November 3rd, 2000
Alabama Repeals Ban on Interracial Marriage, Although Majority of White Voters Oppose Repeal
On November 3, 2000, Alabama voters approved Amendment 667 to the Alabama Constitution of 1901, annulling and setting aside a provision that banned interracial marriage. A feature of the state constitution enacted in 1901, Section 102 declared it illegal for the state legislature to pass any law that would “authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a Negro or descendant of a Negro.” Though the provision was rendered unenforceable in 1967 when the Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia struck down all state laws prohibiting interracial marriage, it could only be removed from the Alabama constitution by voter referendum.
The 2000 election marked the first time voters had the opportunity to annul the marriage provision, as an earlier attempt to initiate a vote had failed to pass the state senate. Representative Alvin Holmes, who sponsored the bill on both attempts, said even an unenforceable discriminatory law was detrimental: “Just to have it on the books doesn't make the state look good.” Though the annulment amendment passed, 41% of Alabama’s majority-white electorate voted to retain the language. Alabama thus became the last state to invalidate its constitution’s ban on interracial marriage, following South Carolina, which had voted to remove its ban in 1998.
July 17th, 2001
Harvard University Study Reveals Re-Segregation of American Public Schools
On July 17, 2001, Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project published a study on the resegregation of school districts more than 45 years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education declared legally-mandated racial segregation in public education unconstitutional. In the study, then-Harvard Professor of Education and Co-director of the Harvard Civil Rights Project, Dr. Gary Orfield, evaluated statistics from the 1998-1999 school year and concluded that school districts across the nation and particularly in the South were resegregating at an alarming rate, with many Southern school districts returning to segregration levels of the early 1970s.
The study found that more than 70% of African American students attended predominantly minority schools in the 1998-1999 school year. This marked a significant increase from the 63% of African Americans who attended predominantly minority schools in the 1972-1973 school year, before the implementation of many full-fledged desegregation plans. The study linked this resegregation trend to a series of Supreme Court cases decided in the early 1990s -- Board of Education of Oklahoma City vs. Dowell (1991), Freeman v. Pitts (1992), and Missouri v. Jenkins (1995) -- which made it easier for school districts to be released from federal desegregation orders and more difficult for desegregation orders to be reinstated, thereby crippling desegregation efforts and undercutting progress toward racial integration in public schools.
November 2nd, 2004
Alabama Voters Reject Amendment Removing Segregated School Provision from Constitution
On November 2, 2004, Alabama voters narrowly voted to retain a state constitutional provision mandating separate schools for black and white children. The amendment would have removed a provision from Article XIV, Section 256, of the Alabama Constitution of 1901, which reads: “Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.”
The amendment also would have removed language added to Section 256 in 1954, which stated that the Alabama Constitution does not create a right to public education. As Alabama resisted school desegregation following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the 1954 language was enacted to authorize the state to dismantle its public education system if forced to integrate. Proponents of the 2004 amendment argued that removing both the 1901 and 1954 language would purge the constitution’s educational provisions of that pro-segregation legacy.
Shortly before the election, some conservative officials mounted a campaign arguing that removal of the “no right to public education” language would expose the state to potential legal challenges and could allow the state to raise taxes. The proposed amendment failed by 1850 votes (0.13%). In November 2012, Alabama voters again had the opportunity to remove the school segregation provision from the state constitution and again voted to retain it.
Meanwhile, many school systems in Alabama remain segregated. Following the forced implementation of the Brown decision, all-white private schools and academies opened across the state. These academies still exist, especially in the Alabama's Black Belt region, where white enrollment in public schools is particularly low. In 2008-09, 94% of students enrolled in the Bullock County public school system were African American and less than 1% were white.
June 13th, 2005
United States Senate Formally Apologizes for Failure to Pass Anti-Lynching Bills
Between 1882 and 1968, approximately 4743 people were lynched in America, and nearly three-quarters of those lynching victims were black. Lynchings were extrajudicial and heinous killings, usually intended to warn other blacks not to transgress racialized social, political, and economic boundaries. Victims often were hanged, but sometimes were shot, stabbed, or burned alive. Their murders ranged from community spectacles at which hundreds of participants ate picnics and took body parts and photo postcards as souvenirs to low-profile concealed murders involving as few as two assailants.
