A group calling itself the National Coalition of Leaders to Save Section 5 has organized the caravan, which will begin at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, site of the infamous 1963 bombing that killed four little girls. Next they plan to travel to the Courthouse in Shelby County where the case challenging the Voting Rights Act began. Next is a rally in Selma with a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, known worldwide as the site of the violence against marchers on a bloody Sunday in 1965. The destination is the state Capitol in Montgomery.
The group counts the National SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), SOS (Save Ourselves Summit), the World Conference of Mayors, the International Black Broadcasters Association, the National Voting Rights Museum, Bridge Crossing Jubilee, Inc., the Slavery and Civil War Museum, the National Policy Institute, Women of Will, the Alabama New South Coalition, the Alabama Democratic Conference and the National Conference of Black Mayors among its members. It is largely a coalition of black political organizations with ties to the Alabama Democratic Party.
Their concern is that a court challenge (Shelby County v. Holder) being considered by the Supreme Court could overturn the section of the Voting Rights Act that requires preclearance for any change in electoral procedures in places where discrimination against black citizens occurred in the past — it applies mostly to states in the South.
In this case, the city of Calera redrew its city council districts in 2006 without preclearance, and in the next elections only whites were elected, where there had been one black before. The Justice Department required the city to redraw the lines with its approval and hold a new election.
The coalition is calling for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to recuse himself from the case, arguing that he has improperly discussed issues still being considered by the court. Coalition members object to Scalia using the phrase “racial entitlements” during oral arguments. They also claim Scalia compared racial minorities to “child abusers” when he said at the University of California that child abusers could also be considered a minority group.
We understand their concerns.
But we’re puzzled about the choice of Farrakhan to be the focal point of Friday’s event.
Politicians usually seek to distance themselves from him. When Farrakhan made positive comments about presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, his campaign was quick to release a statement saying, "Senator Obama has been clear in his objections to Farrakhan's past pronouncements and has not solicited the minister's support.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, says Farrakhan’s the Nation of Islam, a group he has led since 1977, “is based on a somewhat bizarre and fundamentally anti-white theology.” The SPLC also calls Farrakhan an anti-Semite.
Farrakhan has admitted to contributing to a “climate of vilification” that surrounded the assassination of Malcolm X, his rival for power in the Nation of Islam.
The Alabama Democratic Party is an organization in disarray after losses at the ballot box and through infighting within its own organization.
Former party chairman Mark Kennedy resigned after disagreements with the party’s executive committee over financial management, direction and strategy. Nancy Worley agreed to serve as chairwoman until a new one could be elected, and was reportedly threatened with eviction from party headquarters and having the water and electricity turned off for nonpayment in her first day on the job.
Kennedy formed a new non-profit group, the Alabama Democratic Majority, to try to help rebuild the state Democratic Party. At a kickoff for his new group, he pledged to “fight to make the Alabama Democratic Party more representative of a broader spectrum of all Alabama Democrats. …”
Farrakhan’s presence isn’t likely to help broaden that spectrum.
The coalition is using powerfully symbolic locations for a media event to try to arouse public sympathy in the voting rights case. We fail to see Farrakhan as a figure who will elicit much sympathy.