Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

On CNN’s coverage of the 47th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

August 7, 2012

While laudable for its length, the content, and context of CNN’s story on the History of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on Sunday August 5th, 2012 missed its mark. There’s enough blame to go around for producers, editors (for the wrong time-line), and the guests for not maximizing a teaching moment during “prime time”.


It was good for Rev. Young to begin by saying (almost “tongue and cheek”) he was born in New Orleans, and in order to vote in November he will be required to show certain papers he might not be able to obtain, or locate. That’s “meta-talk” for Black folks, meaning “Houston we have a problem”.


The least challenge at the polls during the upcoming voting season will add to what will already be a more volatile voting experience this time around. Efforts to reduce vote fraud by placing additional demands on voters for specific identification are reminiscent of the “Jim Crow” laws of my home state of Mississippi. Then, over 450,000 African Americans were eligible to vote in the state, however less than sixty thousand had been allowed to register.  Of course having to guess the correct answer to questions like how many Black Eye Peas does it take to fill a gallon jar helped keep the numbers down until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Soon Mississippi became the state with the largest number of Black elected officials in the nation.


While the questions will probably not be as tricky in 2012, without public education campaigns about new voting rules in those states where new rules will be in place, the impact will be no laughing matter, especially in close races and there will be many.


To use today’s media platforms effectively, the few of us who have access to them must be savvy enough to know when to “reflect” and when to “think”. All pundits could help the public now by focusing their attention on the “buzz” on the street of America about new voting rules, what states are involved, what are the new requirements? We need more about “now”, and less about “then.” This ain’t gon be our mama’s election!


While seeing civil rights icons on split screens with CNN anchors covering civil rights issues makes a great visual, if the content does not increase the viewer’s political or civil literacy rate, the experience is nothing more than eye candy. We have just about three months to educate the public about something many of us are taking for granted, including many folks considered to be well educated and politically savvy.


July 20, 2012

If the Obama administration convened a high-level meeting this morning following the shooting in Colorado and did not include the Secretary of Health and Human Services,(HHS)  they are showing a blatant lack of understanding of the nation’s state of affairs. This crisis is not one to be parsed by “the big guns” exclusively (the president, vice-president, heads of Justice, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, the National Security Council, ATF, etc.) ;on the contrary HHS’s role in our homeland security must be redefined if we are to reduce the climate of consent for mass violence. The shooting of congresswoman Gifford and others, and this shooting speaks volumes about our collective mental health.

Johnmiltonwesley's Weblog

If the Obama administration convened a high-level meeting this morning following the shooting in Colorado and did not include the Secretary of Health and Human Services,(HHS)  they are showing a blatant lack of understanding of nation’s state of affairs. This crisis is not one to be parsed by “the big guns” exclusively (the president, vice-president, heads of Justice, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, the National Security Council, ATF, etc.) ;on the contrary HHS’s role in our homeland security must be redefined if we are to reduce the climate of consent for mass violence. The shooting of congresswoman Gifford and others, and this shooting speaks volumes about our collective mental health.

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St. John Barrett: Thanks I love you man.

July 19, 2012
ImageAt age 14 I stood on a “turn row” in a cotton field in the delta of Mississippi listening intently to a small transistor radio as attorney St. John Barrett accompanied James Meredith to his forced enrollment in Oxford, MS at Ole Miss. In that moment he was one of the most hated “White Men” in the civil rights movement. I will never for get the expressions on their faces, as I will never forget the tension in Mississippi at the time. Ole Miss was considered “sacred ground” to be defended from integration at all costs. This man St. John Barrett had stepped forward to challenge the “status quo.”

Later as the media covered the riots that followed Meredith’s enrollment, ( people were killed, he was charged as a result) I was amazed at the calm and cool of John Doar (who would a year later defuse an escalating potentially violent confrontation during the march following Medgar Evers’s funeral in 1963 Jackson,) and St. John Barrett who was always by Meredith’s side.

Then in 1963, after my “Godmother” Fannie Lou Hamer and another of her colleagues were beaten severely while trying to register to vote in Winona, MS I realize the same guy I had seen with Meredith was now representing Mrs. Hamer in the case presented to the Justice Dept. Now after Mrs. Hamer was beaten (she and the other females with her were forced to lay on the floor, raise their dresses exposing their rears, and were beaten with metal pipes covered with leather) she came home to our little community in Ruleville, where she lived (our families share-cropped together) and the talk of the town (Black community) was the extent of the bruises, the fact that the sheriff had ordered two Black prisoners to do the beating, and the amount of blood on the women’s underwear. St. John Barrett had them bring the clothes to Washington in plastic bags to give the lawmakers a “first hand” look at the brutality of segregation. The clothes were exhibit “B”, the fact that Ms. Hamer and her colleagues could barely walk was Exhibit “A”.

