We Were Back in 1950s

The Senate has confirmed Jeff Sessions as the United States attorney general after a 52-to-47 vote Wednesday evening. Sessions’ confirmation has faced widespread protests over his opposition to the Voting Rights Act and his history of making racist comments. The vote capped a contentious 24 hours. On Tuesday night, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced and rebuked by the Senate for reading a 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King denouncing Sessions, who was at the time being considered for a federal judgeship.

this may be the first time that Coretta Scott King’s testimony against Sessions was actually put into the Congressional Record. She had sent it in 30 years ago, but at the time the judiciary chair, Senate Judiciary Chair Strom Thurmond, a fierce segregationist, did not put her testimony into the record. So, 30 years later, Senator Warren got it put in by reading it.

Reverend Dr. Barbara Reynolds talking:

But when you look at the spectacle of a female U.S. senator trying to read a testimony of an American hero, Coretta Scott King, who was a witness to what happened in Marion, Alabama, what she stood up for, and both of them were silenced, it just made me feel that we were back to the 1950s. It was an appalling sight.

But I want to say this about who she was, because she was not talking theoretically. I mean, she was—she grew up in Marion, Alabama, where this whole case with the Marion Three took place. These were civil rights leaders who were trying to register blacks to vote, and Sessions prosecuted them. Now, this is important because of who she is and why she should have been heard, because she knew what most of us do not know, because she lived it. When she was 15 years old, her home that she grew up in was burned to the ground. Her father had two businesses. One was a sawmill. And that was burned to the ground. But they had no vote. They had no voice. And they were considered nobodies that the police didn’t have to protect. And this is what—the civil rights movement, that she was a co-partner in with Dr. Martin Luther King, corrected that. And we come into the ’80s. Now, blacks had more voting power in places like Marion, Alabama. And she wanted people to know what had happened, because she represented thousands and thousands of people who could not vote, had no power to protect themselves. And so now we come to 1986, and she’s reporting in her testimony of what was the progress that had been made and how she never wanted America to go back to that. Why not read that?

The question is: Does a leopard change its spots? No, she would not support him. And it would not be out of malice. And she probably wouldn’t want this move politicized like it is. She probably would want to meet with Trump, because she was a coalition builder. But she would have to state the facts of how the place that she was born in, this—she knew the people that Sessions prosecuted: Evelyn Turner, her husband and another friend. And they were people who were voting rights activists. And, you see, from her perspective, she had seen people die for the right to vote. She had seen people being beaten in Selma. She had lived this terrible life of having no power. And this man, Sessions, had to know this, too, because they were from the same surroundings. And at one point, he said he didn’t think any voting rights or anything was wrong in Shelby County. Now, you have to understand, Birmingham is in Shelby County. And this is, of course, where you had the four black children blown up in the basement of a church. And voting rights was the whole campaign that was revolving around this period that Sessions was trying to be a federal judge. The first civil rights voting rights martyr was a man named Jimmie Lee Jackson, and he was—he was killed. And he was from Marion, Alabama. And Coretta knew his family. She knew him. And so, she brought in a personal history of how it is to live without the power to vote. And she certainly would not vote for Sessions. This is—I cannot see—I’ve known her for 30 years, and I cannot see how this life, that was made so miserable for her and thousands who did not even have the voice to speak up, as she—she was speaking up for thousands, not just for her.

What they were trying to do was to register blacks to vote. Now, this seems like just a minor thing, but you have to understand that some people were beaten. Some people were thrown off their land. People like Jimmie Lee Jackson and others even lost their life. This was a covenant that was signed through blood. And so, this is how we move from her—the part of growing up in Marion, Alabama, where they had no rights. Then we had the 1965 Voting Rights Act, so things began to change.

