Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, November 19, 2004  

Commentary: A civil rights timeline

I recently had reason to give a mini-lecture on civil rights history at someone's weblog. I started at the beginning because the participants were not students of any kind of history. I believe that discussion was a waste of time. However, I do wish to share some of the material with folks who might appreciate it.

~ The Civil War ended in 1865. Slaves in all parts of the U.S. were freedmen at that point. The Thirteenth Amendment made the freedmen citizens of the U.S.

~ Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) affirmed segegrgation of blacks* in American life under state laws. No whites, native or immigrant, have ever been subjected to racial segregation. During World War II, black soldiers in the South were segregated. Their German prisoners of war were not.

~ Brown v. Board of Education (1954) made segregated schools unconstitutional. But, years passed before meaningful enforcement occurred. Desegregation failed in much of the U.S. due to white resistance.

~"Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation because of race, color, religion, or national origin. Places of public accommodation are hotels, motels, restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums, and concert halls.

. . .Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public facilities because of race, color, religion, or national origin. Public facilities are facilities owned, operated or managed by state or local governments, like courthouses or jails." (Department of Justice web site.)

~ Black people were largely deprived of participating in the electoral franchise until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Their ability to influence how badly they were being treated was extremely limited. False imprisonment, being driven out of town and even death were the penalties to be paid for challenging white power. So, nearly a hundred years passed between the end of slavery and achieving and maintaining any meaningful political rights.

~ Title VII passed in 1964, but was immediately challenged. Actual enforcement took until the 1970s. Until then, blacks discriminated against in employment had no legal recourse.

*I am using the word 'blacks,' but all people of color in the U.S. were subjected to segregation and discrimination.

I have found it useful to have facts like these on hand during conversations about civil rights. Often people who oppose equal rights for all Americans have little or no understanding of the history that led to practices such as affirmative action. I believe you will find having such information available useful, too.

What's the art?

A detail from the Confederate Constitution. It protected slavery in perpetuity.

posted by J. | 11:45 PM

Thursday, November 18, 2004  

History: Texas statues tell Southern tale

Some Texans will tell you their state is the West, not the South. But, in many ways is not just South, but Old South. Its slaves were the last to be freed. Slave owners kept the news of emancipation from them for months. That gave a contingent of Texas slave owners time to travel to Brazil, freedmen in tow, where they re-enslaved them. The state also led in establishing the mechanics of segregation by separating its Hispanic population from Anglos. News from Austin is a reminder of those Old South ways.

The Daily Texan reports.

After praying in front of the statue of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Texas Division declared their opposition to a proposal to move Confederate statues off the South Mall.

The group presented a resolution citing their opposition to University officials Thursday. Charles Roeckle, deputy to UT President Larry Faulkner, said he would pass the resolution on to the president.

Controversy over the statues resurfaced last January when the Task Force on Racial Respect and Fairness recommended relocation of the statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, which are currently on the South Mall. Faulkner has not yet assigned a committee to consider relocation of the statues, although Roeckle said he will do so soon.

Presenting the resolution was the climax of Veterans Day. The group began by dressing in Confederate uniforms and gathering at the Texas State Cemetery to remember fallen Confederate soldiers.

"It's not enough for them to take our flag," said Terry Ayers, group spokesman. "Now they want our statues."

Ayers said the Sons of the Confederate Veterans are not asking for decision-making power but rather to have its voice heard in the relocation process.

He said the statues represent men who fought for Texas, and they should be remembered in prominent places on the UT campus.

. . .But Langston Wilkins, English junior and vice president of the University of Texas Longhorn College Chapter of the NAACP, said simply moving the statues won\'t change the history of racial discrimination on campus.

"Relocation of statues would be a nice display of solidarity," he said. "But removing the statues is not going to remove what they did."

Perhaps the student could school his elders. The Confederate veterans they honored on America's Veterans Day did not fight for the United States. They fought against it.

There is another statue that has been the subject of controversy on the University of Texas campus. The only sculpture commemorating a minority there, it has been the subject of recurring vandalism, according to the Daily Texan.

King's statue is a window to an oppressive time in America's past, but it is also a reminder that racial tension still exists.

