Civil Rights Ghosts Haunt Capitol Hill

To President Obama’s right are the statue of Rosa Parks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R KY) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D NV). To his left are House Speaker John Boehner (R OH), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D CA) and Asst. Minority Leader James Clyburn (D SC) © Jo Freeman

Several ghosts from the civil rights movement haunted Capitol Hill on February 27, but it was a little unclear how many were the ghosts of CRM past and how many were the ghosts of CRM future. The State of Alabama, where so much civil rights history was made, had built the house from which many of these ghosts came.

On one side of First Street the ghost of Rosa Parks, embodied in a 9-foot-tall statue, waited in the Capitol’s Statutory Hall to be unveiled by President Obama, her political descendant. He was assisted by both party’s leaders while some still-living civil rights activists, a few blood relatives, members of the public and a lot of press crowded the space trying to see.

On the other side, the ghosts of CRM past, present and future were duking it out at the Supreme Court. Shelby County, AL had challenged the section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires covered jurisdictions to clear any changes in how they conduct elections with the Department of Justice. Its lawyers argued that ghosts of racial sins past had no place in the present. The DoJ maintained that these racial sins were not yet ghosts.

Outside, a couple hundred civil rights supporters rallied on the sidewalk. Some of the speakers soon walked across the street where they had reserved seats in front of the stage in Statutory Hall. The ghosts of CRM present could be seen in the faces of the six elected officials who sat on that stage. The two Republican leaders were both white men. The four Democratic leaders included one . . .

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