So, now, instead of Sessions seeing that this bloody history was now getting better because at least blacks could have representation, he worked against the people who was trying to advance the cause, by prosecuting these voting rights activists, who even the Republicans in Congress said that it was not right, and it was thrown out by the courts in Alabama. So, I mean, you can see that Sessions just did not stop with Marion, Alabama. I mean, he had said, it was reported, when—that the KKK wasn’t anything to worry about, but he didn’t like the fact that they smoke marijuana. That has been reported. And it was reported that he didn’t see that there were voting rights and civil rights charges in Alabama, and he’s right there in the middle of it.

And so, people—we should not have to fear our government. And when you looked at how Senator Warren and Coretta King were shut out, it just reminded me of what could happen when the rights that we want to respect are also shut out. People are worried about how—the civil rights of people, of especially black men, who have been shot down—and they were unarmed—by police. The Obama administration went and investigated and held police departments accountable. And, of course, no one’s saying that we should not protect police. I’m not—I’m sure that no one is saying that. But we don’t want a law-and-order department that will act like Bull Connor and will act like the police that beat the people on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, that we fear our government, and that should not be the way we look at our future in 2017.

I got to know her in 1976, when the Chicago Tribune assigned me to work with her. And when I met her, I was so impressed about her courage, because, just as the clip showed, she talked about how her home was bombed in Montgomery, Alabama. There had been threats every day for them to stop the Montgomery bus boycott. All they wanted was to be able to sit in the front of the bus like every other person. But that brought on fiery rebukes and threats. And when she was in the house, she had her little baby with her. And they blew—a bomb hit the front porch, a firebomb. It blew up the front porch. And the next day, Dr. King Sr. came and told Coretta, “I’m going to take you out of here. You can’t stay here. I’ll take you to Atlanta.” And she said that—she knew who she was then. She said, “I’m married to the man I love. But I’m also married to the movement that I love.”

Her courage. Because I had been in the civil rights movement. I had gone to Brownsville, Tennessee, to work in voter registration when I was in college. And we were chased by a group that they said was the Klan. We was running so fast, we didn’t know who it was. But we were chased. There was a roadblock set up on us. And I was so frightened, I never wanted to go south again. But to be with a woman who was still being threatened, even after her husband died—the hate was so bad that somebody even fired into the crypt where Dr. King was buried. They were shooting, using the crypt for target practice. I got to tell you about how bad it was. And so, to see the courage she had to go through threats that continued every—you know, most of her life, and then try to create a climate so her children would not live in fear and could lead a normal life.

But I want to add this, because when I talked about we should not fear our government, that was Barbara. Coretta King was not a fearful person. Coretta King was a faithful person, a person who would organize. So, right now, if she was here now, and she’s seeing the Women’s March, where millions of women and others and men came out to march against some of the suppressive practices that are now unveiling, she would be leading that, because she was a coalition builder. She would have talked to Trump. She would have tried to set up a win-win situation. She would have tried to break through some of these incriminations that are so hostile, because she was not a hostile person. She was very, very calm. She would say to me all the time, “Barbara, I am calmer in crisis. I know who I am. I know that we will win, because we have God on our side.” And this is what we’re going through now today. She’s been through it before. She’s been through Bull Connor. She’s been through Jim Clark. This is nothing new to a Coretta King. She would just organize and try to convince this administration to be fair and to be just, then have a plan, a strategy of nonviolent protests and demonstrations.

I just never thought we’d have to go back over what we thought we already had won. But Mrs. King did say that. She said, in every generation, you have to define and fight for freedom as it relates to your current age. So I feel hopeless in one—hopeless when I look at the situation, but then my faith tells me that we can still win. We’re going to protest. We’re going to have to stand up. We’re going to have to fight against all these isms—the anti-immigration move, the anti-female move, the anti-black. We’re going to have to turn these negatives into positives. And I think we have the leadership to do it, if we don’t get afraid, intimidated. But protest works. Demonstration works. Prayer works. And in the end, we will win, because we can’t go back to where we’ve been.

Barbara Reynolds
longtime journalist who worked with Coretta Scott King on her memoir, Coretta Scott King: My Life, My Love, My Legacy.

— source democracynow.org


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