Remembering Sen. Clementa Pinckney


Sen. Clementa Pinckney testifies at a legislative committee hearing on the SC Progressive Network’s bill calling for clean elections.

Brett Bursey
SC Progressive Network Director

I first met Clementa Pinckney when he was elected to represent Lowcountry counties in 1997. He was 24 years old and powerfully earnest in a humble way. I knew the name, having grown up in Beaufort with white Pinckneys who were ever-mindful of their famous namesake’s role in establishing this state and nation. A standing joke in Beaufort was “the Rutledges speak to the Pinckenys and the Pinckneys speak only to God.”

Clementa smiled at my mention of the white side of his family, noting that they got the money and land, but are no closer to God than his side of the family.

Most of his friends called him Clem. But I loved the name his mother Theopia gave him, and always used it. I had several occasions to spend time with his wife Jennifer and their two daughters. The girls are precious, precocious and polite reflections of their father. They will always miss him, but will always remember, too, the president of the United States eulogizing him, as well as the outpouring of grief and love across our state.


Sen. Pinckney speaks at a clean elections press conference at the State House.

Clementa was an active member of the SC Progressive Network, and championed legislation we promoted. His sponsorship and articulate defense of our clean elections bill to reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics was captured on an SCETV clip here.

Clementa’s calm nature in spite of his demanding schedule was humbling. While he was a legislator, pastoring a church on the coast and being a great dad back home in Ridgeland, he found time to get a masters degree in Public Administration from USC, then take classes at the Lutheran Seminary.

When he was transferred from a small AME church in Beaufort County to one in Charleston, he didn’t mention that he was the new pastor of the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church. The church, one of the oldest black congregations in the nation, has a history that reflects the violence of our state’s racist heritage. Denmark Vesey, was one of the founders of the church in 1818 and the leader of a Charleston slave rebellion in 1822. Vesey and 34 others were hung for their role in the rebellion in which no white people were injured. The church was burned during the Vesey trial, and in 1834 the state outlawed all black churches.

A great new leader has been taken from us by an old and insidious enemy. Let it serve to remind us of the long road we’re traveling for racial justice, and deepen our resolve to stay the course.


Pinckney speaks to members of the SC Progressive Network at Penn Center.

Network launches summer school for upstarts


Whether canvassing neighborhoods, lobbying at the State House, or applying heat on the streets, grassroots activists must understand their history as well as the political and social landscape of the Palmetto State in order to be effective. To that end, the SC Progressive Network will offer its members in the Midlands a chance to enroll in the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights‘ 2015 summer session.

One of the school’s prime missions is to teach grassroots activists the best practices for understanding, organizing and leading a movement for social justice in South Carolina. The 2015 summer session consists of six classes, held the first and third Mondays between June and August. Students will meet for 90-minute classes (45 minutes of instruction; 45 minutes of guided discussion) running 7pm-8:30pm at Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St. in West Columbia.

While initial classes will be limited to members who live in the Midlands and those willing to drive to Columbia, we plan to have the courses online this fall. Once the curriculum is refined and course guides posted, classes will be made available to students across the state.

Participation is limited to individual members of the SC Progressive Network. To enroll, prospective students must submit an application, indicate a commitment to attend all six classes and complete required homework. A $120 fee covers expenses, class materials, personal copies of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History and the book A Place at the Table.

Class fees can be paid monthly and scholarships are available. We encourage sponsorships by organizations and individuals.

Click here to download the Summer School application. Fill it out and email to Got questions? Call 803-808-3384.

Summer School classes will be moderated by SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey, with the assistance of faculty advisers, each lending their own expertise and teaching skills. Class sizes will be limited to facilitate interaction.

In the fall, a new semester will repeat the core introductory courses, and add advanced classes to focus on specific issues and skills.

• • •   Class Schedule  • • •

June 1, People’s History of South Carolina, Part 1: Exploring the historic dynamics that shape the state’s politics and culture, from native people through the Civil War.

June 15, People’s History, Part 2: From Reconstruction to today.

July 6, Palmetto Politics: How our history influences our current democracy and civic engagement. This reality-based civics course is critical to enable activists to be effective political organizers.

