“Civil Rights pioneer”, “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”, “Courageous Heroine”, “Civil Rights Icon”. She did not choose either one of the titles applied to her. And there was a lot more to her persona than that of “the nice quiet seamstress on that bus who was tired and refused to give up her seat.” But over the years she accepted her role in history with remarkable grace and dignity and she continued to live her life advocating for racial equality. At the same time, she loved and was devoted to her family, which included her husband, Raymond, her mother, Leona, her brother, Sylvester, and his wife and children, and she maintained long and enduring friendships with childhood friends in Montgomery, Alabama. My mother was one of them.
Fourteen years have flown by since the sad news came of Mrs. Rosa’s passing. She was 92 years old and living quietly in her apartment on the East side of Detroit. Befittingly, a nation-wide wave of memorial services included the reluctant heroine’s lying in state and honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. And the honors kept on coming.
In 2013, the U.S. Postal Service jump-started Black History Month festivities with the unveiling of the first two of three Civil Rights postage stamps. The first, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, was unveiled at the National Archives in Washington, DC, where the original Emancipation Proclamation is on display. The other two stamps featured the 1963 March on Washington, and Mrs. Rosa Parks, with a Forever stamp commemorating her 100th birthday.
The image chosen of Mrs. Rosa is from a 1950s photograph of her as she was in her early forties, and was created by African-American artist, Thomas Blackshear II, and designed by graphic designer, Derry Noyes. It is said to evoke the “quiet strength” that led to Mrs. Rosa’s courageous and historic act of civil disobedience in December of 1955. But for me, the image is reminiscent of Mrs. Rosa as I remember her; a very pretty and well mannered Southern lady, modestly and neatly dressed, impeccably groomed, humble, soft-spoken and with a ready smile.
With Black History Month approaching, the annual acknowledgments and observances of the achievements of African-Americans will once again be crammed into those 28 days in February of celebration and commemoration. And in as much as February 4th happens to be Mrs. Rosa’s birthday, I think it is the perfect time to kick off the month-long celebration with a personal remembrance.
Celebrations of Mrs. Rosa are very personal to me. She and my mother, Alberta Frazier Willis, were classmates at Miss White’s School for Girls in Montgomery and having initially bonded as schoolgirls, they remained life-long friends. Each celebratory occasion triggers memories of three formidable women in my life: My mother, Mrs. Rosa, and Miss Alice White, the school principal who had a lasting influence on them, and indirectly on me. It is a personal connection that I would like to share.
During visits to our homes in Montgomery and Detroit, my mother and Mrs. Rosa engaged in fond remembrances of their days as Southern school girls, and the teachings and influences of their school principal, Miss Alice White. The formidable educator was the frequent topic of conversation when my mother entertained her women’s groups with afternoon teas, lunches, and dinner parties. In those days in Montgomery, in the mid-1940s and early 1950s, Negro ladies hosted regular afternoon club meetings in their homes. Our house on Day Street, along with my mother’s “hostess-with-the-mostess” reputation and culinary reputation was frequently the chosen location for these ladies gatherings. With several of the guests also being former classmates and students at Miss Whites School for Girls, the events and conversations invariably evolved into reminiscences of the legendary Miss White and the lessons learned as young girls under her care and tutelage and guidance.
All of these women, recalled vividly how Miss White, a Caucasian woman from New England, constantly encouraged them, imparting respect and dignity, and reminding them that “…you are no less of a person than any white person. You are young girls of intelligence and grace. No one is any better than you are.”
From A Tiny Classroom To A Place In History
Miss White’s School for Girls — a.k.a. Montgomery Industrial School
It’s hard to imagine any of the young girls depicted in this vintage photograph having reached their 100th birthday, but many have. Among the innocent young uniformed Negro girls was my mother and Mrs. Rosa. And somewhere also on the school grounds, in full, stiff-starched, white ankle-length regalia, was the indomitable presence of the prestigious school’s founder, principal, and guiding force, Miss Alice Linfield White. In close, hands-on proximity, corralling her girls, forever demanding poise, decorum, and order while the photograph was being taken. Who could’ve known at the time that the quiet, soft-spoken and obedient little Rosa would someday summon the courage from somewhere deep inside herself to spark a powerful social movement that would change the course of history?
I never met the eminent Miss White, but she made a powerful and lasting impression on my mother, both as an educator and a woman of substance. Her indelible reputation also cast a unique shadow over my formative years and had a direct influence on my coming of age and my education. It wasn’t until the summer after my 8th-grade graduation that my mother revealed her plans to seek a similar all-girls education for me. And after extensive research, she finally chose Girls’ Catholic Central High School near downtown Detroit. The prestigious school had a reputation of being “… a private, non-boarding college preparatory secondary school for girls grades 9 through 12, fostering a genteel, religious, all-girls environment created and maintained to encourage scholastic excellence without the social distractions and pressures associated with co-ed educational systems.” All very similar to what my mother had experienced at Miss White’s School and wished to emulate for me.
