The Irony of an Apology, by Ak’Bar A. Shabazz

Legislative obstruction in the U.S. Senate kept anti-lynching legislation from becoming law during the civil rights era.  As a means of making amends, senators recently passed a resolution apologizing for its past failure to stop the racist murders of black Americans.

The history of lynching – and the government’s inaction – are a black eye for America and a sore spot for many still suffering the consequences. 

That makes it so terribly ironic that Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) was among the resolution’s co-sponsors.  It’s no secret that Senator Byrd is a former Ku Klux Klan leader and recruiter.  That a man with such a history, repudiated or not, serves in our government – let alone co-sponsored this resolution – is absurd and belittles efforts to make honest amends

Once again, the liberals offer paper solutions for serious problems.

As the great-grandson of a lynching victim, I am angered that a former “Exalted Cyclops” in the KKK is excused for his past behavior and given leadership roles by his political party.  I question his sincerity.

Up until a deal was struck in the Senate, Senator Byrd was one of the liberals filibustering black judicial nominee Janice Rogers Brown.  He criticized and voted against the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as our nation’s first black female Secretary of State.  Both women grew up under the strain of Jim Crow, and each knows true extremism.  When liberals condemn these two women and praise Senator Byrd, it stings.

President Bush has appointed African-Americans to some of the most important positions in his administration, and liberals such as Senator Byrd have rallied against them.  Not even the dovish Colin Powell could truly gain their appreciation.  They are adamant about defeating just about any proposal from the President, including school choice and faith-based programs supported by a majority of African-Americans. 

Liberals seem overly supportive of candidates and issues that offer little more than superficial, feel-good rhetoric.  Conversely, they often denounce and sabotage legislation, policies and leadership that would provide significant and positive change.  They champion non-binding measures that make good press for 24 hours, yet staunchly oppose measures that would remedy the condition of our schools and families for generations to come.  It’s a typical misdirection of priorities. 

And this misdirection runs deep.  Although liberals are quick to blame “southern conservatives” for filibustering past anti-lynching legislation, it was southern Democrats doing the filibustering.  These same partisans actively opposed civil rights legislation, including Senator Byrd – who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for over 14 hours.

Republicans certainly have things in their past they’re not proud of, but the Democrats blatantly try to re-write history and mislead those too young to remember.  Former vice president Al Gore, someone known to spin a tall tale, portrays his father was a civil rights hero when he actually tried to kill the Coting Rights Act of 1964.  Liberal pundits decry criticism of Senator Byrd’s racist past, saying it’s time to move on.  Is it?

Consider Byrd’s recent autobiography.  In it, he sentimentally recalls watching a KKK parade as a boy, writing, “[M]any of the best people were members.”  The Klan marched down the streets of my hometown, but I didn’t think it featured “the best people.”  And then there’s this line: “One’s life is probably in no greater danger in the jungles of deepest Africa than in the jungles of America’s large cities.”

Can a tiger change its stripes?  It appears not.

Making an effort to apologize for past ills deserves due respect.  But serious legislators would be more effective without the distraction of opportunistic politicians who want to revise history to restore their personal legacies.  

As someone affected by the evil of lynching, I can accept the Senate’s apology in good conscience.  But I would exchange my paper apology, sponsored by a man with white robes in his attic, for a meaningful solution to fix public schools in a heartbeat.

Ak’Bar A. Shabazz, a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21,  is a business consultant and the president of Shabazz Enterprises.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

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