Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s and rose to be the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, AL. That gave him oversight of the city police and fire departments and the power to enforce segregation, which he did with stunningly brutal efficiency.
It gave him the power to direct the police and fire departments to sic attack dogs and train fire hoses on peaceful, legal demonstrators, many of them children. Four little girls were bombed to death in the 16th Street Baptist Church under Connor’s watch in 1963. His influence is surely behind the Alabama State Troopers who used their billy clubs to crack skulls on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday in 1965. He intentionally caused police to arrive 15 minutes after the arrival in Birmingham of a Greyhound bus full of Freedom Riders in 1961, allowing the waiting mob of hate spewing white Klansmen to beat the Freedom Riders with metal pipes, clubs and bats. Oppression and violence were just fine with Bull Connor.
The wholesale use of violence has abated considerably since those days and surely America is a better place for people of color today. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go to live up to our creed for all Americans.
And so it was significant that so many gathered for the “Let Freedom Ring” event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 2013, commemorating the 50 year anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. So many were there, like Rep. John Lewis, who marched with Dr. King, Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, Julian Bond, Amb. Andrew Young, Oprah Winfrey and many more. Important things were said and renewed momentum for progress was urged. But something was missing.
Missing was anyone on the right. No Republicans stepped to the podium. Not a moderate. Not a conservative. Not a Libertarian. Not a single Republican.
President George H.W. Bush was invited, but he is old and not well and was unable to attend. President George W. Bush also was invited, but he is recovering from a heart procedure, so he did what he could and sent a statesman-like letter.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Kantor were invited, but all refused to speak for equality, for justice, for jobs, for freedom for all Americans. They didn’t even send a note.
The messages delivered by their absences are unmistakable. First, Republicans don’t care as much about equality, justice, jobs and freedom for all Americans as they do about appealing to the far right crazies in their party. Second, it is more important to Republicans to diminish the President by refusing to share a podium with him than to do what is best for Americans.
On a day dedicated to honoring the memory of people and events that changed our country and are a seminal part of American history, the Republicans told Americans that they really don’t care much about them.
It is often more difficult to look at a picture and identify what is missing, than to identify what is present and does not belong. In this case, it is glaringly obvious what is missing. Bull Connor would be proud.
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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