Miss Alice Linfield White was a stern but altruistic white schoolmistress from New England with strong moral principles and ideals regarding racial equality and social justice. Toward the end of the 19th Century, with a strong belief in “enlightenment and character development through education”, she dared to challenge age-old racial restrictions in the Southern United States. At that time black students were being denied a high school education because there was no high school in the city for black students. So, armed with little more than her moral compass, years of teaching experience, and dogged determination, she founded Miss White’s School for Girls “for the education of young colored girls”, in Montgomery Alabama, the State capital and the so-called “cradle of the Confederacy”.
In keeping with her vision of providing a superior education and guiding students to their full potential, Miss White persuaded an equally courageous group of teachers, all white women from the North, to join her in answering “…the urgent need for a school for colored girls where they could be given an industrial education with the secondary and junior high grades.”
Against incredible odds, the women succeeded in attracting students from Montgomery as well as neighboring communities. And as the prestigious Miss White’s School for Girls (a.k.a. Montgomery Industrial School) gained local notoriety, the school received many visits from well-known dignitaries and endorsements from notable citizens, pastors, and educators, one of whom was Tuskegee Institute president, Booker T. Washington, in which he mentioned the school’s “…good, practical work. Especially this is true in the way they connect the work done in the schoolrooms with the homes of their pupils…and I find they keep out of debt and spend the money that is given them economically and wisely.
Clergyman and educator Charles F. Thwing, who was also a trustee said: “The school is seeking to educate colored girls unto noble womanhood and to train them to do efficient work as homemakers, as seamstresses, and as good members of other callings.”This was the climate of education for Negroes and women during that time.
Miss White labored tirelessly and enthusiastically to uplift her young students and their lives, with a strong emphasis on character building through education. She constantly counseled and guided the girls, becoming a genuine friend and ally, assuring them that not all white people hated them and considered them inferior.
The young girls being educated and groomed at the school came from all strata of Montgomery’s Negro populace. My mother, Alberta, was from the Fraziers, a prominent family headed by a group of successful businessmen and farmers, including her father and his three brothers, who owned a great deal of property on the outskirts of Montgomery.
The school’s pricey tuition, for its time, was cost-prohibitive for some families, but the benevolent principal/educator was determined to make quality education available and accepted many deserving students on working scholarships. In addition to strict academic studies, there were also mandatory courses in sewing, etiquette, comportment, grooming, and the social graces. Numbered among my mother’s classmates and friends who were also being shaped, groomed and developed during their formative years, was a shy and soft-spoken young girl from Pine Level, Alabama named Rosa, whose name would someday become known all over the world.
In spite of the school’s reputation in the community and the mutual respect between Miss White and her students and their parents, local segregationist whites viewed her as a troublemaker and harassed her constantly. But she would not be deterred. She socialized with black citizens, attending local black churches and engaging in community activism, and continued about her business of educating her girls, opening the world to them through knowledge and self-esteem.
During a period in time when lynching was a public spectacle, Miss White was terrorized by angry local whites and met with constant resistance. The three-story school building with approximately 250 students was frequently pelted with rocks, rotten eggs, and tomatoes, and burned down twice. And with the growing presence of the Ku Klux Klan, the school became a prime target of intimidation. But Miss White and her staff and students persevered, keeping the school operating for over 40 years.
When it closed its doors for the last time in 1928, Alice White returned in retirement to her family home in Melrose Massachusetts. But she maintained contact with her students through loving and deeply inspirational letters of encouragement for the remainder of her life. Her influence and teachings made a profound impression on her students, and they were bound together forever by their experiences under her tutelage. Each one of these women, in her own way, left an imprint on the world, and several became initiators of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement. Mrs. Parks, of course, in one key and pivotal moment in time, became one of the enduring symbols of the Movement.
Although our family had escaped the oppression of the Jim Crow South in 1954, joining in the Great Northern Migration and settling in Detroit, we still had family and property in Montgomery and visited frequently. On that historic day in December of 1955, I barely noticed the increasing frequency of the phone calls from our relatives in Montgomery. I was looking forward to my 12th birthday, but anticipating the usual and dreaded “too close to Christmas” IOU lead-up to the combined gift. But I began to sense an urgency in Mother’s and Daddy’s tone in their responses to what they were hearing. Over and over again, Mother’s audible shock and exclamations of: “What?!…I can’t believe it!” shook up our household. Finally, when I heard her say: “Rosa? I can’t believe it! Rosa wouldn’t even raise her voice to save her own life!” I knew that something serious had happened to her friend, Mrs. Parks down in Montgomery.
Over the next few days, our family members in Montgomery kept us informed by phone of the evolving events as they occurred and made national news. Mother even began serving dinner in the living room on trays, in front of the TV set, no less, telling us: “You all come on in here and watch this! They’re making history at home!”
Sadly, Miss White did not live to see the daring and courageous act that may very well have been sparked many years ago under her influence.
