November 21, 2013

By Freddie Allen

NNPA Washington Correspondent

 

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When lawmakers ratified the 15th Amendment in 1870, protecting voting rights for Blacks, opponents of the law lashed out, violently at times, employing literacy tests, poll taxes, and fraud in an effort to disenfranchise the new voters. It would be nearly 100 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed many of those practices, ushering in a “new era in American democracy.”

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on the economic conditions of low- and middle income families, chronicles past struggles and highlight current roadblocks that attempt to dilute the Black vote.

The report titled, “Voting Rights at a Crossroads” is the latest in the Unfinished March series that looks at the ambitious goals of the 1963 March on Washington and the work that is still needed  to accomplish those goals.

According to the report, just one year before the historic march less than 30 percent of voting-aged Blacks were registered to vote in 11 states in the south, where most Blacks lived. A year later, Blacks still faced significant hardships exercising their right to vote.

“In 1964, in the five southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, only 22.5 percent of voting-age African Americans were registered to vote,” stated the report. “Particularly troubling, in Mississippi, only 5.1 percent of voting-age African Americans were registered, compared with 94.9 percent of whites.”

The abysmal voter registration record for Blacks was due largely in part to the discrimination that Blacks faced, often at the hands of state and local officials.

Despite a number of federal laws crafted to bolster voter protections under the 15th amendment, state and local officials continued a concerted effort to prevent Blacks from voting, including limiting or changing the registration period, requiring Blacks to get references from Whites to register, literacy tests and poll taxes.

When poor Whites complained about some of the laws that limited their voting rights, many states passed “grandfather” clauses that allowed White citizens, who were eligible to vote before the restrictive laws were passed, to continue to vote. The grandfather clauses extended to their descendants and excluded Blacks.

The report said that the success of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom inspired civil rights leaders to push for better voting protections under the law.

“The idea appealed to the civil rights leaders of the day, and the resulting March for Jobs and Freedom refueled the civil rights movement’s resolve to pass a voting rights law that delivered on the promise of voting rights for all,” stated the report. “The over 200,000 marchers who converged on the mall in Washington, D.C., were fully aware that the right to vote was inextricably tied to overcoming the socioeconomic problems they endured.”

The report continued: “Their determined campaign resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, seminal pieces of legislation that transformed American democracy.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the political landscape and voting in the United States in ways that the 15th amendment couldn’t. It banned the use of “tests and devices” with Section 2 and installed federal voting officials and observers at polling places.

“The Voting Rights Act also contains temporary provisions, including the Section 4 coverage formula and the Section 5 “preclearance ­provision,” which required that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination (as determined by a “coverage formula”) obtain federal approval before implementing any voting change. At first the coverage formula applied to Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, and 40 counties in North Carolina,” stated the report.

For decades state and local jurisdictions with the most egregious voting rights violations were forced to pre-clear changes in voting laws. Black voter registration grew. Now nearly 70 percent of voting-aged Blacks are registered. In the 2012 presidential election, Black voter turnout topped White voter turnout for the first time in our nation’s history. More than 66 percent of eligible Black voters went to the polls compared to about 64 percent of registered White voters.

The Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder cleared the path for Republican state legislators to pass new laws that threaten to disenfranchise minority voters. When the Supreme Court stripped section 4 of the Voting Right’s Act of 1965, effectively ending protections that voters had under section 5, voters were left virtually to fend for themselves, as politicians launched voting laws restrictive voting laws making it tougher for the young, the old, the poor and minorities to vote.

According to the report, “North Carolina’s legislature passed laws that restricted the types of photo identification used in order to vote, shortened early voting, ended same-day voter registration, and prohibited preregistration that allowed high school students to register to vote before their 18th birthday.”

Many southern states led by GOP lawmakers have launched voter ID laws to fight non-existent voter fraud.

“The most common example of the harm wrought by imprecise and inflated claims of ‘voter fraud’ is the call for in-person photo identification requirements. Such photo ID laws are effective only in preventing individuals from impersonating other voters at the poll –  an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning,” stated the Brennan Center report.

In Florida, state lawmakers “reinstated a program to purge voters,” a faulty program that was blocked by earlier lawsuits.

