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Why I am a Radical


Why I am a Radical


(why you should be too!)


I was talking with a gentleman the other day who wanted me to purchase time on his internet television program to advertise my latest book. I informed him that I consider myself a radical's radical and that I needed to be clear about that before we continued our negotiations. Not surprisingly he responded "well as long as you are not talking shooting people up or burning stuff down it won't be a problem." I mention this because there seems to be an innate fear among some African Americans of the word radical.


On the landing page of this blog I use Webster's Dictionary definition of radical, i.e., "advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change; representing or supporting an extreme or progressive section of a political party." But I also explain that radical means to go to the root. I recently came across an even better definition from 1861.


"...the word Radical as applied to political parties and politicians.... means one who is in favor of going to the root of things; who is thoroughly in earnest; who desires that slavery should be abolished, that every disability connected therewith should be obliterated."


The above definition ties radicalism back to the Radical Republicans and Radical Reconstruction. A "Radical Republican" was simply a Republican who was against the expansion of slavery. Not all republicans were radicals. Radical Reconstruction was the period from 1867 to 1877 when Radical Republicans controlled the houses of Congress and were able to pass the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments as well as the Reconstruction Acts. Of course, during this period the secessionist, i.e., the defeated Confederate States of America, were not permitted readmission to the union if they did not go along with those measures. So the amendment that we hold so dear would not exist were it not for the fact that (1) radicals were in control and (2) the secessionist states were forced to go along or not be readmitted to the Union. It is in this tradition too that I call myself a radical - that every disability connected to slavery must be obliterated! Which includes what the Supreme Court refers to as the badges and incidents of slavery.


It was that radical spirit that freed us from slavery not Abraham Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation. Radical action by radical thinkers championing and fighting for radical ideas.


But let us not forget that reconstruction lasted only 10 years. Thereafter the clock was turned back as if reconstruction had never existed. The South did not change. It will never change. There is no New South. They simply bided their time until they could regain power. In order to do that they had to get rid of the Federal troops whose job it was to protect the rights of African Americans. They also had to get African Americans out of positions of power and back into positions of servitude (read that slavery by another name). In short, they had to completely reverse the gains made by the Radical Republicans and Radical Reconstruction.


Now we find ourselves at the end of an historic eight year period - that of the presidency of Barack Obama. The same mentality that could not suffer Blacks in office or Blacks owning homes and businesses is again on the rise. They are not as extreme - at the moment - but the sentiment and the objective remains the same - White Supremacy.

Voter Suppression


"Discrimination! Why, that is precisely what we propose;

that, exactly, is what this Convention was elected for-to

discriminate to the very extremity of permissible action

under the limitations of the Federal Constitution, with a

view to the elimination of every negro voter who can be

gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the

numerical strength of the white electorate."


Attempts to suppress the African American vote have existed since we were granted the vote. Without exception all such attempts have been successful in that they all effectively prevented us from voting until the law in question was overturned. The 15th Amendment (ratified February 3, 1870) gave African American males the vote while the 24th Amendment (ratified January 23, 1964 - that's right 94 years later, was necessary to stop the use of the poll tax that made the amendment a functional nullity. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that real change occurred. The Supreme Court of the United States took care of that in Shelby v. Holder in which the Court by a 5-4 majority invalidated Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act required nine southern states to pre-clear any changes to their voting laws with the Department of Justice. The states are: Alabama, Alaska(really?), Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia as well as counties and municipalities in other states including, but not limited to, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx in New York. Of the ten states in the United States with the largest African American population seven were on the list. Alabama (6th); Georgia (1st); Louisiana (4th); Mississippi (7th); South Carolina (5th); Texas (2nd); Virginia (3rd). Curiously, two states with large African American populations and egregious voting rights records were not included as states but only as specific counties. These were Florida and North Carolina.


The Supreme Court found the preclearance unconstitutional since there was no longer a need for it. Curiously, as Associate Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomeyor and Kagin it was the pre-clearance of the law that remedied the violations that existed prior to its ratification. Even more curious Justice Clarence Thomas, the man who now sits in Thurgood Marshall's seat voted with the majority but himself wrote a concurring opinion stating boldly and erroneously that "Today, our Nation has changed." He wanted the court to go further and hold Section 5 unconstitutional. Perhaps Justice Ginsburg said it best: "… continuance [of Section 4(b)] would guard against backsliding."


