Here’s a rap battle between Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, both vying to be the best nonviolent civil rights leader of all time. I thought it was pretty clever, what with “naan” violence and the double meaning of “hos,” among other things. Do note that the n-word (ending with the rappish “h”) is uttered by Dr. King, which is presumably ok because he’s a black rapper.
This incident is relevant to the Supreme Court’s recent hearings about whether a Colorado web designer could refuse service by refusing to create a wedding website for a gay couple. That was a First Amendment case, but this refusal to service, in Virginia, may constitute a civil rights case. You decide:
Reader Williams Garcia sent me a link to an article from ABC 8 News serving the Richmond, Virginia area.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited, among other things, discrimination in public places against certain “protected classes”: to wit:
Note that it says nothing about “politics”, so I suppose a restaurant could deny service to a group or person on political grounds, though I’m not 100% sure. Could a restaurant refuse to serve Mitch McConnell because he’s a Republican servant of Beelzebub?
This is important because a “conservative advocacy group” mentioned in the article (click on screenshot) was refused service on grounds that seem to involve both the group’s politics and their religious foundation:
Here’s the skinny (my bolding):
A Virginia-based conservative Christian advocacy group was turned away from a local restaurant just an hour before their reservation last week.
A representative of the Family Foundation said he was frustrated after the group was turned away from Metzger Bar and Butchery last Wednesday. The group claims the refusal had to do with their religious beliefs.
According to Todd Gathje, Director of Government Relations for the Family Foundation, one of the owners of Metzger called a representative of the Family Foundation about an hour before the reservation time, saying that the group would not be dining in the restaurant.
“We’ve had events at restaurants all over the city and never encountered a situation like this,” Gathje said. “It’s no secret that we are very much engaged in the public policy debate on a number of controversial issues. But we never expected that we would be denied service at a restaurant based on our religious values or political beliefs.”
For businesses like restaurants, federal and state laws do not allow discrimination based on protected classes such as race, religion, sex and more, as defined by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It’s not yet clear if this incident falls under one of those protected classes.
The question, then, is whether the Family Foundation of Virginia (FFV) was refused service because it’s politically conservative or because it was religious. In fact, the two are connected. Wikipedia says this about the organization:
Family Foundation of Virginia is a socially conservative and Christian fundamentalist lobbying organization headquartered in the US city of Richmond, Virginia. It was focused originally on opposition to sex education. It has expanded to opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, nondiscrimination policies, and same-sex marriage. The organization supports legal conversion therapy for minors and increased legal restriction on abortion.
(By the way, it was the FFV that, it says, lobbied so hard against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia that it failed to be ratified by the state, and that was the end of the line for the ERA).
And on their own page, under “Who we are,” the FFV says this:
The Family Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan, faith-based organization. We believe there is no square inch in all the universe over which God has not claimed “Mine,” and that includes the arenas of civil government and public policy where we spend much of our time. We advocate for policies based on Biblical principles that enable families to flourish at the state and local level. We are uniquely positioned at the center of a national, state, and local coalition, which includes being associated with Focus on the Family.
The question, then, is whether they were refuse service on religious grounds or on political grounds (i.e., Metzger’s just didn’t like the organization as a whole, and wasn’t refusing service because they were religious). I don’t think it matters whether they were refused service because Metzger’s itself had a religious belief that prevented them from serving the FFV, or whether the FFV was refused service because of its religious beliefs; the law above implies that the latter is enough to constitute a civil rights violation.
Here’s what the site says about being refused service:
The restaurant noted that many staff members were LGBTQ or women and that it believed the Family Foundation “seeks to deprive women and LGBTQ+ persons of their basic rights in Virginia.”
Gathje has previously written for the Family Foundation about a stalled effort in 2021 to remove an unenforceable provision of the Virginia Constitution — invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 — that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, saying that removing it would open the door to “polygamous, incestuous, kinship or even child marriages.”
Gathje said he thought it was unfair of the restaurant to deny service over the group’s religious beliefs.
“It was a very intolerant message being conveyed,” Gathje said.
Well, of course they were refused service either because they were political or religious in a way that the LGBTQ staff didn’t like, but in this case it’s impossible, I think, to separate the politics and the religion, since the former comes from the latter. And the reasons given for refusing service are ambiguous. While the FFV has offered to sit down with the restaurant’s owners to try to avoid situations like this, it could institute a lawsuit. If they were refused service because they were, say, black or Jewish, and that would be a valid lawsuit. But because the FFV doesn’t favor “basic rights” of LGBTQ+ people, does that count? Here are the “core principles” of the organization, which seem based on religion:
Human life, from fertilization until natural death, is sacred, and the right to life is fundamental to all other rights.
Marriage, as a lifelong union between one man and one woman, is an institution of God and a foundation for civil society.
Gender, beautifully expressed as either male or female according to God’s immutable design, is an important biological and social reality that must be respected by all.
Parents are ultimately responsible for the care and well-being of their children and should therefore be free from intrusive government involvement.
The right of conscience and the right to practice faith according to personal convictions are sacred and should not be denied or infringed.
The role and jurisdiction of government is clearly prescribed by our Constitution and consequently should be restrained from excessive involvement in the lives of citizens.
Human exploitation, in its various forms, is wrong, and governments have a legitimate and important role in curbing these abuses.
As you see from #2 and #3, they do favor things that violate the legal rights of LGBTA+ people. But does that count?
Perhaps lawyers could weigh in here. Would this refusal of service be illegal? If not now, would it be later if the Supreme Court, as is likely, decides for the web designer, and whether it does so purely on First Amendment grounds (“a website is an expression”) or whether it issues a broader ruling allowing any discrimination because of a businessperson’s religious beliefs?
Glenn Loury is, as you know, a black heterodox thinker and writer, much like his friend John McWhorter. Loury was also the first professor of economics at Harvard to get tenure, and that at only 33. Now he works at Brown University.
I found out only yesterday that Glenn has a Substack site, and saw the post below on it. Click to read, but, as always, subscribe if you read regularly. This post is free to the public, and if you’re pulled up short, just click “Let me read it first”:
This is a long post, much of it reproduced from an earlier interview that is not online. Loury intro:
There is no better time than now to think back with a critical eye on the conditions that brought about landmark mid-century civil rights legislation and Supreme Court decisions. Below I do just that in a long interview from 2019 led by Bucknell University sociologist Alexander Riley, which is taken from his edited collection, Reflecting on the 1960s at 50: A Concise Account on How the 1960s Changed America, for Better and for Worse. In it, I speak at length on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panthers, affirmative action, mass incarceration, and reparations, among other topics.
A few quotes under topics I’ve chosen:
The relative efficacy of Dr. King’s actions vs. those of contemporary activists:
. . . .I get why people are saying that. I get why contemporary social justice activists are impatient with the color-blind “I have a dream that one day my children will be judged by the content of their character. Black and white will walk hand-in-hand together, etc., etc.” I understand people’s impatience with that rhetoric in our current day, but I just ask people to reflect on what the power of that rhetoric actually was in transforming structures in American society. Again, I don’t think the threats of violence, the rejection across the board of American norms, the contempt for patriotism, the classification of the Founding Fathers as a bunch of dead white males, half of whom were slave owners anyways, and “we were 3/5 of a man in the constitution,” I don’t think that kind of rhetoric gets us anywhere. So there’s that.