During the lynching era, seven United States presidents exhorted Congress to pass legislation authorizing federal prosecution of lynch mobs. Two hundred anti-lynching bills were introduced but only three passed the House of Representatives and none passed the Senate due to Southern conservatives' successful filibusters. In the absence of federal protection, and amidst the inaction of local state courts, lynchings persisted for decades.
On June 13, 2005, the United States Senate formally apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation. Resolution sponsor Senator George Allen (R-VA) expressed his regret for "the failure of the Senate to take action when action was most needed," while co-sponsor Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) declared, "It's important that we are honest with ourselves and that we tell the truth about what happened." Nearly eighty other senators co-sponsored the resolution.
Hundreds of relatives of lynching victims were present to witness the apology, as was ninety-one-year-old James Cameron, largely considered the only known survivor of a lynching attempt. In 1930, Mr. Cameron was sixteen when he and two friends were seized by a white lynch mob in Marion, Indiana, and both of his friends were hung and killed. Mr. Cameron was cut down and released. No one was ever arrested or charged.
April 17th, 2006
Latino Teen Beaten, Sexually Assaulted in Texas for Trying to Kiss White Girl
On April 22, 2006, David Ritcheson, a 16-year-old Latino boy, was attacked by two white teenagers, David Tuck and Keith Turner, at a house party in Spring, Texas. After Ritcheson allegedly tried to kiss a white girl at the party, Tuck and Turner knocked Ritcheson unconscious, dragged him outside, and beat him for approximately fifteen minutes while calling him a “beaner” and shouting “white power” and “Aryan nation.” The white teens then stripped Ritcheson naked, and Tuck cut Ritcheson's chest with a knife and burned his stomach and chest 17 times with a cigarette. Next, Turner placed a pole in Ritcheson's rectum and held it in place while Tuck kicked the end of the pole into Ritcheson's rectum. The two teens then poured bleach over Ritcheson's body.
At least two other white teenagers witnessed the beating but did nothing to help and later went to sleep in the house. The mother of one of the witnesses was home, but claimed she slept through the incident. Medical help was not summoned until hours after the attack, when a witness awoke and found Ritcheson still laying in the backyard.
After three months in the hospital and more than thirty surgeries, Ritcheson was able to return to school confined to a wheelchair and wearing a colostomy bag. On April 17, 2007, Ritcheson went public with his story and testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in favor of strengthening federal hate crime laws. “With my humiliation and emotional and physical scars came the ambition and strong sense of determination that brought out the natural fighter in me,” Ritcheson testified. “I am glad to tell you today that my best days still lay ahead of me.” Two and a half months later, Ritcheson committed suicide.
Both David Tuck and Keith Turner were prosecuted and convicted for assaulting Ritcheson. Tuck was sentenced to life in prison and Turner was sentenced to 90 years.
August 16th, 2006
Florida Attorney General Names Suspects in 55-Year-Old Civil Rights Murders
On the evening of December 25, 1951, a bomb exploded at the Florida home of Harry and Harriette Moore, killing the couple on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Harry Moore’s mother and the couple’s daughter were asleep in adjoining rooms but escaped with minor injuries. It was one of a series of bombings in Florida at the time that targeted African Americans, Jews, and Catholics.
The Moores were leading civil rights activists and teachers in Brevard County, Florida. In 1934, they established the first Brevard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With the organization’s support, Harry Moore filed a lawsuit to gain equal pay for black teachers. In 1945, he established the Florida Progressive Voters League, which helped register thousands of black voters in the state. Appointed director of the Florida NAACP a year later, he called for investigations into a number of lynchings throughout the South. The Moores’ deaths were among the first murders of prominent civil rights leaders during the civil rights era and sparked a number of meetings and protests across the nation. No arrests were made.
Nearly fifty-five years later, on August 16, 2006, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist announced that the state had enough evidence to conclude that Klu Klux Klan member Earl Krooklyn had recruited three other Klan members and used floor plans of the Moore home to orchestrate the bombing. By the time of the announcement, all four suspects were deceased.
