African American Struggle Since WWII
Articles,  Blog

African American Struggle Since WWII


♪ [Opening Music] ♪ ♪ ♪>>Marcus Harvey: Alright, Welcome everyone it’s good
to see you on this Friday. Today we’ll be exploring the
various things that we’ve been engaging over the course of this
semester with our esteemed guest Attorney James E. Ferguson II
who is here to help us think about how the African American Freedom Struggles Since
World War II connect not only to Asheville, but also to some of
the broader topics that we’ve been dealing with thus far. So, Mr. Ferguson was born into
the Jim Crow south right here in Asheville North Carolina. While in high school Mr.
Ferguson worked with fellow students to form the Asheville
Student Committee on Racial Equality, also known as ASCORE. This group of high school
students was successful in desegregating department
store lunch counters, and other public
facilities of Asheville, including the libraries
and the recreation parks. ASCORE was reputedly known as
the only high school group of its time at the time. As the first president
of ASCORE, Mr. Ferguson attended the
founding meeting of the student nonviolent coordinating
committee in Raleigh North Carolina in 1960. Just three short years
after graduating from Columbia University Law School in
the late 1960s Mr. Ferguson prosecuted one of North
Carolina’s most well-known criminal trials, made famous in
the book and full-length movie,Blood Done Sign My Name.Two years later he defended
the Wilmington Ten, a world-renowned case involving
America’s first political prisoners of conscious
as declared by Amnesty International. Forty years later he was
successful in gaining pardons of innocence for each of
the Wilmington Ten. He was also successful in
achieving a judicial declaration of innocence for Darryl Hunt,
who spent twenty years in prison following his wrongful
conviction of rape and murder. Mr. Ferguson can be seen in
the Darryl Hunt documentary, entitledThe Trials
of Darryl
on HBO. Recently, Mr. Ferguson obtained
a commutation from death sentences to life imprisonment
for the only four people whose cases were decided on North
Carolina’s racial justice act, the only law of its
kind in the nation. He has been included in
every addition of the Best Lawyers in America. He was featured in the National
Law Journal as one of the top ten litigators in the country. He was featured in the Charlotte
Observer as the lawyer lawyers come to see. He has been recognized as a
super lawyer by Super Lawyer’s Magazine and he is also a member
of the coveted Inner Circle a group of one hundred of
the best plaintiff lawyers in the country. Please welcome Attorney
James Ferguson. [Applause]>>James Ferguson: Thank
you professor Harvey for that warm introduction, and good
morning to all of you it is a pleasure for me to
be with you today. Asheville as you may have
gathered has a special place in my heart. It happens to be the place where
I was born and where I grew up and where my experience with
the whole issue of race which continues to dominate and
permeate American law was born. Before I get into the topic of
today that I’m told I should talk about I want to just let
you know that I have a special friend of mine who is joining
me in the audience today. We’ve been friends since
childhood and I didn’t believe him when he called me up the
other day and said he was coming to the lecture. He was one of the founders of
the group ASCORE that Professor Harvey mentioned in
his- in his introduction. So right here at the beginning I
just want you to meet my friend and colleague and one of
Asheville’s greatest citizens Marvin Chambers. [applause] Now I’m quick to tell
you at the offset, this is not the first and only
lecture I’ve done here at UNC Asheville. On occasions, I come up and I
teach a class on civil rights. I think the last time I did it
was in 2016 and we may do it again, but the topic that
we’re talking about today is the African American struggle for
freedom since World War II and as all of you know World War II
ended around mid-century of the twentieth century. It ended at a time
when apartheid, racial apartheid here in
America was in full bloom, now there were some folks who-
who thought that it either ended or would end with the
emancipation proclamation of 1865 and of course it should
have and maybe if you’re the extreme optimist, maybe it ended
for a little while after the end of the Civil War,
but not for long. And I won’t go into the long and
sorted history of reconstruction in America, but no sooner than
the war was declared over and the proclamation emancipation
was issued resistance and revenge in the south took hold
and low and behold before we knew it what few gains had been
made as a result of the Civil War had been taken away,
culminating in a way in the decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson
in 1898 when the highest court in the land said that
separate but equal is the law of the land. Keep in mind that this is the
same Supreme Court that had said about forty-five years earlier
in 1854 I believe it was in the Dred Scott decision that no
