Civil rights and the vote: yesterday and today

During the 2015 International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies conference in Alabama, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau developed a travelogue about the discoveries she and her colleagues made. Those thoughts seemed even more poignant for this Election Day.

Amid ongoing national commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, in Philadelphia, people are being enticed to vote tomorrow with a chance to win $10,000.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau poses at the Civil Rights Memorial Center with Julius Erven McSwain, her bus mate and a veteran investigator for the City of Omaha's Human Rights and Relations Department.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau poses at the Civil Rights Memorial Center with Julius Erven McSwain, her bus mate and a veteran investigator for the City of Omaha’s Human Rights and Relations Department.

It comes in stark contrast of the tour of the Yellowhammer State Landau and dozens of others committed to social justice work traveled the routes to the places where men, women and children chose to stand for equality and fight for their right to vote, facing improbable and daunting odds.

Among the hosts for this trip was Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who co-chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ My Brother’s Keeper initiative, along with Mayor Michael A. Nutter. Bell also chairs the U.S. Coalition of Cities Against Racism for the conference.

Those gathered heard from people such as former U.S. Attorney G. Douglas Jones, who led the cold case prosecution of former Ku Klux Klansman, some 40 years after their infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and retired federal judge U.W. Clemon, who handled school desegregation cases throughout North Alabama, including the vaunted University of Alabama’s football program in 1969. He also was one of two African Americans elected to the Alabama Senate post-Reconstruction, in 1974.

“For the past 150 years, states, mostly southern, have come up with schemes to overcome the 15th Amendment,” Clemon said. “That’s why we marched. That’s why the marching hasn’t stopped.

“It’s about the right to meaningfully participate in the American Democracy. The crown jewel in any nation is the right to vote.”

His words blended in with those of iconic and hidden heroes of the movement, from the Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian to youth activists-turned-marchers who today are keepers of the flame, such as Joanne Bland, who served as a tour guide during the conference.

Kirk Carrington and Ruth Brown Anthony were youngsters during the march across the Pettus Bridge, but they were fully aware of what their actions meant. "When you don't vote, it hurts me," Carrington said. "It was our blood spilled on that bridge to get the right to vote, and now people don't exercise that right?" Anthony added.

Kirk Carrington and Ruth Brown Anthony were youngsters during the march across the Pettus Bridge, but they were fully aware of what their actions meant. “When you don’t vote, it hurts me,” Carrington said. “It was our blood spilled on that bridge to get the right to vote, and now people don’t exercise that right?” Anthony added.

The presentations were seminal for attendees such as Akia Haynes, deputy director and general counsel for the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

“Reopening the case of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the conviction in 2001 was one of the reasons I went to law school,” Haynes said. “If this doesn’t change you, if you don’t feel something, then you’re in the wrong line of work.”

In addition to the speakers, there were a host of workshops and presentations, such as the session Landau moderated on community-police relations. For many of the participants, the entire IAOHRA conference was a powerful experience.

“I’ve gone to corners of my mind that I’ve never been to before,” said Cheryl Sharp, deputy director of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

And it was deeply impactful for more than just the African American attendees.

“This tour made it clear to me that this was not so long ago,” said Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, one of the largest in the nation. “Despite the Voting Rights Act, people are still living in such economically deprived communities.

“We have not done a good job of teaching our children about the need for fundamental human rights. We can’t always expect the generation that’s suffered to talk about it all the the time. The next generation needs to talk about it,” he said. “We need to honor the reality of the marchers and advance to a higher level.”

Landau agreed.

“The real-life history tour was a life-changing, soul-feeding experience,” she said. “From sitting in the pews of the 16th Street Baptist Church to hearing directly from the people who marched and risked their lives to make the Voting Rights Act a reality.

“I made connections from the past to the present that affirmed why our work is so vitally important. While discrimination and inequality are less overt now, attempts to roll back our civil rights and voting rights continue.

“We must continue to zealously fight these efforts, to honor the struggle and sacrifices of those who came before us,” she added.

Take a virtual trip with her to Alabama and look at our civil rights history with a new lens, through the text, photos and video that follow.

Gain a perspective from Joanne Bland, who at 11 years old was one of the youngest agitators marching across the Pettus bridge — and one of the youngest to be arrested during the Civil Rights Movement.

 

PCHR disappointed in SEPTA ruling

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, defendant in a lawsuit by SEPTA regarding jurisdiction over the transportation system, issued the following statement in response to today’s Commonwealth Court ruling:

“We are deeply disappointed with the majority opinion of the Commonwealth Court,” said Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. “We are still reviewing the decision and assessing our next steps.

“We’re in a time when across the country we’re expanding protections for people in the LGBT community, and today the Commonwealth Court renders a decision that would make it legal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender riders and employees of SEPTA. That’s shameful.

“We believe President Judge Pellegrini is correct in his 21-page dissenting opinion when he says, ‘The consequence of making SEPTA subject to Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance would mean that more invidious discrimination would be abated . . ..’ ”

“For any public agency to think they can be immune from anti-discrimination laws in their operation is an affront to the entire community,” said Thomas H. Earle, PCHR chair. “It’s always good to interpret and apply civil rights laws as broadly as possible. The commission will fully explore next steps, including re-filing with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”

PCHR is the agency charged with ensuring fair dealings in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate and diffusing inter-group conflict within the city, as outlined in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s guiding civil rights legislation.

