Tag: Civil Rights

Georgia ACLU and Voting Rights Activists Move to Block Plan to Close Two-Thirds of Randolph County’s Polling Places

Georgia ACLU Staff (photo via aclu.org)

by Vanessa Williams, WashingtonPost via sandiegouniontribune.com

Voting rights activists in Georgia say they will launch a petition drive in an effort to collect enough signatures of registered voters to block a proposal to close more than two-thirds of polling precincts in a predominantly black county ahead of this fall’s general election.

The plan to shutter the voting sites in Randolph County, a rural community about 2½ hours south of Atlanta, has been drawn dozens of local residents and progressive groups to two public hearings in recent days. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a formal protest with the county’s board of elections.

Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, which oversees elections operations throughout the state, has issued a statement urging Randolph County officials to “abandon this effort.” Kemp also is the Republican nominee in one of the country’s most-watched gubernatorial contests. The Democratic nominee, Stacey Abrams, a former state legislator, is seeking to become the nation’s first black female governor.

The two-member county election board – a third member stepped down recently – has scheduled a vote for Friday on the proposal to shutter seven of the county’s nine polling places, citing problems including facilities in disrepair or inaccessible to persons with disabilities. But some activists are suspicious of the board’s motives, noting that Randolph County is 60 percent black and many residents have low incomes. The county, which covers 431 square miles, has no public transportation system.

All nine of the polling places were used for the May primaries and less than a month ago for statewide run-offs, in which Kemp, helped by an endorsement from President Donald Trump, beat Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for the GOP nomination.

Local news outlets reported heated discussions at meetings on Thursday and Friday, with residents and activists alleging the move was aimed at suppressing turnout in the county, in which more than 55 percent of the voters are black and have backed Democratic candidates in statewide elections.

County officials and a consultant hired by local officials said the closures were necessary because the sites were not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and there was not time to fix them before the Nov. 6 general election. They also suggested that affected residents could vote by absentee ballot.

“You don’t solve problems of accessibility for people with disabilities by reducing access for people without disabilities,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the Georgia ACLU, which wrote a letter to the board stating that the closures would be a violation of the Voting Rights Act because it would have a negative effect on African-American voters. The group noted that African-Americans make up more than 96 percent of the voters at one of the polling places slated for closure.

Unsure if the board will be persuaded by the arguments for keeping the polling places open, some activists will try to stop the plan by using a state law that forbids the closure of voting sites if 20 percent of the registered voters in the affected precinct object to the change. The county currently has just over 4,000 registered voters.

Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, a voter registration and education group, said activists will begin collecting signatures Sunday, spreading the word at morning church services.

“We want to see to it that the hundreds of students we registered at Andrew College and the people we’ve registered in Randolph are able to exercise their sacred, fundamental right to vote,” Ufot said. The goal is to submit the petition before the board’s scheduled Friday vote.

A similar petition drive overturned a decision two years ago by elections officials in Macon-Bibb County to relocate a polling place from a school to the sheriff’s office.

“These polling place closures are part of a stark pattern that we are seeing across Georgia whereby officials are working to make it harder for African Americans and other minorities to vote,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The more communities mobilize to turn out the vote, the harsher the voter suppression efforts undertaken by officials. We are prepared to use every tool in our arsenal to ensure that African American voters are able to have meaningful access to the polls this election cycle.”

Read more: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/us-politics/ct-georgia-voting-rights-polling-places-20180818-story.html#

R.I.P. Artistic Genius and Musical Legend Aretha Franklin, 76, Forever the Queen of Soul

(photo via arethafranklin.net)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to nytimes.com, American singer, pianist, and composer Aretha Franklin died at her home in Detroit surrounded by family and loved ones at the age of 76. The cause was advanced pancreatic cancer. She is survived by her four sons, Ted White Jr., Kecalf Cunningham, Clarence Franklin, and Edward Franklin.