black man has any rights that a white man is bound to respect. So that’s sort of where we start
from when we move forward to the end of World War
II in 18- in 1945. And at that time when most
of you were neither born nor conceived, we lived an apartheid
life in America and particularly in the south of America
and right here in Asheville, North Carolina. When I travel- when I have
travelled to South Africa where I’ve been fortunate to travel
and do some teaching in earlier years, I’m always reminded that
as appalled as Americans seemed to be with South
African apartheid, my face to face confrontation
with South African apartheid simply reminded me of my
childhood here in Asheville where I grew up as did other
African Americans of that era under American
Ashevillian apartheid. Everything was segregated,
schools were segregated, housing segregated, virtually
no African American lived in a white community in
Asheville in 1945. Medical care segregated,
public facilities, lunch counters,
recreation parks, libraries segregated and it
was not the separate but equal segregation that the Supreme
Court tongue and cheek had declared in 1898 but
everything was separate but nothing was equal. And although slavery had been
abolished with the thirteenth amendment somewhere around
1866, the badges of slavery, the legacy of slavery remained
and it was not just that we were a legally segregated apartheid
nation but we had to endure all of the negativism that
flowed from racial segregation. Separate but equal if such a
thing could have been achieved, and it couldn’t but even if
it could’ve been would’ve been difficult at best. But being separate in and of
itself from one race to another does not carry with it the same
deep sinister implications as a separate but unequal apartheid,
and by that what do I mean? At the time of the end of the
second World War in 1945, I was three years old,
I was born in 1942, and at about three years old
that’s when you begin to have some sense of conscious
some sense of awareness of what’s around you. So, at that early age I as did
other African Americans who grew up under America’s
racial apartheid, grew up in an environment where
everything that surrounded you said to you not only are you
separate, but you’re inferior. So, it was a continuation of the
tenant of white supremacy that characterized American
slavery from its beginning and throughout, because when I
became aware of my neighborhood which was an
all-black neighborhood, and learned that there were
other neighborhoods that were all white neighborhoods, the one
thing that stood out was that the white neighborhoods
were superior, the black neighborhoods were inferior. Likewise, when I got a little
older and went to elementary school, I went to an all-black
elementary school because under the law that was
required at the time. So, it was not just
a separate school, from where my white counterparts
attended it was an inferior separate school. So, everything that was
separated and segregated by law carried with it not just the
implication of separateness but also the clear
implication of inferiority. So, without listing all of the
things in society that one might think about and you just think
about any aspect of it and it’s there, essentially, I grew up
under a system of apartheid that said to me in my every waking
moment that you are inferior because everything that you
are associated with is inferior. So, when I looked in the mirror
and what I saw was an inferior human being according to
those standards of society. Now did I know at that time that
I was being told by everything I encountered that I was inferior,
no and as a matter of fact in my family and in my neighborhood,
I was told the opposite, that you’re just as
good as the next one, but when someone tells you that
and everything that surrounds you says the opposite at
some point it no longer has the ring of truth. But it is important to note
that at the same time I and my contemporaries were being told
by society that everything about you is inferior is inferior, my
white counterparts were being told the exact opposite, they
were being told by everything surrounding them that
they were superior. So, when we talk even today
about the concept and the premise of white superiority
we’re not necessarily talking somebody just deciding one day
that they’re superior but we’re talking about a society that
said to one group was white you are superior and said to
another group you are inferior. So, there’s nothing that
inherently evil about someone feeling that way it’s almost
that you can’t escape it. And so, when we hear people talk
today about white supremacy and white privilege it all stems
from a long and sorted history that said to whites
you are superior, that said to blacks
that you are inferior. So, in that sense it would’ve
been unusual for whites to think that they were not superior,
just as it would have been unusual for African Americans
to think that they were not regarded as inferior by society,
but more not just regarded, but to have been affected and
have some doubt about your own superiority because society
