The Late Senator Birch Bayh: Best Friend of Black America

On March 14, 2019, one of the greatest liberal Senators in the history of that very august body passed away at the age of 91. Senator Birch Bayh, a Democrat from Indiana, was the quiet giant of Black Americans in the United States Senate from 1964 to 1980. I had the pleasure of working for him as a Legislative Aide and Political Adviser from the years 1976 to 1980. I can sincerely and honestly write that he sponsored every bill and amendment asked of him from Black Leadership at that time. I chuckle when I hear Black leaders today say that, “We Black Americans have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.” Senator Bayh was a permanent friend who never let us down. And he did so as a Senator from what today is considered a “Red State.”

Senator Birch Bayh

Senator Bayh unfortunately had to operate in the shadow of his close friend Senator Ted Kennedy.  He did not possess the name and the flair of a Kennedy, but he had the heart of a giant when taking on causes important to my people. I met on a regular basis with Eddie Williams of the Joint Center for Political Studies, Ronald Brown of the Urban League, Clarence Mitchell of the NAACP and Jesse Jackson, and they would often suggest amendments to legislation they would want Senator Bayh to sponsor. Not once did he say no.

Senator Bayh was one of the leaders who fought to get representation for the residents of the District of Columbia in the Senate. He also supported a Constitutional Amendment, that if passed would have made the District a state. He was one of the very few Senators who supported a proposal to force the Senate to comply with equal opportunity employment, comparable to what existed in the executive branch.

I vividly recall in February 1979 attending a meeting with him in Senator Kennedy’s office. When we arrived, Mrs. Coretta Scott King and Congressman John Conyers were there. Mrs. King asked the two Senators if they would introduce a bill, in the Judiciary Committee, to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. Both Kennedy and Bayh agreed to introduce the legislation, and I worked closely with Peter Parham of Kennedy’s staff to organize the hearing. It might have been the first time that two Black staffers had responsibility to head up a hearing, for their respective Senators. The late Reginald Gilliam of Senator John Glenn’s staff worked closely with us. The proposed legislation was eventually tabled, but it did open up the discussion as to the value to the country to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday, and ultimately led to passage in 1983.

One of the Senator’s greatest disappointments occurred when Black leadership turned their backs on his more important proposal, and that was to amend the Constitution from the electoral college to direct elections of the President. I will never forget the call I received late at night from the Senator, when he found out that Vernon Jordan and the other leaders would support Senator Strom Thurmond’s attempt to defeat the proposed direct election legislation. When I confronted Eddie Williams on their betrayal of their best friend in the Senate, he simply recited their favorite mantra, “no permanent friends nor permanent enemies only permanent interests.” That was one of the worst distortions of the facts. Strom Thurmond had never been our friend, and electoral college was not in the best interest of Black America as we all now realize, and no doubt, Senator Birch Bayh was a permanent friend.

                    

The only Senator in the history of that body to match Birch Bayh’s dedication to Black equality was Charles Sumner over one-hundred years before him. It will probably be another hundred years before we experience someone, not Black, who will show the same commitment to Black Americans in this country as did my friend and boss for three year, and a true leader of all liberal causes the late and great Senator Birch Bayh from Indiana.

 

America’s Worst Sore—Racism—Remains

A certain segment of this country fails to acknowledge that they have a sore called racism. It is a sore that just won’t heal. It has been around since the inception of this country and even before. It is a sore used as justification to invade Africa, steal its humanity and enslave a race of people for over 250 years. It led to the Black Codes after the Civil War and Jim Crow Laws after Reconstruction. The sore caused two to three Blacks to be lynched or burned at the stake every week in the South during the years from 1890 to 1917. It precipitated the Tulsa Massacre on June 1, 1921 when over 300 Black men, women and children were murdered, followed the next year with the slaughter in Rosewood, Florida. It is the same sore that gave us the Scottsboro Trials of the 1930’s, the lynching of Emma Till in 1955, the lynching of  Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama in 1972, the slaughter of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas in 1998 and now in present day America, the killings of young Black men by Police Departments in many cities.

In his autobiography about growing up Black in the Jim Crow South, the late Dr. Benjamin Mays recalled his childhood in South Carolina. “If a Black boy wanted to live a halfway normal life and die a natural death, he had to learn early the art of how to get along with white folks.” Before Emmitt Till headed South to spend the summer, his mother counseled him on the proper behavior for a young Black teenager in Mississippi. She feared for his life if he failed to remain invisible. Today, in the year 2019, parents are still counseling their young boys on how to act while traversing what are assumed to be the free streets of America.

This soreness that has plagued white America over the centuries is based on an erroneous, but very arrogant assumption that the white race is some kind of a superior race over others and especially Blacks. Dr. W. E. B. DuBois wrote that the idea of superiority based on skin color evolved out of Europe and Winthrop D. Jordan in his work White over Black wrote about the color of white possessing much more intrinsic good and value than the color of black. The notion of white superiority served a valuable purpose during slavery for it served as a justification for the brutal treatment of Africans by Europeans. It continued to serve the same purpose after the Civil War as whites continued their brutality. Today, superiority of white racism serves no particular purpose, but the sore just seems to hang around and fester like the “Raisin in the Sun.”

White America has desperately tried to pass on that sore to other races especially Blacks. They claim men like the Honorable Louis Farrakhan are racists. But nothing is further from the truth. His criticisms of the white race are not because he believes that he is superior to them based on skin color, but only on what he observes as their participation over the centuries in the oppression of Blacks. Before Farrakhan, they tried to pass on their sick sore to Malcolm X, but it just didn’t stick. In fact, even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was accused of being a racist by the racists. Try as they may, they just cannot jettison that sore. It belongs to them.

For the eight years that President Barack Obama occupied the White House we all believed the sore had gone into remission. But with the election of Donald Trump it has resurfaced with a vengeance. How long it will remain active depends on what White America decides to do in 2020. It is their choice to make. They can, “Do the Right Thing,” and toss the racist president out and finally begin the healing process for a sore that has plagued them and made a mockery out of their perceived democracy or they will continue to suffer as they have for over four hundred years. We all are pulling for the former choice to win because we do care for and love this country but are resolved to the strong probability that the second choice will prevail. That seems to be the nature of America’s worst sore and racism may be destined to be with us for a very long time into the future.