My friends cry into a towel making unintelligible animal sounds as they read the news and perceive American democracy slipping into fascism. However, the sounds and pictures of crying children at the U.S. southern border have shocked the conscience of the nation. A friend asked me, “How did we get here?”
In trying to answer his question, I started making a timeline.
What I found was a pendulum of sentiment that swung from the politics of white supremacy to the politics that fought it. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was in a boxing match with gerrymandering. Fundamentalist right-wing voters filled most of the seats.
So, I started in 1965.
1965: The Voting Rights Act is signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson to enforce the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. It was the culminating achievement of the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King was present.
Section 4: No “test or device” (such as a literacy test) can be used to deny a U.S. citizen’s right to vote on the basis of race or color.
Section 5: Covered jurisdictions need “preclearance” from the federal government to ensure that any change in their voting procedures is not discriminatory.
1968: Martin Luther King is assassinated. Richard Nixon becomes president.
1969: Richard Nixon coins the term, “silent majority.”
1969: Kevin Phillips publishes “The Emerging Republican Majority,” after analyzing voting patterns for Nixon in the South and coming up with the “Southern Strategy.”
The Southern Strategy predicted a conservative realignment, based on racism.
The Southern vote would offset the vote in Northeastern cities.
Republicans would never need more than 10 percent to 20 percent of the Black vote, because the more Blacks filled Democratic ledgers, the more whites would join the Republican Party.
1971: To enforce Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, the Supreme Court introduced “desegregation busing.” Federal courts could use busing as a tool to integrate the public schools in the South (Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education).
1974: The Supreme Court ruled that busing could be used when segregation existed across multiple school districts (Milliken v. Bradley). This decision brought busing to the North and generated resistance groups, such as “Restore Our Alienated Rights” in Boston.
1974: School board member Alice Moore, who requested and received all 325 recommended textbooks, said she found quotes from Malcolm X, Alan Ginsberg, Sigmund Freud and Black Panther members Eldridge Cleaver and George Jackson. On May 23, Moore came to the school board meeting and charged that the textbooks were “filthy, disgusting trash, unpatriotic and unduly favoring Blacks” (Foerstel, Herbert N. “Banned in the U.S.A.,” Greenwood Press, 1994. p. 1-7) Fundamentalist pastors and parents in Kanawha County, W.Va., closed the schools to protest books they said were un-Christian, unpatriotic, destructive of the family and constituted an incitement to racial violence.
1978: State legislatures start redrawing districts.
1979: Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich found a political action group, Moral Majority. Richard Viguerie, the inventor of political direct mail, mobilized voters around Moral Majority’s platform, which opposed, among other things:
the Equal Rights Amendment,
the Civil Rights Movement,
the Gay Rights Movement,
a permissive sexual morality associated with the hippie movement, and
obstacles to prayer in the schools.
1980: At his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, Falwell said, “We’re fighting a holy war. What’s happened to America is that the wicked are bearing rule. We have to lead the nation back to the moral stance that made America great … We need to wield influence on those who govern us.” (Eileen Oginiz, “Evangelicals Seek Political Clout,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 3, 1980)
1980: Ronald Reagan became president of the United States. The Moral Majority was credited as being a crucial voting bloc.
1980s -1990s: State legislatures continue redrawing districts. More state legislatures turn Republican.
1991: From his apartment window, George Holliday used his camcorder to record the Los Angeles police officers brutally beating Rodney King as they arrested him. Then Holliday sent his footage to local news station KTLA. The footage went around the world. Citizen journalism was born.
1992: Pat Buchanan speaks in front of the Republican Convention after losing his presidential bid to George H.W. Bush.
He ascribes the Clinton platform to the “discredited liberalism of the 1960s and the failed liberalism of the 1970s.”
He characterizes the “Clinton agenda” as “not the kind of change we can abide in a nation that we still call God’s country.”
He added, “There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war… for the soul of America.”
1994: Newt Gingrich writes “The Contract With America.” During the midterm election campaign, Republicans take 54 seats in the House and nine seats in the Senate in what is called the Republican Revolution.
2003: Tom DeLay redrew Texas’ Congressional district lines, throwing aside the tradition that new lines be drawn every 10 years, based on census data. A federal court ruled in Abbot v. Perez that DeLay’s redrawn districts constituted gerrymandering. The case stated that DeLay’s districts were unconstitutional because their purpose was to increase the number of Republican voters and discriminate against minorities. These redrawn districts violated the 15th Amendment, which was the basis for the Voting Rights Act.
2005: Supreme Court decides to review Abbot v. Perez.
2008, 2012: Barack Obama is elected president.
2012: Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman kills Trayvon Martin, 17 years old, while he was on his way to his father’s girlfriend’s apartment. Zimmerman is acquitted. Martin’s family gets a settlement of more than $1 million from the Florida homeowners association of the housing complex where Martin was killed.
2013: In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court strikes down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits states from enacting “tests and devices” to suppress voting on racial grounds. Chief Justice Roberts said, “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” Texas immediately passed a voter ID law.