would not allow you the luxury of escaping- of escaping that. Now for myself and I’ll talk-
I’m not going to talk about myself very much more,
but I want to say this, I grew up under the segregated
system of schools where all of my teachers and all of my
school mates were white, and at some point, when I began
to realize that I had been a product of this system of
apartheid then I could not help but have some doubts about
whether I had the education that I needed to have. Whether I had developed the
skills that I needed to develop, to cope in society,
to cope in law school, having gone all the way
through elementary school, secondary school and college
under a system of apartheid. When I left the south to go
to law school at Columbia University I could not help but
wonder am I as prepared as my white counterparts
for this next venture. Am I going to be affected by
the education that I have had, by the orientation
that I have had, by all of the things that for a
lifetime I had encountered that said to me you are inferior. And so, if I’m honest with you
I have to tell you I had some doubt and it took some time to
overcome that doubt because we don’t readily or easily escape
from the things that are inculcated in us
on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, on a
minute by minute basis. So that when I come to you
today to talk with you about the African American freedom
struggle since World War II, I’m talking to you about not
just a struggle to overcome segregation, not just a
struggle to overcome apartheid, but a struggle to overcome
all that one experiences, where everything in
society says to you, you are inferior, you’re not
equal to your counterparts and we still encounter that today. So when we go back to 1945 at
the end of World War II we’re looking at a country which
has been steeped in the apartheid of inequality. But when we talk about the end
of World War II we have to think about World War II itself and
what it was about and what World War II meant to the
African American freedom struggle here at home. And I looked at a book that’s
dated now but it’s a book calledAn American Dilemma
written by Gunnar Myrdal. Dr. Myrdal was from Sweden but
he’d come here to America and done a study of race, racism,
and race relations in America. He published a two-volume
book and sometime when you have nothing else to do you might
want to take a look at it, it’s calledAn American
Dilemma
, by Gunnar Myrdal. But in that book Dr. Myrdal made
an observation about what was happening in America in 1942 and
he noted an editorial fromThe New York Timesdated
April third 1943 I believe. I’m going to try to read
just a quote for you. It’s hard to read under these
bright lights they gave to me, but at that timeThe New
York Times
editorial said, “if the united nations win this
war the principal of the world wide legal equality of races
will have to be recognized. Since this is largely a war of
ideas and since racial equality before the law has become one
of the central ideas on the democratic side, we could almost
say that this principle in itself may be the
deciding factor. The Chinese, the East Indians,
the numerous African peoples and many other groups
are on our side, or would be so if they were
completely convinced that we mean what we say by equality,
just as unreservedly as the Nazis mean what they
say by inequality. But we Americans cannot
very well talk convincingly in these terms unless we prove our
sincerity in our own country. Our largest recognizable
racial minority is the negro.” So,The New York Timeswas
saying that this war has implications for the
issue of race in America. Remember this was just a few
decades after Dr. W.E.B Dubois had made the observation that
the defining factor for the twentieth century in America
is and will be the color line. So here we begin to see this
color line beginning to have implications beyond just
America but having international implications. And we’ll see as we go
along that those international implications have played and
continue to play a role in how we conceive ourselves. And interestingly enough and
ironically enough around that same time a man named Wendell
Willkie who at the time was the head of the Republican
party made this observation, “Today, it is becoming
increasingly apparent to thoughtful Americans that we
cannot fight the forces and ideas of imperialism abroad and
maintain a form of imperialism at home. The war has done
this to our thinking, so we are finding under the
pressures of this present conflict the long-standing
barriers and prejudices are breaking down. The defense of our democracy
against the forces that threaten it from without have made some
of its failures to function at home glaringly apparent. Our very proclamation of what
we’re fighting for have rendered our own inequities self-evident. When we talk of freedom and
opportunity for all nations the mocking paradoxes in our own
society become so clear that they can no longer be ignored.” So, what Wendell Willkie was
saying is that we can not only look at what’s going on in the
United States when we assess our racial problems, but we got
