August 29, 2013
By John Blake
CNN Wire Service
There is a secret about Bernice King that not everyone close to her wants you to know.
“She has a shoe fetish,” says Angela Farris-Watkins, a cousin. “She has shoes to go with every outfit. She likes all kinds of shoes: sandals, heels, open-toed and different colors. She buys shoes like bread.”
It’s not surprising that the youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would care so much about what she puts on her feet. She has been walking in the footsteps of one of history’s greatest moral leaders all of her life.
With the nation poised to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the daughter of the dreamer seems to be stepping out of his shadow.
A guarded woman who once contemplated suicide, the Rev. Bernice King is openly confronting some of the painful and controversial episodes in her life. She is engaging in a flurry of interviews with journalists to mark the commemoration of her father’s most famous speech. Now 50, she was born just months before her father told the world, “I have a dream.”
She also is lowering some of the walls that she admits she erected over the years to protect herself from stinging criticism directed at her and her family.
“People just don’t know me, period,” she says. “The first tendency is to make a judgment. Part of that has to do with people feeling like I’m stoic, standoffish. Some people feel like I’m arrogant. It’s unfortunate because people don’t know my heart.”
For some, she is freeze-framed as the bewildered girl who rested her head on her mother’s lap at her father’s funeral in 1968. For others, she is one of the King children, accused of aggressively seeking to profit off their father’s legacy while embroiled in legal feuds with each other. Still others see her as the daughter who invoked her father’s legacy while marching against same-sex marriage.
In one of her most candid interviews, King talked with CNN about all of those episodes in her life.
It couldn’t have been easy for her. She sighed loudly at times at some questions and once flashed a hint of exasperation. To be so publicly vulnerable is not easy for a woman who carefully plans everything, even if it’s just walking to her mailbox, friends and family say.
“If you’re out among the people, and everybody thinks you belong to them and you've never met them, you, too, would walk a little quieter,” says another cousin, the Rev. Alveda King.
‘I have walls for a reason’
On a recent afternoon, King is walking into the spiritual birthplace of her family, Ebenezer Baptist Church. She is running 40 minutes late, and a crowd of photographers and onlookers — including several Buddhist monks — gather to watch.
Before she poses for photographs, King asks about the type of pictures that will be taken and mentions some earlier photos of her that she didn’t like.
Farris-Watkins, a psychology professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, says King is a “Type-A person” who is not comfortable with spontaneity.
“You can say, ‘Let’s go and do so and so’ on the spur of the moment, and she will rarely answer yes,” Farris-Watkins says. “She would rather have planned that.”
Even small gestures have to be planned, Farris-Watkins says.
“I don’t care if she’s just going to the mailbox,” she says, “she won’t come out unless she is in makeup and dressed.”
Unplanned moments have not been kind to King’s family. Sudden bursts of tragedy are part of her history. It goes beyond her father. Nestled in the basement of Ebenezer is a picture of her grandmother, Alberta Williams King. She was shot and killed by a gunman in 1974 while sitting at the church’s organ one Sunday. Bernice King’s uncle, the Rev. A.D. King, was found dead in his swimming pool a year after her father’s assassination.
There have been more recent losses. In 2006, her mother, Coretta Scott King, died from ovarian cancer. And only a year later, her only sister, Yolanda, a warm and vivacious woman who some say held the King children together, died suddenly of a heart attack at 52.
“I have walls for a reason,” she says. “When you grow up with the kind of tragedy we’ve grown up with, you’re cautious. I was 5 when he was assassinated. Some of the distrust and walls come up automatically. It’s kind of comes second nature. That probably bothers me the most.”
King has had to assume a resolute public face in the face of all these tragedies, says W. Imara Canady, a longtime friend and Atlanta regional office area director for the United Negro College Fund.
“Most of us get the opportunity to deal with tragedy privately,” Canady says. “I don’t know if she’s even had the space to grieve.”
Beyond the upcoming march commemoration, King is assuming a more public role for another reason: She was appointed chief executive officer of the King Center last year. She sees the King Center as an educational institution that teaches nonviolence, not an activist group that protests the burning issues of the day.
Still, she speaks bluntly about issues such as economic inequality and racial justice. She criticized the recent U.S. Supreme Court voting rights decision. The court voted 5-4 to essentially gut the mechanism in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that forced certain states to “pre-clear” or get prior approval from the federal government for any changes in voting procedures.
The Voting Rights Act was originally passed because of a bloody civil rights campaign that culminated in a march led by her father in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
She says the court’s decision was a reminder that certain freedoms cannot be taken for granted.