On affirmative action:
I’m not one of those who would respond to affirmative action by saying it’s discrimination against non-black or non-Latino people and therefore it’s wrong and must not be done. It is discrimination to the extent that it’s undertaken to benefit blacks or Latinos, but it’s not discrimination that I think should be prevented on a constitutional argument. That’s one thing that I would say.
But we are here in the year 2019. Affirmative action is something that dates back to the late 1960s, and really gets going in the 1970s. President Lyndon Johnson famously says, I believe it’s at a commencement address at Howard University in 1965, that you don’t take someone who’s been hobbled by history, the chains that encumber them, and remove the chains and bring them up to the starting line of a race and then you set the race off and expect that you’re being entirely fair. This is a paraphrase of Johnson. What he says is we need equality as a fact, and equality as an outcome, not merely equality in principle or equality as a theory.
We are a half-century into this idea that we’ve got to do something special for the blacks in the competitive venues where they lag behind in order to ensure equality of opportunity. A half-century, that’s a long time. It’s as long from Johnson giving that speech in 1965 to where we sit right here, today, in 2019, as was the time that expired between Appomattox, where Lee surrenders to Grant, and Versailles, where the First World War is brought to a conclusion. That’s a long time. That’s three generations. It’s a long, long time.
There is a lot more he has to say on the issue, and it’s relevant because the Supreme Court is set to overturn the Bakke case. Last night I discussed with my friends, who are longtime social-justice activists of the good sort (they actually did and are still doing stuff: teachers at minority schools and social workers), and we all agreed that the true solution to underrepresentation (“inequity”) is not the magicking of equity into existence by lowering the bar for some groups, but a fundamental change in opportunity, allowing everyone equal opportunity from birth. And that would require income redistribution—anathema to most Americans and all Republicans. It would also require other changes difficult to make. But it’s the only viable long-term solution. As McWhorter notes:
There was recently this controversy about the exam schools in New York City: Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, Stuyvesant. They have an exam. They give the exam. Tens of thousands of people take it. They are admitting only hundreds. Stuyvesant constitutes a class—an incoming class for the fall next year—of 895 admits. Seven of them are black. And the newspaper article says, in the spirit of affirmative action, “Racial Segregation Returns to New York City’s High Schools.” The presumption is the low number of African Americans being admitted is a reflection of the failure of the institution to be fair and open to all people.
It is not! It’s a reflection of something else, something less pretty, something much more challenging, something that goes much more profoundly to the heart of what’s wrong in our country. It’s a reflection of the failure to develop the human potential of those youngsters who happen to be black. The test is only a messenger. It’s merely telling us what people know and what they don’t know. Some respond, “Well, let’s get rid of the test, let’s put a quota on the schools, let’s raise those numbers.” But why not, “Let’s develop those people so that they can compete”?
. . . I used to be one of those people who said, “Oh no, it is just racial discrimination, it is just reverse discrimination, and we shouldn’t do it.” And then I became one of those people who said, “Oh no, wait a minute, I do think we need to defend affirmative action.” And now I am one of these people who is saying, “Are we ever going to get serious about the actual problem of inequality and address ourselves to it? Affirmative action doesn’t take us to that point.” Imagine how weak, and, at the end of the day, pathetic it is to be in this position of begging not to have affirmative action taken away. Throwing a tantrum not to have them take away affirmative action. “We want our affirmative action!” Pathetic!
I still think that in the interim some form of affirmative action is needed, but perhaps it should be based on socioeconomic considerations rather than ethnicity. Since ethnicity is correlated with socioeconomic status, that would still create more “equity,” and perhaps that is the way colleges will counter the upcoming dismantling of affirmative action by the Supreme Court. I always wonder what will happen to the elaborate and expensive apparatus of DEI bureaucracy erected by many colleges and universities, including mine. Will “D” no longer include race, but diversity of viewpoints and of socieconomic status?
I actually think that little bit of the question is kind of interesting, and maybe even ironic to me, because if I said that the family has a right to pass his wealth on to from one generation to the next without the encumbrance of inheritance tax, or call it the death tax as Republicans like to call it, a lot of progressives would say “Oh no, oh no. Just because your father made a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anything. You didn’t earn it.” Well, likewise, just because my ancestors may have been deprived of the fruits of their labor by being forcibly enslaved doesn’t mean that necessarily that I am entitled to anything. I really don’t see, conceptually, a distinction between one or the other. In some sense, intergenerational entitlement being transferred from one generation to the next is intergenerational entitlement being transferred from one generation to the next.
But that’s not my main point. Do the facts of slavery, and Jim Crow segregation, and inequality, and restrictive covenants, and racial discrimination, and poll taxes, and literally tests, and anti-miscegenation laws, and all of that figure in a social scientifically identifiable way in accounting for some of the disadvantage of African American? I have no doubt that that’s true. I have no doubt that history casts a long shadow, that some dimension of African American poverty does indeed derive from historical mistreatment of African-Americans. Saying how much would, it seems to me, be a bridge too far. I don’t know how you do that as an empirical project.
. . . How about this? How about those who are concerned about the lasting effects of slavery and Jim Crow as they manifest themselves in the lives of very poor and disadvantaged and marginalized people, how about if we get about the business of building a coalition of poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized people of all races, and try to formulate a politics in which the essential needs of those people for opportunity would be at the center of our advocacy? I am prepared to include white people, brown people, yellow people, red people, as well as black people in that effort. That would be, I think, a serious American political enterprise. This sectarian enterprise—“Y’all disadvantaged my ancestors and I need to get paid”—I don’t think it’s going anywhere and I don’t think frankly it should go anywhere.
There is much to read and think about in Loury’s essay, including prison reform as well as these Big Three racial issues: Is our goal to become color blind? What should we do about affirmative action? And should we enact reparations, and, if so, how? You may disagree with Loury, but he will make you think. (Feel free to give your opinions below on these three questions or other related issues.) But do read this piece.
We are probably going to have Loury speak on our campus this year, and I wonder what sort of disruptions would ensue.
Last September, a surprising article in the New York Times reported on how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seemed to be losing its mission of defending civil liberties, moving more and more towards “progressive” politics. Part of this transformation involved suddenly prioritizing what speech to defend based on its perceived “harm.” More harmful speech (e.g., speech offending minorities or other oppressed groups) was to be given lower legal priority.
