Articles

The Quest for Civil Rights Under the Constitution

September 26, 2019


♪ [Opening music] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪>>Grace Campbell:
Welcome everybody, my name is Grace Campbell and
I’m the coordinator of UNCA’s senior humanities course,
humanities 414 the individual and contemporary world and
I’m very pleased to be able to introduce to you today our guest
speaker Dr. James Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson is one of the
country’s most prominent civil rights attorneys he is cofounder
and president of the Charlotte Law firm of Ferguson,
Stein and Chambers; internationally renowned
for expert handling of cases involving civil rights, civil
liberties and the rights of the accused. A native of Asheville and a 1960
graduate of Steven’s Lee High School Ferguson was the
first president of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial
Equality which held peaceful demonstrations that led to
the desegregation of local establishments
during 1959 through 1965. An activist and a leader at
North Carolina College at Durham which is now North
Carolina Central University, he graduated summa cum lade and
attended Columbia University Law School as a John
Hay Whitney fellow. Ferguson has devoted his career
to change through peaceful means, he’s received numerous
awards including the national conference of community and
justice humanitarian award and the Frank Porter Graham award
of the North Carolina Civil Liberties Union. A long-standing board member
of the American Civil Liberties Union he co-founded the North
Carolina Association of Black Lawyers and was past president
of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers. He’s also a member of the
exclusive inner circle of advocates and a fellow of
the American College of Trial Lawyers. Ferguson has
held positions at Harvard, at North Carolina Central
and Santa Clara law schools he coordinated South Africa’s first
trial advocacy program under the auspices of the black lawyers’
association of south Africa. This bio would go on if we
had time for me to read it, but without further ado let me
ask you for one favor when it is time for the question and answer
session I am going to hold this mic and hand it to those of you
who will undoubtedly have lots of questions for Dr. Ferguson,
so please welcome our esteemed guest Dr. James Ferguson. [Applause]>>Dr. James Ferguson: Thank
you so very much for that kind and
warm introduction. It’s indeed a great pleasure for
me to be here with you on this special day, I do have a
question for myself that I have in my mind when I looked and I
saw so many people in the room. My question is, is
this required attendance? [laughter]>>Ferguson: or are
they being given academic credit for attendance, it
must be one or the other. But it is indeed a pleasure for
me to see so many of you out on this occasion, this is indeed a
special occasion because today in this country we
observe constitution day. And that’s an important occasion
for all of us because when we talk about the constitution
we’re talking about the founding document for the country sort
of the- the how to do guide for living in the United States, but
on constitution day when we talk about the anniversary
of the constitution, I think this is the 220th
anniversary of the constitution of the United States and
when we talk about that that constitution all sorts of ideas
are conjured up in the minds of people. We’re inclined to praise and
extol the constitution for being the document that has brought
us to where we are today, the document that that
provides our freedom, the document that has has fueled
and promoted justice and the civil rights movement and
the rights of all people. But in truth if we look at the
constitution as a document then I have to give you the reality
that the constitution itself was not a particularly laudable
document at the time it was drafted in 1987 by a convention
of folks in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. They went there indeed to
improve the articles of incorporation and wound up
coming out acting far beyond the scope of their authority
and proposing a constitution, but from where I sit as one who
has devoted my life to working in civil rights both here at
home in Asheville and throughout the country and indeed
throughout the world, I look at it as a document and I
say in reality the constitution was a flawed document when it
comes to civil rights and when it comes to the
rights of many people. Think about it the document that
emerged from civil- from the convention in Philadelphia never
once mentioned the word civil rights. More importantly that
document preserved slavery, the antithesis of civil rights,
it guaranteed that the slave trade could continue in the
United States or at least twenty-one years from 1987 until
I mean 1887 until- I’m sorry I can’t get my dates
right 1787 until 1808, so there was nothing in the
constitution itself which moved us forward toward civil rights. So, when we think about what
rights were protected in the constitution very few
rights were protected other than property rights. I sometimes say that the
constitution itself is the best argument for diversity not
because of what it said in the beginning, but because of what
was reflected by the drafters and what wound up
in the document; you know who the people were
who drafted the constitution, they were the
landed aristocracy. It was a small group of white
male land owners who drafted the constitution, they all owned
property the constitution came out protecting property. Keep in mind that there was no
specific mention of individual rights in the constitution as
an original document it was only after a hard-fought battle
