Passage of the Voting Rights Act in August 1965 was a proud moment in U.S. history. For the first time, millions of African Americans living in the Deep South, who had been excluded from fully participating in the political process for 200 years, were finally enfranchised. The battle to secure those rights cost many lives of both blacks and whites. So why is it that some black leaders have taken the occasion of the 40th anniversary of this seminal event to engage in hate speech?
On Saturday, thousands of activists gathered in Atlanta to commemorate the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Speakers at the rally included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; and entertainers Harry Belafonte, Dick Gregory and Greg Mathis, a Michigan Superior Court judge who stars in his own TV series. But instead of celebrating the triumph of this great law, many -- if not most -- of the speakers used the occasion to try to scare African Americans into thinking the Republicans in Congress and President Bush were about to rescind the protections the Act guarantees.
There was much talk of "stolen" elections. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said, "The last two elections were stolen. They were stolen and so we will not rest until we reclaim our democracy, and this is what today is all about." Judge Mathis referred to the 2000 elections as "the biggest election crime in history." He told the enthusiastic crowd that the "thieves" in the Republican Party "need to be locked up." Harry Belafonte warned, "We must stand vigilant, as there are those among us who would steal our liberty and steal our souls."
Belafonte referred to blacks serving in the Bush administration as "black tyrants," and went even farther in an interview with Marc Morano of CNSNews.com. "Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich," Belafonte told Morano, an anti-Semitic canard meant to smear as neo-Nazi both the Bush administration and the African Americans who serve in it.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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