a respected California legislative attorney, the position of executive director. Then, in August, the organization which serves as an administrative arm of the State Supreme Court and is charged with protecting the public interest, reportedly rescinded that offer without an explanation. McGee has been a licensed attorney with the Bar for almost 30 years.  


Then, last week, Debbie Manning, a member of State Bar’s 13-member board — the only African American serving on the governing body — abruptly resigned midway through her term. Manning was appointed to a four-year term by the state Senate in 2018.  


Manning, a “non-attorney” member, was appointed to a four-year term by the State Senate in 2018. Previously, Manning was not only the first Black woman to join the Legislature’s Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms in 1977, she was also the first woman to serve as Senate Chief Sergeant-at-Arms. She held that position from 2014 until 2017.  


Manning’s resignation came just one week after the Bar met to discuss the hiring of the next executive director with extended public comment in support of McGee after which the board went into closed session but did not report any decision or action. Manning did not give a reason for leaving. 


Powerful Support: State Leaders Defend McGee at Board Meeting  


At the Friday, Sept. 4 State Bar public board meeting, supporters urged the body to reconsider its decision and renegotiate with McGee for the executive director position. That meeting was delayed when an individual wrote the “n” word several times and other profanity directed toward Black people in the Zoom meeting chatbox, which caused the meeting to be delayed for almost an hour. 

Screenshot of the State Bar Zoom Board meeting September 4, 2020

Despite the delay, a diverse group of people spoke at the meeting in support McGee  supporters say a testament to her rapport with lawmakers; attorneys of all colors and backgrounds; business leaders; members of the African American community; leaders in major service organizations, and more.  Among them were representatives of the California Association of Black Lawyers, SEIU, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.  


Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), speaking on behalf of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), was the first speaker to address the board of trustees. 


Weber said, speaking on accounts of published reports, that McGee’s situation is one of the reasons the CLBC talks about the “increase of representation of people of color, particularly African Americans in all aspects.”  


Weber said the Bar’s alleged withdrawal “brought tremendous concern” to members of the CLBC. 


“(McGee) had accepted the position, was making efforts to move, change her residency, and basically move around for this position, and then all of sudden the position was withdrawn,” Weber said. “We stand united in requesting that you provide the state bar the best leader as possible, as we’ve always found that to be of the character and qualifications of Ms. Fredericka McGee.” 


In closing, Weber referenced the constitutional relationship between the Legislature and the State Bar. The Legislature annually authorizes a “fee bill” to allow the Bar to assess lawyers’ licensing fees, according to Ed Howard, a Sacramento public interest lobbyist and long-time State Bar watcher. 


A History of Turmoil and Mismanagement  


Over the years, the State Bar has been under scrutiny for some of its practices and the way its leaders have managed the organization. In 1998, then Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed a bill that would’ve authorized the agency to charge lawyers in the state annual licensing fees to fund the Bar.  


A layoff of two-thirds of the Bar’s staff members was hanging in the balance and the group’s attorney discipline system temporarily shut down for lack of funds. Those issues were only resolved in 1998 after the state’s Supreme Court intervened. 


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration vetoed another fee authorization bill, Senate Bill 641, in 2009. Schwarzenegger justified his action by basing it on a state audit that discovered irregularities in enforcing attorney discipline, embezzlement of $675,000 by a former employee, and prohibited disclosure of the rating of a potential candidate for the appellate bench. 


In a written message, the governor said the Bar’s scandals “cannot continue with business as usual.”  


“As the organization charged with regulating the professional conduct of its members, the conduct of the State Bar itself must be above reproach,” Schwarzenegger stated. “Regrettably, it is not.” 


In 2016, after the California Legislature did not pass a Bar dues bill, and the state’s Supreme Court had to step in to authorize the agency to collect interim dues. The American Bar Association reported on Nov. 16, 2016, that both Legislative houses were at odds about the bar’s “reform measures,” introduced by the Assembly. The issue was about a study of whether the bar should break into two parts, splitting the Bar’s attorney discipline abilities from its trade organization tasks. 