to look now at what’s going on internationally, because we are
now being viewed as a factor in the world. And if we’re going to
be fighting wars against inequality, then we got to look
at our own inequality at home. So, in that sense in many ways
World War II was a turning point in the way that Americans
and when I talk Americans I’m talking about all Americans,
white and black, began to look at the
whole issue of race. Now bear in mind that at the end
of the Civil War eighty years earlier many people were feeling
that we are now going to get beyond this issue of race that
has divided us and plagued us as a country. But this was eighty years later
and we’re talking still about a country being divided by race. But at the end of World War
II there was a great deal of optimism on the part of African
Americans themselves and on the part of many white Americans who
also wanted to see an end to the racism that had characterized
this country from its inception. But as we’ll see, as we look at
what happened after World War II that issue of race still was
not solved by the events of World War II or
the events at home. Keep in mind that near the
end of World War II African Americans were welcomed into the
armed forces because they were needed in the effort to win the
war and bring it to conclusion. So, it was during that period
of time that our armed services became racially integrated. So, one might have thought in
this circumstance and amidst this optimism that America
would see the end of the legacy of slavery. America would see
the end of its racism, America would see the
end of white supremacy, America would see the end of
black inferiority and for a while it looked like it might
because there was a flurry of activity taking place in
the states after the war. We had commissions who were
studying racial equality, commissions appointed
by President Truman. We had a very active NAACP. We had the courts
getting involved. We had African Americans
increasing their numbers on the voting roles. You had African Americans in
roles that they’d never been in before. We had African
American federal judges, and one or two state judges. We had African Americans
getting elected to congress. So, it looked like for a moment
that something might change, but it looked like- it only
looked like change because when we go back and we take stock,
not very much actually changed during that time. You may remember that it was
during this time that a small band of lawyers in the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund as it was known at that time, were winding
their way to try to have the highest court in the land,
the same court that said that separate but equal
was alright in 1898, and it said that no white men-
no black man has any rights that a white is bound to respect, a
hundred years earlier in 1852, that was moving towards getting
the Supreme Court of the United States to outlaw
racial segregation. And so, they put cases together
and somewhere around 18- 1952 five of those cases reached
the United States Supreme Court, culminating in the decision by
the United States Supreme Court in 1954, known as the Brown
versus Topeka Kansas Board of Education. But the supreme
court reversed itself, reversed what it
had said in 1852, reversed what it had said in
1898 and said separate but equal is no longer the law
of the land henceforth. Schools can no longer separate
and segregate students on the basis of race. My friend Marvin Chambers and
I were in about the eighth- seventh or eighth grade at that
time and I remember thinking, “wow, this is great news.” I remember talking with my
eighth-grade teacher woman named Annabelle Logan and saying, “Ms. Logan does this mean that
we’re now going to have a better school that we can now go to
Randolph Junior High School if we want to? And that when I go to high
school next year I could go to Lee Edwards if I choose to? That no longer am I going to be
separated and segregated by race and called inferior by race?” And she being the wise teacher
that she was said we’ll see. And we did see, and as anxious
as I was to see an end to this segregated system which I was
now recognizing the negative effects of, nothing happened
in 1954 to change anything. Being the optimist
that I am said okay, well it’ll happen next
year and nothing happened, and the next year
nothing happened, and throughout high
school nothing happened. The schools in Asheville
remained virtually as segregated after the supreme court decision
in Brown in 1954 as it did before that time. So that by the time of my
senior year in high school, nothing ever happened. I got together with my friends,
Marvin Chambers and a few others who were seniors at Stevens
Lee, and we said it’s time to do something. So, about that time the school
board recognizing that something needed to be done had decided to
make some so-called improvements at Stevens Lee High School. Well we said no that’s
not going to do it, what needs to be done is if
you’re not going to allow us to go to school together the least
you can do is give us a school that’s equal to Lee Edwards. And we went to the super
