13 Jan Alabama Point & Counterpoint
Yesterday, President Obama designated Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, honoring those citizens who faced violence and repression (including the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963) in the then ultra-segregated city to win rights every citizen should be accorded. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 followed. This recognition within the National Park Service marks the end of long years of efforts by the city of Birmingham, Representative Terri Sewell, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and dedicated staff of the National Parks Conservation Association. Yet this week we’ve also witnessed confirmation hearings by the Senate Judicial Committee of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a one-time U.S. Attorney who long opposed civil rights, and whose record and words (including false prosecution for voter fraud) have been racist, anti immigrant, anti Muslim, and worse. If voted in next week as attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, whose name over three generations honored Confederate president Jefferson Davis and general P.G.T. Beauregard, will be in charge of enforcing the civil rights laws he long opposed.
Point. Counterpoint. I am deeply grateful to all who have ensured that Birmingham’s civil rights history will be protected for future generations. Yet, the legacy of the heroic struggle could be threatened if Sessions is confirmed as the nation’s next attorney general. The fiction of legislated equality, with its supposed removal of “racial” barriers, will become more starkly evident if our judicial system continues to dismantle—by not enforcing, by narrowly interpreting—key laws enacted in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Yet the federal government’s failure to enforce civil rights laws is at least as old as its abandonment of Reconstruction with the 1876-77 presidential election. America’s past lives in the present. I will not stand still.