Mrs. Rosa was a frequent guest in our home, and during visits, the two former classmates invariably reverted to their days as schoolgirls with recollections of Miss White and other teachers and the life lessons they were taught. Clearly, the strengths and attributes imparted to these women at Miss White’s School not only enhanced those qualities instilled in them by their families and churches but remained with them for life. Throughout their lives, as quintessential women of substance and great personal dignity, they remained the embodiment of strength, elegance, and impeccable taste.
When I was growing up, rarely a day went by that my mother did not seize the opportunity to regale one or all five of her children with personal recollections and stories of her days and experiences at Miss White School. As children, we were a captive audience, but when I approached my teen years, I began to bristle at what I considered to be boring and repetitious stories, which by then I could repeat from memory, about the old spinster schoolmarm.
Personal Recollections of Miss White — The School Principal Who Helped to Shape Mrs. Rosa and my mother.
Even long after she retired and returned to Massachusetts, Miss White maintained contact with many of her favorite students. They continued to learn from her as she shared with them new revelations in literature and world and cultural events. She was a prolific and regular letter writer and her love of words is clearly on display in this letter she wrote to my mother in 1928.
Copy of Miss White’s original letter, postmarked December 18, 1928, with two-cents US postage:
In closing, she wrote: “Mizpah” — a word of Hebrew origin which means “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent from each other.”
NOTE: Miss White’s return address, 314 Main Street in Melrose, Massachusetts, where she was residing at the time, was then known as “The Colonial”. The building is still standing, still bears the same name, and now houses “luxury condos with Beacon Hill charm in the heart of Melrose.”
Two of her favorite students remember Miss White
Mrs. Alberta Louise Frazier Willis: “I was the youngest of five children and my only sister was married with children of her own. So when Mamma and Papa started planning for my formal education, they heard about Miss White’s School for Girls, and they saw it as a way for me to be with girls my own age and to continue the home training and discipline they were providing. They wanted me to have the education that wasn’t available to them. Miss White made that possible. She was a strict and stern educator, but she always expressed her devotion and how much she believed in us. She believed very strongly in the old saying: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, and she often used me as an example to show how my uniform dresses were always perfectly washed and ironed.”
Mrs. Rosa Louise McCauley Parks: “What I learned best at Miss White’s School was that I was a person with dignity and self-respect and I should not set my sights lower than anybody just because I was black. We were taught to be ambitious and to believe that we could do what we wanted in life. This was not something I learned just at Miss White’s school. I had learned it from my grandparents and my mother too. But what I had learned at home was reinforced by the teachers I had at Miss White’s school.”
Certain images anchor our memories, and they are forever linked to the stories that become our history.
The enormous marble-walled Senate Caucus Room buzzed with activity amid the rush of a phalanx of Washington DC reporters and political journalists. Eager photographers jockeyed for space and positioned their cameras for the key shot of the witness at the green-clothed rectangular table. The entire room had been literally humming with anticipation until the chairman’s gavel sounded loudly and the witness rose from her seat to be sworn in. Beneath the glare of powerful klieg lights, and with the entire nation watching on television, a slender, attractive young African American woman faced the chairman and raised her right hand and swore to tell the truth. Impeccably coiffed and groomed and wearing a modest, crisp, teal-blue suit with parallel rows of golden buttons, she simultaneously and unwittingly took the oath — and her unique place in history.
Twenty-six years ago, at the time that the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy exploded in national headlines, I was a first-time grandmother experiencing the new joy and euphoria of hands-on grandparenthood. Savoring every moment of my adorable chubby-cheeked granddaughter’s presence and eagerly sharing and revealing to her the world she had been born into. Meanwhile, from elsewhere outside of my world in Washington DC, the broadcasts of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas was simultaneously seizing and diverting my attention. At first, the salacious rumors about “some drama of a sexual nature” were hinted at in print and radio media. But when the hearings became the lead story on television network evening news broadcasts, the entire nation was held at rapt attention and poised for another Watergate- type scandal.
In those days, broadcasts of such hearings were normally tucked away in the crawl space of TV neverland on C-Span for Washington insiders and die-hard political junkies’ viewing; but the 1991 hearings took a sudden and dramatic turn when a young African American University of Oklahoma law professor named Anita Hill came forward with accusations that Clarence Thomas, her former boss at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) had repeatedly sexually harassed her during the early 1980s.
The hearings gripped the nation with front-page newspaper headlines and preempted every bit of regular programming on network television. It was must-see TV, which in those days, for nine-to-five working folks meant setting the VCR for viewing later in the evenings. Like millions of other people across the country, I was transfixed by the images and testimonies being broadcast from that enormous and iconic marble-walled Senate Caucus Room. The very same room where the Army-McCarthy Hearings were held in 1954. The Watergate Hearings in 1973 and the Iran-Contra Hearings in 1987. When Anita Hill stood to face the committee, holding her head and her right-hand high as she was sworn in, she was self-assured, poised and secure in the truth she was about to reveal. Her opening statement, which she read with composure and dignity, was followed by powerful testimony that sent shock-waves through the room and nearly derailed the Thomas nomination. As one of millions of women viewers telepathically transmitting support through television screens to her across the country, I proudly cheered her on. I felt tremendous empathy for her and was so moved that I held my infant granddaughter up to the TV screen, memorializing the moment and whispered to her: ‘Remember this day Sweetie! This is a proud day for women everywhere!’
