In early 1959, an active-duty African American U.S. Navy Commander, James Tillman, arrived in the Twin Cities for a one-year appointment to head up the new Interfaith Housing effort. According to articles then in the Minneapolis Tribune, the Minneapolis Journal, and the St. Paul Dispatch, Mr. Tillman was to create an operational structure for the Human Rights Department in St. Paul and its commission, and for the Civil Rights Department in Minneapolis and its commission.
Completed by 1967, these organizational structures gave the Black communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul a great sense of pride. Many felt these departments were a great step forward to ensure the protection of the franchise of the African American and others of color.
But on Thursday, May 1, 2008, in, ironically, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in St. Paul, in the Canteen Room, 85 citizens learned otherwise as they were given the St. Paul plan. The plan fires another shot across the political bow of a soon-to-be-disappearing ship of hope, a plan for dismantling the dream of everlasting protection and inclusion.
First and foremost, it is clear that the first target is the department’s current executive director, Tyrone Terrill. It is obvious that he is considered to be a force too dangerous to be allowed to preside over the dismantling of his department.
Secondly, it is clear that the model being used is that of one of the greatest failures of civil rights enforcement anywhere in the United States, the disastrous Minneapolis Civil Rights Department. And so, just months away from the convening of one of the highest profile political gatherings, the Republican National Convention, the Twin Cities are showing America how to methodically disenfranchise African Americans and others of color.
The powers that be will say the plan represents new opportunities for entrepreneurs and vendors to enjoy the economic pies of procurement contract awards and other considerations. But up close and intensely examined, we see instead steps to dismantle over 40 years of effort.
The plan provides for no sanctions or penalties for contract violations, nor for denying opportunity. It falsely claims to challenge those who enjoy the fruits of prosperity to give more of the economic pie to those who have been denied and are disadvantaged. In this era of nullification and reversal, only those with no understanding of the reality of the big picture would buy into that.
So, once again the African American is being disenfranchised, shattering the dream while we are asked to rally around the flag and sing “We shall overcome.” I don’t’ think so. Stay tuned.
As of midnight May 1, 2008: 32 shot, six dead since March 25, and still little press coverage.
Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm. Formerly head of key civil rights organizations, including the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission, he continues his “watchdog” role for Minneapolis. Order his books at www.BeaconOnTheHill.com; hear his readings and read his solution papers and “web log” at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.