Last month, the Assembly and the Senate passed Assembly Bill (AB) 3362, a bill that would again authorize the Bar to collect fees from California attorneys and restrict its board of trustees from discussing issues about the Bar’s exams administration in seclusion. At the moment, Gov. Gavin Newsom is reviewing the bill. 


At the September 4th board meeting, Fabian Núñez, a former Assemblymember, who represented the 46th District in Los Angeles County and served as speaker of the Assembly from 2004 to 2008, highlighted McGee’s professionalism and praised her “level of dignity,”  depth of knowledge,” ability to “build relationships,” and “certainty of purpose.”   


Núñez said that within his nearly five-year tenure, McGee was his general counsel and he watched her juggle and manage legal matters of the Assembly, the rules committee, and judiciary issues.  


“It’s something unmatched in California,” Núñez said of McGee’s skill set. “Quite frankly, it’s unique because she also possesses the skills that are so important when you are managing a large organization such as the State Bar.”  


Gov. Newsom’s former Legislative Affairs Secretary, Anthony Williams also said in support of McGee, “When I heard that she was a candidate for the executive director for the State Bar, I was pleased and proud not only as a lawyer but also as a Californian who knows the important role that the State Bar plays in public protection and administration of justice. Fredericka understands that. I hope that you reconsider it, such a sensitive, personnel decision,” Williams said.  


The board of trustees’ duties includes developing the guiding policies and principles of the Bar. It comprises five lawyers appointed by the California Supreme Court, two lawyers appointed by the legislature, and six non-attorney members (four named by the governor).  


The State Bar’s Board of Trustees Responds 


The governing body’s chairperson Alan Steinbrecher pointed out that the makeup of the state bar is one of diversity and inclusion and at the end of the meeting sought to provide examples of two prior African American State Bar executive directors.  


“In my work with the state bar’s leadership team and with staff, I know that the commitment to diversity and inclusion is widely shared throughout the organization,” Steinbrecher said. “As our former executive director said, ‘We want diversity and inclusion to be built in and not built on.’ I also want to note that contrary to some comments we’ve received, the state bar has been previously led by two capable and talented African American women that served as executive directors.” 


Leah T. Wilson, another African American woman, served as executive director for two years before she surprised some when she left the role on Jan. 17 of this year. 


The Hon. Judy Johnson, also a Black woman, was the State Bar’s executive director from May 2000 to January 2011. Johnson is now a Superior Court Judge for Contra Costa County, first appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012. 


Before entering a closed session, the Bar’s board of trustees addressed the concerns of McGee’s supporters.   


“There has been some speculation about a particular candidate who has been considered for the executive director’s position,” Steinbrecher said. “We are not in the position to respond to specifics reported in the press because the executive director’s selection process is a confidential, personnel matter.”  


The executive director of the Bar leads the senior management team responsible for various programs. The position requires the executive director to answer to the board of trustees and advance its policies. 


McGee was in the process of transitioning out of her role as vice president of California government affairs and operations for the American Beverage Association (ABA). She worked out of ABA’s office in Sacramento. 


In addition, McGee is also the founding president of the Black Youth Leadership Project, Inc., a non-profit organization that offers interactive legislative and debate programs to African American high school students throughout California. 


Alice Huffman, the President of the California State National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a written statement dated Sept. 3 that McGee “has been recognized for her exemplary service by a multitude of organizations throughout the state and has a stellar reputation in the legislative and legal community.” 


“The California NAACP remains ready to stand with the California State Bar as we ensure a fair and transparent legal system at this pivotal time in our country as we address issues of social justice,” Huffman said in a statement  “Again, I wholeheartedly support the California State Bar in its efforts to complete the contractual process that started with Ms. McGee.” 

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WATCH LIVE! — NNPA 2023 National Leadership Awards Reception

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Welcome to the NNPA 2023 National Leadership Awards Reception
The post WATCH LIVE! — NNPA 2023 National Leadership Awards Reception first appeared on BlackPressUSA.




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OP-ED: Delivering Climate Resilience Funding to Communities that Need it the Most

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Just last month, FEMA announced nearly $3 billion in climate mitigation project selections nationwide to help communities build resilience through its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) national competition and Flood Mitigation Assistance program. In total, more than 50% of these projects will benefit disadvantaged communities, and in particular, 70% of BRIC projects will do the same.
The post OP-ED: Delivering Climate Resilience Funding to Communities that Need it the Most first appeared on BlackPressUSA.