I would later learn that the reason I no longer had to sit behind a piece of “white tape” on Greyhound and Trailways buses (as I traveled up and down highway 49w) was because St. John Barrett had called for the enforcement of the Interstate Commerce Commission laws during the same period of time he was helping Meredith, and Mrs. Hamer.

I always wanted to say “thank you” to St. John Barrett, and I never got the chance. I just kept the intent in my mind and heart. I had no idea he had moved less than ten miles from me, to Ellicott City, MD, or that he was in the hospital (Howard County General) less than ten minutes from my front door. I never even told any one how much I wanted to thank this “slim” “lanky” “White Man” for risking his life to help me and people I loved.

Then one day one of my church colleagues sends me an article, and says …”I work with the sons of the man who represented your “God Mother” after she was beaten in Winona! I first stared in disbelief; the great organizing intelligence was at it again.

So finally, I get to say “Thank you to Mrs. Barrett, and her children for loaning him to us, and to St. John…”Thanks. I love you man.” I have re-opened his guest book for 30 days. My hope is that others (especially African Americans) will reflect, visit the guest book and leave a message for Mrs. Barrett and family.

Romney gives the NAACP a piece of his Mind:

July 13, 2012


So Mr. Romney goes to Houston where my sister (a retired Air Force Nurse I might add) is attending her first national NAACP convention and tells her and others in attendance he will “get rid of Obama Care”.   The audience responded with a sustained “boo” which Romney ignored, or pretended not to hear. The delegates were unaware they had been “knee jerked” into a starring role in Mr. Romney’s plan to move further to the “Right” to win in November. His calculated “baiting” prompted an anticipated response that elevated his image as being the direct opposite of President Obama, and set the stage for his speech that followed in which he touted his “On Message Consistency”. Needless to say my sister was awed, and couldn’t wait to share her awe with me.

Later in the day Mr. Romney is quoted using the word “they” in referring to the NAACP audience, and having a series of talking points to buttress his decision to go to the convention and “speak his mind”. I admire his team’s “gall”.

However, I hope they are aware that they are not playing the best team the NAACP, or Africa Americans has had on the field, or have to put on the field.  That team is made up of “Black voters”.  They also fail to realize that many of us who studied under, and worked for NAACP CEOs like Dr. Benjamin Hooks, as I did, and others who knew Dr. Roy Wilkins, as I did and walked with him at the funeral of Medgar Evers in Jackson, MS in 1963, as I did, or former NAACP presidents like Kivi Kaplan (who was Jewish) and a member of my HBCU’s  (Tougaloo College) board of trustees and who gave me my first summer job in Boston in 1967; are still alive! And though we were absent, we aren’t afraid of the ghosts of what Roland Martin so aptly labeled “code words”. Nor are we ignorant of “soft prejudice.”

I cast no dispersions on Ben Jealous and the current NAACP national Board; they are still finding their way. To suspect Romney to use the invitation to address the national organization and stage a “defining moment of defiance” and not stick to a “common ground” theme would have smacked of political paranoia. To have “read the tea leaves” before hand and using the convention caucuses to alert the delegates that such a thing could be planned for a national television audience by the Republican candidate would have been to Machiavellian. To have armed the delegates with a planned “pregnant pause” for Romney’s antics would have been too “old school”; too Bayard Rustin, too Bruce Gordon, too Lillie Carol Jackson, too Thurgood Marshall, too Enolia McMillan.

So Romney took his shot. He stood before NAACP convention delegates from across the nation and told them what he knew they did not want to hear and cashed in on the “gimmick” hours later before an audience “more like him”.

The mostly Black delegates gave Romney a standing ovation at the end of his speech; by then they had wiped the surprised looks from their faces. Romney having pulled off his first real showing of “back bone” on national television during the campaign darted off to his next campaign stop claiming the Right’s “high ground”. Mean time the nation’s premier African American civil rights organization’s delegates will return to their communities to share the historical moment with their friends and neighbors and (hopefully) to ask Mr. Romney in November when they vote “do you hear me now?”

Want Change? Don’t be Hood-winked;Be Vigilant!

March 26, 2012

Lots of folks showing up now  in the “hood”  and elsewhere wearing a “hood”, when in fact if they had gone to the “hood” when the folks in the hood were crying out for justice Sanford, Fla. would have been a different neighborhood.