This was a complete reversal of the history of the ACLU, an organization that was one of my favorites. (They gave me pro bono legal help when I took the government to court over being illegally called up for alternative service as a conscientious objector.) Now, it seems, they think that some people deserve more civil rights than others. This was all documented in one of my posts and in an article on Tablet that quoted secret ACLU documents. After Charlottesville, for example, Tablet reports that the ACLU made a momentous decision:
. . . the national ACLU circulated an internal document with new “case selection guidelines,” stipulating, “Speech that denigrates such [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.” Before agreeing to take a free speech case, the document continued, the ACLU would now consider “the potential effect on marginalized communities,” whether the speech advances the goals of speakers whose “views are contrary to our values,” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” A manifestation of the ACLU’s new approach can be seen in the decision by one chapter to intervene in a high-profile case at Smith College, where the group amplified bogus claims of racism leveled by a student against some of the school’s custodial and cafeteria staff.
There are many other signs of the ACLU’s change of mission, and you can see my posts on them here. And today there’s yet another, which Zaid Jilani describes in a post on his “inquiremore” site. Click on the screenshot to read.
In brief, Jilani recounts the ACLU’s history of demanding transparency from government, and how it’s now backed off on its history of fostering transparency. The reason is because of the kerfuffle embodied in state bills that ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Parents who don’t want their children exposed to some of the more divisive or questionable aspects of CRT are now asking that curricular materials (syllabi, reading lists, assignments, etc) be made public, i.e., put online.
For the record, I don’t favor those bills. But I don’t see any reason that material involved in public-school classes shouldn’t be made public. (I’m not asking for all teachers to be filmed or recorded, but for the paper record of classroom assignments to be made public.)
The ACLU doesn’t like this, and I’m guessing because they actually want CRT to be taught to children. Do not underestimate their wokeness! If you think I’m exaggerating about the “new ACLU”, have a listen to legendary civil-liberties activist Ira Glasser, once head of the ACLU for 23 years, speaking on Bill Maher’s show. He’s appalled at what’s happened to his baby. Glasser, despite his vocation, is not a man of hot temper, and when he talks this way, you know that he’s really angry:
Back to “transparency”. Here’s the ACLU’s new stand (the ACLU is nearly as hamhanded at tweeting as was Donald Trump):
Curriculum transparency bills are just thinly veiled attempts at chilling teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in schools. https://t.co/EqKN4EGX3m
In that tweet they deliberately conflate CRT with “teaching about race and gender”. People like me—and, in fact, most Americans—favor the latter but not the former. Critical Race Theory, in both its academic construal and in how it’s taught in many schools, is not just “learning and talking about race and gender.” The tweet above is dissimulation.
The ACLU has a history, as I said. of demanding transparency. From Jilani’s post:
This marks a reversal for the ACLU, which has always argued for government transparency in all arenas, including in schools.
“The days of back door decision making are over. Compliance with the open meetings law is meant to secure the opportunity of parents, students, and community members to have a meaningful impact on the development of policy. We are all well served when decisions on the appointment of sex education advisory committee members is subject to public scrutiny, rather than the result of the presentation of a narrow range of interests,” Staci Pratt, Legal Director of the ACLU of Nevada, said at the time. The organization used the state’s public records law to request materials related to sex education in each of the state’s 17 counties.
The ACLU-KY sent requests to all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts seeking policies and curriculum for “Bible Literacy” courses. While most districts are not offering these courses, the ACLU-KY found many of the courses that are being offered do not fall within constitutional strictures, which require any use of religious text in the classroom to be secular, objective, nondevotional, and must not promote any specific religious view.
The investigation uncovered public school teachers using the Bible to impart religious life lessons (Barren, McCracken, and Letcher Counties), use of online Sunday School lessons and worksheets for course source material and assignments (Letcher and Wayne Counties), and rote memorization of Biblical text (McCracken County) — practices which fall far short of academic and objective study of the Bible and its historical context or literary value.
If you don’t want curricula exposed that deal with race and gender, why do so many people want curricula exposed that deal with creationism being taught in public schools? It was my reading of Eric Hedin’s online syllabi at Ball State University, for example, that led me to discover that he was teaching Intelligent Design creationism in a public college—a violation of the law. The result was that he was forced to stop teaching religion in the guise of science. And, of course, parents foot the bill for their kids’ education, and surely have some rights in at least hearing what their kids are supposed to learn and do.
The ACLU also demanded transparency from schools when they were violating Title IX by segregating sexes:
The ACLU of Alabama was so bothered by government-sanctioned sex segregation in the school system that in 2008 it formally protested and sought documents from Mobile County schools outlining any policies related to the matter:
After hearing from outraged parents of students who, without notice, were involuntarily segregated by sex at Hankins Middle School in Mobile, Alabama, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama sent a letter to the Mobile County School System warning that mandatory sex segregation in public schools is illegal and discriminatory. The civil liberties organization also asked, under the Alabama Open Records Act, that the school district make public any and all documents relating to sex segregation policies in Mobile County schools from the past two years.
One of the things parents are worried about is racial segregation in schools, which is part of the CRT program (in this cases, segregation of graduations, dorms, and events are considered salubrious for minorities). Yet the ACLU demands transparency for sex segregation but opposes it for segregation by race or ethnicity. Why the difference? You know the answer. Jilani dosn’t speculate much about this, though the reasons are clear to all people not blinded by ideology. He finishes his piece this way:
In arguing against transparency in the public school system, the ACLU is departing from its traditional mission. As has been written about elsewhere, the ACLU is increasingly becoming more of an activist progressive organization. Among activist progressives, sensitivities about race and gender have often brought them to take positions that are in tension with classical liberal values like freedom of speech, transparency, and equal treatment under the law. Those same sensitivities appear to be trouncing the ACLU’s longstanding principles in this case.
You can argue that the times are a-changing and it’s more pressing for the ACLU to defend minorities than to defend the civil rights of everyone. You can argue that the First Amendment is outmoded, and equally outmoded is an organization that embodies Mill’s dictum that even the most offensive or contrarian speech should be heard. (Indeed, Hitchens thought such speech should be prioritized.) Yes, you can argue those things.
But if there’s nobody around to defend the civil rights of everyone, then society will become a homogenous stew of “rightspeak”, and only the rights of those who have The Proper Ideology will be protected. That’s exactly what America’s founders wanted to prevent by enacting the First Amendment, and how the courts have construed that Amendment in the last two centuries. As the ACLU becomes a political organization, all we have left is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which still protects civil liberties in a nonpartisan way. But they are limited to rights in education.
As Glasser notes above, if the ACLU goes down the drain, there will be no organization to replace it. A slight emendation of Antony’s famous quote from Julius Caesar is appropriate:
This was the noblest organization of them all. All the rest of the organizations acted out of political self interest. Only the ACLU acted from honesty and for the general good. Its existence was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in it that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a great organization.”
Cole argues strenuously, and gives examples, that the ACLU is still actively engaged in defending civil liberties—often of people or groups despised by the Left, including the NRA, Milo Yiannopoulos, Donald Trump, and so on. He gives a list of five years of civil-rights lawsuits that the ACLU has brought—from 2017 to 2021.
And, as I’ve said before, he’s got a point here: the ACLU is indeed continuing its mission. My point, and the New York Times’s was that it’s diluting its classic mission by engaging in social justice work, which isn’t in itself bad, but because some of that social justice work is not even-handed but one sided in terms of rights. Further, there are many other organizations doing social-justice work, but only the ACLU (and now the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE), has the resources and chops to defend the civil liberties of the despiséd.