that you even got the first ten amendments, which
enumerated certain rights in the constitution. So, when we go back and
look at it we have to say well the constitution is supposed to
be a document that embraced the rights of all, but what was it
really an inclusive document or was it an exclusive document? And I say to you it was a
document that excluded more than it included. I’ve already told you that
African Americans were left out, women were left out, it was more
than a hundred years after the adoption of the constitution
that women even got the right to vote and only then
through an amendment. Native Americans left
out, children left out, the elderly left out, minorities
of every kind were left out of the constitution at the
time of its inception. So, when we talk about the
document that is now in the national archives somewhere
with its yellowed pages, we are not talking about a
document that was a beacon of freedom for the newly
formed United States of America, indeed the constitution
reflected what had taken place ten years earlier,
a decade earlier, in the Declaration of
Independence some of you I’m sure know that the opening
words of the Declaration of Independence are as lofty
declaration as one could ever ask for. We hold these truths to be
self-evident that all men are created equal, that’s what
the declaration said in 1776, but the Declaration of
Independence like the constitution of
the United States, said nothing in condemnation of
the Atlantic slave trade that was flourishing at the time and
it’s not just that it didn’t say anything about it, it was
deliberately omitted in the first draft of the Declaration
of Independence Thomas Jefferson had included a clause that
condemned the Atlantic slave trade, but as a result of
objection and then compromise that phrase was left out of the
document that we now view as the proclamation of freedom for
all people in the United States. So, then we see that there was a
conscious decision made to leave out the controversial subject
of slavery in the Declaration of Independence and that was
picked up a decade later in the constitution and what tells
you even more that it was not an inverted omission is
that seventy years later, in 1857 we find the United
States supreme court making a very important declaration
regarding the status of African Americans and more specifically
the status of slavery in the United States. In the Dred Scott decision,
issued by the supreme court in 1857 the court had an
opportunity to declare that slavery was outlawed in the
United States and that once one left a slave holding state and
went into a free state that that person was free forever. But what the court said
was just the opposite, it’s somewhat appalling in light
of the country as we know it today, the real question
presented was whether slaves were part of the sovereignty
members of the sovereignty of the country and whether they
were included in the phrase we the people that introduced the
constitution and let me just tell you what the court said in
the Dred Scott decision of 1857, we think they are not
referring to slaves, and that they are not included
and were not intended to be included. They had for more than a century
before been regarded as beings of an inferior order and all
together unfit to associate with the white race and so far,
inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to
respect and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced
to slavery for his benefit accordingly a negro of the
African race was regarded as an article of property and held
and bought and sold as such. No one seems to have doubted the
correctness of the prevailing opinion of the time. So that’s the supreme court of
the United States speaking about the status of
African Americans in 1857, the same supreme court that a
century later outlawed racial desegregation in the schools
in the 1954 Brown decision and we’ll come to that. But I say that to say to
you that although this is constitution day and we
acknowledge the constitution for being a document that has
been highly instrumental in the struggle for civil rights and in
the struggle for rights of all Americans it is not the document
itself that led to the progress that has been made over the
years it has been the result of struggle, sacrifice,
strife, war, turbulence, and human
determination that over time has made the difference in the
protection of rights under the constitution of
the United States. Soon after the Dred Scott
decision was decided in 1857, the emancipation
proclamation followed in 1863, the proclamation by Abraham
Lincoln that we – is properly known as the document that
emancipated the slaves I won’t get into the
particulars of that, and then that followed that
happened of course during the war, so it took a war to bring
this country to the realization that the rights of African
Americans were to be protected under our constitution, but you
didn’t have a constitution that protected those rights even
though you had ten amendments that were adopted within a
relatively short period of time out of the constitution
itself was adopted. So, the constitution then had to
be changed in order to protect the rights of the newly
emancipated freed men and it was in that context that we had the
three great civil war amendments as we call them, the thirteenth
which outlawed slavery, the fourteenth which guaranteed
equal protection over laws and the fifteenth amendment which
guaranteed the right to vote, one would have thought then
that at this juncture it was all done. The rights have been declared,
the constitution has been amended war has been won,
slaves have been freed, and now we are to enter upon
this great new era of equality in the land. Well what happened? No sooner than the emancipation
