Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

January 15, 2008


Since Selma and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, the nation has come a long way. Selma, Alabama saw the famous civil rights march across the bridge; LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. This year, 2008, sees an African-American and a woman as the pack leaders for the Democratic presidential nomination. The pace is picking up speed! Is it legitimate to play the race and gender cards? Despite the candidates' disavowals, the cards are out there.

Hillary recently spoke of the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in bringing the race issue to the forefront and then President LBJ in signing the Civil Rights Voting Act. Oback's supporters or, they say, the media quickly charged that Hillary had demeaned the leadership of Doctor King by putting him in the shadow of LBJ. The slings and arrows from the two candidates and their supporters began to fly.

Last evening on one of its better days, televison featured something that would not have happened in 1965: four African- Americans on two prominent TV programs. The issue: was Hillary unfair in according Doctor King a smaller role than LBJ? On PBS Channel 13, The Lehrer Report asked two prominent African-American leaders for their views. Their exchange was a classic example of what electoral debates should be. Reverend Joseph Lowery, President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, declared that he did not see Hillary giving Doctor King a lesser role. He said that she had declared her intent to show how both were partners in the great enterprise. Lowrey, an Obama supporter, said that he took Hillary at her word and had no reason to think otherwise. He dismissed the view that Obama or his camp had originated this charge against Hillary and he insisted that the campaign should stick to the issues and not be sidetracked to personal attacks. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a pro-Clinton supporter, insisted that the charge had come from the Obama campaign. Both Lowery and Lewis were distinguished for their civility, precision and eloquence.

Channel NY One presented the same issue in Dominick Carter's intervbiew with Congressman Charlie Rangel of Harlem. With his engaging smile, Rangel, a Clinton supporter, discoursed eloquently on the political process, thought that race and gender had no place in campaigning, and insisted that the race card came from Obama, who, Rangel said, was the only one who used the word "race". Dominic Carter, anchorman of NY One's "Inside City Hall" and also an African-American Rangel, displayed his usual remarkable skills in throwing some tough questions, which the Congressman successfully evaded by answering a question that had not been asked.

A couple of personal notes:

Item: Charlie Rangel is a Catholic. According to his autobiography, when asked on some occasion how he got involved with St. Aloysius Church, he replied that it was because the girls there were prettier than the public school girls!

Item: My classmate, Msgr. Ed Dugan, now deceased, was in the forefront of the 1965 march at Selma. Archbishop Toolan of the local diocese had asked that priests and nuns from outside should not come to Selma for the march. Dugan and other NY priests spoke to Cardinal Spellman, who dismissed Toolan's directive with a wave of his hand, saying that our NY priests and nuns should feel free to go to Selma.

Item: Years ago, a group of NY seminarians were in Washington, DC for some major occasion. Two of them were roommates for the trip, Tom McDonald and Gene Hicks, an African-American. At their hotel entrance they were barred from entering. Word got around and Cardinal Spellman, NY Governor Herbert Lehman, and Senator Robert Wagner, all in town for the same event, became involved. Hicks and McDonald got into the hotel.