Civil rights lessons: Harvesting from Philly’s “Deep Roots”

Every year the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service gets bigger and offers new features, and 2015 is no different. While much of the day and many of its related activities in Philadelphia will center on commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, History Making Productions will offer volunteers and students citywide another gift.

The "Deep Roots" poster transcends some 240 years of African-American history documenting the ongoing effort to fully achieve civil rights for all.

The “Deep Roots” poster transcends some 240 years of African-American history documenting the ongoing effort to fully achieve civil rights for all.

The team there, led by educational director Amy Cohen, will debut an educational poster that puts Philadelphia’s rich civil rights history into context. Deep Roots, Continuing Legacy: Philadelphia in the Struggle for Civil Rights charts some of the earliest moments of individuals fighting for their full rights through to continuing actions in the 21st century.

Download the poster here and the poster’s corresponding teaching materials here.

Funded primarily through a grant by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, a host of partners aided in its creation. PCHR is one such partner, an effort spearheaded by Commissioner Sarah Ricks, herself an Underground Railroad buff.

From the founding of the abolition society through to the citywide mandate to teach African-American history in public schools – an initiative now in its 10th year – the poster provides links to the ongoing commitment to securing freedom and dignity, despite the odds.  The lessons are timely.

The slayings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner triggering acts of outrage nationwide through to films such as Selma are making real for students what once had been seen as dusty moments in books, said Cohen, an educator and history scholar.

“Right now, unfortunately, there are a lot of teachable moments,” she said. “Young people are fired up about getting into the streets and protesting the racial violence they’re seeing.

“But when they realize it fits into a historical pattern, the more powerful it becomes. There’s such resonance for what’s going on today with what happened even in Octavius Catto’s day. Similar things, years and years earlier.”

The hope, Cohen added, is to kindle strong thoughts among students and other — solidifying actions today are tied into those of the past, and that they can play an active role in the continuum of fighting to preserve and advance civil rights.

The poster will be distributed at Girard College on Monday and made available to every branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and throughout the School District of Philadelphia.  For details, visit History Making Productions.

Spreading the word against “Fearbola”

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau took to the airwaves to help dispel myths about Ebola and West African immigrants, many of whom are facing increased instances of discrimination based on their national origin since the deadly outbreak began capturing global attention. Acting against someone because of his or her national origin violates the city’s civil rights laws, codified as the Fair Practices Ordinance.

FOX29's Alex Holley and Mike Jerrick listen to PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau outline that despite Ebola concerns, national original discrimination violates the Fair Practices Ordinance.

FOX29’s Alex Holley and Mike Jerrick listen to PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau outline that despite Ebola concerns, national original discrimination violates the city’s civil rights laws, codified as the Fair Practices Ordinance.

Local and regional anecdotal reports about harassment of people from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Liberia — Philadelphia has one of the highest Liberian-American populations in the United States — prompted Landau to issue a simple message: Caution, not discrimination. She also urged people to report instances of discrimination or harassment to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations so they can be investigated.

Click here to watch her interview on FOX29’s Good Day Philadelphia with anchors Mike Jerrick and Alex Holley.

PCHR warns about rising discrimination against immigrants based on Ebola rumors

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations doesn’t want increased concerns about possible Ebola outbreaks to coincide with hostile or illegal treatment of African immigrants. Anyone witnessing or experiencing that is encouraged to report the situation to PCHR.Ebola

“This is one of those situations where a rumor can turn into an ugly action and innocent people wind up persecuted by their neighbors, and already vulnerable and marginalized people feel even further isolated,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “Working together, we can help keep things from spiraling out of control, so that foolish, daily comments don’t escalate into something worse.”

Last Thursday, City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. held hearings to explore the city’s readiness for a possible Ebola outbreak. An array of public safety officials outlined their assessment of both the potential exposure threat and planned response, should a case be reported in Philadelphia.

The infectious and fast-moving disease already has claimed one life on American soil, with two additional health care workers who had attended that victim also suffering from the virus. Global officials have pointed to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia as the center of the outbreak.

Since 2006, Philadelphia has laid claim to the largest Liberian population in the United States. Many of those who emigrated here fled war in their homeland but may still travel to visit family.

Public threats of the past – from the 1793 yellow fever epidemic to the 9/11 attacks – at times have included elements of ethnic fear or intolerance, Landau said. With mounting breathless news reports about possible outbreaks of the virus, there’s room for backlash fueled by unfortunate and erroneous information and rumor.

“We realize that some immigrants, based on their life’s experiences, may not voluntarily speak up when they’re facing trouble. They might be suspicious, especially of government officials,” Landau said. “We get it. But if you’re being harassed or intimidated, call us. Don’t be afraid. We can – and will – help bring order and restore harmony, to a school, to a block or a neighborhood. That’s what we do.”