proclamation had been declared no sooner than the thirteenth,
fourteenth and fifteenth amendments had been adopted and
no sooner than the civil rights laws spanning from 1866
to 1875 had taken place, the newly emancipated freed men
and women were resubjugated by those who refused to
acknowledge their equality. A public accommodations law was
passed in the 1870’s which said that African Americans had the
right to use public facilities the same as white Americans, but
it wasn’t very long before that law was gutted of any meaning
that it had and even the equal protection clause of the
fourteenth amendment that you hear so much about was largely
meaningless for black folks the group that benefitted most from
the fourteenth amendment for the first fifty plus years that that
amendment was adopted was not African Americans, it was the
group of corporations that were recognized as persons who
benefitted mostly from the fourteenth amendment for five
or six or seven decades after it was passed and that was because
of a refusal of the majority of the white majority in this
country to recognize the humanity of African Americans. So, I won’t talk
about the violence, I won’t talk
about the repression, the suppression, the resistance,
the lives that were lost, the limbs that were lost during
this period of reconstruction as we call it the Jim
Crow era that took place, but that was an effort even then
to use the constitution of the United States to protect the
rights of those who needed its protection most, and that effort
resulted in a declaration by the United States
supreme court in 1898. It’s a case whose name you’ve
heard before it even bares my name I have
nothing to do with it, it’s called Plessey vs. Ferguson
and it was in Plessey vs. Ferguson in 1898 that the
supreme court declared that separate, but equal
was the law of the land. It was not necessary the court
said to have blacks and whites sharing the same railroad car as
long as you provide a railroad car for blacks that was equal to
the railroad car for whites then it was okay to
keep them separate. So separate but equal was the
law of the land but the reality of the land was
separate but unequal, and that was true in schools,
it was true in railroad cars, it was true in public
accommodations of every sort and character and it was that
rule of the Supreme Court that governed the country from 1898
for a period of more than fifty years until 1954 and I won’t go
through the tremendous struggle that led ultimately to the
1954 decision in Brown vs. Education it
wasn’t an even path, an even course, a steady beat to
equality and that’s why I call this- this talk the Quest
for Civil Rights Uneven, Uncertain and Unending, but
it was through the tremendous effort of those who were
committed to equality black and white working together to hold
this country to its promise of racial equality that led
ultimately to the decision in Brown vs. Board of
Education in 1954. When the court reversed
itself from the 1898 Plessey vs. Ferguson decision and said
separate but equal is no longer the law of the land and Brown
emerged from school litigation, so it was in the public-school
context that the court said separate but equal is now
outlawed the same court that had a century earlier said that
blacks had no rights which whites were bound to respect,
had now said it’s a new day it’s a new law it’s
a new document. No more separate but equal I
remember that day because I was a junior high school student
over at Hill Street School and the Supreme Court declared that
no longer would the school that I went to be an unequal facility
and I thought within a week or two [Laughter]>>Ferguson: It’d
be all over. And I waited a week and nothing
happened and I waited a month and nothing happened and I
waited and waited and waited and nothing happened and throughout
my high schools days nothing happened, a little bit happened
and I helped make it happen I might tell you about that in
the question and answer, but generally speaking separate
but equal was declared unlawful but separate but equal remained
the law of the land for years after the Brown decision in 1854
and this was the Supreme Court interpreting the constitution
that we celebrate today as the document that gives us the
freedoms that we cherish and honor and praise. But it was only
after sit in movements, bus boycotts, hoses
and dogs and Alabama’s, murders, savagery, brutality of
every kind you can think of that the country emerged to a
point where the outlawing of the separate but equal
doctrine had any real meaning. And then 1963 I may be getting a
little closer to your era now, I know you wondered
when I’d get there, but in 1963 you had the great
march on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King and that
precipitated legislation, the 1964 Civil Rights Act which
again outlawed the segregation in public accommodations
outlawed discrimination on the basis of race and other
things in employment, followed by the Voting Rights
Act in 1965 which was to open up political opportunities for
African Americans who had not had it before and finally
the fair Housing Act of 1968. And it was this evolution of the
civil rights movement that got us to the point where we began
to take seriously the rights that have been declared and
promised under the constitution, but even then
struggle was required, sacrifice was required it was
the result of the efforts of determined groups of people that
held this country to its promise of racial equality that
ultimately got us to the constitution as
we know it today. But even today, even with
a court over time that has declared that racial
discrimination is outlawed in every facet of
public life in America. We can never be sure that rights
