From Selma to Norman: Right Now!

It’s time to Break It Down!

Over the past weekend, our nation, at least some of us, observed an historical event, and the subsequent progress in race and matters of diversity over the past fifty years. The story of Bloody Sunday, which unfolded March 7, 1965 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, has been memorialized in history books, and recently in the movie “Selma.”

On that fateful Sunday, approximately 600 marchers assembled in Selma, intending to march to Montgomery, Alabama’s Capital. John Lewis and a number of other leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Coalition (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led the March. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River, on their way out of town, Alabama State Troopers and other local law enforcement officers blocked their path.

The troopers ordered the marchers to turn around. When the marchers refused, the officers shot them with tear gas, and waded into the crowd beating the protesters with billy clubs, hospitalizing over fifty of them, and earning the events of the day the name “Bloody Sunday.” The actions of those overzealous troopers and policemen abusing peaceful protesters were televised around the world.  Martin Luther King called for civil rights supporters to come to Selma for a second march. The marchers tried again on March 9, and ultimately a third time on March 21st, when they completed the trek, with the aid of federal protection.

On August 6, 1965, Congress passed the federal Voting Rights Act. This was the desired outcome, which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had envisioned. Still, “Bloody Sunday was about more than a piece of federal legislation. It highlighted the multiple competing tensions Dr. King had to circumnavigate, as he faced the pressure of a radical (for its time) social movement, federal calls for restraint, as well as the palpable dissonance between SNCC and the SCLC.

Over the weekend President Obama and at least one hundred members of Congress went to Selma to honor and observe the history made in Selma fifty years ago. A great deal was made of the disclosure earlier last week that the GOP Leadership planned to skip the weekend’s events in Selma, along with Republican Presidential hopefuls. After some significant peer pressure from Democratic Congressmen, the House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy decided at the last minute to change his plans and attend. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, an African American also attended, though he is a rank and file member, not part of the GOP Leadership structure.

In all, reports are that twenty-three members of the GOP eventually “scheduled” attendance. That list did not include House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, or Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, or any of the Party’s other projected Presidential candidates. Balanced reporting requires that I note Hillary Clinton skipped the event too. Perhaps she was busy working on a response to Email-gate. In any event, Democrats were solidly represented. I am not sure Rand Paul would have gained serious ground by attending. Obviously, we will not have to spend anytime pondering the question.

There was a point when I thought the GOP’s collective reluctance to be seen in “The Heart of Dixie” (one of Alabama’s unofficial nicknames) this past weekend would be the point of this post. Too bad the KKK was not as inclined to be scares of presence. Robert Jones, the Grand Dragon of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK said about 4,000 KKK fliers were distributed in Selma and Montgomery in the two weeks preceding the 50-year Observance last weekend. In his words, “We pretty much put out fliers, some against King and some against immigration. It’s time for the American people to wake up to these falsehoods that they preach about MLK.”

That inclination, however, was before several esteemed members of the University of Oklahoma Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (Also sometimes referred to as SAE) Fraternity were portrayed on a video singing a racist chant, including, among other things, the words approximating, “There will never be a nigger SAE/There will never be a nigger SAE/You can hang him from a tree/But he’ll never sign with me/There will never be a nigger SAE.”

The video, taped Saturday, was leaked Sunday. The SAE National Organization closed the University of Oklahoma Chapter of SAE.  The University subsequently closed the House, and suspended at least two students, presumably those who could be identified singing the chant. One of the two students, Parker Rice, has since apologized. The Dallas Morning News has reported that Rice said, “I am deeply sorry for what I did Saturday night. It was wrong and reckless. I made a horrible mistake by joining into the singing and encouraging others to do the same.”

As if, the fratboy chant weren’t enough, the Oklahoma Daily, the student newspaper posted a 2013 Vine depicting the chapter’s House Mom, Beauton Gilbow, laughing and talking over a rap song, rapidly repeating the N-word seven times in rapid succession. The sound of “All Gold Everything,” by Trinidad James, a black Atlanta-based rapper, can be heard in the background.

Ms. Gilbow, known as Momma B by the Chapter’s fraternity family, said, “I have been made aware that a video of me that is circulating on social media and in the news. I am heartbroken by the portrayal that I am in some way racist. I have friends of all races and do not tolerate any form of discrimination in my life. I was singing along to a Trinidad song, but completely understand how the video must appear in the context of the events that occurred this week.”

This convoluted defense is made all the more, shall we say interesting, by an earlier statement from her after the Fraternity’s suspension, but before the release of the Vine. In her previous statement, she had contended, in a statement to CNN affiliate KOCO-TV that she was blindsided by the overall controversy.  In that interview, she said, “I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. This has been my life for 15 years. And it’s tough.”  Hmmm!

The Fraternity is no stranger to race-based controversy. The chapter at Washington University in St. Louis gained notoriety for a pledge being made to recite a rap song containing the N-word in front of a group of black students. In 2006, the Baylor Chapter was criticized for a party theme that reports say encouraged making stereotypes of blacks. Moreover, the fun and frivolity apparently does not stop at race-based shenanigans. A 2012 Rolling Stone article intimated that the Dartmouth College Chapter engaged in abusive hazing practices that included making pledges eat vomlets (eggs & vomit). In 2014, the National Organization eliminated pledging in an effort to discourage hazing.

But back to the racial animus; last week’s post touched upon the racial indignities foisted upon the black citizenry of Ferguson Missouri by a police department unfettered or constrained by anything approximating an impetus to rein in bigotry and racism. This new indictment of a college organization is simply yet another indication that ridiculously brazen racist behavioral practices are alive and well in America. And in this week, after the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” we can say with certainty, it thrives…”From Selma to Norman: Right Now!”

I’m done; holla back!

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