“My mother used to say that struggle is a never-ending process,” she says. “You earn it and win it in every generation.”
Making money off the legacy
The upcoming commemoration of the March on Washington is a mixed bag for the King children. They have been criticized for demanding a licensing fee from the group that led the successful campaign to build a monument of their father on the Washington Mall.
Critics say they should not have charged any fee for those who wanted to honor their father’s legacy. Their point: Are the ancestors of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln demanding money for their monuments?
“But Lincoln has been gone for 150 years,” she says. “We’re first generation who lost our parents, not our great, great, great, great grandfather.”
She has heard such criticism for years. People have complained that the King children are more concerned about making money off their father’s legacy than extending it.
If her family doesn’t actively protect her father’s image and likeness in the marketplace, she says, they will lose the ability to do so. She says the King family charged a licensing fee for the monument, but the huge sums bandied about are not true.
Then she turns the question back on those who would challenge the King family.
“Why does that matter? Why does it matter to you, whatever it is? We were deprived of our father. Had he been here, this wouldn’t be an issue. Our father gave a lot to America.”
Feuding with her brothers
Her relationship with her brothers, Dexter King and Martin Luther King III, has also been criticized. Over the years, the siblings have sued and counter-sued one another over their parents’ legacy.
When asked if she still talks to her brothers, she says, “Every now and then. We’re family.”
When asked to describe their current relationship, she says: “It’s OK.”
The tension among the King children is unfathomable to some. How can siblings who shared such a singular tragedy barely talk? She points to the children of South African leader Nelson Mandela, whose squabbling over their father’s legacy makes headlines overseas.
“My question would be for the people that can’t understand it is to look at their (own) families,” King says. “Every family — think about the Mandela family right now —every family has its challenges. We’re not immune. We’re not superhuman.”
She says some of the tension with her brothers may be rooted in gender.
“I’m the only female left in the family,” King says. “I was closer to my mother and sister. ... Women and men are different.”
When asked if she thinks she will ever become closer to her brothers, she says: “I don’t know. I would hope so.”
The ‘mistake’ march
Her father made history with marches, but one of Bernice King’s most controversial public episodes came when she helped lead a march herself.
It was 2004, and she and Bishop Eddie Long — senior pastor of an Atlanta megachurch — were leading a march against same-sex marriage. Long, who once said that blacks have to “forget” racism because they have already reached the Promised Land, carried a torch during the march. It had been lit at an eternal flame at Martin Luther King Jr.’s grave.
The march was widely criticized by followers of her father. They pointed out that King’s marches were about inclusion — not excluding a group of people. They noted that one of his closest aides was Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was instrumental in planning the March on Washington.
Bernice King, who was an elder in Long’s church at the time, later left the congregation after Long settled out of court with four young men who had accused him of coercing them into sexual relationships.
King sighed loudly when asked about the march.
“If I had to make the choice today,” she says, “it would be different.”
She says she participated because the march revolved around several issues — strengthening the black family; black youth trapped in the justice system — that were not highlighted by the media.
When asked how she feels about same-sex marriage, she says, “I wouldn’t say I’m against same-sex marriage. I believe in freedom and equality for all people. I believe that when it comes to gay marriage, that’s a political and legal issue that has to be dealt with in that arena. I have privately held beliefs, but when it comes to that, it’s properly placed in the political and legal arena.”
Running from a calling
King doesn’t belong to a church now. She visits and still accepts preaching engagements. When asked which contemporary pastors she admires, she mentions three whose ministries are very different from that of her father: Bishop T.D. Jakes, Andy Stanley and Joel Osteen.
All three are megachurch pastors who are not known for being “prophetic” like her father. Their ministries are more focused on personal growth and powerful messages than speaking truth to power.
The Rev. Timothy McDonald III, who was Bernice King’s youth pastor at Ebenezer, says it makes sense that she would admire them.
“She was angry at one point in her ministry that her father was killed fighting for social justice and feeling that his death had been unappreciated,” he says.
“They’re the antithesis of Dr. King, and for her psychologically, that’s safe,” he says.
There’s no doubt about her favorite pastor, though.
“My favorite preacher is not with me anymore,” she says, “and that’s my father.”
McDonald says he could imagine when Bernice King was a teenager that she would follow her father into the ministry. She had that rare ability to electrify audiences when she spoke. She connected with youth.
“She ran away from it for a while,” he says. “We did a play one year and she played the part of the preacher,” he says. “She may have been 17. I said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll see where this goes.’”
She eventually was ordained at Ebenezer.