are guaranteed and assured, once the push for school
desegregation took place and once Lyndon Johnson issued
his executive order calling for affirmative action to
eliminate vestiges of racism and discrimination, there
was retrenchment there was resistance on the part of
those whites who felt that their position of superiority was
being threatened and so there was resistance to the whole
desegregation process there was resistance to affirmative action
and eventually that resistance has been reflected
in the courts. Affirmative action is no
longer favored by the courts, no longer favored by the
US Supreme Court school desegregation, under school
desegregation orders is no longer favored by the court even
the ability to take race into account in trying to achieve
full desegregation of schools is now been cut back on by the
court in recent decisions just this last term. The court questioned seriously
and limited seriously the ability of local school boards
to take race into account in the desegregation process of their
schools and in decision after decision the court has retreated
on its historic position of affirmative action. That takes place even as we know
that we have not yet achieved a society where there is full
equality among all of its people, look at any index of
the quality of life in America, and what you will find is that
Africans Americans and other minorities lag behind;
infant mortality, healthcare, sickness,
disease, aids, income, wealth, rates of
incarceration in prison, school suspensions, you run the
whole gambit and what you find is that we have a society
that still declares as its law equality, but when we look at
the reality of how we live and we look at what’s
happening on the ground, then we see that the true
equality among racial and ethnic groups is yet to be achieved. And although as we laud and
praise our constitution today and celebrate its anniversary
we can never be sure that rights whether they be civil rights or
civil liberties protected under the constitution are secure. Every day the rights that we
hold dear are threatened in one way or another and what is the
most threatening thing to rights that we know? War. It is in times of war
that rights are always most threatened. If you go back to World War One
you had the alien and sedition Acts where the government wanted
to suppress decent and did suppress decent. World War Two the same thing,
so anytime there is war the government says give us
emergency powers and we will keep you safe, give us
some of your rights and we’ll take
care of you. And what do we
hear happening today? The language of war, we hear
about the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq, you hear about
the war on drugs and in all of those wars what does
the government say? Just turn over some of your
rights and we’ll keep you safe. Let us spy on you in
ways we never did before, and we’ll keep you safe and what
do the citizens and their fear say of course, keep us safe, who
needs rights when there’s a war, who needs rights when the
government’s going to take care of us? So, we as citizens give
up our rights out of fear, out of a desire for
security, out of deception, out of a belief that the way to
protect rights is to surrender them to the government, and
so the Patriot Act passes with almost no decent and a
government spying program goes into effect with
citizens wondering, well why would anyone object if
you’re not doing anything wrong why not let the government look
at what you’re doing and we see round ups of citizens of a
particular ethnic group soon after the war in Iraq it was
Muslims being rounded up all over and we say well what the
heck they’re the people that need to be rounded up, but I
could never forget one time it was my people being rounded up,
and you should always remember that at any given time it
could be you or your people, so when we talk about giving up
rights you may be thinking that you’re agreeing to the giving up
of the rights of someone other than yourself, but ultimately
when you give up rights you’re giving up your own
right. What is the saying? If they come for you at night
in the morning they may come for me, so as we celebrate
constitution day as we celebrate the progress that we
have made as a nation, and we have made great
progress as a nation; we now have
protections for women, we now have
protections for children, we now have protection for lots
of groups in society for which there was no protection before
so I don’t mean to stand here and say we’ve
not made progress, we have, I simply mean to
say that when we celebrate the constitution we’re not
celebrating a perfect document; we’re celebrating a document
that has been made meaningful through the efforts of citizens,
sometimes small groups of citizens who have been committed
to making the constitution hold true on its own promise and as
the sociologist Margaret Meade once said, never doubt that a
small group of dedicated people can change the world indeed it
is the only thing that changes, so as you think about your
constitution think about your duty as a citizen and as
members of small groups, whatever they are to make sure
that we are secure in the rights that were promised in the
document we celebrate today. Thank you. [applause] [applause]>>Campbell: Thank you
so much Dr. Ferguson. I’d like to open it up to
question and answer for a few minutes and as I said
before in a group this size, we need to use this microphone
so I’ll just open it up right now and if you’d like to ask a
question please raise your hand and I will hand you the mic.>>Audience member:
Thank you for your comments, I’d like to know how you
would respond to this, I am one of those nameless
people who worked in Martin Luther King’s movement,
