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Opinion: John Lewis, C.T. Vivian Together Helped Start Voting  Rights Movement, Died on Same Day in Atlanta Commentary

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The news of the passing of two veteran Civil Rights leaders and giants John Lewis and C.T.Vivian, on the same day, jolted the nation’s consciousness, especially around the need for Blacks and other minorities to continue to register, vote and fully participate in the census to assure our voices are heard. They were considered “prophetic activist pathfinders” in the biblical tradition of Jeremiah “running to and fro through the streets, looking for a man to execute justice.”

They together added their voices, “made trouble” and were persecuted along with Daisy Bates, Septima Clark, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar and Myrlie Evers, Andrew Young, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Ella Baker, Rev. Hosea Williams, Dorothy Height, Rev Joseph Lowery, Rosa Parks, Rev. James Lawson, Diane Nash, Rev. James Bevel and Rev. Jesse Jackson helped to birth the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, and they both died on the same day to join the pantheon of pioneering prophetic voices.

The news of their passing jolted the nation’s consciousness, especially around the need for Blacks and other minorities to continue to register, vote, and fully participate in the census to assure our voices are heard.

They gave their lives to make sure we are counted so that we can benefit when the roll is called in the upcoming November election — and when the trillions of federal dollars are distributed in 2021.

John Lewis, a minister and an Atlanta congressman from Alabama, shed blood in Selma to earn his civil rights icon status. He continued his indefatigable dedication for voting rights, from his participation in SNCC and VEP (Voter Education Project) until the day he died at 80 in Atlanta. Lewis had collaborated with Vivian while studying theology in Nashville, and the two of them were among the original 1961 Freedom Riders seeking to expose racism and to integrate southern facilities.

C.T. Vivian, a minister and Southern Christian Leadership Conference organizer who pioneered the politics of constructive confrontation behavior in employing voter registration strategies, also shed blood in Selma one month before Lewis, when he confronted Sheriff Clark. Both he and Lewis attracted national media coverage for their courageous challenges. Their sacrifices woke up the nation to the fact that Black votes mattered.

Their struggles and deaths remind us of the courageous volunteerism of the students and activists, who were mostly white, and had worked side-by-side with the Black faith-based community in 1964 and were among those arrested and killed for the right of Blacks to vote. Vivian, 95, like Lewis, was an activator who stirred the pot of activism that motivated organizers like Rev. William Barber and Stacey Abrams. He too died in Atlanta just hours before Lewis.

Lewis and Vivian joined Rev. Joseph Lowery, who also died this year at 98 in Atlanta, the birthplace of Dr. King.

I had the opportunity to march and work with both ministers Lewis and Vivian since the 1965 Selma, Alabama Voting Rights March 1965 as a student, reporter, faith-based organizer and field director for the Southern Elections Fund and the Southern Regional Council, also headquartered in Atlanta.

While my wife Gay Plair Cobb and I lived in Atlanta from 1973 to 1977. Gay was director of the Department of Labor’s Women Bureau in Atlanta before serving in Washington, D.C. with former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. We rented the home of Jane Bond and Howard Moore and utilized our residence for many “organizing gatherings and meetings” with many people from the network of civil rights activists.

The Southern Elections Fund (SEF) was headed by the legendary Julian Bond who was also a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) founder and member of the Georgia Legislature. Bond served as SEF Chair while Yancey Martin, who was a top advisor to Senator McGovern’s Presidential Campaign,  was the Director. My job was to travel throughout the 11 southern states of the old confederacy to help organize voting and election strategies for Blacks. We helped raise funds and provided voter strategies for hundreds of Blacks, including Mississippi congressman Bennie Thompson (see SEF Ebony March 1975, story www.postnewsgroup.com).

I hope faith-based leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus, civil Rights activists and the participants in the Black Lives Matter Movement will dedicate their efforts to monitor the electoral process and demand that the DigiTech companies not become complicit with efforts by those who seek to suppress the Black vote.  When I delivered the commencement address at Holy Names University, I challenged the students and the University — since it is in the heart of Oakland with a history of civil rights activism — to commit themselves to the causes of voting, census and ethnic studies in our schools. The passing of Lewis, Vivian and Lowery should resurrect a spirit of activism in all of us.

The Post will continue to provide information on voter suppression tactics. We will monitor social media and any attempts to discourage the Black vote.

 

 

 

 

Activism

San Francisco Proposes Art Installation to Honor Black Lives, History of African Americans

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent.

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Dana King/ Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco, CA. – Mayor London N. Breed today announced the City of San Francisco is planning a new public art installation to honor Black lives and the history of African Americans. The installation is planned to be located in Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse next month, in time for Juneteenth.

The installation, ‘Monumental Reckoning,’ by Bay Area sculptor Dana King, honors the first Africans stolen from their homeland and sold into chattel slavery in the New World. The installation consists of 350 sculptures representing the number of Africans initially forced onto the slave ship San Juan Bautista for a journey of death and suffering across the Atlantic in 1619. A handful of these original 350 ancestors became America’s first enslaved people.