In other words, the ACLU is doing what the Southern Poverty Law Center has done: taken its classic mission and, by branching off into questionable social justice activities (damning Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the SPLC), diluted not just its mission, but also its credibility.
I’ve written at length about the dubious stuff the ACLU is engaged in; and here’s a partial list of posts:
First, the ACLU is on the side of diluting the changes in Title IX made by Betsy DeVos to guarantee a fair hearing to college students accused of sexual misconduct. Nearly all these changes brought college hearings closer to court hearings, at least in terms of guaranteeing fairness. As I’ve said, these changes are one of the few positive things accomplished by the Trump administration, and the ACLU should have favored them. Instead, as you see in one piece below, they were characterized as “inappropriately favoring the accused.” If you read the changes, I suspect you’ll agree that the ACLU should have been in favor of them, not opposed to them.
Second, the ACLU is on a big-time movement to ensure that transgender women can compete on a level playing field (i.e., competing under their gender identity) with men in sports. This is a complex issue (see here for one possible solution), but becomes less complex with the ACLU’s claim that medically untreated transgender women (that is, biological males who have undergone neither surgery nor hormone treatment but claim a female identity) should be able to compete in sports against biological women. This is a very bad call as it’s the equivalent of biological men competing against biological women, and this violates the very reason why we separate men’s and women’s sport. Further, even with medicallytreated transgender women, there is an issue of fairness to biological women, since transgender women may retain strength, bone density, and muscle mass that gives them an average advantage over biological women. The ACLU’s kneejerk reaction here does not take into account the “rights” of biological women. It is an ideological stand that deviates far from the ACLU’s mission to assure civil rights for all.
Third, in tweets by ACLU branches and attorneys, they have favored censorship of books like Abigail Schrier’s, and accused cops of murder who were, by all reasonable accounts, doing their jobs. How is this fulfilling their mission of extending civil rights to all? (Chase Strangio is the ACLU staff attorney in charges of transgender issues.)
Here is an ACLU lawyer saying their goal is to stop the circulation of books and ideas…
The systems that allowed George Floyd to be murdered remain FULLY intact. Moments after we celebrated a win for police accountability in Minneapolis, news broke that @ColumbusPolice murdered a 15 year old Black girl. Her name was Ma'Khia Bryant. Say her name. #BlackLivesMatterpic.twitter.com/tufTaia9lR
Fourth, as I discussed in a post a while back, the ACLU circulated a document in samizdat that explicitly said that they now have to consider diluting their mission when defending speech involves defending “hate speech”. As I wrote at the time (my words are indented in regular type; the ACLU’s words are indented further and italicized):
The ACLU is committed to the fundamental rights to equality and justice embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights laws. See Policies #301-332. We are determined to fight racism in all its forms, whether explicit or implicit, and the deep-rooted institutional biases that continue to reify inequality. We are also firmly committed to fighting bigotry and oppression against other marginalized groups, including women, immigrants, religious groups, LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. Accordingly, we work to extend the protections embodied in the Bill of Rights to people who have traditionally been denied those rights. And the ACLU understands that speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.
Note that they now claim that speech that denigrates groups—including religion!—can “inflict serious harms” and “impede progress toward equality”. Here is the beginning of the slippery slope of “hate speech”. Is criticism of the Vatican, or the excesses of Islam, sufficiently harmful that the ACLU will not defend it? What about religionists who demonstrate for the right of bakers and others not to serve gays?
And remember when the ACLU defended the Klan when it wanted to march through the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois? Well, no more.
We recognize that taking a position on one issue can affect our advocacy in other areas and create particular challenges for staff members engaged in that advocacy. For example, a decision by the ACLU to represent a white supremacist group may well undermine relationships with allies or coalition partners, create distrust with particular communities, necessitate the expenditure of resources to mitigate the impact of those harms, make it more difficult to recruit and retain a diverse staff and board across multiple dimensions, and in some circumstances, directly further an agenda that is antithetical to our mission and values and that may inflict harm on listeners.
Yes this document, which was leaked and is now publicly available, is characterized by Cole this way in his post of yesterday:
I led a committee representing a wide range of divergent views within the ACLU in developing guidelines for selecting cases where they present conflicts between values that the ACLU defends. We reaffirmed in that document that “As human rights, these rights extend to all, even to the most repugnant speakers — including white supremacists — and pursuant to ACLU policy, we will continue our longstanding practice of representing such groups in appropriate circumstances to prevent unlawful government censorship of speech.”
At the same time, we acknowledged the costs that can come with that representation, including to other interests and work of the organization, and outlined ways to address and mitigate the costs when we do decide to embark on that representation. That can mean making clear in public statements that we abhor the speakers’ views even as we defend their right to express them, supporting counter-protesters, and investing any attorneys’ fees we obtain in connection with the work to advance the views that the speaker opposed and that we support. Some saw even this document’s acknowledgment of the complexity of such work as an abandonment of principle, but we saw it as an honest effort to confront the challenge of being a multi-issue organization.
Read the document yourself, and see if you think that’s a fair summary. Their “mitigation of costs” completely ignores the implication in the document that they might reject cases that they’d normally take because it involves hate speech that can cause “harm”.
At any rate, there’s also been negative reaction from other quarters to what I saw as a fair report in the NYT (see this piece in The New Republic). The TNR piece is misguided in the same way the ACLU’s mission creep is misguided: they do not prioritize free speech over hate speech. You cannot pretend that free speech will never be construed as “hate speech”—it’s nearly always seen that way by the speech opponents.
But thank Ceiling Cat for organizations like FIRE whose principle of promulgating free speech in higher education has not been diluted.
I’ve written before about the newish movie “Mighty Ira“, a documentary about former American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) head Ira Glasser and his involvement in civil-liberties litigation in the 1970s (see my posts here and here). I highly recommend the movie, as it’s not just about Glasser or the ACLU, but also involves baseball, Jackie Robinson, and William F. Buckley. If you’re into free speech or civil liberties, and want to see them defended as they should be defended, see the movie.
In the movie, Glasser makes an offhand comment or two about how the ACLU has changed direction since he was its head, and implies he doesn’t much approve of that change. This becomes clearer in the new Tablet article below, which expands on and details something I’ve said for a while: the ACLU, like the Southern Poverty Law Center, is going down the tubes. And they’re both disintegrating for the same reason: Wokeness, i.e., they’re abandoning their original mission to engage in political activities promoting aspects of “social justice” not connected with their avowed missions.
The ACLU long had a special place in my heart because they represented me for free when I discovered I’d been drafted illegally as a conscientious objector in 1972. With their help, we initiated a successful class action suit, and it got many COs who were in my predicament released from required service. (I’ve told this story before.)