The report called on citizens to contact members of Congress and to urge them to pass new legislation that would restore section 4 of the VRA and reinvigorate the voter protections under section 5.

“The civil rights community and the public must now apply a heightened level of vigilance to ensure that the gains of the past 50 years are not lost, and to continue the historic trajectory of ensuring access to the ballot for all eligible voters,” stated the report.

The report continued: “Citizens must become engaged in their communities and ensure that their elected officials are aware that they are being watched and that attempts to roll back hard-fought gains will not be tolerated.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

November 21, 2013

Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times

 

Family members of Malcolm X have filed suit to prevent the publication of the slain leader’s diary.

At issue is the diary Malcolm X kept during the year before his assassination, as he traveled through the Middle East  and Africa. The diary has been reproduced for publication and lists the daughter of Malcolm X, Ilyasah Shabazz, as an editor. Other family members, however, are filing suit, alleging that the publisher, Third World Press, does not own the rights to the diary.

Vice President of Third World Press, Bennett Johnson, contradicts the family’s claim and says the publisher has a contract signed by one of Malcolm X’s daughters.

A video promoting the publication of the diary shows the daughter of Malcolm X discussing the importance of the diary been added to the body of work already produced by Malcolm X.

“It’s really beautiful that we get to see Malcolm in his own voice – without scholars, historians or observers saying what he was thinking or what he was doing or what he meant” Shabazz says.

Third World Press says the memoir “described deep emotional connections [Malcolm X] developed during a period that was constantly colored by his prophetic sense of impending tragedy”. They also promote the diary as having a “unique” blueprint for African-Americans.

The diary is scheduled to be published on November 14, but court papers filed by the heirs of Malcolm X in Manhattan court could delay or even prevent publication.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

November 21, 2013

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE

Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON (AP) —Honoring the legacy of John F. Kennedy, President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the assassinated president’s gravesite as a nation remembers that terrible day in Dallas a half-century ago Friday. Obama also recognized a group of distinguished Americans — including Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey — with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award created by Kennedy.

Obama was joined at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday by Clinton, and each president held hands with Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, as they climbed a flight of stairs to the burial site on a steep hillside overlooking the nation’s capital.

First lady Michelle Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped their husbands place a large wreath of white flowers in front of the roped-off gravesite of America’s 35th president, which is marked by an ever-burning flame.

Both couples placed their hands over their hearts as taps sounded near a U.S. flag at half-staff before greeting Kennedy relatives, including some who arrived in Obama's motorcade.

The day of tributes began at the White House, where Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 living and deceased Americans for their contributions in fields ranging from sports and entertainment to science and public service.

“These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us,” Obama said.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, daughter Chelsea Clinton and film director Steven Spielberg were among scores of people seated in the White House East Room for the ceremony, which Obama said is “one of my favorite events every year.”

Kennedy established the modern version of the medal but was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, weeks before he was to honor the inaugural group of recipients. Hundreds of notable figures since have received the honor.

Obama continued to lionize the slain president Wednesday evening at a dinner at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in honor of the medal’s recipients. He said Kennedy stays in America’s imagination not because he was assassinated, but because he embodied the character of the people he led. Kennedy was defiant in the face of impossible odds, he said, and determined to make the world anew.

“This is a legacy of a man who could have retreated to a life of luxury and ease, but he chose to live a life in the arena,” Obama said. “Sailing sometimes against the wind, sometimes with it.”

At the awards ceremony Wednesday morning, Obama said a few words about each recipient. Of Clinton, he said the Arkansas Democrat’s presidency marked just the start of his work to make the world a better place, crediting his post-presidency humanitarian efforts as helping to save or improve the lives of millions worldwide.

“I’m grateful, Bill, as well, for the advice and counsel that you’ve offered me, on and off the golf course,” Obama said to chuckles.

As a teenager, Bill Clinton shook hands with Kennedy in the Rose Garden the summer before the assassination when he and other high school students in the Boys Nation program came to Washington.

Obama said the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, didn't just break the stratospheric glass ceiling. “She blasted right through it,” becoming a role model for young girls, he said.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Obama said. “Today our daughters, including Malia and Sasha, can set their sights a little bit higher because Sally Ride showed them the way.”