PCHR is the agency charged with diffusing inter-group conflict within the city and ensure fair dealings in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate, as outlined in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s guiding civil rights legislation.

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PCHR celebrates America, Philadelphia’s civil rights history

PCHR and the Farmer family joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and dozens of dignitaries to celebrate and kick off the latest exhibit at the Philadelphia International Airport as part of the 2014 Wawa Welcome America! festivities.

Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened on July 2, the day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed this life-changing legislation.

PCHR, Farmer family celebrate civil rights

PCHR Commissioners Saadiq Garner, Alfredo Calderon and Chairman Thomas Earle, with PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Mayor Michael A. Nutter and members of Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family, including great-grandson Christopher Woodard Jr., granddaughter Helen Farmer , niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, Christopher Woodard Sr., granddaughter Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, great-granddaughter Morgan Woodard, and Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman. Photo courtesy of Jim McWilliams Photography.

The exhibit pays homage to Philadelphia’s extensive and historic role in the struggle for civil and human rights, as well as highlights its continued legacy. From pushing for the rights of people of color and women to ensuring dignity and fair treatment for LGBT people, Philadelphia has been on the forefront since the nation’s founding,

PCHR celebrates Philly LGBT history

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Philadelphia Gay News publisher and legendary LGBT advocate Mark Segal, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s LGBT history at the latest Philadelphia Airport photo exhibit, Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Members of the late Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family – niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, granddaughter, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, holding great-granddaughter, Morgan, and granddaughter, Helen Farmer, pose by his photo, one of those featured in Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Members of the late Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family – niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, granddaughter, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, holding great-granddaughter, Morgan, and granddaughter, Helen Farmer, pose by his photo, one of those featured in Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Philadelphia International Airport.

That story is documented in a series of archival and contemporary photographs in Terminal A in the airport. One of the featured shots is of iconic former PCHR Chair Clarence Farmer Sr., who died earlier this year.

His niece, the Hon. Carolyn H. Nichols, granddaughters, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard and Helen Farmer, and great-grandchildren, Chris Woodard Jr. and Morgan, helped commemorate his contributions to the continued effort of making Philadelphia a city welcome for all.

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, youth organizer Wei Chen, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s role in securing and maintaining rights for all. Chen was a student leader when Asian-American students protested bullying and brutality at the hands of their classmates at South Philadelphia High School in 2009.

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, youth organizer Wei Chen, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s role in securing and maintaining rights for all. Chen was a student leader when Asian-American students protested bullying and brutality at the hands of their classmates at South Philadelphia High School in 2009.

Others recognized for their contributions to advancing the work of civil and human rights include Mark Segal, longtime LGBT activist and publisher of the decorated Philadelphia Gay News; Wei Chen, a youth organizer who was instrumental in the South Philadelphia High School student response to bullying of Asian students; and Sister Mary Scullion and Joan Dawson McConnon, founders of Project HOME.

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PCHR reacts to Mayor Nutter’s order on ICE detentions in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, April 16, 2014 – The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations was among the many individuals and advocacy organizations on hand today when Mayor Michael A. Nutter issued an executive order that changes immigration policy for the city. Reaction was swift and joyous.

“We certainly applaud the mayor’s decision to issue an executive order that will clearly state the city’s position that all Philadelphians – regardless of immigration status – should be treated fairly and equally,” said Thomas H. Earle, PCHR chair. At issue has been the human and emotional cost of automatic deportations triggered by minor infractions, or even false accusations.

Anecdotes of teenagers involved in skirmishes or men or women driving to work with a broken tail light suddenly in the pipeline of deportation upset and outraged working immigrant families throughout Philadelphia. It also thrust the realities and consequences of immigration policies in urban settings amid thinly stretched police and legal resources into the broader sphere.

End of ICE detainers in Philadelphia

Flanked with City Council members and top-level aides, Mayor Nutter announces his intention to suspend ICE detainers in Philadelphia, to vigorous applause and chants in Spanish and English.

Individuals and advocacy organizations such as One Love Movement, Juntos and the ACLU of Pennsylvania have opposed ICE holds, argued about these potential constitutional violations prompted largely because of someone’s skin color, physical features or accent.

The U.S. Third Circuit of Appeals agreed.

In its ruling last month in Galarza v. Szalczyk, the court decreed that ICE detainers among state and local law enforcement agencies are requests, not mandates. As such, municipalities are free to disregard such detainers, and cannot rely on such requests as excuses to restrict someone’s constitutional rights.

The ruling and the mayor’s executive order clearly delineate local policing from the work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director.

“Deportation is a mechanism that can tear apart families, often separating children from a parent who may be the only source of income in the household, causing devastation,” Landau said. “Today, Philadelphia is taking an important step to help retain the fabric of our community.

“All immigrants should be able to come forward as victims and witnesses, be able to use city services – including police services – without fear of deportation,” she added. “And the Philadelphia Police Department should be allowed to focus its efforts on helping to build and strengthen our community.”

Established in 1951, PCHR enforces civil rights laws and helps to diffuse inter-group conflict within the city. Follow its activities on Facebook, Twitter or the Philly: Interwoven blog.