Now, however, the ACLU is making noises about how free speech might not be all it’s cracked up to be. And they’re adopting a big-time transgender agenda headed by lawyer Chase Strangio, described below. With the latter, the ACLU is taking the distinctly odd position that medically unmodified biological men who identify as women should be treated for all purposes as biological women, including sports. (The “civil liberties” of the women who have to compete against these trans women are, of course, neglected.) The original mission of the ACLU was to defend the First Amendment, no matter how offensive someone’s free speech might be (ergo they defended the Nazis in the famous Skokie case). Now they’re engaged in dismantling Title IX and backing off on free speech.
Click on the screenshot to read:
A lot of the article recounts Glasser’s history in his days with the ACLU, and sketches what the movie is about, but there’s also some telling criticism of the organization itself as its changed its mission. This is what they’re up to now:
“My successor, and the board of directors that have supported him, have basically tried to transform the organization from a politically neutral, nonpartisan civil liberties organization into a progressive liberal organization,” Glasser says about Anthony Romero, an ex-Ford Foundation executive who continues to serve as the ACLU’s executive director. According to former ACLU national board member Wendy Kaminer in her 2009 book Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU, Romero and his enablers routinely engaged in the sort of undemocratic and unaccountable behavior practiced by the individuals and institutions the ACLU usually took to court, like withholding information (concerning a breach of ACLU members’ privacy, no less), shredding documents in violation of its own record-preservation and transparency procedures, and attempting to muzzle board members from criticizing the organization publicly. (“You sure that didn’t come out of Dick Cheney’s office?” remarked the late, great former Village Voice columnist and ACLU board member Nat Hentoff of this last gambit). Eerily prescient, Worst Instincts foreshadowed the hypocrisy and fecklessness that has since come to characterize the leadership of so many other, previously liberal institutions confronted by the forces of illiberalism within their own ranks.
In 2018, the ACLU spent over $1 million on advertisements likening Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, essentially accusing him of crimes for which he was never tried or convicted. More egregious than their brazen political partisanship was the way in which the ads traduced the presumption of innocence, a bedrock of American jurisprudence and a principle the ACLU was founded to uphold. Asked why his organization was willing to further violate its tradition of political neutrality, Faiz Shakir, a Democratic Party operative then serving as the ACLU’s national political director, was brutally honest. “People have funded us and I think they expect a return,” he said. Glasser also points to the group’s decision to run a television advertisement supporting then-Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as a telling sign of its transformation. “I mean, I love Stacey Abrams,” Glasser told me. “She has become my favorite political character in the country. But the ACLU has always stayed away from that. Nobody attacked Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan on their civil liberties violations more vigorously and strenuously than I did. But we always stayed away from political partisanship, and it was critical for the ACLU, virtually for all its history, to have standards that were as applicable to those most of us politically supported as to those who most of us politically opposed.”
I wrote about this incident in 2018, which was the first sign to me that the ACLU was backing off on a full-fledged defense of the First Amendment. The stand of the old ACLU resembled that of the University of Chicago’s Founding Principles: there was one overriding principle that trumped almost everything else: the fostering of a climate of free speech, thought, and discussion. Our Kalven Report made it another principle for the University to avoid taking stands on political, moral, and ideological issues, which were seen as compromising this primary mission by chilling the speech of dissenters. And that is precisely what the ACLU is doing now: allowing speech to be chilled, or even promoting, as does Chase Strangio with his censoriousness, the chilling of speech (see below).
More from Tablet:
Accompanying this influx of new members and money, however, were pressures for the group to become another run-of-the-mill #Resistance outfit. In 2017, the ACLU of Virginia had supported the right of white nationalists to rally in Charlottesville. But once the rally turned violent, the national ACLU circulated an internal document with new “case selection guidelines,” stipulating, “Speech that denigrates such [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.” Before agreeing to take a free speech case, the document continued, the ACLU would now consider “the potential effect on marginalized communities,” whether the speech advances the goals of speakers whose “views are contrary to our values,” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” A manifestation of the ACLU’s new approach can be seen in the decision by one chapter to intervene in a high-profile case at Smith College, where the group amplified bogus claims of racism leveled by a student against some of the school’s custodial and cafeteria staff.
That’s the Wokeness that’s bringing down the organization: “Free speech for all, so long as they’re not the Oppressor.” The ACLU didn’t used to consider whether speech was “contrary to our values,” for its principle was that regardless of the values of the members, the First Amendment must be defended for all speakers.
Finally, the machinations of ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio:
If the public face of the ACLU was Ira Glasser during the latter part of the previous century, today that honor can be claimed by a staff attorney named Chase Strangio. Named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine last year, Strangio is the ACLU’s deputy director for transgender justice. Like many activists consumed by this issue, he is uncompromising in demanding strict adherence to a set of highly contestable orthodoxies, and merciless toward anyone who dares question them. Two women who have—J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, and Abigail Shrier, author of a book about the role of “peer contagion” in the rising rate of teenage girls declaring themselves transgender—are “closely aligned with white supremacists in power,” Strangio declared on Twitter, offering not a shred of evidence for this claim. “Stopping the circulation of [Shrier’s] book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on,” he wrote, a rather bizarre position for an ACLU employee to endorse. Strangio later deleted the tweet, explaining that his intention was not to call for the government to ban Shrier’s book, but rather “to create the information climate for the market to be more supportive of trans self-determination than the alternative.”
There’s a lot more, and I’ve already excerpted a much more than I should have; but these passages especially resonate with me. We need someone like Ira Glasser back, but good luck in finding any leader in these troubled days to support an uncompromising defense of the First Amendment.
But congrats to Tablet, which is doing some damned good reporting these days.
What’s happened to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a crying shame. And I say this even though I volunteered for them, have been a member on and off, and was the recipient of their largesse when, for no fee, they represented me and four other defendants in a class-action suit about illegal drafting in New York. I went to the ACLU, and their lawyers took the case, arguing successfully in Federal court that we were drafted illegally as conscientious objectors. This freed a couple of thousand men from forced civilian service. I’ve always been deeply grateful for the ACLU’s help.
Although the ACLU is still doing a lot of good legal work defending genuine civil liberties, they’re also getting woke in a way that, to me, deeply compromises their integrity. I’ve done a fair number of posts calling out their dubious stands over the last few years; these include posts bearing these titles (click to see them):
What’s especially worrying is the ACLU’s backing off on free speech (the subject of today’s short post); its pushback against one good thing that the Trump administration did: making the Title IX proceedings adjudicating sexual misconduct fairer; and the organization’s big push to defend the “right” of medically untreated biological males to participate in women’s sports. Now of course the ACLU should be defending transgender rights, for every person, regardless of gender status, should enjoy equal rights under the law, and discrimination on the basis of gender is largely illegal. And they’ve done a good job of that (see below).
But the ACLU has also gone a bit off the rails on the transgender issue, arguing that even biological men who haven’t undergone hormone therapy should be allowed to compete in sports against biological women. As I reported a while back, the ACLU defended two Connecticut people who were born male, identify as female, and, without any hormone therapy or surgery, decided to compete against biological women in track and field. In fact they did compete, and did very well, for Connecticut law mandates that self-identification as a woman is all you need to compete in women’s sports. The ACLU buys into the argument that you’re a woman simply if you claim to be a woman.