By Erik A. Hooks, FEMA Deputy Administrator

We know that disasters do not discriminate. Yet, recovery from the same event can be uneven from community to community, perpetuating pre-existing inequalities. Recognizing these disparities, FEMA and the entire Biden-Harris Administration have prioritized equity when it comes to accessing federal programs and resources.

The numbers tell the story.

Just last month, FEMA announced nearly $3 billion in climate mitigation project selections nationwide to help communities build resilience through its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) national competition and Flood Mitigation Assistance program. In total, more than 50% of these projects will benefit disadvantaged communities, and in particular, 70% of BRIC projects will do the same.

These selections further underscore the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to equity and reaffirm FEMA’s mission of helping people before, during and after disasters, delivering funding to the communities that need it most.

Building on this momentum and our people-first approach, FEMA recently announced the initial designation of nearly 500 census tracts, which will be eligible for increased federal support to become more resilient to natural hazards and extreme weather worsened by the climate crisis. FEMA will use “Community Disaster Resilience Zone” designations to direct and manage financial and technical assistance for resilience projects nationwide, targeting communities most at risk due to climate change. More Community Disaster Resilience Zone designations, including tribal lands and territories, are expected to be announced in the fall of 2023.

These types of investments have, and will yield a significant return on investment for communities nationwide.

For example, in my home state of North Carolina, the historic community of Princeville, founded by freed African American slaves, uses BRIC funding to move vulnerable homes and critical utilities out of flood-prone areas.

In East Harlem, BRIC dollars will provide nature-based flood control solutions to mitigate the impacts of extreme rainfall events in the Clinton low-income housing community.

While we are encouraged by these investments, we know more must be done.

Not every community has the personnel, the time or the resources to apply for these federal dollars. Fortunately, FEMA offers free, Direct Technical Assistance to help under-resourced communities navigate the grant application process and get connected with critical resources. Under the leadership of FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, this assistance has been a game-changer, reducing barriers and providing even more flexible, customer-focused, tailored support to communities interested in building and sustaining successful resilience programs.

In Eastwick, Philadelphia, FEMA’s dedicated support helped the city with outreach to multiple federal agencies. Together, we built a comprehensive community-led flood mitigation strategy. When applied and implemented, this will make this community more resilient to hazards like flooding, which was negatively affecting many neighborhood blocks.

In DePue, Illinois, we worked hand-in-hand with communities to improve their ability to submit high-quality funding applications for hazard mitigation projects. We are happy to share that DePue is the first Direct Technical Assistance community to be selected in the BRIC national competition. And, we know they will not be the last. Thanks to this assistance and their ambition, DePue was awarded more than $20 million to build a new wastewater treatment plant, which will reduce flooding and raw sewage back-up into the basements of homes.

In total, our agency is working with over 70 communities, including tribal nations, to increase access to funding for mitigation projects that will make communities more livable and resilient.

With extreme weather events becoming increasingly intense and frequent due to climate change, we must keep pressing forward and continue investing in ways to better protect ourselves and our neighbors. And we are encouraged that local officials are engaging with us to learn more about the benefits of the BRIC non-financial Direct Technical Assistance initiative—just last week, we saw hundreds of participants nationwide register for a recent webinar on this important topic.

We want to see even more communities take advantage of this initiative, and, ultimately, obtain grants for innovative and forward-looking resilience projects. To that end, FEMA recently published a blog with five steps to help local communities and tribal nations learn more about the benefits of this non-financial technical assistance to access federal funding. I hope your community will take action and submit a letter of interest for this exciting opportunity and increase meaningful mitigation work throughout the country.

With the pace of disasters accelerating, communities can utilize federal resources to reduce their risk and take action to save property and lives. FEMA stands ready to be a partner and collaborator with any community that is ready to implement creative mitigation strategies and help build our nation’s resilience.