To the contrary, as a black woman, I found the carefully orchestrated spectacle of Clarence Thomas, desperately and shrewdly manipulating the all-white all-male panel of 14 Senators to his advantage with the race card utterly insulting. Especially in light of his well-known history of being vehemently opposed to Affirmative Action, even though he was clearly a beneficiary, as well as his positive stance on “bootstrap conservatism”. He had deservedly earned the phrase so often applied to him in the African American community: “He climbed the ladder and then put it away.”
Race and gender and politics intersect.
When Thomas’ words: “This is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks…” echoed piercingly through the enormous, cavernous room, he was deftly highlighting the racial overtones of the all-white tribunal accusing a black man of certain lurid sexual behaviors and using the lynching metaphor to his advantage. In doing so, he was including his accuser, a black woman, in his slavery metaphor diatribe which was even more offensive. And by strategically changing the focus of the hearing from sexual harassment allegations against him to racist politicking, Thomas changed the narrative and had the feckless Senators on his side from the word “lynching”. And the uncomfortable and crest-fallen expression on the face of nearly every one of them spoke volumes. How could they believe this woman and rule against this good black man who grew up in abject poverty and rose above his squalid station in life to have a successful law career and embrace the conservative principles they hold dear? This could not be. For the most part, these men chose to question the accuser’s motivation. Choosing instead to embrace the notion that she was part of a carefully-orchestrated conspiracy to destroy Thomas’ reputation.
As every woman of a certain age will recall, the mistreatment of Hill by the committee was shocking. During the openly hostile questioning, I became viscerally incensed observing how almost the entire row of Senators refused to make eye-contact with her during the questioning. But she looked them directly in their diverting eyes and spoke her truth in a cool, calm and unflappable manner. They grilled her for hours on the lurid details of her accusations against Thomas. Forcing her to repeat and quote the exact language that Thomas used in his inappropriate comments to her. With pointed references to comments about penis dimensions, /aka “Long Dong Silver”, and breasts sizes, and “pubic hair on the Coke can”. Most of the Republican Senators intentionally humiliated her while seeking their Perry Mason moment from somewhere within the salaciousness of her accusations. Forcing her to tolerate their demeaning, sexist, blame-the-victim questioning. They were clearly determined to discredit Hill and confirm Thomas no matter what. The extreme Right had openly embraced him and given them their marching orders, so he quickly became “our guy”.
Among the most hostile interrogators and sexual harassment deniers were Republican Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Others either chose to waste time pontificating or exhibiting complete indifference. A number of the Senators couldn’t even pronounce the word “harassment” or even bother to try, but true to his nature, Senator Simpson had his own way of expressing his disdain, referring to it as “this sexual harassment crap!” As for the Democrats, Senator Joe Biden, as chairman of the Committee, did very little to stop the barrage of attacks on Hill. Moreover, questions regarding his decision not to call three other witnesses who were standing by to corroborate Hill’s charges hovered over the hearings. Senator Ted Kennedy’s jaw may just as well have been wired shut, for all intents and purposes, as he appeared to be stunned into abject silence. Visually scanning the row of Senators, many appeared to be in a dazed state of catatonia, staring blankly, seemingly having been rendered mute as well.
The Biblical passage “…let he amongst you who is without sin cast the first stone.” hung in suspension over the room like an ominous cloud.
Our World In
At the end of the Supreme Court’s 1990–91 session, in a surprise announcement, Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to be appointed to the Supreme Court, announced his retirement after 24 years on the bench. Republican President George H.W. Bush saw Justice Marshall’s retirement as an opportunity to appoint another conservative to the Supreme Court. He then quickly chose Clarence Thomas, a 43-year-old conservative Republican United States appeals court judge for the District of Columbia Circuit with less than two years on the bench as well as never having previously argued before the Court. If confirmed, Thomas would follow Justice Marshall, one of the last liberal voices on the High Court, and a well-known pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement ( Brown v. Board of Education) as only the second black judge to ascend to the Supreme Court. Believing that Thomas would fill the racial void of the Court as well as add another conservative voice on decisions involving Affirmative Action and Abortion, Bush was willing to overlook his lack of experience.
“He climbed the ladder and then put it away.”
Thomas’ nomination was instantly controversial and caused an uproar within Civil Rights organizations and the African American community at large. The NAACP, the Urban League, the National Bar Association, all vehemently opposed his nomination, and his strictly conservative stance on Affirmative Action was a major concern. In addition, women’s groups that included the National Organization for Women expressed deep concerns that Thomas would be certain to rule against legal abortion and jeopardize Roe v. Wade. In spite of all the uproar, when the hearings finally began, they started out as routine, but as the proceedings approached a final vote, they took an unexpected and dramatic turn. Reportedly, word about the secret affidavit that Anita Hill had written and submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee was leaked to Nina Totenberg of NPR ( National Public Radio). The committee was reportedly “aware of some nefarious charges” against Thomas, but they were not interested in addressing them. Totenberg reached out to Senator Joe Biden, the committee chairman, for comment for several days, but never heard back from him. Finally, after waiting she decided to go public with the story.
