African-Americans, who made up roughly 12% of the U.S. population in 2004, held only 10% of state government policy-leader posts last year, Watson reports. The report took note of the fact that under the leadership of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican, only 4.8% of leadership positions were held by Blacks, albeit Black citizens make up 16% of New York State's population. In fairness, the report adds that African-Americans do hold an "equitable share of leadership jobs" in 11 of 29 states included in the survey.
Those states included: Indiana, Massachusetts, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. In fact, in Wisconsin, where Blacks made up only 5.7% of the population in 2000, Blacks hold nearly 19% of state leadership posts.
Civil rights in Wisconsin: That last statistic is not surprising, considering Wisconsin has a rich history of human rights, civil rights: "Wisconsin's progressive human rights history dates to the early 19th Century," according to the Web site, Wisconsin: Life's so Good. The state was very active in the anti-slavery movement, and offered jobs to African-Americans seeking freedom, "security, work, opportunities and a place to raise their families," the site continues. In fact, Wisconsin's Underground Railroad - tied in with the national network under the crafty and competent supervision of Sojourner Truth - provided "safe harbor" for many men and women of African heritage who escaped bondage in the South. The Milton House, in Milton, Wisconsin, was built as an inn, but there was a secret underground tunnel from the inn to a nearby log cabin, where runaway slaves were given safe keeping until jobs and housing could be found for them.
Wisconsin, in fact, was the first state to pass legislation outlawing "bounty hunters" from coming into the state looking for freed slaves to put in chains and return to slaveowners for profit.
Also in Wisconsin in the civil rights genre, the City of Milwaukee hosts "America's Black Holocaust Museum," which was founded by James Cameron, "the only living survivor of a lynching," according to the Wisconsin Web site. Cameron, who was falsely accused of murder as a teenager in Marion, Indiana, was "chased out of jail by a mob and later saved." After becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement and founding the Black Holocaust Museum in his home's basement years later, he got the attention of the City of Milwaukee; the city sold the current museum location in downtown to Cameron for one dollar.
Civil rights in the book, Magic City: On the subject of a Black man falsely accused of a serious crime, a la James Cameron, a similar scenario was the subject of Jewell Parker Rhodes' novel. On pages 67-68 of Magic City, Mary, the farm girl who worked an elevator in Tulsa, and was raped earlier in the day, collapses and the young Black man on the elevator at the time is seen immediately at a perpetrator, for no reason other than he's there, and he's Black. "What have you done, nigger?" yelled Allen, a new friend of Mary. "What the hell have you done?"
It might have occurred to Allen that Mary was not in the best of health, since he was just with her, and served her coffee in his store. But the immediate suspicion fell upon the African-American young man, who by custom and law should have taken the stairs up to the men's rest room, rather than the elevator.
Nigger, you're supposed to take the stairs," said someone in the crowd that was now pressing forward. "Get away from that white woman." Hands were "clawing at the Negro," and soon the young man was darting out of the hotel. The young man was Joe, the other main character in the novel, who was clearly innocent of any wrongdoing, but was certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rhodes paints a poignant picture of Joe's escape on pages 71-72: "...running like...so many others had from slavery, released him from his dread." One of his heroes was Houdini, and now he got to live out a real-life escape from the clutches of his own demise. In the explanation among the onlookers back at the elevator as to what happened to Mary - whose underpants were gone, whose thighs were "pink," who had scratches on her legs and hands and bruises on her wrist - it was "just the nigger and her" and "a colored man, a white woman. Together. In Tulsa."
Nigger better run. Better run good" muttered an old man (75). "Nigger's got to pay," said Bates, the building manager. "The girl hasn't accused anybody," somebody else offered, to which Bates replied, "We all saw it, didn't we?"
The story from that point is less unsettling as far as the unfairness, the injustice of the situation, but it's frustrating because nobody asks Joe if he really did it. Finally, on pages 107-108, he says to his father, "Don't you want to ask if I'm innocent?" And his father replies, "It wouldn't matter if you were. Either way, I'm still going to pay."
And when Mary tells the sheriff that "you're holding an innocent man...he never touched me," all the sheriff can say is that her screams convinced him she was raped by Joe. it's frustrating for a reader, who would think that some kind of interrogation, some real examination of the facts would take place. But it's difficult to remove one's self from 2005 and catapult back to Tulsa in the 1920s. The "magic city" wasn't so magic, though Joe did pull a few Houdini-like tricks along the way. It wasn't so much racism as it was just full-on Jim Crow-saturated hatred of Blacks, and treatment of the African-American community as though they were animals, not people.
Civil rights and the U.S. Constitution in the 19th Century: According to an article in the Negro Educational Review (Cook, 2005), the Supreme Court declared in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 "that the Civil rights Act of 1865 was unconstitutional." That law (the equal protection clause in the 14th amendment) "banned racial discrimination in public accommodations such as public conveyances, hotels, and theaters and required equality in jury service," writes Samuel Dubois Cook, President Emeritus, Dillard University. Oddly, Cook continues, "in its narrow, myopic interpretation of law, proclaimed that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment did not prohibit racial discrimination by private businesses or individuals" - but it did hold that racial discrimination by states was unconstitutional. (Go figure the logic in that.)
Incredibly," Cook concludes, "the country had to wait until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to achieve in public facilities and accommodations" what the 1875 version of the Civil Rights Act had intended.
Civil rights, HBCUs, Brown v. Board of Education, Nixon, Reagan and Bush: In an article published by the Journal of Higher Education (Sissoko, et al., 2005), the authors follow the growth and development of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs); there are presently 103 HBCUs (50 public and 53 private), which represents about 3% of the total number of institutions of higher learning in the U.S. Also, those 103 HBCUs reflect around 2% of total enrollment in colleges in universities. That sounds modest, but the number of Black students 14 to 34 years of age in "postsecondary educational institutions" has grown by 66% between 1980 and 1998. That said, it's also true, the article continues, that HBCUs' "relative share of the total Black enrollment in higher education...declined from 18.8% in 1980 to 13.70% in 1998.
The article asserts that in 1954, "Brown v. Board of Education...found that state policies to segregate students on the basis of race were unconstitutional" - and "with all deliberate speed" authorities were instructed by the Supreme Court to integrate schools. Despite this fact, "significant desegregation did not occur" until after Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The act gave the U.S. attorney the power to bring lawsuits "on behalf of Black plaintiffs, and prohibited the distribution of federal funds" to colleges and universities that discriminated based on race, color, or national origin. But Richard Nixon, the article continues, pursued a policy of "non-enforcement of desegregation laws and policies."
Notwithstanding a U.S. District Court judge's orders to enforce desegregation laws (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act), President Ronald Reagan, and later George Bush (senior) weakened the regulations again. Reagan even "attempted to seek tax-exempt status for segregated schools."
Civil rights and a worn-out African-American community? An article in Black Issues in Higher Education (Malveaux, 2005) brings a focus on the Niagara Movement, founded by the legendary author Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who wrote the Miseducation of the Negro in 1933. The Niagara Movement is given credit for being the forerunner to the NAACP, and was among the original protest organizations to promote justice and civil rights for Blacks. So, the author writes, why is there no protest now? "Racial bias in the workplace, the marketplace and the classroom has hardly…