But the organization shouldn’t be defending something so manifestly unfair. They’re also making a big push to defend transgender athletes without reservation, despite the notoriously slippery issues involved in defining “men” and “women” for transgender athletes. The standards for competing, as in the Olympics, are subject to much dispute. The ACLU’s view is apparently that a claim itself is all that’s needed to deem you a man or a woman.
And now, to my great sorrow, an ACLU staff lawyer and champion of transgender rights, Chase Strangio, has come out full bore in favor of censorship. I’m referring to his demanding, as shown in the tweets below, censorship of a book we discussed yesterday: Abigail Shrier’s treatise on gender dysphoria in adolescent and teenage girls, Irreversible Damage.
Although Strangio’s tweets are “protected”, I assume that the two below, reproduced by “Wokal Distance”, are accurate. In the second, he blatantly advocates censorship of Irreversible Damage, “stopping the circulation of the book and these ideas.” How else can that be interpreted as censorship? And “stopping ideas” should not be the business of the ACLU, which has always defended the First Amendment. They should be defending the right of Shrier to publish her book and circulate her ideas, not fight against them. This shows how low the ACLU, at least in the person of Strangio, has fallen. An organization dedicated to defending civil liberties is calling for their suspension when they offend people.
Here is an ACLU lawyer saying their goal is to stop the circulation of books and ideas…
Strangio and his team won that case, with the conservative Supreme Court ruling 6-3 that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected transgender people from employment discrimination. (The plaintiff was a transgender woman fired from a funeral home.)
Strangio was also on the team that won a similar landmark case.
In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 6–3 in favor of Gerald Bostock, a gay man terminated from his job due to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, in Bostock v. Clayton County. Strangio was one of the lawyers on the case. The case ruled that it is illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of transgender identity or sexual orientation.
But Stangio’s tweet above isn’t even a case of his deciding between two conflicting rights. There is a right to promulgate your ideas; there is no “right” for the transgender community to be protected from criticism about gender dysphoria and medical intervention in adolescent girls.
Strangio is favoring censorship, pure and simple, and a watering down of First Amendment rights: “stopping circulation of this book.” Is Shrier’s argument so injurious to transgender people, and to society in general, that it cannot be read or heard? I don’t think so.
Remember that the ACLU defended the rights of the American Nazi Party to march through Skokie, Illinois: a Jewish community. Surely that’s more hurtful than Shrier’s book, for the Nazis call for the deportation and death of Jews, while Shrier is merely telling society to examine the cause of an epidemic of gender dyphoria in young girls. The “unwavering commitment to principle” that the ACLU itself touts in the Skokie case is apparently not shared by Strangio.
Like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU is damaging its mission by buying into wokeness, and nobody is reining in either of these once-great organizations. It’s a huge shame.
HuffPost, of course, is not a source of news, but an Authoritarian Leftist rag where opinion masquerades as news. Their agenda is so transparent that you can see it simply by scanning the “headlines.”
Right now the site is busy smearing every Democratic candidate save Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and it especially hates Joe Biden. Well, I’ll tell you this: I think Biden would make a decent President, a gazillion times better than the moron who currently holds the office, and I’d vote for him over Trump any day. But I don’t yet have a favorite Democratic candidate, as it’s way too early.
But HuffPost (is it in secret thrall to Trump?) is trying to divide Democrats by backing only a few candidates and denigrating the rest. To that end, it tries to turn readers against Biden with articles like the one below, whose headline implies that Biden was either a racist or was friendly to segregationists. But read the damn article (click on screenshot):
Here’s what Biden was “guilty” of:
Speaking at a New York City hotel, Biden recalled his working relationships with the late Sens. James Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.), who served under a much more uneven Democratic party platform. Both men fiercely opposed desegregation.
“I know the new New Left tells me that I’m ― this is old-fashioned,” Biden said, according to a pool report. “Well guess what? If we can’t reach a consensus in our system, what happens? It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president. That’s what it does.”
Biden, who was elected to the Senate in 1973, told the crowd how Eastland used to call him “son,” rather than “boy,” and labelled Talmadge “one of the meanest guys I ever knew.”
“Well guess what? At least there was some civility,” Biden continued. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
. . . He has previously pointed to his successful working relationship with Eastland as proof that people with opposing views can work together in Washington. Yet Eastland and Talmadge held views that would likely shock many present-day Democrats.
This is slander, though it’s not illegal slander. Biden is not a racist, and yes, both Republicans and Democrats have demonized each other to the point where cooperation is not possible. We all know that, regardless of whom you consider most to blame. (I think it’s mostly Republicans, because while we have many centrist Democrats, centrist Republicans are very scarce.)
Recall that Lyndon Johnson courted a number of segregationist Senators to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. He rubbed elbows with many racists to enact the greatest anti-segregationist law of our generation.
The point of the Senate and House is to make laws, and to do that you have to work with people who often hold reprehensible views. If you refused to do that, nothing would get done.
And HuffPost can shove their opinions, generated by millennials who get paid virtually nothing to parade their vacuity.
It is curious that the accusations of sexual misconduct committed by Martin Luther King, Jr., recently published in Standpoint by his biographer, the distinguished civil rights historian David Garrow, have largely been ignored by the mainstream press. I think it’s because the press doesn’t know how to respond to accusations of rape-enabling and abuse of women by someone as distinguished as Dr. King—someone who did more than anyone else to bring civil rights to African Americans in the last century. Given the cognitive dissonance among the Authoritarian Left when two of their values collide (another example is feminism vs. Islamic misogyny), I wondered if King would be given more of a pass than others because of his accomplishments. Although the accusations against King are still under legal seal until 2027, many have been deemed guilty by allegations as unsubstantiated as those against Dr. King.
My own take so far is to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, hoping I’m around when the evidence is unsealed, and to recognize that earlier evidence already showed King to be a serial philanderer. He was imperfect—maybe criminally so—but his legacy, his actions, and his writings still mark him as one of the most accomplished figures in American history. But so was Thomas Jefferson, who held slaves. Even now, at my alma mater The College of William and Mary, Jefferson’s statue is regularly being defaced. Lately we’ve seen the demonization of people like Dr. Seuss as well as Gandhi, whose statues have been taken down in South Africa. Somehow people haven’t yet come to terms with how we regard historical figures who have done bad things by modern lights. But clearly such judgments must balance good versus bad, recognize the complex nature of humans, and should have nothing to do with someone’s race.
