Allen B. West

Selma 50 years later: Real soul-searching needs to be done

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Growing up down south in Georgia, I was well aware of the struggles of the black community in the face of segregation. I remember listening to my parents and the “old folk” talk about how things were — but also about their hopes and dreams for the next generation.

This past weekend we remembered the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” and the events surrounding the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I was only 4 years old when this happened, but the events that fateful day set in motion a needed change in America resulting in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. No longer would there be such discriminatory tactics — such as poll taxes and arbitrary literacy tests — used by white officials to prevent black Americans from voting. However, what has been the real story of the past 50 years? And will the black community do a true and focused “soul searching” post Selma or just launch a political three-point shot?

Based on this story from USA Today, it seems the latter, “With tens of thousands of people expected to gather this weekend in Selma, Ala., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a turning point in the American Civil Rights movement, activists hope to use the moment to turn the spotlight back on voting rights issues in the USA. The protesters of Selma ultimately prevailed, and the moment helped usher in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

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“But in moves that activists call sweeping erosions of voting rights that disproportionately affect minority communities, several states have passed more stringent voter ID rules after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key provision of the landmark legislation that was birthed with the blood and sweat of the Selma protesters.”

I know what I will present in this missive will cause some in the black community to go into a state of apoplectic rage because I dare to not just join in, sing songs, and follow along like a good little lemming. Unfortunately, that’s not how my parents, Buck and Snooks West, raised me. They taught me — actually demanded — that I be an independent thinker, as they were.

So if you review the SCOTUS decision called into question as “threatening” voting rights for blacks, it actually makes a reasonable case and presents a logical premise — because things have indeed changed, for the better. We have truly turned a corner and the mandated restrictions that once existed are no longer needed.

As USA Today says, “With the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice John “Roberts wrote that the Voting Rights Act formula used to determine which parts of the country would need federal approval — known as preclearance — to change their voting procedures was outdated. The court instructed Congress to write a new formula that was reflective of current conditions, but Congress has yet to act.”

“Since the court ruling, legislatures — including those in North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin — have passed measures that require voter ID or proof of citizenship and have reduced early voting days and poll locations.”

Under the system of federalism, there should be more rights granted to states as long as they are not violating their privilege. I would ask, where can Americans go that they are not required to have a picture ID? As you know, I recently accepted a position at the National Center for Policy Analysis and purchased a new home here in the Dallas area. I had to present proof of citizenship, a picture ID (also required for refinancing a home), and had to present a DD214 record of my military service – that’s not discriminatory, just procedure.

So what is the furor about presenting a picture ID for verification of identity in voting? Why are people working so hard to foment an unnecessary emotional response in the black community? And having seen voter fraud at a personal level, I like the idea of presenting a picture ID to vote and agree we should only have Election Day voting and absentee ballots– heck, just make federal Election Day a national holiday with polls open from 7am to 7pm, twelve hours.

But if you hear the rant emanating from Selma’s Mayor, “We’re celebrating something that has been neutered,” said James Perkins, who was elected as Selma’s first African-American mayor nearly 25 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed. “That is exactly what it feels like. You’ve kicked the teeth out of a lion.”

And here is the leader of a church from my home neighborhood: “We have witnessed over the last few years, the worst assault on voting rights since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965,” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who leads the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. “Come this weekend we’ll see a parade of politicians make their way to Selma. Our message to those politicians is that you cannot celebrate the lessons of history while sitting on the wrong side of history.”

And even last week during a Sirius/XM radio interview, President Barack Obama compared Selma to the issue of illegal immigration. That is a horrible comparison designed solely to score political points and again create a faux moral equivalency on the backs of people like my parents who were American citizens denied of an essential right — to vote. Does this mean that Obama believes illegals should be allowed to vote in America? And when have we seen any violence unleashed on illegals as it was on blacks that Bloody Sunday?

Perhaps these three men should stop trying to score political points and instead assess what the real issue is in the black community in the past 50 years. Let us remember that this year is also the 50th anniversary of something else- The Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson — what is that legacy?

Well, just look at Selma. Since all of this attention was on Selma this past weekend, “Local leaders also plan to use the moment to highlight the current plight of Selma, which suffers from high levels of poverty, unemployment and violent crime. To that end, Rep. Terri Sewell, an Alabama Democrat whose district includes Selma, is taking Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro on a “listening tour” of three of the city’s public housing sites.”

We know high poverty rates and the number of food stamps recipients, lack of better education opportunities, decimation of the family, and higher unemployment rates in the black community have skyrocketed over the past 50 years — and very much exacerbated in the past six years. We reported here during Black History Month about the genocidal-like numbers of abortions in the black community.

So my question is simple: why aren’t these the issues of concern from “black leaders?” No one is disenfranchising the black vote – as a matter of fact, the SCOTUS ruled as it did because of the incredibly high numbers of black voters. Doggone, the only folks seen at a polling location trying to prevent voting were the New Black Panthers in 2008 — an incident dismissed by the first black attorney general.

Fifty years after Selma, what should we be doing? The black community should be forward thinking and assessing. When are we going to have that real conversation on the societal ills in the black community? When will we talk about school choice and restoration of the black family — you know, that ol’ school manner in which many of us were raised?

When will we talk about entrepreneurship in the inner city and how do we get capital once again flowing there — while first establishing a more secure environment where law enforcement is respected and less needed.

When do we start talking about self-reliance and not dependency? As Snooks West taught me, “self-esteem comes from doing ‘esteemable’ things.” No more diatribe about “social justice” which is nothing more than the rhetoric of social egalitarianism. Young black men are oriented to succeed in sports and entertainment, there are many other areas open for exceptionalism.

Selma was an important and vital turning point in the civil rights movement — but let’s not hit the rewind button, instead let’s press forward. After all it was Paul who stated in Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV), “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Let’s press on!

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