But when she was a teenager, she was still dealing with the loss of her father, he says. Once, the church youth group took a trip to a camp, where they watched a documentary on her father, he says.
“She broke down,” McDonald says. “She cried for I don’t know how long. Everybody was trying to comfort her. Later she said that was the first time she had really grieved about her father.”
Becoming her own person
Outside the pulpit, friends and family say, Bernice King is different from the solemn figure portrayed in the media.
Hints of that warmth came through in the photo session at Ebenezer. She was playful and warm. She displayed a radiant smile and a hearty laugh. (Her father had a beautiful rumbling baritone of a laugh and a mischievous sense of humor in private).
Her cousin Alveda King says she wishes more people could see Bernice King throw her head back and laugh. She and others describe King as someone who loves gospel music, can dance, and sends birthday cards and encouraging notes to people.
They say King lights up when she’s around young girls, such as during her visits to the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, an Atlanta school established in honor of her mother.
When King visits, the girls don’t see her as a remote stoic figure, her cousin says.
“Those girls, they cluster around her, they rub her hair and lean all over her and get in those pictures,” Alveda King says.
Canady, of the UNCF, says King has a rollicking sense of humor.
“One night for her birthday we ended up at a family’s friend’s house and we were playing Taboo all night long and laughing and joking,” he says. “She has this way of telling stories that will crack you up, and remembering things that you have forgotten that will have you in stitches.
“She had really learned in life not to take herself too seriously.”
Canady says people have written rules for Bernice King that they’re not willing to follow themselves: She’s not allowed to make mistakes; she’s not allowed to be different from her parents.
“She is not Martin or Coretta Scott King. She is her own person,” says Canady.
In her 1997 book, “Hard Questions, Heart Answers,” King wrote:
“I remember someone telling me when I was a teenager, ‘It’s better to be alone and be yourself than to be in a crowd and be someone else.’”
As she assumes a more public role, Bernice King seems to be finding a way to be herself, even when she is surrounded by a crowd.
Maybe now she is finally hitting her stride.
August 22, 2013
By Sgt. Jacob Harrer
Special to the LAWT
The surviving family of a Montford Point Marine received the Congressional Gold Medal on his behalf during an award ceremony at Camp San Mateo here, Aug. 16.
Larry and Kirk Elder, sons of Staff Sgt. Randolph Elder, were presented the nation’s highest civilian award by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California 48th District, and Col. Jason Q. Bohm, 5th Marine Regiment commanding officer, for their father’s service as one of the first African American Marines to enlist and undergo recruit training at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
President Franklin Roosevelt opened the armed forces to all races in 1941. Montford Point was a segregated recruit training facility where more than 20,000 African American Marines trained between 1942 and 1949. Many graduates of Montford Point served during World War II, as well as in Korea and Vietnam.
During 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal collectively to all Montford Point Marines for their sacrifices and service to the nation.
Elder passed away on March 31, 2011. His sons worked with the 5th Marine Regiment to verify their father’s military service and organize the award ceremony.
“I am just proud that my dad was a pioneer,” said Larry, a Los Angeles radio personality and host of the Larry Elder Show on 790 KABC. “He was kind of like a Jackie Robinson of Montford Point Marines. (Seeing the diversity in the Marines) lets me know that he left a footprint, that others are inspired by him and that he was a role model for the country.”
Elder was born during 1915 in Athens, Ga., where he lived in poverty and was kicked out of his house by his mother and her boyfriend, Larry said. He worked a series of menial jobs before enlisting in the Marine Corps on Nov. 13, 1943.
During the Pacific Campaign, Elder worked as a cook and served hot meals to troops on Guam who were preparing to invade mainland Japan. He quickly rose to the rank of staff sergeant before departing the service on April 9, 1946.
Larry said his father was very proud of his service, and the work ethic and values he learned as a Marine stayed with him throughout his life. Elder lived a very structured life and focused to attain each of his goals. At 47 years old, he opened a restaurant in Los Angeles, Elder’s Snack Bar, and for 30 years he woke up each morning at 4 a.m. to open the restaurant for breakfast.
Bohm, a native of Oyster Bay, N.Y., said he recognized much of the Marine Corps ethos in Staff Sgt. Elder.
As the previous director of the Marine Corps Liaison Office in the U.S. House of Representatives, Bohm and his staff, under the direction of Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, worked hard to get the Congressional Gold Medal approved in Congress.
“The Montford Point Marines are part of the Marine Corps’ legacy,” Bohm said. “If you stand in front of a formation of Marines, you can see the diversity that exists in the Corps today. To be here today to actually present the medal to the family of one of those Montford Point Marines is a true honor.”