The New York Times has finally come to grips with the accusations about King, but only in an op-ed by one person, Barbara Ransby. [Note added in proof: they just published another piece on King that I haven’t yet read.] Ransby is a professor of history, gender and women’s studies and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement,” “Eslanda” and “Making All Black Lives Matter.” You can read her piece below:
The piece is not really a defense of King so much as an attack on those who accept, even tentatively, that King might have been a far worse sexual predator than we know. We can rule out many on the Right who seem to glorify in these revelations, as they really don’t like what King did. But Ransby, while properly pointing out that the evidence isn’t dispositive, attacks the FBI for its attempt to depose and terrorize King (true, but it’s still possible that the transcripts are right), and even Garrow for publishing unverified information. She gives more credibility to the testimony of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford, as they were recounting their own stories rather than digging out someone else’s, as did Garrow. And Garrow, who has impeccable credentials and no a priori animus against King, is criticized for wanting public attention, for seeming to “want his own Me first spotlight by getting out in front of an unsubstantiated story” by telling the stories of women who can’t tell the stories themselves. That’s a bit unfair: many of the women are dead and even Garrow thinks that we need to wait before revising our judgment of King as a man (see below). Her subheading implies that Garrow is a “historical peeping Tom”.
Finally, Ransby brings in “resurgent white nationalism” to buttress King’s historical legacy, which stands untarnished to all rational people, and the racist way in which King’s “black sexuality” was described by the FBI. Probably true, but again irrelevant to the questions about his character. After all, it was King who talked about judging a man by “the content of his character.”
To be fair, Ransby does say, and I agree, that we need to wait until 2027 before we begin the painful process of evaluation:
If in 2027 when the full F.B.I. tapes are released there is credible and corroborated evidence that a sexual assault occurred and Dr. King was somehow involved, we will have to confront that relevant and reprehensible information head-on. But we are not there.
Indeed, but Ransby’s piece still looks a bit tendentious. King’s historical accomplishments are secure, though the man was imperfect and may have even been a malefactor, but neither she nor Garrow know the truth, and there’s no need to discredit Garrow and the FBI (which of course did do pretty awful things) in advance of the tapes’ release.
Politico has what I see as the most reasoned take about this whole issue, more so than Ransby’s piece (click on screenshot):
An excerpt of their piece (my emphasis):
The reports are full of erotic details and include revealing handwritten marginalia. But to the uninitiated, the written reports that Garrow cites are hard to interpret. They can’t be checked against the original surveillance tapes, which remain sealed, according to a judge’s order, until 2027. It’s hard to tell from a glance who precisely authored them, for what purpose they were drafted or what information they’re based on. It is Garrow’s decades of expertise in reviewing and analyzing FBI materials about King that gives these startling revelations their weight. Garrow has explained that while not all FBI claims are to be believed, these sorts of summaries of surveillance intercepts are unlikely to have been fabricated or manipulated.
And Garrow’s overall assessment is measured. Nowhere does he renounce the esteem for King that can be seen in his threeimportantbooks on the minister’s life. Rather, he proposes that the possibility King tolerated or abetted a rape “poses so fundamental a challenge to his historical stature as to require the most complete and extensive historical review possible.” Garrow concludes with a call to preserve the recordings on which the FBI reports are based, so that we can learn more when they’re scheduled to be opened eight years from now.
. . .the Washington Post’s “Retropolis” blog, which declares Garrow’s article to be “irresponsible.” The thrust of the article is to insinuate that the FBI reports aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, and so Garrow shouldn’t have published them. But while the Post piece quotes some respected historians (including friends of mine) rightly noting that the FBI documents may not be entirely reliable—not least because of Hoover’s vendetta against King—it avoids the obvious, if painful, corollary that they may well be accurate to a significant degree. We should at least allow the possibility that the accusations are true.
That’s why it’s a mistake to discount Garrow’s article wholesale. Any historian who came across a new cache of documents related to a longstanding area of research would feel compelled to explore it—and, if those materials shed new light on the subject, to publish them.
. . .King’s greatness is such that he has weathered these disclosures. The rape charges are of course graver, but they don’t negate the historic achievements for which he has long been properly celebrated.
Even if the ugliest charges against King are bolstered by additional evidence, that doesn’t mean we should talk about renaming Martin Luther King Day, tearing down statues of him, or stripping him of his Nobel Prize. In recent years, we’ve had altogether too much wrecking-ball history—history that takes public or private flaws or failings as reason to cast extraordinary men and women out of our political or artistic pantheons. Historians know that even the most admirable figures from our past were flawed, mortal beings—bad parents or bad spouses, capable of violence or cruelty, beholden to sexist or racist ideas, venal or megalomaniac, dishonest or predatory. Awareness of these qualities doesn’t mean despising figures once held up as heroes. Rather, it gives us a more complete and nuanced picture of the people who shaped our world.
Garrow acted responsibly, I think. He put the tentative evidence out there, alerting historians to what he found and what needs to be examined in eight years. He is a reporter, neither an accuser nor a jury.
Until we know the real evidence, we should neither discount nor accept wholesale Garrow’s claims. And we should balance King’s private behavior against his accomplishments as a leader. But that standard should go for everyone, including Thomas Jefferson and Mahatma Gandhi.
Along with Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my heroes. Both men, using their labor, their writing, their dedication, and especially their devotion to nonviolent civil disobedience, effected enormous social change. Gandhi helped get the British to “quit India”; King helped lead the civil rights struggles of the sixties that ended legal segregation. (King was of course influenced by Gandhi.)
And yes, both men were imperfect. Gandhi had some bizarre ideas about sex, neglected his wife, and thought India could support itself from the handloom industry. We all know of King’s marital infidelities, which were taped by the nefarious J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, with the recordings sent to King’s wife Coretta Scott King.
But not until now has the full extent of King’s serial infidelities become clear, and—far worse—his usage of woman as sexual objects and, worst of all, at least one case of rape which he egged on. Four days ago the Times of London published excerpts of an upcoming article by King’s biographer, but I haven’t read the article below because it’s behind a paywall.
The Times piece presages an article by David Garrow, who is far from being a detractor of King. Garrow is a distinguished historian of both King and the civil rights movement, and here are his bona fides from Wikipedia:
He wrote the book Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986), which won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. He also wrote Liberty and Sexuality (1994), a history of the legal struggles over abortion and reproductive rights in the U.S. prior to the Roe v. Wade decision, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (2017), and other works.
Garrow writes frequently on the history of the United States Supreme Court and the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and regularly contributes articles on these subjects to non-academic publications including The New York Times, The Nation, The Financial Times, and The New Republic.
Garrow was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He graduated magna cum laude from Wesleyan University in 1975 before receiving his Ph.D. from Duke University in 1981.
Garrow served as a senior adviser for Eyes on the Prize, the award-winning PBS television history of the Civil Rights Movement covering the years 1954–1965. He has taught at Duke University (Instructor of History; 1978–1979), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Assistant Professor of History; 1980–1984), the City College of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center (Associate and full Professor of History; 1984–1991), The Cooper Union (Visiting Distinguished Professor of History; 1992–1993), the College of William and Mary (James Pinckney Harrison Visiting Professor of History; 1994–1995), American University (Distinguished Historian in Residence; 1995–1996) and the Emory University School of Law (Presidential Distinguished Professor; 1997–2005). From 2005 to 2011, Garrow was a senior research fellow at Homerton College, Cambridge. From 2011 until 2018 he served as Professor of Law and History and John E. Murray Faculty Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
I read Bearing the Cross many years ago, and loved it; it well deserved the Pulitzer, and it, too, was no hit job on King. It did, as I recall, mention King’s infidelities, but we knew of them already, and they seemed limited, appearing to be a form of consensual adulterous sex that, while casting him as a bit of a hypocrite, didn’t seem to greatly tarnish his image as a civil rights leader.