Let's face it. The history of this country is the history of voter suppression. Although voter suppression could not have begun before we were given the right to vote it is equally true that the vote was always intended to be the exclusive right of white males. We must be clear on that. This is because the franchise is related to the acquisition, distribution and maintenance of power. White males have managed to control the vote through terrorism, intimidation and trickery for centuries. They are not likely to give up now. They always have there greatest success in a political climate that is marked by racism and terrorism. Frankly, Associate Justice Ginsburg said it best in Shelby:


"Early attempts to cope with this vile infection


[voter suppression] resembled battling the Hydra.


Whenever one form of voting discrimination


was identified and prohibited,


others sprang up in its place."


Discrimination! Why, that is precisely what we propose; that, exactly, is what this Convention was elected for-to discriminate to the very extremity of permissible action under the limitations of the Federal Constitution, with a view to the elimination of every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.37Discrimination! Why, that is precisely what we propose; that, exactly, is what this Convention was elected for-to discriminate to the very extremity of permissible action under the limitations of the Federal Constitution, with a view to the elimination of every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.37Discrimination! Why, that is precisely what we propose; that, exactly, is what this Convention was elected for-to discriminate to the very extremity of permissible action under the limitations of the Federal Constitution, with a view to the elimination of every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.37Discrimination! Why, that is precisely what we propose; that, exactly, is what this Convention was elected for-to discriminate to the very extremity of permissible action under the limitations of the Federal Constitution, with a view to the elimination of every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.37

Now we are in the era of "second generation barriers" to voting. Here are a few examples from Justice Ginsburg's dissent in Shelby.

  • In 1995, Mississippi sought to reenact a dual voter registration system, “which was initially enacted in 1892 to disenfranchise Black voters,” and for that reason, was struck down by a federal court in 1987.

  • Following the 2000 census, the City of Albany, Georgia, proposed a redistricting plan that DOJ found to be “designed with the purpose to limit and retrogress the increased black voting strength . . . in the city as a whole.”

  • In 2001, the mayor and all-white five-member Board of Aldermen of Kilmichael, Mississippi, abruptly canceled the town’s election after “an unprecedented number” of African-American candidates announced they were running for office. DOJ required an election, and the town elected its first black mayor and three black aldermen.

  • In 2006, this Court found that Texas’ attempt to redraw a congressional district to reduce the strength of Latino voters bore “the mark of intentional discrimination that could give rise to an equal protection violation,” and ordered the district redrawn in compliance with the VRA.

  • In response, Texas sought to undermine this Court’s order by curtailing early voting in the district, but was blocked by an action to enforce the §5 preclearance requirement.

  • In 2003, after African-Americans won a majority of the seats on the school board for the first time in history, Charleston County, South Carolina, proposed an at-large voting mechanism for the board. The proposal, made without consulting any of the African-American members of the school board, was found to be an “‘exact replica’” of an earlier voting scheme that, a federal court had determined, violated the VRA.

  • In 1993, the City of Millen, Georgia, proposed to delay the election in a majority-black district by two years, leaving that district without representation on the city council while the neighboring majority white district would have three representatives.

  • The county then sought to move a polling place from a predominantly black neighborhood in the city to an inaccessible location in a predominantly white neighborhood outside city limits.

  • In 2004, Waller County, Texas, threatened to prosecute two black students after they announced their intention to run for office. The county then attempted to reduce the availability of early voting in that election at polling places near a historically black university.

  • In 1990, Dallas County, Alabama, whose county seat is the City of Selma, sought to purge its voter rolls of many black voters. DOJ rejected the purge as discriminatory, noting that it would have disqualified many citizens from voting “simply because they failed to pick up or return a voter update form, when there was no valid requirement that they do so.”

What this shows is that voter suppression is not new. It is the same old bag of tricks utilized by Jim Crow for centuries. That's what I said - Jim Crow is alive and well. The problem is not that they continue to use the same tricks - that's predictable. The problem is that we have not developed strategies to destroy Jim Crow and White Supremacy and obliterate all the badges and incidents of slavery that continue to deprive us of the rights to which we are justly entitled.


Clearly I am a radical. The question is why aren't you? Remember "power concedes nothing without a demand - it never did it never will." Frederick Douglass.

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