July 20, SC Progressive Network History: The SC Progressive Network was founded in 1995 by activists with decades of experience working in this state’s mean vineyards. Much can be learned and gained from studying the work that has gone into one of the nation’s best models of state-based movement building.

Aug. 3, Strategy and Tactics: Crafting the sharpest tools for building and sustaining a popular movement for a revolution of social values. We will examine tactics ranging from armed insurrection to prayer; review strategists from Lao Tzu and Jesus, to Che, Malcolm X and MLK.

Aug. 17, Enough Theory; Let’s Practice! To graduate, our students will work on an actual organizing project. Over the years, the Network has started sound projects that didn’t gain the traction they deserve simply because we lack enough trained and dedicated organizers to carry them to completion. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we need to grease it.

“Awesome in its evilness”

The political theater being staged on the backs of our state’s working poor has gone from tragi-comedy to farce.1

The Network anticipated that Gov. Nikki Haley, like other governors who refused to expand Medicaid, would promote a plan to privatize the federal funding. That way she could claim victory over Obama and keep the federal government from getting between a quarter of a million poor South Carolinians and the doctor they don’t have. Gov. Haley could direct the billions of returning tax dollars to health care-related corporations that, according to, have contributed more than $1.6 million to her political campaigns.

When the privatization scheme was promoted in April by moderate state senators who claimed it was the only way to get the much-needed health care funding, Gov. Haley confounded political prognosticators by promising to veto privatization.

Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at MIT, noted that the holdout states are “willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people.” Gruber, a free-market economist who helped design the ACA, has called Haley’s position “awesome in its evilness” and “political malpractice.”

Network director Brett Bursey recently met with one of the Republican Senate sponsors of a privatization waiver. The senator acknowledged that while the US must ultimately move towards the type of universal health care found in all other industrialized democracies, the only politically practical step to get health care for poor South Carolininans was privatization. He noted that Haley’s pursuit of higher office, combined with 2016 legislative elections that will inhibit a veto-overide, means our state’s most vulnerable people will continue to suffer. And our tax dollars will go elsewhere until a new governor takes office.

The Network will continue to oppose privatization of Medicaid while we do the long, hard work of building a movement with the power to punish politicians who treat our citizens as pawns in their selfish game.

Too soon for SC to sell out on Medicaid expansion

Today, the Close the Gap coalition announced a legislative plan to accept Medicaid expansion. The group had asked members of the SC Progressive Network to turn out for its press conference, but wouldn’t reveal who the sponsors are or details of the bill. (A notice with the senators’ names and an acknowledgement that the group was calling for privatizing Medicaid expansion went out April 13, the day before the press conference.)

Unfortunately, the original solicitation didn’t mention support for privatizing Medicaid money, pointing to Arkansas as a model to emulate. The coalition didn’t mention that Arkansas is one of a few states that received a waiver to buy private insurance for the extremely poor, rather than simply provide them with Medicaid. The stated goals of the Arkansas Health Care Independence Act are to reduce state and federal obligations to entitlement spending” and address the “need to achieve personal responsibility” for health care – rhetoric straight from Haley’s opposition to “Obamacare.”


Network activists lobby SC lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

At our Network’s fall conference, we predicted that Gov. Nikki Haley would favor privatization, but we didn’t expect “progressive” allies asking us to support such a plan. Our position then – as now – is that privatization of poverty isn’t about helping the poor but rather about subsidizing the free market.

Our erstwhile allies think that we can’t win on principle, so they offer to settle by dealing with the opposition on their terms. Sadly, the struggle they avoid is the only way we can build the ability to win.

Our position is that privatizing health care for the extremely poor is immoral. Our position is that health care should be a right and supported by tax dollars, as is done in all industrialized democracies.

We don’t want to doom a good thing by demanding a perfect thing, but we are far from that point. If we are going to surrender, we need to talk about it first. To that end, please read this story by Michael Hilzik that ran last year in the LA Times. The piece quotes an MIT economist, who says “holdout states are “willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people.” Gruber helped design the health insurance reform in Massachusetts on which the ACA was modeled. He added: “It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.”

Brett Bursey is executive director of the SC Progressive Network. Reach him at

Network makes waves, makes news

Modjeska Booklet Gets Legs

mms coverIn  case you missed the story in Sunday’s The State newspaper about the SC Progressive Network’s Modjeska booklet, you can read it here. The booklet has been so well-received that we ordered a second printing. Copies are free, available at the Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St. in Columbia. This week, we are leaving copies with each of the state legislators, and the booklet is to be recognized on the floors of the House and Senate.

We have submitted a proposal to the Richland County Conservation Commission for funding a series of similar booklets about lesser-known activists. Suggestions welcome. Email or call 803-808-3384.

Medicaid Expansion – the Struggle Continues

On March 4, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments that the Affordable Care Act insurance subsidies don’t apply in states like SC who refused to go along with the federal law. Gov. Nikki Haley is a party to the King v. Burwell suit, and is spending tax money to insure that the half a billion dollars in subsidies for health insurance that went to SC citizens this past year is stopped. We will be working the press to provide them with real people who will be hurt if the governor wins. Read The State’s recent story quoting Tim Liszewski, who worked as one of the Network’s Navigators.

City Water War

The Network has been a player in the citizens’ effort to stop the city of Columbia from privatizing its water system. It has been interesting to be invited to the table with the mainstream liberals who were our arm-length allies in the Richland County penny sales tax campaign – which they now acknowledge we played a significant role in getting passed by organizing bus riders. They recognize that we have a rapport with working people that they lack. The opponents of privatization had two days notice of a city council meeting that would be considering a resolution against selling the water. The Network was asked to turn out people and we did. 10 of the 12 people who spoke in opposition to privatization were our members. The issue appears dead for now.

Voting Rights Project Update

Our project to gather the affidavits necessary to file a lawsuit against the state for equal protection of students and ex-offenders is slowly moving forward. We have one ex-offender ready to sign on, and another considering. We are meeting with the state Probation, Parole and Pardon Office on March 4. We submitted questions to them last month regarding their practices and procedures for training their officers about their clients’ voting rights. They have promised answers on the 4th.

Making its SC debut, film Shadows of Liberty exposes broken media system


The SC Progressive Network is helping bring the internationally acclaimed documentary Shadows of Liberty to Columbia and Charleston, with interactive “talk-back” sessions after each screening.

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, the public is invited to Tapp’s Arts Center, 1644 Main St., downtown Columbia for the 7:30pm showing.

The documentary reveals the extraordinary truth behind the news media: censorship, cover-ups and corporate control. In highly revealing stories, renowned journalists, activists and academics give insider accounts of a broken media system. They include Amy Goodman, Danny Glover, Julian Assange, Dan Rather, David Simon Normon Solomon Bob Bear, Roberta Baskin, John Macarthur, Jeff Cohen and John Nichols. They recount how controversial news reports are suppressed, people are censored for speaking out, and lives are shattered as the arena for public expression is turned into a private profit zone.

Shadows Of Liberty is dedicated to the journalists and information freedom fighters, the heroes of our time, who dedicate their lives to our right to freedom of information – the central pillar of a free society. The film  provides a platform for voices that have been silenced and in doing so, attempts to inspire change and accountability. This film champions the idea of an independent media where truth and integrity are the norm, not the exception.

This screening kicks off the 7th Leg of the Shadows of Liberty Coast to Coast Screening & Media Reform Action Tour.

After the screening, Network Director Brett Bursey will moderate a discussion about the film and critical issues facing the media today. The panel includes:

Bill Rogers, Executive Director of the SC Press Association, started his newspaper career working summers at The Asheville Citizen while attending UNC’s J-school. After service in the Navy, he went to work as a reporter at The World-News in Roanoke, Va. He also was sports editor of The Waynesville Mountaineer and editor and general manager of The Star in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. He used the G.I. Bill to earn his master’s degree at Marshall University while advising the lab newspaper. He also taught at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide) before coming to USC (Go Cocks) to teach as the lead instructor in the Senior Semester. During summers at USC he worked at The State and was the writing coach at the Greensboro News & Record and The Herald in Rock Hill. He is a senior judge with the S.C. Barbeque Association and is also a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judge. Earlier in his career he won two Addys for print and broadcast ads at an agency in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Candace Chellew-Hodge spent two decades as a journalist working as a reporter, anchor, writer and editor at various radio and television stations in Atlanta, Ga., including WGST Radio, WAGA-TV and CNN. While at CNN, she worked as an anchor and editor at CNNRadio, a writer and editor at CNN Interactive and a news writer for CNN Wires. She left journalism in 2002 for a career in academic public relations working for Georgia State University and the University of South Carolina. She has since left journalism and PR to pursue a career as a pastor and currently leads the Jubilee! Circle community in Columbia, S.C.

Ernest L. Wiggins is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. A former reporter and urban affairs editor at The State (Columbia, S.C.), Wiggins holds the M.A. in mass communications and has done post-graduate study in social theory and social structures. His teaching and research interests include reporting and editing, media literacy and criticism and the intersection of journalism and social justice. His recent publications include “Walking a tightrope: Obama’s duality as framed by selected African American columnists” (2014) in Journalism Practice, coauthored with Kenneth Campbell. Wiggins is a member of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Frank W. Baker is a media literacy education consultant. He is a former broadcast journalist and educational TV specialist. He is the author of three books, including Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom (ISTE, 2012). He contributed two chapters to Mastering Media Literacy (Solution Tree, 2014). He is a recipient of the National Telemedia Council‘s annual Jessie McCanse Award given for individual contributions to the field of media literacy over at least 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @fbaker and visit his resource-rich website Media Literacy Clearinghouse (

Tickets are $7 and benefit Tapp’s, the SC Progressive Network, and the Shadows of Liberty Coast to Coast Screening & Media Reform Action Tour.

Film Website:
Film Trailer:

Share/RSVP on Facebook.

The Charleston screening will be held on Thursday, Feb. 19, at 7pm at the College of Charleston Tate Center. The event is being held in collaboration with the College of Charleston Department of Communication and Urban Studies Program, Media Reform South Carolina, the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Church in Charleston, and the SC Progressive Network. The screening is free.

2015 Policy Preview


Health Care

We intend to keep educating and agitating for South Carolina to accept the Affordable Care Act. A couple of fights are looming this year, not withstanding our state’s refusal to participate in the ACA.

Medicaid Expansion

We see South Carolina applying for a “waiver” to take the federal funding but not use the Medicaid system to administer the billions of dollars to fund health care for 300,00 low-income adults. States have proposed a number of waivers, but the main similarity is block granting the Medicaid expansion money to the state. Anticipate an SC waiver application that would contract with private insurance companies, or health maintenance organizations, to make a profit off of administering Medicaid program.

While Medicaid has an average administrative cost of around 7%, for profit insurance providers increase the cost as much as 25% (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This 18% difference amounts to a reduction of service to patients of $252 million a year out our state’s estimated $1.4 billion annual Medicaid expansion funding. That’s more than enough to cover the revenue lost by the state’s ten largest hospitals by treating people with no insurance, or money. We have no reason to believe that the state of SC has the best interest of working people and minorities at heart. So, we will be organizing to turn out the masses at any federally mandated hearings on proposed waivers.

Marketplace insurance (Obamacare)

SC is one of 27 states that chose not to set up a state insurance marketplace that could have helped citizens get the ACA subsidized health insurance. Nine states partnered with the feds and 14 set up their own Marketplace. Over ten million citizens, 200,000 in SC, have taken advantage of the discounted health insurance. The average wage earner in SC, making around $23,000, could get a $4,300 “silver” policy for around $50 a month, or $600 a year. Not content with obstructing access to the ACA, SC is one of six states suing the federal government to stop subsidies for the nearly 200,000 South Carolinians signed up for health insurance.

Gov. Haley has taken the position that the original language in the ACA said that consumers would get subsidies through the Insurance Marketplaces set up by the states. Since SC refused to establish our own Marketplace, the feds stepped in and provided the service. In a bizarre move that has separated the true loons from the merely cold hearted, a shrinking number of Republican governors (6) signed on to a federal law suit (King v. Burwell) that argues that the working people who got discounted health insurance through the “federal” Marketplace should pay full price, because they didn’t get it through a “state” Marketplace, which our state refused to set up. South Carolinians, who got an average of an 80+% discount for their policy, could be billed for the several thousand dollars and most will lose their insurance.

The Network is filing an amicus brief supporting the governments position that the intent of the Affordable Care Act was affordable care, and not whether the federal subsidy reached the consumer via a state of federal marketplace. The case is scheduled to be heard by the US Supreme Court March 4.

Voting Rights


We are developing a lawsuit to address the unequal protection of the voting rights of ex-offenders and college students. The national ACLU has said they will take the case. The Director of the State Election Commission asked us sue them, because she can’t get the counties to enforce the laws in a uniform fashion.

Voting Machines

We have been working for the past 10 years with the nation’s lead organizations regarding verified voting systems. We will come up with parameters to guide the type of new voting system we expect the state to buy within the next year. The state election commission is putting together a “vendor fair” in the next few months to let companies showcase their wares. While there are some good systems being developed that will meet our parameters (open source, publicly owned, cheap to buy and use, voter verifiable paper trail) we will need to focus on seeing that whatever they buy, meets our specs. They will then form an evaluation committee to determine what RFP meets their needs. The Network as been invited to participate in the vendor fair later this year. It would not be a good idea for any legislator to introduce a bill regarding the type of voting system the state purchase without talking to us. We actually want to work up a plan that works. Not just file a bill to say we did. We want to help shape the Election Commission and County Directors position. They are the ones that can get a bill passed.

Ethics Reform

The Network is working with Common Cause to promote an independent investigation of legislative ethics violations, full disclosure of income and regulate campaign expenditures. We will continue to raise publicly financed elections as the best fix for the corrupting influenced of money on politics.

Racial Injustice

At our founding conference in 1995, the Network acknowledged that racism was our state’s most profound problem. In 2000, we released a study the showed the racial disparities in our criminal justice system were the worst in the nation. We then hosted town hall meetings to solicit citizen testimony on racial profiling, followed by the introduction of a bill to require “all cops to report all stops.” After 9/11, the bill languished until Gov. Sanford vetoed a mandatory seat belt bill that was required to get federal highway funding.

The Republican majority offered to support the racial profiling bill to get the Black Caucus to vote to over-ride the veto. It was a year after the bill passed that we discovered the five white legislators on the conference committee added the work “non-custodial” to the bill, changing the requirement for all stops to be reported, to all warning tickets be reported. In 2010, we did a ten year review of racial disparities and an audit of the pubic data base the Dept. of Public Safety has on their web site. Though the racial profiling law requires all 299 police agencies to report the race of those questioned in “non-custodial” stops each month, nearly half the agencies are not in compliance.

The 2010 study and a link to the DPS racial profiling site is on the Network web site under Projects. Our racial profiling study provides a tool kit for anyone in the state to engage their local police in a constructive dialogue regarding racial profiling. Rep. Joe Neal, the racial profiling bill’s original sponsor is planning to reintroducing legislation to add “all stops” to the data base. Our job is to lobby the heads of our local police agencies to endorse legislation that shows their communities that they do not practice, or condone, racial profiling.

Bills We’re Backing

S-172: Earned Sick Leave, Sen. Marlon Kimpson. We organized the witnesses for the bill at sub committee level last session and will do so again. Expect an ALEC sponsored ANTI-Sick Leave Bill to be filed again this session. Rep. William Sandifer, Chair of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee is an ALEC member and passed out an anti-worker-benefits bill last session without any public hearings or committee debate.

H-3031: Minimum wage of $10.10. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. SC is one of five states with no minimum wage.

S-207 & H-3202: Whistleblower Act. Would protect and award public employees who report illegal or unethical acts.

S-148: Early voting, Sen. John Scott. While the Network has promoted an early voting bill for the past 12 years, nearly 20% of the voters are taking advantage of our “Early-in-person-absentee-with-excuse-voting” law that allows those with one of 15 excuses to vote in person, 30 days prior to the election. For the past few sessions, Alan Clemmons, the Republican chair of the House Election Law Subcommittee, has filed legislation to do away with early absentee. Clemmons argues that we should all vote in the same 12 hours “as a show of patriotism”. Clemmons, the primary sponsor of the photo-ID bill, seems to be committed to keeping fraud down by making it harder to vote.

S-48: Study Committee on Racial Profiling, Senators Gerald Malloy and Marlon Kimpson. “Study Committee on Racial Profiling” to review State and local law enforcement policies, practices, and procedures regarding racial profiling, and to make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding proposed changes to the laws regarding such policies, practices, and procedures.

Repeal Right to Work: Rep. Cobb-Hunter has offered to introduce a bill to repeal the Right to Work Act. This will be high drama and public education. We envision getting people from the unions to participate in a press conference in front of Nikki’s office. “I’m Velma Huggins I’m a union member and I deliver the governor’s mail. I’m Kenny Riley, I’m a union dockworker that has made the port of Charleston something the governor brags about. I’m Powell Caldwell, I’m a union member and I make sure that the governor gets her UPS packages. etc.”

Mis-classification bill: Rep. Neal introduced this for us last session and will do it again. He is waiting for us to find a Republican sponsor. This is a business friendly bill that Republicans have sponsored in other states to tighten up on contract employees.

Stand Your Ground Repeal: Rep. Harold Mitchell will be reintroducing a bill we worked up for him to take the clause out of the old Castle Doctrine that the NRA inserted in 2006. This is the clause that says you can use deadly force anywhere you are lawfully present – not just inside your castle.

2014: it was a big year for the Network!

For the SC Progressive Network, 2014 was busy and our work ambitious. We organized an Enough is Enough rally in January to welcome legislators back on the first day of the new session. We sustained a months-long and aggressive lobbying campaign to pressure the General Assembly to expand Medicaid. Our Truthful Tuesdays campaign culminated in 39 arrests of peaceful protestors who, over three days, blocked the entrance to the State House garage. Charges were later dropped. We organized a Healthy Democracy Road Show, taking our message across the state.

In 2014, we marched, we paraded, we knocked on doors, we registered voters. We helped South Carolinians navigate the ACA’s insurance marketplace, with 10 trained navigators and dozens of volunteers in Charleston and Columbia. We held two statewide conferences (spring and fall). We published a booklet about human rights activist Modjeska Simkins, and we threw a party on her birthday, as we do every year. We celebrated marriage equality in South Carolina. We grew our membership base and online visibility. All in all, it was a productive year.

We are excited about 2015, when we focus on the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights, the Network’s new organizing school. We hope you will join us!

“How does one talk to a black man about how black men are viewed, disrespected, devalued and flushed away like excrement?”

Beverly Diane Frierson

Just before I entered the elementary school where I tutor two third-grade African-American boys, I heard that a decision was expected soon on an indictment in the Eric Garner case.

As I drove home from the session, the radio announcer said there was no indictment.

I thought he meant that the grand jury was still deliberating. Then I got a voice message from my childhood friend from Sumter, who had called to give me the grand jury’s decision. The anguish in his voice was palpable as he said: “Beverly, call me.”

I turned on the television and listened for hours. When my sister got home we stared at each other, in great pain. We watched; we listened; we watched; we listened. Finally she said, “I can’t take it anymore” and went upstairs to be alone.

I remained downstairs, feeling drained and dreading the phone call I had to make. Fortunately, when I reached my friend, he and other friends had gathered to talk, so I promised to call later, but it was a promise I just could not keep.

How does one talk to a black man about how black men are viewed, disrespected, devalued and flushed away like excrement?

What words could I find to assuage his pain, and was it even appropriate to take the edge off of such pain, in times like these?

If I had said, “I know what you are feeling,” it would have been a lie, for the experiences of black men and black women are not the same in this country.

I knew why my friend had called me. He, my sister and I helped pave the way for African-American children in Sumter and Florence counties to attend the public schools of their choice. The three of us still bare emotional scars from those days, and my sister barely missed physical scars, for on more than one occasion her white classmates attempted to push her down stairs because they detested her chocolate hue.

But that was the 1960s, and this is 2014. When did some people start viewing innocent African-American men as menacing, grunting beasts whose lives are worth nothing?

When I work with my third-graders every week, I see innocence. I see hope, and I hear of their dreams. Their aspirations should not be locked in a box with an inaccessible key because of the color of their skin.

I wonder: When must I and other adults prepare them for the bleak reality that awaits them?

When must I explain that they are guilty? When must I reveal their crime: being born with dark pigmentation?

Why is America still so color-conscious, so ill?

Healing must begin with honest dialogue. An extension of that dialogue may include protests to highlight displeasure with the status quo, but the danger is in relying on weekend warriors. For some, commitment to the movement will fizzle when the weather turns cold or wet. Seasoned civil and human rights advocates understand that the struggle never ends; it manifests itself in different forms in each era.

Reaction to injustice has its place, but proactive planning, organizing, following through, evaluating and modifying are also required.

Beverly Frierson, a longtime member and activist with the SC Progressive Network, is a certified lay speaker of the SC Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“Racial disparities in law enforcement are real and they demand our attention.”

Kerry Taylor
The Citadel, Charleston SC

Many of us who have remained largely on the sidelines of the events surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Denzel Curnell in Charleston are hiding behind three comforting fictions. The first fiction relies on the presumed character flaws of the victims. In Curnell’s case we learned through leaks to the press of his alleged emotional instability, his spotty military record, and his theft of his stepfather’s gun.

Assuming that the official version of his death is accurate and that Curnell committed suicide, that suicide took place after he was unnecessarily accosted by an off-duty police officer. It was the precipitating factor in Curnell’s death. In Ferguson, we learned from the police department that Brown stole cigars from a convenience store just minutes before the confrontation that ended in his death. Curnell’s and Brown’s alleged misdeeds, vulnerabilities, and reputations are nevertheless irrelevant. The US Constitution and Bill of Rights protect citizens from the undue use of state force, even those who look “like a demon,” as Michael Brown’s assailant described him to the grand jury.


A second justification for our silence and inactivity rests on the fiction that African-American leaders have been hypocritically indifferent to “black on black” crime and that they should spend more energies chastising African Americans, especially young people who do not conform to mainstream cultural norms. There are several problems with this line of reasoning. First, there is no such thing as black on black crime as a distinct social phenomenon. Statistically, African Americans murder one another at roughly the same rate as other ethnic groups.

While crime rates in some areas with large concentrations of non-white residents are unacceptably high, I would be hard-pressed to identify a civil rights leaders who has not devoted a tremendous amount of energy towards addressing issues related to crime and violence in its many forms. Locally, African American activists have worked tirelessly and often productively with law enforcement officials and church leaders to enhance crime fighting strategies.

Moreover, police violence is wholly different from violence perpetrated by one citizen against another. Through my taxes and votes, I sponsor and pay for state violence. Talk of black on black crime should be understood for what it is—a racist diversion from our shared responsibility to one another.

The final convenient fiction too many of us use to justify our silence is the notion that protests and riots are counterproductive and undermine the possibility of reform. Martin Luther King Jr. consistently denounced the urban revolts of the 1960s, arguing “that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt.” But King also recognized that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” It is a form of protest for those who have no access to conventional avenues for expressing dissent.

In the final months of his life, King sought to harness the energy of the urban rebellions and channel it towards pressuring the federal government to enact policies that would address poverty and economic inequality. King pledged that his Poor People’s Campaign would be “nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as attention-getting as the riots without destroying property.” King did not live to realize that vision.

Those of us who profess to believe in fairness and peace need to move from behind the myths that have provided us with protective cover. Racial disparities in law enforcement are real and they demand our attention. In King’s words: “As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption.”

Kerry Taylor teaches US History at The Citadel. He is co-editor of volumes four and five of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. and served as an editor at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University from 1997 to 2004.