But Garrow has now spent many hours listening to newly released FBI tapes and documents bearing on King’s life, and has a very dark tale to tell. Rod Dreher published some excerpts in The American Conservative last week (click on screenshot below), but I wanted to hold off until Garrow’s own article came out. You can read Dreher’s excerpts by clicking on the screenshot below, but there’s no substitute for the Standpoint piece below that, which was apparently rejected by several venues. As the American Spectator notes:
The UK’s Guardian commissioned David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Martin Luther King, to write an article detailing his shocking discoveries about the civil rights leader’s behind-closed-doors behavior, before pulling out with a kill fee. “Garrow had similar experiences with the Atlantic magazine and with the Washington Post — both of which he had written for before,” Michael Mosbacher writes at Standpoint, which publishes the controversial article on Thursday. “Conservative magazines in the US also felt the story was too risky to run. The same response came from a web magazine whose raison d’être is to fight for free speech. When Standpoint decided to publish it, the longest essay we have ever run, I approached a prominent British historian to write an article putting the revelations into context. The response: ‘No way! I’ll try to think of someone else who has the guts to drink from that particular poisoned chalice.’”
How can such a story be too risky to run in venues that wrote piece after piece about Harvey Weinstein? Well, we know: King is an American hero. But he misused his power just as Harvey Weinstein did. At a time when the personal lives of historical figures are being reassessed, King seemed untouchable, and shame on The Guardian, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post for not running this story: a story put together by King’s distinguished biographer.
Well, Garrow’s article was published only three hours ago in the UK magazine Standpoint, which is free online (click on screenshot):
It’s horrible—King’s behavior, that is. I will give only a few excerpts:
Newly-released documents reveal the full extent of the FBI’s surveillance of the civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King in the mid-1960s. They expose in graphic detail the FBI’s intense focus on King’s extensive extramarital sexual relationships with dozens of women, and also his presence in a Washington hotel room when a friend, a Baptist minister, allegedly raped one of his “parishioners”, while King “looked on, laughed and offered advice”. The FBI’s tape recording of that criminal assault still exists today, resting under court seal in a National Archives vault.
The FBI, of course, loved this stuff, and they come off as nefarious and disgusting. But we knew that:
The FBI documents also reveal how its Director, J. Edgar Hoover, authorised top Bureau officials to send Dr King a tape-recording of his sexual activities along with an anonymous message encouraging him to take his own life.
The complete transcripts and surviving recordings are not due to be released until 2027 but when they are made fully available a painful historical reckoning concerning King’s personal conduct seems inevitable.
This information comes from transmitters planted in King’s hotel rooms by the FBI:
At the Willard Hotel, King and his friends’ activities resumed the following evening as approximately 12 individuals “participated in a sex orgy” which the prudish Sullivan felt included “acts of degeneracy and depravity . . . When one of the women shied away from engaging in an unnatural act, King and several of the men discussed how she was to be taught and initiated in this respect. King told her that to perform such an act would ‘help your soul’.” Sometime later, in language that would reflect just how narrow Sullivan’s mindset was, “King announced that he preferred to perform unnatural acts on women and that he had started the ‘International Association for the Advancement of Pussy Eaters’.” Anyone familiar with King’s often-bawdy sense of humour would not doubt that quotation.
There is intimation of tax fraud, and evidence of prostitution. This is the last excerpt I can put up because reading them almost makes me weep. And believe me, there are a lot more such stories.
Clara took Gail to the bar at the Sands Hotel and made a call on the house phone. Martin Luther King then appeared in the bar and took both women to his room, where all three began drinking. King phoned one of his colleagues and told him to “get your damned ass down here because I have a beautiful white broad here”. Then “both the Rev King and Clara Ward stripped naked and told Gail to do the same.” With Gail seated in a chair, “King went down on his knees and started nibbling on her right breast, while Clara Ward did the same with her left breast. Gail then stated, ‘I guess the Reverend got tired of that and put his head down between my legs and started nibbling on “that”.’ After a while he got up and told Clara Ward to try some of it, so Clara went down on Gail for a while. Gail stated, ‘I think Clara Ward is queer’.”
Then King had intercourse with Gail while Clara watched. “After what Gail stated seemed like hours, King rolled off and had another drink, then climbed back on for a second go around.” After King paused again, his friend showed up, had a drink, and had intercourse with Gail “while both Clara Ward and the Rev King watched the action from a close-by position”, with Clara sometimes stroking Gail as well. “Gail then stated that she was getting scared as they were pretty drunk and all using filthy language and at last she told Clara Ward she would have to go.” Clara informed King, who “then whispered in Gail’s ear, ‘I would like to try you sometime again if I could get you away from Clara’.”
Here is Garrow’s conclusion:
King’s far-from monogamous lifestyle, like his binge-drinking, may fit albeit uncomfortably within his existing life story, but the suggestion—actually more than one—that he either actively tolerated or personally employed violence against any woman, even while drunk, poses so fundamental a challenge to his historical stature as to require the most complete and extensive historical review possible.
There’s no doubt that the FBI comes off badly, with its obsession about King and his sex life and his attempts to get him to kill himself, but we’ve long known that J. Edgar Hoover was a reprehensible human being: an arrogant dictator who wielded absolute power for decades, using it to destroy whom he considered the enemies of America.
The big question, of course, is not whether King was a bad person: he clearly was a horrible person in many ways, even a criminal, but also did enormous good in advancing civil rights. He was a mixed person, but far more mixed than any of us suspected or that any of us would like.
What happens now? Perhaps the Left will treat him differently from, say Harvey Weinstein, because King was such a force for good, but he did exactly what Weinstein did: used his power to seduce, degrade, and even rape women. Garrow is clearly disturbed as well. But will statues of King be taken down now? If not, why not?
What we face is a need to revise our assessment of a man now dead, not of his leadership of the civil rights movement. I weep for his victims, and I weep for his family, now subject to a revelation that he was an odious sexual predator. I cannot see overlooking the latter because of the good he did. If what Garrow wrote is true—and I have every expectation that it is—it will be interesting to see what happens now. Nobody can accuse Garrow of confecting rumors to destroy King’s reputation.
Should Garrow have ignored this story? No, of course not: in fact, he is the best person to tell it. And he has an obligation, as King’s biographer, to paint a full picture of the man. How sad that this picture is now marred in a way most of us never suspected. As someone said, “We live in interesting times,” but in this case I wish the times weren’t so interesting—that King was as upright a man in private as he was in public. But he was human, with all of our flaws, and some of his flaws are both reprehensible and criminal. He’ll never look the same to anyone, including admirers like me.
I am eager to hear readers’ take on this: how do you think we should look at King now?