Women of America were outraged, and meanwhile, as the rumors began to spread, a group of women law professors rushed to organize legal support for Hill. Among them, Judith Resnik, of University of Southern California, Emma Coleman Jordan, of Georgetown University, and Susan Deller Ross of Georgetown University. Soon after, Professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School became the principal adviser. Subsequently, a short while later, when gossip around Washington reached the women in the House of Representatives, they stormed over to the Senate office building and demanded that Anita Hill be heard.
The Women of the House Storm the Senate’s Old Boys Club
During that time there were only two female members of the United States Senate. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS), and neither one was on the Committee. Several weeks before, word had leaked out that their male colleagues in the Senate would refuse to allow Anita Hill to testify in the confirmation hearings. So the women of the House of Representatives (Barbara Boxer, Nita Lowey, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Pat Schroeder, Jolene Unsoeld, Louise Slaughter, and the late Patsy Mink) huddled together and mobilized into a fierce and united front and took off running, on-foot, many in high heel shoes, from the floor of the House of Representatives over to the U.S. Senate to protest the unfair treatment of Hill. While all of this was going on, press photographers were gathering nearby and the congressional switchboards were overwhelmed with phone calls from outraged women constituents from all over the country. Once inside the building, the women were not exactly welcomed with open arms. As Pat Schroeder recalled: “One of the old bulls in the Senate said to me: ‘I really hope you’re happy. This place is beginning to look like a shopping mall!’”
Fortunately, the women persisted in shaking things up in the old boys club and because of their demands, Hill was called to appear before the committee and testify.
And what a visual it was.
‘This is a sad day for women, Sweetie… Look at those guys…I’m so sorry that you’ve been born into this male-dominated, patriarchal society…We have to change this. We have to change it for you and your generation.’ “Grandma, did any of those Senators ever apologize to Anita Hill for the way they treated her?”
One lone and courageous young woman facing those 14 all-white all-male openly hostile members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who were determined not to believe her. To prove her a liar, and destroy her character on national television. This was a virtual verbal firing squad questioning Professor Hill and probing for embarrassing details about the sexual harassment she had endured from Thomas. Facing the barrage of interrogators, she was calm and composed and she told the truth. Her testimony included charges that after she declined his invitations to go out with him, Thomas harassed her repeatedly with inappropriate descriptions of sexual acts, beastiality, and pornographic films he had seen. The Senators grilled her, impugned her honesty and forced her to repeat details of the most graphic verbal sexual insults she had endured from Thomas. But she spoke strongly and believably, from personal experience to the character and fitness of Clarence Thomas to serve on the high court. His denials were instantaneous, disingenuous and unconvincing.Nevertheless, on October 15, 1991, in a 52 to 48 vote, their guy, Clarence Thomas, was confirmed by the Senate. The fact that his confirmation was the narrowest margin for approval in more than a century was of little comfort.
After watching the vote count and the announcement of the confirmation, I turned the television off and again held my granddaughter in my arms in female solidarity at this sad moment in our history that did not bode well for her generation. Pacing the room in mournful melancholy, I expressed my visceral disappointment to this five-month-old baby girl, not for her to comprehend at that age but to memorialize the moment for her and for my next three granddaughters who would be born in the coming years, and for all the girls of their generation.
Needless to say, I believed and still believe Anita Hill. She did not ask to be drawn into the public spotlight or the media circus that surrounded her. After deep contemplation and consideration, she followed her conscience and spoke out, as she should have, about the character and fitness, or lack thereof, of Clarence Thomas to serve on the United States Supreme Court. So the news of the confirmation was devastating to me on many levels, also as a woman, a mother, and a grandmother. In addition to my then-infant granddaughter who is now 26 years-old, my grandmother joy was enhanced over the years by the addition to my family of three more beautiful, brilliant and free-spirited, feminist-leaning granddaughters. In a recent conversation with them about sexual harassment, my 11-year-old granddaughter posed this interesting question to me:
I thought it highly unlikely, but to be fair and accurate, I scanned the Internet and have been unable to find any evidence of any type of apology ever being offered. The fact that in all these 26 years, not one of the members of the committee has seen fit to reach out to her is unconscionable. Over the years, several of them have made half-hearted comments holding fast to their “he-said-she-said” “just bedroom politics” dilemma. Then-chairman, former Vice President Joe Biden’s support of women’s issues notwithstanding, and admittedly he has been an outspoken advocate for women’s issues in the interim years. But his decision not to admit the testimony of several corroborating witnesses who could verify Anita Hill’s testimony is a perpetual stain on his reputation.