The post OP-ED: Delivering Climate Resilience Funding to Communities that Need it the Most first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Tale of Two Underground Railroad Communities

ARIZONA INFORMANT — Prior to the Civil War, many communities in the Ohio River Valley were a part of an elaborate system that provided resources and protection for enslaved persons from Southern states on their journey to freedom. Once someone crossed the Ohio River, they traveled along unknown terrain of trails to safe houses and hiding places that would become known as the Underground Railroad. 
The post Tale of Two Underground Railroad Communities first appeared on BlackPressUSA.




By Christopher J. Miller, Sr. Director of Education & Community Engagement, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Christopher J. Miller

Christopher J. Miller

September is International Underground Railroad Month.

This proclamation began in the State of Maryland in 2019, and now more than 11 States officially celebrate one of the most significant eras in U.S. history. With the signing of Ohio HB 340 in June 2022, Ohio became the 12th state to designate September International Underground Railroad Month.

Many history enthusiasts and scholars hope the momentum of the proclamation spreads to other states so that all our forebears of freedom are remembered.

Examining this era, you find that the Ohio River Valley is instrumental in the many narratives of freedom seekers. These stories are critical to our understanding of race relations and civic responsibilities.

Before the Civil War, many communities in the Ohio River Valley were part of an elaborate system that provided resources and protection for enslaved persons from Southern states on their journey to freedom. Once someone crossed the Ohio River, they traveled along unknown terrain of trails to safe houses and hiding places that would become known as the Underground Railroad.

Gateway to Freedom sign

Gateway to Freedom sign

The Underground Railroad was comprised of courageous people who were held to a higher law that confronted the institution of slavery with acts of civil disobedience by helping freedom seekers elude enslavers and slave hunters and help them get to Canada.

Many communities were a force for freedom along the more than 900-mile stretch of the Ohio River Valley, but I would like to focus on two significant communities.

Southern Indiana was a major part of this history. It was originally believed that there were from Posey to South Bend, Corydon to Porter, and Madison to DeKalb County, with many stops in between.

In further examination, the Underground Railroad in Indiana was a web of trails through the forests, swamps, briars, and dirt roads. The city that is often overlooked in reflecting on the history of the Underground Railroad is New Albany, Indiana.

By 1850, New Albany was the largest city in Indiana, with a population of 8,632. Free Blacks accounted for 502 of that population. Across the river, Louisville was Kentucky’s largest city, with a population of 42,829. A quarter of the 6,687 Black population were free in Louisville.

Town Clock Church (aerial view)

Town Clock Church (aerial view)

Louisville and New Albany would grow to become a significant region for Underground Railroad activity. People like Henson McIntosh became a prominent community member and major Underground Railroad conductor. McIntosh was one of approximately ten Underground Railroad agents in New Albany who used their wealth and influence to impact the lives of freedom seekers crossing the Ohio River.

The Carnegie Center for Art & History is an outstanding resource that continues to preserve New Albany’s role during the Underground Railroad era. Approximately 104 miles east along the Ohio River is another institution that plays a critical role in elevating the profile of the Underground Railroad on a national scope.

Inside Town Clock Church New Albany Indiana safe house

Inside Town Clock Church New Albany Indiana safe house

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio.

By 1850, Cincinnati would grow to be the 6th largest city in the Union, with a sizable Black population.

The Freedom Center is prominently located in the heart of a historic Black community called Little Africa. Although the community no longer exists, its legacy lives on through the Freedom Center.

As with New Albany, the community that resided along the banks of the river served an important role in the story of the Underground Railroad. Little Africa was the gateway to freedom for thousands of freedom seekers escaping slavery.

Although there were Underground Railroad networks throughout the country, Ohio had the most active network of any other state, with approximately 3,000 miles of routes used by an estimated 40,000 freedom seekers that crossed through Little Africa.

Despite the growth of enslavement leading up to the Civil War, communities such as Little Africa and New Albany reveal the realities regarding race relations and a model for the dignity of human life through their respective efforts to be kind and resilient friends for the freedom seekers.

For More Information:

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center –

Cincinnati Tourism –

Carnegie Center for Art & History –

Southern Indiana Tourism –

The post Tale of Two Underground Railroad Communities first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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