Franklin, who began her unparalleled music career singing at her father Rev. C.L. Franklin‘s New Bethel Baptist Church, became an international superstar and chart-topper in the 1960s with such classic songs as “Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You,” “Chain of Fools,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Respect,” and again in the 1980 and 1990s with “Jump To It,” “Freeway of Love,” “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose.” Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won 18 competitive Grammys across multiple decades, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

Aretha was also involved in civil rights activism and philanthropy during her lifetime. Franklin, who Elle Magazine noted had it written into her contract in the 1960s that she would never perform for a segregated audience, was glad that the song “Respect” became linked to feminist and civil-rights movements. She added that the line “you know I’ve got it” has a direct feminist theme. “As women, we do have it,” Franklin said. “We have the power. We are very resourceful. Women absolutely deserve respect. I think women and children and older people are the three least-respected groups in our society.”

According to Vanity Fair, though Franklin didn’t participate in civil disobedience herself, she lent very public support to at least one person who did. In 1970, famous feminist activist, scholar, and a then-avowed member of the Communist Party Angela Davis was arrested at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in Midtown Manhattan and incarcerated for 16 months for what were found to be wrongful kidnapping and murder charges. Jet magazine reported that Franklin was ready to cover Davis’s bond, “whether it was $100,000 or $250,000.” Davis was released on bail and cleared of her charges in 1972.

Locally, Aretha donated meals and hotel rooms to Flint residents at the onset of the city’s water crisis, last year she was honored with the dedication of Aretha Franklin Way in Detroit, and worked to renew and revitalize her hometown with projects and concerts.

To read more about Franklin’s life and music, coverage from the Detroit Free Press, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. To witness a touch of her genius, click below:

Civil Rights Activist Rev. James Lawson Honored with New Scholarship at Vanderbilt University

Rev. James Lawson (l) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (photo via ocregister.com)

via jbhe.com

A new scholarship fund has been established at Vanderbilt University to honor James M. Lawson Jr., a leading figure in the civil rights movement and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The new scholarship was made possible by a gift from Doug Parker, an alumnus of the Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt, the CEO of American Airlines, and a new trustee of the university, and his wife Gwen.

The new scholarships will be given to students from underrepresented groups who have shown a commitment to civil rights and social justice.

Lawson, enrolled at the Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1958. While a student he helped organize sit-ins at lunch counters in downtown Nashville. In 1960, he was expelled from the university for his participation in civil rights protests.

Lawson completed his divinity studies at Boston University and then served as director of nonviolent education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1974 to 1999, Rev. Lawson was the pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles.

Lawson returned to Vanderbilt as a distinguished visiting professor form 2006 to 2009. An endowed chair at the Divinity School was named in his honor in 2007.

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/07/new-scholarship-at-vanderbilt-university-honors-rev-james-lawson/

Congressman John Lewis Inspires #FamiliesBelongTogether Crowd: ‘It’s Time for Some of Us to Get in Good Trouble’

Congressman John Lewis at Families Belong Together rally (photo via nbcnews.com)

by Kia Morgan-Smith via thegrio.com

You can always count on Civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis to be fired up and ready to fight the good fight and he’s stepping up to the frontlines of the immigration debate.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered nationwide over the weekend to  share their determination to fight the Trump administrations heartless decision to separate families seeking asylum.

They demanded the government quickly reunite families, their calls repeated from Washington to Los Angeles, to Chicago, Atlanta, Milwaukee, San Francisco and beyond.
According to CNN, protesters also marched by the White House in Washington and the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. They reportedly yelled, “shame, shame, shame” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald trump has got to go.”
And in Atlanta, John Lewis was ready to inspire protestors with a message honed over the years he marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and others.

“Look, you know, I’ve been talking for some time and getting in trouble. It’s time for some of us to get in good trouble, necessary trouble,” the venerable Democrat told the crowd at the Families Belong Together rally in Atlanta.

“In the final analysis, we may have to turn America upside down to set it right side up, but whatever we do, do it in an orderly, peaceful and nonviolent fashion,” he said.

Lewis shared the sentiments of Rep. Maxine Waters who has energized her base with fiery speeches calling for disgruntled Americans to confront Trump administration officials after migrant children were snatched and separated from their mothers because of Trump’s harsh immigration policies.

Lewis also wrote a letter in June criticizing Trump’s immigration policy and calling it a “shame, a disgrace and an outrage.”

John Lewis urged the crowd to stay passionate, but peaceful. “Never, ever, ever hate.”