The difference between the “virtual media leaders” of today and leaders of Dr. King’s era is that, Dr. King showed up (as he did in Memphis) as soon as the cry for help was heard, and not after the cameras appeared. He didn’t send out Press Releases on his itinerary while in town, or line up multiple media interviews to maximize his appearance or involvement.

If you added up all of the audience potential of the “virtual media leaders” converging on Sanford, Fla. now that Trayvon Martin has been killed, and applied it to just one of the earlier incidents involving African American males having their civil rights denied by the Sanford Police department (multiple cases were documented long before Trayvon was shot), watch Captain Zimmerman would have responded differently to Trayvon’s presence. He would have been aware that despite Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law there was no “climate of consent” in Sanford for him to use “deadly force” and in fact the order by his dispatcher not to pursue would not have been an arbitrary practice, but an (active) Sanford Neighborhood  Watch policy.

As a result; if Zimmerman claims “self-defense”, pleads the 5th (to avoid self-incrimination), his defense team presents evidence his wounds were defensive wounds, he stands by his claim “he was returning to his truck and was attacked by Trayvon,” and there is any evidence (video, eyewitness, etc.) or otherwise to back up his version of the story, at most he will be charged with violating Trayvon’s civil rights. He would avoid the risk of perjuring himself (like the murderers of Emmett Till did) by not testifying in his own defense, and like Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, if tried once and acquitted, there would be no appeal because of “Double Jeopardy”, and there could be no claim of perjury because he would not have testified in the first place.

Emmett Till wore a hat, however as his murderers later pointed out to Author, William Bradford Huie, it wasn’t Till’s hat that enraged them but his head (mindset).  As it was not Trayvon’s hoodie but his presence, and sense of entitlement in Sanford that created the perfect storm for his death, which could have been avoided if one of the “virtual media leaders” had showed up when the brothers, fathers, and mothers of sons who preceded Trayvon in Sanford, cried out for help.


Moving to the Center to Win

July 5, 2008


Barack Obama has been accused of “flip-flopping” because of how he has chosen to finance his campaign for president of the United States. He is being vilified for first supporting campaign finance reform, and rejecting the process in order to be free to raise the money he will need to defeat John McCain, and the Republican machine he will face between now and November.

Obama is also being criticized for his more pragmatic than idealistic explanation of starting the process of disengagement of American servicemen and women from the current wars in the Middle East. For those of you who are somewhat rattled by this evidence of “drift”, I feel your pain.

 However the truth of the matter is candidates for president traditionally move o the “center” to win, and smart candidates for lower offices move to the center, or “right” to win. My formal education as a political scientist which I received at Tougaloo College in Mississippi between 1966 and 1970 a time of transition for the fragmenting civil rights movement, tells me politicians move to the center because that’s where the people are. In other words there really are a core set of values written someplace in the consciousness of the American body politic that says….”when the shouting is over these are the boundaries I will accept to my freedom, there are the sacrifices I will make for my country, these are the risks I will assume for my country’s security, and these are the values I hold dear for the survival of my life, my family, and my planet.”

The problem for all the folk who are in shock is that they haven’t been reminded by the TV pundits often enough that the people who Obama was reaching out to during his campaign to be the nominee of the National Democratic party was not those folks. The message necessary for success in Mississippi was not the message for success in Iowa.

Here is another example of different messages for different times. When I learned of the death of Jesse Helms the “Right Wing” senator from North Carolina I remembered a call from my friend James Meredith in 1989 when I was working as a host/producer of a news magazine on WEAA-FM radio in Baltimore called “News Now”. Meredith was whom I had known when both of us lived in Jackson, MS after he had integrated Ole Miss and I was a reporter at WLBT-TV wanted to do a show with me about “you know” which was a kind of private joke between us. It was a kind of code for our ongoing “riff” about whatever was going on with Black people at the time, first in Mississippi and then in the nation as a whole. We laughed set a date and the show as on. But, what surprised me most of all was when I asked James what he was doing he laughed and said, “I am working for Jesse Helms.” I was stunned for a moment, Jesse Helms I said, you must be kidding? “No”, said James, ” and I am free to do might work, he doesn’t bother me and he is the best employer I could have at this time in my life.” I was flabbergasted by the idea and the statement. fast forward to the reporter who spoke of interviewing Helms in his office and when time came to take Helms’ photo he first removed the photo of a Black man on a mantle behind him because he did not want his core constituents to be confused. At the time it was not historically expedient to display Helms’ core empathy and compassion for all people regardless of color.

So as we experience this extraordinary season of politics in which a true battle for “the brass ring” is played out let us not forget that the ultimate goal is to win and both candidates for the presidency will be moving to the center in word and deed because there in lays America’s real “mother lode.”

John Milton Wesley