April 21st, 2007
Turner County High School in Ashburn, Georgia, Holds First Racially Integrated Prom
On April 21, 2007, Turner County High School students attended the school's first racially integrated prom. Located in Ashburn, Georgia, a small, rural, peanut-farming town of 4400 residents, the school's racial demographics reflected those of the local community: 55% black and 45% white. The prom theme, "Breakaway," was chosen to signify a break from the tradition of privately-funded, separate "white" and "black" proms sponsored by parent groups.
The school administration's handbook provided for funding an official school-wide prom but stipulated that the senior class officers and student body had to express genuine support for an integrated event. During the 2006-2007 school year, the school's four senior class officers ? two white and two black ? approached the principal to discuss holding a school-wide prom. Regarding the segregated proms, senior class president James Hall said, "Everybody says that's just how it's always been. It's just the way of this very small town. But it's time for a change."
Turner County High School's class of 2007 also abandoned the "tradition" of electing both a white and a black homecoming queen. White parents still held a private, whites-only prom one week before the school-wide event and some parents refused to allow their children to attend the integrated prom. Principal Chad Stone, who is white, said he would not make efforts to end private proms for future classes but favored the integrated approach, "We already go to school together ? let's start a tradition so that 20 years from now, this is no big deal at all."
September 20th, 2007
15,000 Protest Prosecution of Black Teens in Jena, Louisiana
At the beginning of the 2006 school year, a black student at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana, sat under a large tree where white students typically congregated. The next day, several white students hung nooses in the tree. The students were recommended to be expelled but the school board later reduced their punishment to a short suspension. Following the noose incident, racial tensions increased and confrontations among the school's 90% white and 10% black student body grew frequent.
On December 4, 2006, Justin Barker, a white student, was bragging to his friends about a weekend fight in which a black student had been beaten by a white man. Several black students overheard Barker's comments and attacked him, causing a concussion, swollen eye, and minor injuries to his face, neck, and hands. Six black students were arrested and charged with aggravated assault. When the district attorney upgraded the charges to attempted murder despite Barker’s relatively minor injuries, the case drew national attention. Many throughout the country decried the unfairly harsh treatment of the “Jena 6” and criticized the school district’s insufficient response to the earlier noose incident. The students’ charges were later reduced and five of the six ultimately received sentences of no jail time but public outrage continued.
On September 20, 2007, at least 15,000 protesters, including celebrities and civil rights activists, came together in Jena to demonstrate against racial injustice and show solidarity with the local black students. Darryl Matthews, General President of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and one of many speakers at the protest, said: “It is sobering to know that in 2007, Martin Luther King's dream of equal treatment, respect, fairness and opportunity is still not realized.”
January 4th, 2008
Ohio SWAT Team Shoots and Kills Tarika Wilson and Injures Infant in Drug Raid
On the evening of January 4, 2008, a SWAT team arrived at the Lima, Ohio, home of Tarika Wilson, 26, to arrest her boyfriend on suspicion of drug dealing. Officers kicked in the door, entered the home with guns drawn, then went upstairs and opened fire in a bedroom where Tarika Wilson and her six children were gathered. Though unarmed, Tarika Wilson was shot and killed, and the 14-month-old son she was holding was shot in the arm and shoulder. The child survived but had to have a finger amputated.
Immediately following the shooting, neighbors and black residents of Lima gathered outside the home to protest the police actions. The shooting sparked controversy and further protests by Lima’s black community decrying poor race relations and police brutality. Many black residents shared their own experiences being harassed and mistreated by the police. African-Americans constituted 27 percent of Lima’s population, but the town was surrounded by farmland and a conservative political climate, and the vast majority of local police were white people from neighboring farming towns. At the time of Tarika Wilson’s death, only two of the 77 officers on the Lima police force were black.
Joseph Chavalia, the officer who fired the shots killing Tarika Wilson and injuring her baby, later faced misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault. An all-white jury ultimately acquitted him of all charges.
