Monthly Archives: June 2013

Roberts Court Nullifies Itself by Overturning Voting Rights Act

In 1870 the Federal Government ratified the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, declaring that for all citizens of this country the right “to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Initially, under Reconstruction (Federal Occupation of the South), freed blacks voted and were even elected to serve in State offices and legislatures. After the Federal Government abandoned Reconstruction in 1876 and left the blacks to their fate, Southern States began to figure out ways to circumvent the 15th Amendment. Poll taxes, property-holding requirements, literacy tests (which many Southern whites couldn’t themselves pass) were some of the main ways to keep blacks from voting. Famously, Mississippi enacted the first “grandfather clause”: if your grandfather had voted before the Civil War, you could vote. That effectively eliminated black participation at the polls. Might it be significant, in light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision overturning the Voting Rights Act, that Mississippi finally ratified the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in February of 2013, this year, 148 years too late?

But this sorry litany of discriminatory State legislation doesn’t even take into account the extra-legal factors, chiefly the KKK’s role in making the vote a dangerous proposition for blacks, lynching being the ultimate dissuader.

The 15th Amendment remained the law of the land, “a promise made, a debt unpaid”* to quote Robert Service or to use Langston Hughes’ words, “a dream deferred.”

Discrimination of all types, including voter intimidation, continued throughout the 20th century. During the “Roaring Twenties” membership in the Ku Klux Klan soared to 5,000,000 Americans. During the Great Depression black unemployment reached 50% nationwide and lynching of blacks doubled .

The 15th Amendment remained the law of the land, a legal contract, as Martin Luther King put it, that had not been honored by the Federal Government.

Finally, After World War II and its segregated military units, President Harry Truman integrated the U.S. Military. Shortly thereafter the Civil Rights Movement began. In the Voting Rights Act of 1965, after 95 years of neglect, the Federal Government finally backed up with force the promise it had made in 1870, that neither the U.S. nor “any state” could deny people of color the right to vote.

When the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, it violated the terms of its contract with the American people and broke the promise of the law of the land. In my humble opinion, the Roberts Court has thoroughly invalidated its right to decide on such matters. The reversal of the Voting Rights Act is in itself unconstitutional.

Will Southern States discriminate given the chance to once again? Yes, and amazingly they  already have. See Mississippi’s abysmally tardy ratification of the 13th Amendment this year and the Texas Attorney General’s decision yesterday to create a new Voter ID law for his State.

Regardless of what the Robert’s Supreme Court might think, the Federal Government must still protect and defend the voting rights of minorities,

The 15th Amendment: it still is the law of the land!


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Fast Forward to the Past: Supreme Court Nullifies Voting Rights Act

By declaring key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional in Shelby County v. Holder (June 25, 2013), the Supreme Court makes its priorities clear. States’ rights are more important than the rights of individuals. In “Citizens United” the Supremes made corporations “individuals” in the eyes of the law. It seems the Roberts Court holds a continuing fire sale on individual liberties and civil rights. They sacrifice rights formerly held only by individuals and hand them over carte blanche to States and Corporations. We might as well resurrect Roger B. Taney as Chief Justice. He was the Supreme Court Chief Justice who ruled that Dred Scott was not a person but property and, therefore, had no rights. “Citizens United” put the country back 100 years to the days of Teddy Roosevelt when corporations had unlimited spending power in elections. Today’s decision puts the clock back 143 years to 1870 and the ratification of the 15th Amendment. That Amendment prohibited state governments from denying voting rights to anyone based on a person’s “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Welcome back to the Reconstruction era, everyone. It is now 1870 and the clocks ticks backwards….

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This Day in History: Ewing Witnesses Aftermath of Cuyahoga River Catching Fire

Dateline: June 24, 1969, exactly 44 years ago:

I was working aboard the “S.S. Crispin Oglebay” as a “coal-passer” when it sailed up the Cuyahoga, one day after the fire. At about 10:00 p.m. on the night of the 23rd, we had sailed out the breakwater of Buffalo, New York’s harbor into a wall of violent storms churning up Lake Eire. We had to tie down everything: we even lashed the drunken dishwasher to his bunk. That night tornadoes tore up the north shore of Ohio, leaving much death and destruction in their wake.   I awoke to serve my 4-8 a.m. watch with the 3rd Engineer. By daylight I could see some sailboats floating upside down far offshore. Luckier boats had their masts snapped. What a mess greeted us when we sailed up the Cuyahoga. Floating debris clogged the river and the smell of burnt oil, chemicals, and charred debris hung heavy in the air. The Cuyahoga’s catching on fire finally awakened millions of sleeping Americans to the fact that their environment was in serious trouble. A movement was spawned and some historians argue that Nixon’s Clean Water Act of 1972 was a consequence of the fire on the Cuyahoga. I was there.

–Paul Ewing III

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If we look at the whole of American history, a distinct pattern emerges. Times of rapid socioeconomic change and commercialism lead to psychological disturbance in the population.  Fear, insecurity, envy, and rage are natural emotional reactions that arise in response to such changes.  Emile Durkheim would add anomie and alienation to the mix.  Such  negative feelings create a hunger for normalcy, a longing to return to norms in a world that has lost them. With the old rules not working anymore, new rules, or new old rules are required. Evangelical Christian revivalism becomes the agency that feeds the hungers of the psychologically dispossessed American and provides good old-time religion with its good old rules.  In American History we call these movements the “Great Awakenings.”

The revival movements promise a return to the status quo but it’s a promise on which they can’t deliver. However, the Awakenings can offer some solace and succor via religious revival meetings, prayers and the promise of redemption. The public sermons of Whitfield, Edwards and Tenant drew huge crowds. As a consequence of these gatherings, participants developed a sense of social connectedness to each other. Indeed, The First Great Awakening may have been the very first time colonists saw themselves as part of a larger cause than their narrow parochial and provincial interests.

The Awakenings in American history tend to stir up  trouble in political, social, and cultural  realms.  Evangelicals who believe they have a personal relationship with God become radicalized. Intensified individualism feeds into growing political and social activity, and success in social and political action builds egos that want more power. Grass roots movements become outlets for the leaders and followers of the Awakenings. See the Sons of Liberty after the First Great Awakening and the Temperance Movement, Abolitionism and Asylum Movement after the Second Great Awakening.

Rapid socio-economic changes that cause these Awakenings also radicalize secular intellectuals but they apply rational, empirical methods in a search for pragmatic solutions. See Transcendentalism after the Second Great Awakening. See the Public Education movement of Horace Greely. It may be the case that the Secular Awakenings complement the  Religious ones  and in a synergistic spiral that leads to the ultimate outcome of Revolution and/or Civil War.

The following three stages are illustrative of Ewing’s Grand Theory:

1. Stage One: Early 18th Century:

a. First Industrial Revolution,

b. First Great Awakening,

c. Intensified colonial political activity

d. Culture wars: Loyalists vs. Patriots

e. American Revolution in 1776.

2. Stage Two: Early 19th Century

a.  Second industrial revolution

b. Second Great Awakening,

c. Explosion of social reform movements including Abolitionism

d. Culture Wars: Abolitionists and Republicans vs. slaveholders

e. The American Civil War in 1861

3. Stage Three: Late 20th Century- Early 21st Century

a. End of the Industrial Revolutions and Dawn of information age

b. Third Great Awakening (Ewing was one of the first to call it that)

c. Family Values movement, the 700 Club, Tea Party (irony abounds)

d. Culture Wars:  Liberals versus Conservatives

e. 2013 Constitutional Crisis; Government shut down by radical minority of evangelicals and Tea Party.

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