Source: https://thegrio.com/2018/07/02/congressman-john-lewis-inspires-immigration-crowd-its-time-for-some-of-us-to-get-in-good-trouble/

Born On This Day: Legendary Activist and Community Leader El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (aka Malcolm X)

by Princess Gabbara via thegrio.com

To celebrate what would have been the 93rd birthday of black nationalist and leader ElHajj Malik El-Shabazz – better known as Malcolm X – activists, comrades and relatives are coming together to salute the Civil Rights leader’s contributions to the Black community on a global level. Malcolm X’s birthday still isn’t recognized as a national holiday in the U.S., but that hasn’t stopped New York City grassroots activists from recognizing May 19 as Malcolm X Day for the past 53 years.

This morning, a caravan of vehicles gathered at the corner of 126thStreet and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, and then made their way to Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, where Malcolm X and his beloved wife, Betty Shabazz, are buried. Malcolm X’s sister and Organization of Afro-American Unity President Ella Collins started the 53-year-old tradition.

Later in the evening, Malcolm X’s daughters Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz are expected to take the stage and reflect on the legacy of their parents at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Educational and Memorial Center on Broadway, according to the Amsterdam News. Malcolm X was assassinated at age 39 on February 21, 1965, having been struck 16 times by a hail of bullets.

The King Center, the official living memorial dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., commemorated Malcolm X’s birthday in a heartfelt tweet imploring revelers to celebrate the real icon, who, it says, was so much more than the villain the media and government tried to portray.

Source: Happy Birthday, Malcolm X: our shining Black prince would have been 93

Civil Rights Icon Fannie Lou Hamer Biopic to be Scripted by “Remember The Titans” Writer Gregory Allen Howard

Fannie Lou Hamer (photo via powerpacplus.org)

by Mike Fleming Jr. via deadline.com

Remember the Titans scribe Gregory Allen Howard has teamed with Chris Columbus1492 production company to tell the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper with a sixth-grade education who became an important voting-rights advocate and founded the first integrated political party in the South in mid-’60s Mississippi.

Hamer grew up in a family of 20 kids and picked cotton for most of her life. After going to a doctor to have a tumor removed, she discovered she was given a hysterectomy at age 47 by a white doctor, without her consent, because of a movement by the state to sterilize women to reduce the number of poor blacks in Mississippi.

Hamer became a Civil Rights activist, surviving assassination attempts

Gregory Allen Howard (photo via deadline.com)

and a near-fatal beating to get her moment at the Democratic National Convention, where she challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 with her legendary, “Is This America?” speech.

While LBJ hastily called a ruse press conference in the hope of diverting attention away from her speech, Hamer’s powerful words were widely broadcast and reverberated around the world. Howard, who studied Hamer’s accomplishments as a college student, has long been obsessed with bringing her story to the screen. Hamer died in 1977.

To read more, go to: Civil Rights Icon Fannie Lou Hamer Movie; Gregory Allen Howard script | Deadline

PBS to Air Documentary on Iconic Civil Rights Leader John Lewis this February

john-lewis
Congressman John Lewis (photo via eurweb.com)

article by Ny Magee via eurweb.com

Georgia congressman John Lewis is finally getting what many believe to be the TV treatment he deserves. The civil rights icon is the focus of a forthcoming new documentary set to air on PBS.

Get In The Way: The Journey of John Lewis” aims to tell the story of the civil rights pioneer, who led a 26-hour sit-in for gun control, marched with Dr. King, challenged political houses and continues to fight for human rights, per Jetmag.com.

According to the film’s website, it offers a “highly personalized narrative of an epic chapter in U.S. history.”  The biographical documentary will air on PBS as part of the network’s Black History Month programming.

“He is the moving, roaring protector of the rights afforded to every person in this nation. Get in the Way arrives at the perfect time,” actress and activist Alfre Woodard is quoted as saying in the documentary highlights.

“Get In The Way” airs on Feb. 10.

To read full article, go to: http://www.eurweb.com/2017/01/john-lewis-pbs-air-documentary-iconic-civil-rights-leader/#

Jesse Williams’ BET Humanitarian Award Speech Was EVERYTHING – Clutch Magazine

BET Humanitarian Award recipient Jesse Williams (photo via clutchmagonline.com)

article via clutchmageonline.com

Actor, activist and entrepreneur Jesse Williams was honored at Sunday night’s BET Awards, and his acceptance speech was everything!The  Advancement Project board member not only gave an emotionally charged speech, but also dedicated his award to his fellow organizers.