intendent with our protests and the super intendent said no
we’re going to do for you what we said we’re going to make one
or two improvements we’re going to give a track at
the school there, but there wasn’t enough room
to build a track for racing and we’re going to improve your
gym and we’re going to do this that or the other. So, we said well mister super
intendent we appreciate that, but that’s not going to do. We think that under the law
we’re entitled to have a school, well first of all we’re entitled
to go to any school we want to and we’re entitled at least to
have a school as equal to this university campus that
they got down at Lee Edwards. So, he said no, no,
we’re not going to do that. So we said okay what we’ll do
is we’ll just lead a march from Stevens Lee and we’ll have all
the students at Stevens Lee go down Lee Edwards. And within a few days they
changed their mind and the school board said
well we will do more, we’re going to build you another
high school and they built a high school, not
equal to Lee Edwards, but they built a high school
right down the street here on French Broad Avenue, which was
supposed to be the equal black high school to Lee Edwards. And it ain’t but integrate the
school build another school do something just don’t-
don’t integrate our schools. Eventually as a lawyer I had
the pleasure of coming back to Asheville and handling the
Asheville desegregation case which resulted in actually the
closing of that new school that they had built and integrating
Lee Edwards by all students going to Lee Edwards a single
high school and South French Broad as that school was known
became a junior high school, but still with reluctance,
still with defiance, still with a resolve not to do
what the law said you should do. And that wasn’t
just in Asheville, but it was all over the south
and eventually the north as well, that very little activity
took place to carry out the mandate of the supreme court of
the United States when it said in 1954 that separate, racially
separate and unequal schools can no longer be permitted
and tolerated. Well I can tell you that in
the first ten years after Brown, very little desegregation
took place anywhere, not just Asheville,
not just North Carolina, not just South Carolina,
but all over the south and all over the nation. Schools remained segregated and
really it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the supreme court
said well we’re not going to take this slow path anymore we
got to do something more drastic and it was in 1968
that my law firm, my partner Julius Chambers
brought a lawsuit, a reopening the desegregation
suit and finally getting a court to say not only are we
saying you got to desegregate, we’re going to now
tell you how to do it. So, you use the same means to
desegregate your schools as you use to segregate your schools
and if you were in high school when I was back in the late
fifties you would remember school buses that transported
students in some instances eighty-eight miles a day to
maintain segregated schools. We had black students who lived
in Burnsville North Carolina, forty-four miles away, who
passed by white school after white school to get to the black
high school at Stevens Lee to maintain segregation and the
remarkable thing about that is nobody protested that, nobody
felt that that was a problem, nobody felt that that was
wrong, nobody felt that that was harmful to the students. It was just what you did
in order to maintain that segregated system of the south. But when the courts said when
the- when Judge MacMillan said in Charlotte in 1968 that you
got to use the same means to desegregate your schools as you
use to maintain segregation in the schools, there was an
outcry by white parents. This is terrible, you mean my
child has got to travel five miles a day on a school bus? And there were protests and
there was resistance because the same means, far less drastic,
were now being employed to desegregate the schools that had
been employed to segregated the schools. So, there was this
outcry against bussing, but I can tell you that nobody
was really against bussing as they called it, but what they
were against was transporting children to change this time
honored sacred tradition of separate segregated schools. So, there was
resistance in Charlotte, there was resistance
all over the south. There was resistance in
Boston Massachusetts, when they talked about using a
school bus now to desegregate a school rather than to
segregate a school. So, I don’t want anybody
thinking that somehow parents just didn’t want their
children on the school bus, they didn’t mind their child
being on a school bus so long as it was to maintain a system
of segregation that had been outlawed long before
by the courts. So then before we get to that we
need to know that although there was progress made after World
War II to address this American dilemma, that Gunnar Myrdal
talked about not much changed for twenty or so years
after World War II. It was in 1953 don’t forget
that lynching’s were still being carried out, most of you here
are probably too young to remember the case of Emmitt