August 22, 2013
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER
A divided federal appeals court has ruled that government employees involved in sensitive but noncritical national security work aren’t entitled to a key civil service protection available to other government workers.
The 7-3 ruling Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said the Merit Systems Protection Board can’t review dismissals and demotions of government employees who hold sensitive national security positions that aren’t deemed critical — even if their jobs don’t require access to classified information.
Critics said the decision would significantly erode civil service protections for federal workers.
In a case involving Defense Department employees, the merit systems board said a 1988 Supreme Court ruling limiting board review of national security cases applied only if classified information was involved. But the appeals court ruled that the Supreme Court decision was broader.
“Its principles instead require that courts refrain from second-guessing DOD national security determinations concerning eligibility of an individual to occupy a sensitive position, which may not necessarily involve access to classified information,” wrote Judge Evan Wallach.
“Courts have long recognized that sensitive but unclassified material can be vital to national security,” he wrote.
Wallach added that it was “naive” to say that employees without direct access to classified information can’t affect national security.
In a dissent, Judge Timothy Dyk said the majority opinion will deny merit systems board review for “hundreds of thousands of federal employees — a number that is likely to increase as more positions are designated as noncritical sensitive.”
Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower advocacy group, said that the court had “created a loophole to remove the civil service rule of law from virtually the entire federal workforce.”
The American Federation of Government Employees said it would likely seek review by the Supreme Court.
“Due process rights are the very foundation of our civil service system,” said the group’s president, David Cox Sr. “That system itself has been undermined by the court today, if this ruling is allowed to stand.”
Carolyn Lerner, head of the federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates retaliation against government whistle-blowers, said the ruling poses a significant threat to whistle-blower protections for hundreds of thousands of federal employees in sensitive positions.
Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a Defense Department spokeswoman for personnel and readiness, said the agency was reviewing the decision.
August 22, 2013
By AMY TAXIN
A government program to screen immigrants for national security concerns has blacklisted some Muslims and put their U.S. citizenship applications on hold for years, civil liberties advocates said Wednesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a report that the previously undisclosed program instructs federal immigration officers to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern. For example, they flag discrepancies in a petition or claim they didn't receive sufficient information from the immigrant.
The criteria used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to blacklist immigrants are overly broad and include traveling through regions where there is terrorist activity, the report said. The criteria disproportionately target Muslim immigrants, who often wait years to get a response on their citizenship applications and in some cases are denied, advocates said.
The ACLU learned about the program through records requests after detecting a pattern in cases of Muslim immigrants whose applications to become American citizens had languished.
“It is essentially creating this secret criteria for obtaining naturalization and immigration benefits that has never been disclosed to the public and Congress hasn’t approved,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU staff attorney and the author of the report.
“I feel like ultimately this is just about politics. They don’t want to be seen as having granted citizenship to somebody who’s going to be the next Boston bomber,” she said.
It was not immediately clear how many immigrants have been reviewed under the program, which began in 2008 and is formally known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program.
Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency routinely checks the background of immigrants applying for benefits and prioritizes the country’s safety and the integrity of the immigration system.
“We are vigilant in executing these responsibilities, and will not sacrifice national security or public safety in the interest of expediting the review of benefit applications,” Bentley said in a statement.
Under the program, immigration officers determine whether a case poses a national security concern and confer with the appropriate law enforcement agency that has information about the immigrant. Officers then conduct additional research and put many cases on hold for long periods of time. Most applications are eventually denied, as the program states that officers are not allowed to approve such cases without additional review, the report said.
Ahmad Muhanna, a 53-year-old Palestinian engineer, said he and his wife applied to become Americans as soon as they were eligible six years ago. They waited nearly four years for a response and were rejected because immigration officers said they failed to note on their application form an association with a Muslim charity to which they had donated money that U.S. authorities later declared a terrorist organization, he said.
Muhanna said the couple has appealed, but the wait has taken its toll. The couple, who lives in a Dallas suburb, missed their eldest daughter’s engagement in Gaza because they feared traveling abroad might jeopardize their green cards. And they haven’t been able to vote, something they’ve wanted to do for some time.
“You can’t just assume every Muslim is a guilty person, and every Muslim is a terrorist,” said Muhanna, adding that he agreed to be interviewed by the FBI with a lawyer present and has lived in the same house, with the same phone number for 15 years, making him easily traceable. “I have chosen this country to be my home and I want to be a citizen.”