Last week, two light-skinned men vandalized the statue in the early hours of the morning. Security tapes show the men jumping onto the statue and spray-painting King's head and torso silver. UTPD is currently searching for the men on camera, but no suspects have been identified, and there are no plans for increased security on the East Mall, said UTPD Chief Jeffery Van Slyke.

This attack is the second on the statue in two years. About 19 months ago, unknown perpetrators egged the statue on Martin Luther King Day. On the same day, a wreath of lilies was draped around the neck of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. That incident followed on a spate of racially offensive fraternity parties at which Kappa Alpha and Phi Gamma Delta members wore racially offensive shirts and painted their bodies in black paint.

Cities in Texas resisted school desegregation strongly. So did their peers in higher education. The famous case that led to the integration of state graduate schools, Sweatt v. Painter (1950), was filed against the University of Texas Law School. Sweatt won his case, but was harassed until he left the law school without his degree. It would be years before minority students were admitted to schools in the Texas system in meaningful numbers. Decades later, Right Wing professors at the university encouraged the filing of a lawsuit that overturned affirmative action in Texas colleges, Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School (1995).

The adults who claim not to know Texas, a very Southern state, has a history of racial discrimination are rather disingenuous. Obviously, some of them are passing the worst aspects of that history on to their young.

posted by J. | 11:45 PM

Wednesday, November 17, 2004  

News: Crematorium owner to plead guilty

Whatever happened to. . .that fellow who had human remains all over his property.

Not all that long ago, the grim news everyone was talking about involved a crematorium owner who failed to incinerate bodies. Instead, he stored them on the grounds of the crematorium. Residing in a small house surrounded by the dead did not seem to bother him. The man disappeared from the news after serving a few months in jail, receiving death threats and being sued by survivors of the improperly disposed of. This week, the young Georgian will take responsibility for his failure to carry out his duties.

The Macon Telegraph reports.

ATLANTA -When former crematory operator Ray Brent Marsh pleads guilty Friday to dumping 334 bodies and passing off cement dust as their ashes, the victims' relatives and resident of a rural northwest Georgia community may still be left asking the question "Why?"

Two years after the crime in Noble, Ga., shocked the nation, determining a motive remains elusive, and without a trial the answer may never be known.

"You're not ever going to learn what occurred and what motivated it unless sometime down into the future Mr. Marsh will speak up," U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy told victims' families at a hearing last month where a class-action civil lawsuit against Marsh was settled.

Marsh will reportedly be sentenced to 12 years in prison, with credit for time served, and, one assumes, good behavior. There are also charges pending against him in Tennessee.

During the coverage of the episode, I read several articles about his behavior before and after he took over his invalid father's business. The symptoms described -- lethargy, lack of affect, inattention to details -- sounded like someone suffering from depression to me. Most people's bouts of the blues result in low libido, indifference to others and/or unpaid bills, not human remains strewn around their homes. An aunt who agreed to talk to the press says she thinks Marsh is mentally ill.

A linebacker on the football team at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Marsh left school early in the mid-1990s to help run his ailing father's Tri-State Crematory in Noble. Marsh would later take over the family business, something relatives say was not his first choice.

"I feel something went wrong with his mind because he was up and bold and popular on the campus and then pulled away from an institution and then got into an occupation that was solitary and depressing," said his 79-year-old aunt, Lorene Marsh.

Marsh cremated 665 of 999 bodies he was responsible for. The rest were found haphazardly dumped various places on the family's land.

I have mixed feelings when someone who is obviously seriously dysfunctional is treated as if he or she had the capacity to know right from wrong in civil and criminal cases. I think doing that ignores the reality of how the mind works and penalizes people for behavior they may not be able to control. One also has to consider the victims, of course. The fact the perpetrator did not intentionally do wrong does not mean the injury is any less real. Few defendants who plead not guilty by reason of insanity are successful in their defense. Jurors are skeptical or uncaring about their mental illness. However, I believe a judicial system that did not treat the mentally ill as if they are normal would be much more just. A person like Ray Brent Marsh needs treatment. Instead, he will be incarcerated. His mental problems will likely continue to fester.

posted by J. | 11:46 PM