2013: Black Lives Matter is founded.
2014: As technology advanced to give every smartphone a camera, recordings of police killing Black people start to spread on social media, giving a fraction of cases a high profile.
Michael Brown, killed by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. Wilson is not charged. Brown’s family receives a $1.5 million settlement.
Tamir Rice killed in Cleveland. Officer is not charged. Family receives $6 million settlement.
Eric Garner killed on Staten Island. Officers are not charged. Family receives $5.9 million settlement.
Akai Gurley killed in Brooklyn. Officer is convicted of manslaughter. Charge is reduced to negligent homicide, with no jail time. Family receives $4.1 million settlement.
Laquan McDonald killed in Chicago. No trial yet family receives $5 million settlement.
Gregory Hill killed in Florida by sheriff’s deputy. Jury awards family $4. The family is suing again.
2014: The number of Republican state legislatures reaches an all-time high.
2015: Walter Scott killed in North Charleston, S.C. Officer pleads guilty and is sentenced to 20 years in prison. Family receives $6.5 million settlement.
Freddie Gray killed in Baltimore. Three officers are acquitted. Family receives $6.4 million.
Sandra Bland dies in Prairie View, Texas, jail. Officer is not convicted. Perjury charge is dropped. Family receives $1.9 million settlement.
Samuel DuBose killed in Cincinnati. Charges dropped after two mistrials. Family receives $4.85 million settlement.
Christian Taylor killed in Arlington, Texas. Officer not charged. Family receives $850,000 settlement.
2016: Trump is elected.
Calls Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals just after he starts his presidential campaign.
Alton B. Sterling killed in Baton Rouge, La. No charges brought and no trial or settlement.
Paul O’Neal killed in Chicago. No charges brought and no trial or settlement.
Keith Lamont Scott killed in Charlotte, N.C. No charges brought and no trial or settlement.
Philando Castile killed in Falcon Heights, Minn. Officer acquitted of second-degree manslaughter. Family and girlfriend receive $2.995 million settlement.
Terrence Crutcher killed in Tulsa, Okla. Officer found not guilty. Family files for settlement a second time.
2017: White nationalists organize a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park. At 1:45 p.m., James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters half a mile from the rally site, killing one and injuring 19. He was charged with first-degree murder. Trump responded from a working vacation in Bedminster, N.J.: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
2018: In Abbott, Governor of Texas, et al v. Perez et al, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision in Abbott v. Perez. The Supreme Court only found gerrymandering in one Texas district. The rest of Tom DeLay’s Texas districts remained.
2018: Trump test markets a policy to separate Central American children from their mothers at border crossings where they were seeking asylum. Arriving at a border crossing and applying for asylum is a legal act. After public outcry, he reverses his decision without a process to reunite the 2,300 children already separated.
Infants, toddlers and underage children were separated from their parents three other times in U.S. history: Slavery (1619-1865), the “Indian Residential Schools” (late 19th to mid-20th centuries) and the Japanese Internment Camps, which President Roosevelt created with Executive Order 9066 Feb. 19, 1942.
Race wars have always existed in America, but documenting it piece by piece since 1965 paints a chilling picture of the inhumanity this country has sanctioned within its borders, while proclaiming itself to be a beacon of freedom to the world.
From this timeline, I conclude that Moral Majority created a right-wing fundamentalist voting bloc, which changed the Republican Party. They inserted their social, religious and racist agenda into legislation, which elected members of school boards, state legislatures, the House of Representatives, the Senate and President Ronald Reagan.
They painted and defined a culture war, using direct mail to mobilize voters to elect Republicans. Those elected officials redrew congressional districts that guaranteed Republican majorities in blatant acts of gerrymandering. They also confirmed judges who approved these districts.
Trump is building on these events, because his main goal is to maintain white supremacy. He is winning.
The Supreme Court used Shelby v. Holder to gut the Voting Rights Act. The Court also overturned Abbot v. Perez and upheld Tom DeLay’s gerrymandering in Texas. Finally, immigration reform is nowhere in sight. Trump’s base, rooted deeply in the Southern Strategy, makes it easy for him to market-test cruelty based on race.
That’s why we had to listen to crying babies at the U.S. southern border. That’s why we had to see a 4-year-old comfort her mother after the police shot the mother’s boyfriend in a car.
We didn’t get here. We were always here.
However, since 1965, most white Americans were changing the oil on their cars, trying to lose weight at the gym and picking up their children from school. They felt entitled to ignore the judicial decisions and legislation that were destroying the gains of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Barack Obama and Eric Holder are starting to raise funds for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to recruit candidates who will win local and state races in an effort to tackle gerrymandering. Barack Obama gets it. We have to support him. We need a new Civil Rights Movement.
Barbara Steinberg is the daughter of the late Benjamin Steinberg, founding artistic director of the Symphony of the New World, the first fully integrated orchestra in America, which premiered in Carnegie Hall May 6, 1965.