November 8th, 2008
Teens Beat and Kill Ecuadorean Immigrant in Long Island, New York, Hate Crime
Shortly before midnight on November 8, 2008, Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecuadorean immigrant, was attacked and killed by a group of seven teenagers (six white, one Puerto Rican and black) in Long Island, New York. The teens had gone out that night for “beaner-hopping,” which one of the teens described as, “you go out and you look for a Hispanic to beat up.” The seven teens taunted Mr. Lucero and a friend, stating: “Hey, fucking Mexican, fucking illegals. You come to this country to take our money,” beat them both, then stabbed Mr. Lucero.
Mr. Lucero had lived in the United States since 1993, and worked at a dry cleaning shop in Patchogue. His murder occurred amid anti-immigrant vitriol from local politicians; the year before Mr. Lucero was killed, local legislator Elie Mystal stated that if he saw immigrant day laborers gathering in the streets of his neighborhood, “I would load my gun and start shooting, period.” Another local official said that if he saw an influx of Latino day laborers in his town, “we'll be out with baseball bats.” The local police department had also been investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to properly investigate previous attacks on Latinos; local immigrants complained the police were generally more interested in their immigration status than that they had been victimized. In 2013, the Justice Department reached a comprehensive agreement with the local police department to implement needed reforms.
Jeffrey Conroy, the white teen who stabbed and killed Mr. Lucero, was acquitted of murder, but convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The other members of the group received sentences between 5 and 8 years imprisonment.
October 6th, 2009
Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License in Louisiana
On October 6, 2009, Beth Humphrey, a white woman from Hammond, Louisiana, called Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, to ask him to sign a license for her to marry Terence McKay, an African American man. Bardwell’s wife informed Humphrey that he would not sign a marriage license for an interracial couple. Bardwell, a justice of the peace for over 30 years, later estimated he had denied marriage licenses to four interracial couples during the previous two and a half years.
After his refusal was publicized and generated controversy, Bardwell defended his actions, insisting in interviews that he is “not a racist” and claiming he denied marriage licenses out of concern for the problems that would face an interracial couple’s children. He said he “does not believe in mixing races in that way” and believes “there is a problem with both groups [of whites and African Americans] accepting a child from such a marriage. I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it.”
Humphrey expressed shock at Bardwell’s views: “That was one thing that made this so unbelievable. It's not something you expect in this day and age.” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called for an investigation and disciplinary action by a state commission that reviews the conduct of lawyers and judges in Louisiana. The ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, and local NAACP called on Bardwell to resign from his position, which he did in November 2009.
December 10th, 2009
Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, Police Officials Indicted for Attempting to Cover Up Murder of Mexican Immigrant
On July 12, 2008, six white teenagers beat Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez to death in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, while taunting him with racial slurs and threats including: “Spic,” “fucking Mexican,” and “This is Shenandoah. This is America. Go back to Mexico.” After leaving Mr. Ramirez, a 25-year-old father of two, unconscious and convulsing on the pavement, one of the attackers yelled: “Tell your fucking Mexican friends to get the fuck out of Shenandoah or you're going to be fucking laying next to him.” Mr. Ramirez died of his injuries two days later.
Less than a year later, in May 2009, an all-white local jury acquitted Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky, the two lead defendants, of murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. The jury instead convicted Donchak and Piekarsky of the lesser charges of simple assault and alcohol related offenses; they served roughly six months in jail before being released.
In response to that verdict and outcry from Governor Ed Rendell, among others, federal prosecutors brought hate crime charges against Donchak and Piekarsky in December 2009. Witnesses testified that Donchak often wore a “Border Patrol” T-shirt and drove through town blasting from the speakers of his pickup truck “The White Man Marches On” – a racist song glorifying violence against minorities. The men were convicted of hate crimes and each sentenced to serve nine years in prison. A third participant in the beating pled guilty to the same charges and testified against his co-defendants, ultimately receiving a sentence of 55 months.
On December 10, 2009, Shenandoah’s then-Chief of Police Matthew R. Nestor and then-Lt. William Moyer were also federally indicted for attempting to cover up the crime. The policemen were ultimately convicted of obstruction of justice for filing a false police report and lying to the FBI about the investigation. The chief and lieutenant received sentences of 13 months and 3 months, respectively.