Till, young black boy from Chicago who came south for the
summer during vacations. He wound up, I think it
was the Tallahatchie River, floating in the Tallahatchie
River because he had said something they say, to a white
woman that a black youngster was not supposed to say and somebody
took care of Emmett Till. And his mother insisted that his
beaten and brutalized bloated body be displayed in an open
casket because she didn’t want to hide what had taken
place in the south. And so, we had lynching’s
taking place in America after World War II on a regular
basis, seven or six, or ten or twelve a year you would
read about you would hear about lynching’s in this so
called desegregated America. And some of you will remember
hearing about February fourth 1960 when a group of students,
black students at A&T College in Greensboro decided they weren’t
going to take it anymore so they went to Woolworths and they sat
down to get a soda and a hotdog and a hamburger and they
were not served and they were eventually turned away and
some were arrested because young African American students on
college campuses decided that it was time for some real change. And so, the sit in movement
started and that was not confined to college campuses but
it happened in at least one high school and that was the
one here in Asheville. Well Marvin and I and some of
our friends decided that we too wanted to be a part of this
movement that was taking place to change America. And so college students brought
about that eventual change and soon after lunch counters began
to serve African Americans who wanted a hotdog or hamburger but
not without great resistance, not without mass arrests and
not without world opinion being focused on America and what was
happening in the American south when you had Bull Connor and his
dogs in Birmingham Alabama and people all over Mississippi and
Georgia being hosed with fire hoses, being bitten
and tormented by dogs, and being treated as
inferior citizens in America. And it took all of that before
we came to a point where we could even go to a lunch
counter without fear. And so strong was our position
that even in Durham North Carolina when we were doing
testing of restaurants to see if they would serve African
Americans as I and my friends were sitting in a restaurant and
I had my back to the door and the next thing I know I felt
something cold on the back of my neck and it was the white owner
of that store saying “I done told you niggers we don’t serve
you here and if you don’t get up and leave I’m going to
kill every damn one of you.” Fortunately for us we had
decided that if we’re asked to leave we would and we did,
but the feelings against just something as so simple
as human dignity, was so strong and so fierce that
those who resisted were willing to kill to protect a society
that allowed them to have the lunch counters, allowed
them to have the restaurants, allowed them to have the places
to go where they could relax and enjoy life a little bit. But they were willing to kill
to defend that right against the marauding African
Americans as they saw it. So then the struggle for freedom
after World War II was a long struggle, was a tough struggle,
and in many instances lives were put on the line and in some
instances lives were taken. I don’t need to tell you about
the four little girls who were bombed in Birmingham and
killed just because they were African Americans. I don’t need to tell you
about the freedom rides. I don’t need to tell you about a
white woman Viola Liuzzo who was killed in Mississippi along with
another white colleague and an African American colleague
simply because they wanted to be able to exercise a simple right
of going to public places and not being denied public places
because of the color of their skin or because of
their associates. So, this is what that freedom
struggle has been all about and it continues today. So, when W.E.B Dubois said back
in the early nineteen hundreds the defining feature of the
twentieth century will be the color line, he didn’t know that
it would be the defining feature not just of the twentieth
century but of the twenty first century as well. And now you have a discourse
going on in America about rights. It manifests itself in
terms of immigrant rights, it manifests itself in
terms of police brutality, it manifests itself in terms
of women rights as well, because the rights explosion
that blew out of the civil rights movement of the sixties
endured not just to the benefit of African Americans, but
endured to the benefit of women, endured to the
benefit of children, endured to the
benefit of seniors, endured to the
benefit of gay Americans, transgender Americans, it
endured to the benefit of all Americans and we see today the
struggle for rights still going on not just confined to the most
discriminated group in America, African Americans but spreading
to the benefit of others so that the struggle has become broader,
and when we talk about rights we talk about lots of
different rights. We talk about the
rights of the mentally ill, the rights of the elderly,