“This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers of students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do,” said Williams, who linked arms with Ferguson activists in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in the fall of 2014 and executive-produced Stay Woke, a documentary which traced the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement and debuted on BET in May.

To see video of his speech, click here: http://www.bet.com/video/betawards/2016/acceptance-speeches/jesse-williams-receives-humanitarian-award.html

Williams also paid homage to black women, who are often times the unsung heroes of the movement.“Black women who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves.” “We can and will do better for you,” he said.  Williams reminded attendees to remember those who died and why we’re still fighting to make people understand that black lives do matter. And he also spoke a word about the culture vultures.

Source: Jesse Williams’ BET Humanitarian Award Speech Was EVERYTHING – Clutch Magazine

U.S Supreme Court Rules Georgia Prosecutors Violated Constitution’s “Equal Protection” Clause by Rejecting Black Jurors in Murder Case

SCOTUS building (photo via wikipedia.com)
SCOTUS building (photo via wikipedia.com)

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a 7-1 decision issued today, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Foster v. Chapman, No. 14-8349, that Butts County, Georgia prosecutors violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution by rejecting two prospective African-American jurors because of their race in the capital murder trial of  Timothy Foster, an African-American man who was convicted of capital murder in 1987 by an all-white jury.

Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion, which was joined by five of his colleagues, cited several pieces of evidence from the prosecutors’ files that supported the Court’s conclusion, including the first five names of a “Definite NO” list of six prospective jurors containing the only five African-Americans in the jury pool; multiple documents that identified the African-American prospective jurors by their race; and notes with “N” for “no” appearing next to the names of all the African-American members of the jury pool.

The Court also found that the race-neutral reasons the prosecutors offered for rejecting two of the African-American prospective jurors did not withstand scrutiny because (1) the prosecutors offered shifting rationales at different stages of the proceedings and (2) the reasons offered for excluding the African-American jurors did not result in the prosecutors rejecting white prospective jurors who had the same characteristics that led to the dismissal of the African-American jurors. The Court dismissed one of the prosecutors’ rationales as “[n]onsense.”

“The systematic exclusion of African-Americans from juries, particularly in serious criminal and capital cases, is a problem that we continue to see today,” stated Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “The Lawyers’ Committee is pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling which affirms the longstanding, fundamental constitutional principle that prospective jurors cannot be rejected because of their race. The evidence in this case was overwhelming that prosecutors were determined to try Mr. Foster, an African-American man, before an all-white jury.  All defendants are entitled to a fair trial and excluding prospective jurors based on their race taints the process because it means that defendants are not tried by a jury inclusive of their peers.”

The Supreme Court’s decision reversed the Georgia Supreme Court and sent the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. Though he did not join in Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion, Judge Alito concurred in the judgment.  Justice Thomas dissented.

Jesse Williams to Produce, Star in Upcoming Harry Belafonte Biopic

Harry Belafonte (l) and Jesse Williams (r) [photo via theroot.com]
Harry Belafonte (l) and Jesse Williams (r) [photo via theroot.com]
article via thegrio.com

“Grey’s Anatomy” star and actvist Jesse Williams has plans to produce and star in a biopic about his fellow civil rights icon and entertainer Harry Belafonte. Williams announced the project during an appearance on Denzealots, a podcast by comedians W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery.

During the episode, Williams admitted that he cared more about activism than acting.  “I have an awesome job that I love,” he said, “but there’s this magnetic force that is constantly pulling me toward activism. I just have to do it.”

If you’re into social media, you probably already knew that. Williams is highly influential on Twitter, boasting more than one million followers. The young actor’s gained his influence, not with selfies, but with insightful tweets and short commentaries on issues impacting people of color.  He was heavily involved in the Justice for Flint concert which brought together residents, celebrities and performers to raise awareness on the water crisis.

Source: Jesse Williams to produce, star in upcoming Harry Belafonte biopioc | theGrio