Do you believe us now?
I often tell my granddaughters that the women of my generation have long memories and that “old sins cast very long shadows” and assure them that the current explosion of sexual harassment allegations has reintroduced the conversation started by Anita Hill 26 years ago. As a result of the revolution that began with her testimony, women are now coming forward in record numbers to expose their harassers and assaulters. Across multiple industries, from break rooms in fast food restaurants and service-based industries to boardrooms in fortune 500 companies, to Hollywood studios, to the military, women are stepping forward to expose and call by name a powerful man as a sexual predator. In past years, victims were dismissed, humiliated and denigrated while their perpetrators were excused and free to continue preying upon other women. Without ever being held accountable and continuing their lives and misogynistic patterns while simultaneously being financially rewarded, e.g., Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, or achieving enormous success and respectability. From lifetime tenure on the United States Supreme Court (which seemingly gave license to Clarence Thomas’s wife to drunk-call his accuser and leave a rambling voicemail message demanding an apology) and more recently to a controversial and questionable ascendency to the Presidency of the United States.
The intersectionality of race: Reporting police brutality and sexual harassment
For generations, long before “Black lives matter!” “Stop killing us!” mantras appeared on the national scene; black people have been reporting police brutality, taking to the streets and screaming about it in stentorian tones. But these expressions of our grief and outrage went ignored and police officers kept committing these atrocities. Refusing to recognize our humanity. But finally, in a toxic American landscape littered with the lifeless human remains of unarmed black victims of police shootings, there appeared an onslaught of bystander cell phone videos, winding up on Facebook and YouTube and calling media attention to the problem. Suddenly there, for all the world to see, numerous incidents of police brutality, infliction of excessive force, and abuse of authority and flat-out executions. Bringing national attention to the indisputable fact that black people are disproportionately vulnerable to police brutality. And if not for cell phone videos, few people would have learned the truth about the egregious acts of violence at the hands of police officers that the black community has been reporting and not being believed by whites. In today’s environment of sexual harassment revelations, the similarities in the reporting these crimes is striking. The blue line of police solidarity is rarely challenged in reporting cases of police brutality, and women attempting to report sexual assault often find themselves in a “shame her” “blame her” situation. However, more women are finding strength in their safety in numbers and coming forward at a record pace.
Today, these horrendous crimes are being dragged out of the shadows, and the perpetrators are finally being held accountable. Twenty-six years after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy focused a glaring light on issues of sexual harassment in the workplace; the recent Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal fractured our social consciousness with cataclysmic force. Years of whispered, behind-the-scenes Hollywood gossip erupted in a tidal wave of accusations and became headline news, forcing the entertainment community to turn an intense spotlight on one of its own.
Almost immediately, a tremendous succession of well-known Hollywood actresses came forward with accusations and descriptions of the sexual harassment and grotesque sexual acts that were forced upon them by the powerful and sexually deviant movie mogul. As the number of accusers climbed, scores of women, finding strength in their growing numbers, summoned the courage to finally speak out with their own disturbing accounts of what they had endured from Weinstein and kept silent about. Within days, Weinstein was quickly declared persona non grata in the entertainment industry and rendered a pariah. In the immediate wake of the scandal, emerging across multiple industries, mainstream and social media erupted in a frenzy of follow-up stories, utilizing the “me too” hashtag to expose and denounce their attackers.
Victims are no longer willing to suffer in silence. They are emboldened and empowered by the strength of their growing numbers, as had recently been the case when Bill Cosby’s more than 50 accusers came forward, a virtual army of sexual assault victims have been galvanized into a fierce army of determined women, claiming the mantra, and “We’re not going to take this anymore!” Confronting and taking down lecherous
deviants like Weinstein, Cosby, and Roger Ailes’ and his sexual predator breeding ground at Fox News, includingBill O’Reilly, and Eric Bolling et.al. and most recently MSNBC’s Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, Judge Roy Moore and Louis CK .
The Penis-Owner’s Mantra: When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail
As so often reported in cringe-inducing detail, the typical sexual predator M.O. seems to involve priapism run amok and male dominance by masturbation. As described in numerous cases, these guys typically and automatically objectify women on sight and see them only as tools for their own sexual gratification. This is a profound neurosis. What is it about the penis-owner that causes him to want to point it at, show it off to, or even rub it full throttle against any female within arm’s reach? The Brilliant comedian Samantha Bee and her writers addressed this penile obsession on a recent episode of her late night news satire show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
Still hovering in the Zeitgeist of course, is the question: “What about Trump?” The predator-in-chief currently hanging out in the Oval Office who, despite over a dozen women’s claims of sexual misconduct, remains at large and continues his habit of disrespecting women. Old habits die hard, as he clearly demonstrated in the infamous Access Hollywood tape during which he inserted sexism and misogyny into the 2016 presidential campaign by bragging about his own habitual sexual assault moves.
It’s been said that the gods of Karma are not subtle. One could also add, but they damned sure are slow, because Donald Trump managed to con his way into the White House unscathed, and without being held accountable for a single one of the sexual offenses he boasts about.