the rights of immigrants, the rights of women, the rights
of people to be who they are and to live and express themselves
and to have equal treatment under the law. There are some who say that
women benefitted more white women benefitted more from
the civil rights movement than African Americans
did themselves, that’s a debatable point
I don’t raise it here. But I raise it simply to say
that it is a universal struggle, it is an ongoing struggle that
we see happening in America every day and as it broadens
then the goal line becomes closer. But we’re not there yet and
won’t be there for some time to come because just as we’ve gone
forward with that struggle we go backwards with it all the time. We went forward in 1865
and then we went backwards. We went forward with it
after World War II and then we went backwards. We went forward with it after
the Public Accommodations Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of
1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 but the struggle still goes
on in spite of law after law and declaration after declaration. We make some progress
and then we move back. We make some progress
and then we move back. I can never forget just a few
years ago when people were saying to me, the
struggle is over now. We’ve won the
civil rights battle. We have an African American
President of the United States of America, so it’s over now. No more discrimination.
No more white superiority. No more black inferiority.
You got a black president. And no sooner than we said
that and the black president was gone. We had Charlottesville Virginia
where another president was saying, “that was some good
white people out there in Charlottesville that day.” And you have a president giving
descriptions I can’t even say to you of African countries. And you have now a discourse
in America about who we are and what kind of country are we
going to be and how are we going to treat those who see
America as that land of freedom. And what are we going to do
about immigrants from other countries who believed what was
said on the Statue of Liberty when they gave it
to us from France. “Give me your tired,
give me your poor, your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free. Send these the homeless,
tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside
the golden door.” And we read and we repeat
that inscription and then we see congress fighting day and night
over an immigration bill to decide who can come to
this country for freedom. And the question is asked, why
do we have so many people coming from these something I
can’t say countries, from Africa and the Caribbean. So, is this the America that
we were fighting for after the Civil War? Is this the America we were
fighting for after World War II? Is this the America that we were
taught to believe in after 1964 and 1965 and 1968 and is this
the America that says give me your tired, your poor, your
huddled masses yearning to breathe free? And as I reflect on the role
that race has played throughout the development of America and
continues to play and from all I can see will continue to play, I
cannot help but look at not just the things that come
to us as pure race, but the legacy we get from
things that were done to preserve white superiority,
black inferiority. And I know that when you look at
yesterday’s tragedy in Florida very few among you, will
think that there are any racial implications in that and
there are no obvious racial implications in that
mass shooting in Florida, just as there are no clear
racial implications in what happened at Sandy Hook,
and what happened in Nevada, and what happened at- at the
mass shootings we’ve had at churches, and restaurants,
nightclubs, schools, everywhere. But I was talking to Dr. Harvey
this morning and I said you know I cannot help but reflect
on where we are with our gun control laws in the U.S. I know people that have
lots of feelings about that. And I said nobody will think
that race has ever had anything to do with how we
deal with gun control, but it occurred to me that there
are racial implications even in that with white people
killing mostly white people. But we’ve seen enough of these
tragedies in America which is basically the only place that
it happens the way it does where you have someone going out
getting an AR-15 and killing tens of people, hundreds
of people whatever, but I said you know we have
to keep in mind why it is that someone such as this young man
who is the accused killer in Florida is able to go and get
an AR-15 or other assault rifles and we have to ask why can
someone accumulate the mass of weapons that the Paddock I think
his name is had out in Nevada and whoever it was that did
Sandy Hook and all over where you have these mass killings why
can’t we have some gun control laws that protect people
from these kinds of events. And what you hear the cry from
the NRA and other groups that talk about gun rights
you hear them say, “Ah, but the second amendment
says that we as Americans have a right to bear arms.” And they have been able to
convince the supreme court that they’re probably
right about that one, but what no one thinks about is