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent. Protestors toppled the statue on Juneteenth 2020.

“The art and monuments that we choose to display in our city and the civic art that fills our public spaces must reflect the diversity of our community, and honor our history,” said Breed. “This powerful public art installation in Golden Gate Park will help us not only commemorate Juneteenth, but also serve as an example of how we can honor our past, no matter how painful, and reflect on the challenges that are still with us today.”

Monumental Reckoning would allow visitors to commune with the figures. The phrase “Lift Every Voice” would shine from atop the nearby Spreckels Temple of Music through a second, connected piece by Illuminate the Arts. These are the first three words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a song written by civil rights champion James Weldon Johnson which was first performed in 1900—the same year the Spreckels Temple of Music opened. 

For more than a century, Johnson’s song of unity has been sung as the Black national anthem. U.S. Representative James Clyburn is currently leading an effort to have the song named America’s national hymn.

“I’m excited to see the new monument go up in Golden Gate Park to honor Black lives and the rich history of African Americans,” said Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton. “I think this is a perfect example of trying to right a wrong. Rather than uplifting individuals with oppressive histories, this is an opportunity to honor diversity and our community through public art.”

The installation was approved by both the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee this week. It is currently under review by the Planning Commission. “Lift Every Voice” will also need to be approved by the City’s Historical Preservation Committee before it can be installed. If approved, Monumental Reckoning would open to the public on June 19, or Juneteenth 2021, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. The art piece would remain in place through June 20, 2023.

“The memory of African descendants deserves to be told truthfully and publicly,” said King, Monumental Reckoning’s creator. “Monumental Reckoning fulfills both objectives with the installation of 350 ‘ancestors’ who will encircle the Francis Scott Key plinth in Golden Gate Park. The ancestors stand in judgement, holding history accountable to the terror inflicted on the first group of enslaved people brought here in 1619 to the last person sold to another, all victims of chattel slavery. Even though the business of enslavement ended long ago, it still resonates generationally for African Americans and forms the bedrock from which systems of oppression proliferate today.”

Fundraising, community outreach, and ongoing support for the installation is being provided by the Museum of the African Diaspora. Creative and programming support would be provided by The Black Woman is God, which is an annual group exhibition of Black women artists curated by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green. The project celebrates Black women as essential to building a more just society and sustainable future and reclaims space historically denied to Black women artists.

“What Dana King’s powerful installation communicates and commemorates is a sober cultural gut-punch long overdue, and I hope it’s the beginning of many such visual testaments in the public realm that venerate the origin stories of our most marginalized and disenfranchised populations,” said Ralph Remington, San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs. “We almost never see images of Black people represented in our public monuments, or in the American telling of history. So, it’s no surprise that in a society rooted in white supremacy, people of color remain invisible and undervalued in our mythology, symbols, architecture and national narrative. While the City examines the historic works in our Civic Art Collection and the future of monuments in San Francisco, this installation will help build and advance a discourse about who and what we venerate in our open spaces.”

 “We are incredibly proud to host this powerful piece,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Monumental Reckoning prompts frank discussion about the legacy of slavery, while charting a course between past, present and future. We are grateful to have these crucial conversations in Golden Gate Park—a beloved public space that belongs to everyone.”

This story was produced by the San Francisco Mayor’s office.

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Rally Against Hate, Plan to Reopen Businesses in Downtown Oakland

With COVID, urban riots, and racist attacks, the question that comes to mind is whether we have lost Chinatown.

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Carl Chan, president of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, Greg McConnell, president of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, and Rick da Silva stand in front of the Pacific Renaissance Plaza. The plaza has been boarded up whenever there have been protests and has spent a lot of time under wraps this past year. Photo by Mimi Rohr

 

     Drive through downtown Oakland and you get the impression that the city has been lost.  Part of that is due to COVID-19.  For the past 18 months, we have been on lockdown.  People have not been meeting face to face.  Instead, we are Zoomers.  

     As we come out of the pandemic and venture outside, we notice there is another reason that cities look like ghost towns.  Storefronts are boarded up and often tagged with graffiti. Many people we have talked to say the appearance of downtown Oakland is depressing.  Some say it looks as though the urban rioters who took advantage of peaceful protests have won.  They own the streets because Oakland has surrendered.

     Ride through Oakland Chinatown and you see the same images. As we enter post-COVID status, residents and visitors are confronted with boarded-up storefronts and the impression that, save a few markets, Chinatown is not open for business.  

     Unfortunately, in addition to the pandemic and urban riots, Chinatown must deal with a recent spate of racist attacks on Asians. These attacks against Asians are happening in urban areas throughout the country, but they are particularly challenging for Oakland Chinatown residents and businesses.

      With COVID, urban riots, and racist attacks, the question that comes to mind is whether we have lost Chinatown.  The resounding answer from Chinatown leaders is “No, We Have Not!”    