The sexual predator in the White House
To be clear, sexual assault is about power and control and male dominance; and as more and more women realize this and refuse to be blamed or shamed into silence, they will continue to be emboldened and galvanized into a powerful stampede of women with a new clarion call targeting these predators:
“We’re coming for you!”
Should we be preparing for a victory lap over the long overdue defeat of sexual predation? It’s certainly too early to predict, but this so-called watershed moment in time is demonstrating very clearly that victims are talking now, and even the most high-profile and powerful of men risk being held accountable if they don’t change their abhorrent behavior.
For any sexual harassment deniers with lingering doubts, only one question remains: What personal benefit can any woman gain by re-traumatizing herself and exposing the living wound she’s been carrying around? Not to mention the public scrutiny and vilification she is likely to endure. These victims must be believed and supported when they summon the courage to come forward.
To put this all into context, last year after Gretchen Carlson’s personal lawsuit against Roger Ailes, for which she has been widely and deservedly praised and commended, led to the exposure of the sexual harassment epidemic at Fox News and resulted in the ousters of Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and others. Soon after, it was announced that Carlson was awarded a $20 Million Dollar settlement. But Carlson was not the first woman to call out and accuse a powerful man. Although her revelations triggered a massive amount of reports of harassment, leading to the current situation where there is now strength in numbers, such was not the case for Anita Hill in 1991. The woman who actually paved the way.
Remembering the elegant, soft-spoken young college professor seated alone at the witness table, evokes and anchors a disturbing yet shining image in our national memory. With her supportive family and legal team behind her, enduring hours of grueling, demeaning, sexist, blame-the-victim questioning from numerous sexual harassment deniers who callously switched the narrative of the Senate Judiciary Hearings and put her on trial. But she carefully navigated the landmines of gender and race and told the truth to these men who were determined not to believe her and to prove her a liar. She spoke strongly and believably from personal experience to the character and fitness of Clarence Thomas to serve on the high court.
Today, amid the current and daily deluge of more shocking revelations on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace, Anita Hill is “trending” on social media, so I hope that this generation of young people will watch closely and read enough about her to appreciate how much they are indebted to her for the historical impact of her brave confrontation with her harasser, Clarence Thomas, and his brethren.
The memory of her inner strength and bravery as well as the disappointment of the confirmation are still vivid for the people of America. And although the subject of sexual harassment was not a recognized concept at the time, it was brought to the forefront of public debate and sparked a national dialog back in 1991. We all have Anita Hill to thank for that.
After the hearings, claims of sexual harassment filed, ironically at the EEOC ( Equal Employment Opportunities Commission) more than doubled.
The following year, in 1992, The Year of the Woman, Patty Murray, Carol Moseley Braun, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer were all elected to the United States Senate.
Clarence Thomas remains under lifetime tenure on the Supreme Court even after there have been more recent allegations of him groping women.
“Alas, I have taken out my pink ‘I believe Anita Hill’ button and pinned it to my jacket yet again. In the wake of all of the Harvey Weinsteins, maybe we all should.” — Ambassador Wendy Sherman, FormerUnder Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Obama administration.
“I would not be a United States Senator today if it weren’t for the courage of Anita Hill…Because we made that walk over to the Senate, there were hearings, and America saw the way Anita Hill was treated, saw that there wasn’t one woman on the committee, that only 2 percent of the members of the Senate were women. It set off a chain of events. Look at the Supreme Court, where there are now three women. Things have changed mightily.” — Former Senator Barbara Boxer, Congresswoman in 1991, elected to the Senate in 1992
“I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don’t think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation.” — Senator Barack Obama, former University of Chicago law professor, Saddleback Church Faith Forum — August 17, 2008
“If we women from the House had not walked over to the Senate to demand that the Senators-all men and all white-hear Anita’s story, a turning point in the history of sexual harassment would have been missed and we would have lost the “Year of the Woman,” a reaction to the treatment of Anita Hill that elected the first African American woman Senator and a record number of women to the House and Senate.” — CongresswomanEleanor Holmes Norton
“I still respect the bravery that Anita Hill showed. She is a brilliant woman. Heavens knows where she could have gone. And look where he is.” — Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, ( D-NY 25th District)
…and here comes the supremely
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The traditional first Monday in October start date of the US Supreme Court term was followed by last Tuesday’s subtle smack-down by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s of new kid on the bench, Justice Neil Gorsuch. The exchange happened during oral arguments in the Gill v.Whitford redistricting case which could potentially end partisan Gerrymandering in U.S. congressional districts. The two justices’ differing interpretations of the U.S. Constitution were clearly on display as Gorsuch continued his heated exchange with the attorney. After the two men appeared to be caught in a hopeless deadlock, Ginsburg injected:
“Where did one-person/one-vote come from?”
A rocky start for the new guy, to be sure. And kudos to Notorious RBG! She’s holding strong, so there is hope!