where that comes from when you talk about the second amendment
what I say to you is very different from any
other amendment under the constitution. The Bill of Rights, the first
ten amendments were adopted as a compromise to some extent
to adopt the constitution. Well it protects
freedom of assembly, there’s nothing violent
about freedom of assembly. It protects freedom of speech,
nothing violent about that. Effects freedom of religion,
nothing violent about that. Protects you in your home from
unreasonable search and seizures nothing violent about that. So all of these rights and I
haven’t named them all that are included in the Bill of Rights
except for the Second Amendment do not protect you
in using violence, they protect you in using
something that we’ve always thought of as fundamental, our
right to exercise our religion as we choose, our right
to speak as we choose, our right to come together and
assemble petition the government as we choose and all those
things that are protected the right to council the right to
jury trial, all those things. None of those have any
implications for violence, but when you come to the
Second Amendment it’s different, because when you talk about
the right to bear arms you’re talking about the right to
use the arms that you bear, otherwise why bear them? Well, the Second Amendment at
least one scholar tells us grew out of a desire of southern
states to protect themselves against slave revolts. It was in Virginia where the
vote for Virginia was needed to ratify the constitution because
in the various states there had been a battle going on as to
whether certain states would ratify the constitution or
not and then it came down to Virginia because by that time
eight of the colonies or the states had ratified, had voted
to ratify the constitution but in order for it to- for the
constitution to pass nine needed to ratify and Virginia was
the ninth one to consider it. And so some of the politicians
in Virginia decided that it was important to make sure that
under this new constitution we would not lose control over our
state patrols to maintain peace and order from slave revolts and
so it was that in the House of Commons and the Commonwealth
of Virginia that the debate was fierce over whether or not
Virginia would ratify the constitution and it came down to
a test of the Second Amendment. And Virginia you may or may not
know had suffered a number- had experience a number
of slave revolts, South Carolina had experienced
slave revolts and throughout the south there had been slave
revolts and so the slave owners were in deafly fear over what
would happen under a federal government if the states no
longer have control of the militia of the state militias
and the state militias would call out citizens who had guns
and they would put down slave revolts. So, it was out of this mentality
that the Second Amendment was ultimately ratified as
part of the Bill of Rights. It had nothing to do with
somebody walking down the street with a pistol by her side, had
nothing to do with a AR-15 that would kill hundreds of
people with one shooter, didn’t have anything
to do with that. But now we’re told that no
one can control the right of a citizen to bear arms because
that’s what our constitution says we are supposed to have. I say to you it’s time
for us to reflect on that. It’s time for us to give serious
thought to whether we really want to be the country in the
world where citizens can walk up and down the street with
automatic rifles and magazines of bullets, to kill
people on a whim, to kill children, to kill
unarmed citizens and where even citizens who have mental issues
can get guns as they have in so many of these instances. And how long are we as a country
going to be held hostage to the arms industry and not
be safe in our schools, not be safe in our churches,
not be safe in our communities, not be safe in our night clubs,
because someone said that we have the right to bear arms as
citizens and someone- most of the people who say that never
know that this right that they claim is at best a dubious right
if it is a right at all but was never intended at the time to
give citizens the right to walk up and down the street with
firearms of destruction and be able to kill masses
of people on a whim. But such has been our
obsession with race, and slavery and white supremacy
that we subject our citizens, our friends, our families, our
neighbors to the kind of mayhem that we see over and over and
over again and nothing happens to change it, no one is bold
enough and big enough to say enough we need to do
something different. But not to digress we come back
to where we started from and that is that the struggle for
freedom continues in our time and I fear for the
foreseeable future. But that is not to say that we
give up the struggle because it is only through struggle that we
make the strides toward freedom that ultimately, we believe
will free us as a nation. I thank you for your time. [applause] ♪ [Closing music] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

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