     On May 11, Carl Chan and Rick da Silva of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce (Chinatown Chamber), took Mimi Rohr and Greg McConnell of the Jobs and Housing Coalition (JHC)  on a tour of Chinatown to see first-hand what is going on in the community.  We saw boarded-up storefronts and fewer people on the streets.  

     When I asked Chan whether the business was down, he indicated that it was, but he also said with absolute certainty “Chinatown will come back.  Chinese people are resilient, and they do not surrender”.

  

Chan and da Silva went on to say that the Chinatown Chamber is going to lead a bold program to Onboard Chinatown.  “We want to bring life back to our area and we cannot do that if people think everything is closed down. We want all of Oakland to come and support Chinatown.  For that to happen, we need to restore normality and a feeling of safety by having the streets again filled with people bustling along.”

    JHC stands in solidarity with timber Chinatown Cha.  We encourage the entire city to do the same.  Chinatown is the fourth-highest revenue producer for Oakland.  Tax revenues derived from Chinatown pay for many of the services that Oakland needs to survive.

    But more important than just the financial loss to Oakland, if we lose Chinatown, we lose a piece of Oakland.  Supporting Chinatown is imperative in a city that prides itself on racial diversity and openness to all people.  

    On May 15, the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce is holding a “Unite Against Hate March and Rally” at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza, 388 9th St., in Oakland Chinatown.  In addition to an expression to reject hate, Chan and Silva will announce their Onboard Chinatown program.

     JHC will be there to help.  We encourage all residents, businesses, and nonprofit groups in Oakland to join in the struggle against hate and help reclaim the city by onboarding our businesses.  We call on the Oakland City Government to provide public-safety protection for the residents of Chinatown and everyone throughout the city of Oakland.  If we are to onboard, the city must make sure we can do so safely.

     We hope Chinatown’s leadership will help bring Oakland back from the problems we have endured from the pandemic, riots that followed peaceful protests, and racial hatred.  JHC stands with leaders like Chan and da Silva and together we will reopen our city and restore normalcy and safety.

Greg McConnell is president of the Job and Housing Coalition 

and Carl Chan is president of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce

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Greater Justice is Coming: Taking on Abusive and Deadly Policing with New DOJ Leadership

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta

Thanks to the voters who elected President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we now have a Department of Justice that actually cares about justice.

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

In his first month on the job, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed a Trump-era policy that made it harder for the Justice Department to investigate police departments and hold them accountable for violating people’s civil rights.

And he was just getting started. In the past few weeks, the Justice Department has announced that it is starting an investigation of the police departments in Minneapolis—where George Floyd was murdered by former officer Derek Chauvin while other officers watched. The Minnesota AFL-CIO has called the city’s police union a white supremacist-led organization.

The Justice Department has also launched an investigation of policing practices in Louisville, where Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her own home.

These investigations will look at more than those individual killings. This kind of “patterns and practices” investigation looks at the big picture to determine whether and how a law enforcement agency is violating people’s civil rights. They are a way to evaluate—and do something about—the impact that systemic racism has in a police department and the communities it is supposed to serve.

“Patterns and practices” investigations can lead to consent decrees — agreements that require police departments to change the way they operate, with oversight from the Justice Department to make sure change actually happens.

In the past, Justice Department investigations and consent decrees have been important tools for getting violent police behavior under control and changing abusive cultures in out-of-control departments.

When the Trump Administration shut down this kind of investigation, it sent a signal to police departments that the Justice Department would look the other way rather than hold them responsible for misconduct. Of course, Trump himself repeatedly made it clear that he was not opposed to violent policing. In fact, he encouraged it.

Biden has spoken personally about the importance of ending police violence and reimagining public safety. He has called on Congress to pass the imperfect but important George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Another good sign was the announcement that the FBI is doing a civil rights investigation of the killing of Andrew Brown, Jr., who was shot in the back of the head by police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

All of these are important steps in protecting Americans, especially Black Americans, from abusive policing.

Biden has also spoken out against Republicans’ racist efforts to pass new voting restrictions in states all over the country. Biden has called those efforts “sick” and we can count on his Justice Department to do what they can to challenge voter suppression—even though right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have greatly weakened the tools that the Voting Rights Act gave the department to prevent Black voters from having their rights denied.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has just written the Arizona Senate president to raise concerns that a bogus “audit” of ballots from last year’s presidential election that is being conducted by private contractors from the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement could be violating the Voting Rights Act.

There are more signs that we can expect changes at the Justice Department. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate, started her career as a civil rights attorney by winning freedom for dozens of mostly Black people wrongly jailed in a small Texas town.   And the Senate should soon confirm Kristen Clarke to head the civil rights division, where she started her legal career investigating police conduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking.

Together with Biden and Garland, Gupta and Clarke will save lives, defend civil rights, and give millions of Americans hope that greater justice is coming.

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