August 22, 2013
By Charlene Muhammad
LAWT Contributing Writer
On August 17, Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, and family attorney Benjamin Crump, led a community conversation on racial profiling at Steele Indian School Park’s Memorial Hall.
Attorney Charlene Tarver of the Tarver Law Group and Fatimah Halim, a community organizer, coordinated the program, which examined the systemic impact of racial bias and profiling on communities of color. The day’s highlights were a Q&A with Fulton, Crump, and Tarver, moderated by Halim, and a private reception hosted at a residence in Scottsdale.
The discussion is just one of many town hall meetings, rallies, or protests still occurring across the country since a Sanford, Florida jury of five White and one Hispanic women found George Zimmerman, not guilty of second degree murder charges on July 13.
Fulton said she feels the prosecutors did the best job they could and that everything rested in the jury’s hands. “They couldn’t understand or maybe they didn’t have the understanding of Trayvon’s point of view, which is very sad because they can’t take away certain facts: that he was unarmed, that he was a minor, that he was not committing any crime,” Fulton said.
“They have to live with some things, which is going to cause them problems with sleeping at night,” she added, as the audience exploded into applause.
Fulton and Crump also came to raise awareness about the Trayvon Martin Foundation and the Trayvon Martin Amendment, which would change Stand Your Ground Laws to prohibit people from profiling, following, and killing someone, and then claim they were standing their ground, Ms. Fulton explained to a host of concerned residents, lawyers, educators, activists, artists, politicians, and community and religious leaders.
Fulton shared that the ordeal has thrust her — a regular woman, with a regular income and a regular life — into a spotlight she nor her family have asked for and that no family would want. But, she will continue to fight because the Stand Your Ground law must be reversed, she said.
Her attorney said the people’s continued engagement in the Justice for Trayvon Martin movement is multi-layered and phenomenal, and the program reminded him of how the case impacted him early on.
“Everybody has a ‘Trayvon moment’ and the moment for me was when his father called me and the lawyers on the phone, trying to get me to represent them and I said you don’t need me because he killed him on the street. He was unarmed. Of course they’re going to arrest him,” Crump told this writer in a private interview.
“We really believed and that was the thing that was most heartbreaking because you allowed yourself to believe. You knew about the Oscar Grants. You knew about the the Emmett Tills, the Medgar Evers, but you wanted to believe. You thought in a post-racial society, with a Black president, with this evidence they’ve got to arrest him,” Crump continued.
Tarver urged the audience to get involved. “As lawyers, as business owners, as professionals, I think it is incumbent on us to begin to create a voice for Stand Your Ground and I think as long as we remain afraid to address it, it will never be dealt with,” Tarver stated.
A morning panel, moderated by Lasana Hotep, an educator and researcher, explored the criminal justice system and racial profiling’s impact on youth. Presenters included Judge Penny Willrich of the Phoenix School of Law, Alex Munoz, founder of Films By Youth, Rampage, a multi-platinum rap artist, and Ja’han Jones, a student activist.
“African American males are constantly subjected to powerlessness and that brings into question our personalities, the kind of people who we are. The acquittal of George Zimmerman brings into question America’s value of Black life,” Jones said. As a result, he’s spent the last few months trying to reconcile the value his mom assigns to him and the value America assigns to him. “There’s a formidable gap between worthless and priceless,” Jones added.
Munoz highlighted the role of arts on incarcerated youth. Most of the men he works with are Black or Latino he said, and filmmaking is just one of many tools society can use to empower them in a world that’s already determined their worth as zero, he offered.
An afternoon panel comprised of Crump, Dr. Ray Winbush of Morgan State University, Attorney Daniel Ortega of the Ortega Law Firm, and Tarver, highlighted the law and human rights through a historical lens.
There’s always been a restriction on the plain, old locomotion of Black men, and that is a 400 year old mentality, Dr. Winbush noted. He denounced society’s historical line that if Black males and females fight back against injustices, they are wrong. “Black men and boys when attacked do have a right to fight back,” he said, encouraging the audience to broaden their understanding of the criminal justice system, racial profiling, and their legal rights.
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere and if we allow one group to be subject to injustice, it applies to all,” Ortega said. He advocates a restructuring of police culture. “The only way we’re going to do it is if all of us fight together and challenge it together,” he continued.
Student Minister Charles Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 32 thought the program was much needed. “It was very inspiring to see Sybrina Fulton at the event and that actually capped the event with her spirit and her strength. Even though she’s mourning the death of her son, she’s inspiring people and letting them know it could happen to any one of us, especially youth,” he stated.