Gerrymandering is an all too common practice that enables the drawing of legislative districts for partisan advantage. The case before the Supreme Court asks when the consideration of politics in redistricting crosses the line from ordinary partisanship to something so excessive as to be unconstitutional. So if the high Court agrees with the lower court that the plan in question was unconstitutional, it would mark a major change in constitutional law, as well as in the way in which redistricting is carried out in almost every state across the country.
In the new book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, a large group of psychiatrists and mental health professionals have finally come forward to fulfill their collective “duty to warn” us about the potential dangers he presents. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist or medical professional to make an accurate observation about what Trump himself has revealed himself to be. He showed us over and over again, before during and after the campaign. And for the huge majority of voters who did not vote for him, there is nothing new revealed here. But now, in his current position of power, he presents a clear and present danger to the entire world. This is a man who is severely psychologically damaged, probably from childhood, and should’ve been in psychotherapy instead of being spirited off to military school by his wealthy parents. Now this wounded and unloved little boy has morphed into a malignant narcissistic sociopath who conned his way into the White House. And it is utterly terrifying that he now has access to our nuclear codes and he’s toying with them and threatening nuclear war because his feelings are hurt because the media’s been mean to him and Tillerson called him a “fucking moron”, and this Russia thing won’t go away! We are tethered to a ticking time bomb, and…
The danger is coming from inside the White House.
Sunday, August 28, 1963 — Washington, DC
Fifty-four years ago, in what was a defining moment in our history similar to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped up to the podium, taking his place as the sixteenth and final scheduled speaker, at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. A massive crowd of 250, 000 travel weary, wilting people of all races sat or stood in the hot summer sun, eager for his words and listening with rapt, undivided attention. With the event being broadcast nationally on television and radio, millions more listened to what was then believed to be the first “I have a dream” refrain. But my family and I had heard the speech, nearly verbatim, two months prior, at the Great March On Detroit where we had marched with Dr. King and members of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference and over 200,000 marching Detroiters down Woodward Avenue to Cobo Hall Convention Arena, the final destination of the march. As we had been told by my cousin, Bernard Lee, personal assistant and road manager to Dr. King, the Detroit march would be where they would “road test” the speech in advance of the Washington event.
OPENING OF THE SPEECH:
But in both the Detroit speech and the one in Washington, Dr. King spoke of much more than “a dream” on that hot August summer afternoon. In memorable phrases laced with brilliantly constructed, visual metaphors, and borrowing portions of his opening from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. confronted America with self-evident truths about racial inequality and the suffering of the American Negro that had gone too long ignored. With his voice soaring with passion, and reaching deep inside for the Baptist preacher within him, he succinctly brought the founding fathers’ own words into modern society, stating: “…one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean the
This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.
One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”
Many consider this speech to be his greatest, with specific reference to his searingly emotional declarations: “I have a dream that one day my four little children will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin…”. and “…Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.” It has been named by more than one source one of the greatest speeches of the 20th Century. But what I was most impressed by in this powerful oratory was his “bad check” metaphor, as relating to economic justice. In likening the Negro’s plight to an unfulfilled promise, a “promissory note” written by the founding fathers and reneged on by their successors, he drove home his point dramatically and with stunning precision. Pausing deliberately and intermittently between carefully selected words and phrasing, visually taking the full measure of every person before him as well as millions of his listeners world-wide, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. solidified his well-earned reputation as one of the greatest orators in history, boldly declaring, as his thunderous words rang out magnificently over powerful speakers:
MLK: “…In a sense, we have come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness…It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds”.
President Kennedy, along with the rest of the nation, watches the event and King’s speech from the White House.
MLK: “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.”
From left, Whitney Young, National Urban League; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Southern Christian Leadership Conference; John Lewis, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee; Rabbi Joachim Prinz, American Jewish Congress; Dr. Eugene P. Donnaly, National Council of Churches; A. Philip Randolph; President Kennedy; AFL-CIO United Auto Workers vice president, Walter Reuther; Vice-President Lyndon Johnson , rear, and Roy Wilkins, NAACP.
Bayard Rustin and Cleveland Robinson
During the months of planning for the march, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his SCLC traveled across the country with fundraising efforts. During a visit to Los Angeles, actor Paul Newman wrote the first donation check and was quickly joined by other supporters. In this photo by Harry Adams Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy are joined by actors, Anthony Franciosa, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, JoAnne Woodward, singer, Polly Bergen, and Sammy Davis Jr.
“We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of “Now”. This is not the time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the colored people’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.
We cannot be satisfied as long as the colored person’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.
We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for white only.”
We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.
No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.
You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow.
I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of inter-postion and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men, and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.”
Malcolm Nance is a brilliant, globally recognized counterterrorism expert and Intelligence Community member who has been deployed to intelligence operations in the Balkans, Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa. He predicts that the other shoe is about to drop in the Trump-Russia connection, and his two best-selling books, Defeating Isis, and The Plot To Hack America, as well as his recent Tweets are absolute MUST READING: