Civil Rights museum needs support

Published 2:56 am Sunday, April 17, 2011

Every time I get to that point when I say “nothing that happens will surprise me anymore,” something happens that surprises me!

Just as I was getting over the surprise of Gov. Haley Barbour’s support of a Civil Rights Museum and the subsequent approval of legislation authorizing the issuances of bonds to begin construction, along comes the headline in the April 14 edition of The Clarion-Ledger “Not too fast: Museum could be in hand of next commission.”

As a student and an active participant in Mississippi politics for the past 40 years, I am not easily surprised. I think my last real surprise was when I went to bed too early on election night in November 1991 and woke up to the news that Kirk Fordice had upset Ray Mabus, and Brad Dye was dethroned by Eddie Briggs.

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With the announced opposition of two of the possible members of a future bond commission, Republican candidates for governor, Phil Bryant and Republican treasure candidates, Lynn Fitch, Lucien Smith and Lee Yancey, and only GOP gubernatorial candidate Dave Dennis, and Democratic gubernatorial candidates Mayor Johnnie Dupree and Bill Luckett expressing unqualified support, it begs the question, “Will there be a museum after all?”

The political question to me is, “Why do Republicans always find some reason to oppose any and every issue of relevance to the African American community?”

There are those rare and isolated occasion when individual Republicans break ranks, but as a whole, Republicans seem to be hostile at worst and indifferent at best to any and all black interests.

Poll after poll continues to show that African American conservatism on many social issues should make it fertile ground for possible black converts; however the almost ever-present and near unanimous opposition to all other issues by Republicans that concern the black community overshadows every other point of mutual agreement.

Contrary to conventional wisdom that all blacks vote for only Democratic candidates, I have always prided myself on being of an open mind politically.

I jokingly say to friends I have been around long enough to remember when the Republican Party had a liberal “wing” and the Democratic Party had a “dixiecrat” wing.

Even though I have never found enough common ground with the Republican political philosophy to seriously consider becoming a member, I have never assumed all blacks in the Republican Party are traitors, lackeys, selfish and the likes.

Having said that, I am now going to commit political heresy and acknowledge I have on more than one occasion voted for such progressive Republicans as Gil Carmicheal and Jack Reed.

There are those in both the black and white communities who argue the museum issue is about symbolism, it must be made clear to all candidates seeking our votes the museum issue is not an aside to or a distraction from the greater issues of economics, health care, reapportionment, etc., but rather on parity with them.

I believe support for a Civil Rights Museum should be the “litmus test” for every candidate running for every office on the ballot in the upcoming statewide elections. Regardless of the office they are seeking, they should be required to openly and publicly state their position on a Civil Rights Museum.

No wiggle room, “No, well I’m running for sheriff, really I hadn’t thought about it.” No support for museum! No vote from us! That is symbolism with substance.

Charles E. Bartley

Natchez resident