Receiving the award for Ride, who died last year, was Tam O'Shaughnessy, who was introduced as Ride’s life partner.

The president made a point of highlighting those who had overcome additional obstacles and stigmatization because they are gay, black, female or Asian. He noted that early in her career, Oprah Winfrey’s bosses suggested she change her name to something more relatable.

“It turned out, surprisingly, that people could relate to Oprah just fine,” Obama said.

On Friday’s assassination anniversary, Obama plans to meet privately at the White House with leaders and volunteers from the Peace Corps program, also established by Kennedy.

The Clintons’ presence at Kennedy’s gravesite was sure to spark speculation about whether Obama has a favorite in the 2016 race to succeed him.

Every move by the former secretary of state is being scrutinized for signs of whether she’ll run. Vice President Joe Biden, another potential candidate, attended only the White House ceremony.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

November 21, 2013

By MARTHA MENDOZA

Associated Press        

 

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — From Google to Facebook to Apple, Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe took a whirlwind tour through Silicon Valley’s most elite tech firms, persuading some of the world’s wealthiest and most successful corporate executives to share support and innovation with the poorest country in the Americas.

“Oh cool!” he said Wednesday, slipping on Google Glass — Internet-connected eyeglasses — at Google Inc.’s headquarters before a cruise in the company’s driverless car.

Lamothe joins a growing stream of politicians, celebrities and CEOs taking these popular roadshows where they do a little business, a little schmoozing and quite a bit of questioning about how technology can change lives.

“Even if we do need water, we need the technology to know the areas where we have issues with water supply in order to create a better inventory,” he said. “Technology can help us bridge the development barrier we have today.”

If there was an opposite of the affluent Silicon Valley, where entire municipalities have free Wi-Fi, it could be impoverished Haiti, where fewer than 1 percent of Haitians are regularly online.

But worlds collided in a conference room at Facebook when Lamothe jumped into a question-and-answer session and watched hundreds of Haitians’ questions pour in.

When Jean Amos Bonhomme, a father of two who lost his home in a devastating 2010 earthquake, typed in that he needs a job and included his phone number, Lamothe shocked the man by calling him directly and asking what his skills were. Bonhomme said he’s a teacher and an accountant, and speaks English. Lamothe told an aide to set up an interview.

“These are the enjoyable times for being prime minister,” said Lamothe, “when I can make a direct difference in a person’s life.”

Although Haiti lacks much infrastructure, there are Internet cafes throughout the capital Port au Prince, and cellphone use is leapfrogging landlines. Some of the millions of dollars of earthquake relief and recovery aid has been spent on trying to get the country wired, including a $3.9 million program launched this fall to deploy 65 miles of optical fiber in the country's southern region.

On Wednesday, Lamothe was sharing his vision for an even more wired Haiti, which begins with gathering data, from mapping all of the health clinics to conducting a census-like count of the population. The country has no ZIP codes and would like to replace its mail address system, which includes mentioning proximity to mango trees or intersections, with geolocation.

At Google, executives agreed to Lamothe’s request to get updated satellite images for Google Earth. Last updated after the earthquake, hundreds of thousands of tents are no longer there, and many new buildings have gone up.

Google also committed to sending servers to Haitian Internet providers that will cache information, and the tech giant re-upped its donation of a package of online services that provide email and other services for more than 3,000 government employees, a benefit that usually costs $50 per person.

At Facebook, he tried out a new app designed especially for political leaders to be closer to their constituents; he liked it, and on Monday after it's installed, he plans to be the first head of state to use it.

While this was Lamothe’s first visit to the tech titans, the Prince of Asturias made the rounds just last week and South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Ahn Ho-young, swung through in August. The campuses are varied and impressive, with unusual features from Google’s bowling alley to a small Wizard of Oz mock-up of Dorothy’s house at Facebook, complete with smashed witch legs.

“These businesses have a very progressive culture, one that understands that investing in the employees will pay great dividends,” Lamothe said. “They take care of everything — free meals and free snacks — and that leads to being able to get maximum productivity.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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