was it all in vain?>>Ferguson: Was it all in vain? Let me dissect the
question a little bit and then talk about it. First of all was it all, when
we say all we’re talking about everything that was done and I
think the answer to that is no, that had not it been for the
mass movement that characterizes Dr. Kings work we would not be
sitting here in this hall today with you being able to answer
that question and with folks listening to me talk. The great work that you and
others dedicated yourselves to, to bring about a different
America made a difference, did it make all the difference? The answer is no
are we there? No. I think Dr. King would be
very concerned today if he was sitting among us about where
are we in terms of civil rights, where are we in
terms of human rights, where are we in terms
of a peaceful world, where are we in terms
of eradicating poverty, cause we have to remember that
Dr. King was about a lot more than just desegregating America. He was about
eradicating poverty, he was on his mission to
eradicate poverty at the time he was killed by an assassin, he
was about bringing about peace in the world and he was a leader
in the peace movement at his time- at his time he was
criticized deeply for getting involved in resistance
to the Vietnam War. Here we are today, poverty
is not only still among us, but growing; the gap between
the haves and the have nots is growing every day, Dr. King
would be very disturbed by that. We look at the world and we live
in a world at war all over the globe, the world is in
war; not just in Iraq, although Iraq to me is one of
the most blatant examples of how war is pointless and how
war saps our resources. Dr. King would be
astounded by that, he would be leading a movement
right now to move us away from war, to move us away from
poverty and Dr. King would also be very concerned about what’s
happening to us in our race relation today. We still live in a world that
is divided by race and it plays itself out every day. I talked to you
about the differences, the disparities in race and so
we have racial disparities now everywhere among us,
but not just that, but also in how we relate;
schools are resegregating in America, I see it in
Charlotte every day. Communities are becoming more
and more segregated in America; our organizations are becoming
more and more segregated in America. The truth is no victory stays
won so we have to continue to push for those
things we fight for, understanding that it
is an unending fight. So, you haven’t fought in vain,
you haven’t struggled in vain, but you can’t stop fighting
and you can’t stop struggling. There’s a question right here.>>Audience member: These are
really big issues and I know as college students we talk
about these a lot on our campus poverty and peace and racism,
but we always seem to struggle for the next step, beyond
talking about what wrong, how do we fix it? In your personal and
professional opinion what do we do? How do we put these
things into action? How do we fight these
fights against the injustice and inequality?>>Ferguson: That’s
a great question, that’s an absolutely
great question, to which there is
no great answer. [laughter] but I think that
there are some directions that we could follow
and if you pardon me I’ll just take a personal reference
and talk about it. I told you when I was speaking
to you that I’ll talk a little bit of my own experience here,
back when I was a high school student, the sit-in movement
started in Greensboro and it was the big news of the day and
it was happening and it was spreading like wildfire all over
the campuses and we were here in Asheville and we wanted
to be a part of that, we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have a black college
here in Asheville at the time, I don’t think we even had a full
four year college at the time I think that would’ve been right
around the time it was starting here, but in any event we
wanted to get involved, so a group of my friends and
I; high school students joined together and said we’re going to
get involved and we took it upon ourselves to learn all we could
about the sit in movement about the whole nonviolent movement
that is when we formed a group called Asheville Student
Committee on Racial Equality, so that we could find a way to
get involved and we just talked to everybody we could; we’d
stop adults and we talked to ministers we talked to people
in the community we talked to leaders and eventually
we learned enough to get comfortable enough that we
engaged in protest as a high school group and I think with
what little research I’ve done I think we were the only high
school group in the country to do that. It was an unlikely
thing for us to do, we didn’t know
what we were doing, we knew we had to do something
and I think the answer is if you feel the need to do something
then do what you feel the need to do; don’t just talk about it,
but form a group of others who are doing the same thing
and it may be a small step, but small steps
become big steps. Martin Luther King took a
small step when he took over the Montgomery movement, the last
thing he wanted to do was to lead that movement, they asked
him he said no I came here to build my church, they asked him
again he said no I came here to build my church, they asked him
again and finally he began to feel I can’t keep saying no. So, he wound up the reluctant
leader of the Montgomery movement and the next thing
you know he becomes the greatest civil rights leader of our time. So, none of this stuff starts
as a huge movement it all starts small and I urge you as
difficult as it is don’t despair get with others, do something.>>Audience member: Are you
at all conflicted about speaking here today?>>Ferguson: I’m sorry?>>Audience member: Were you at
all conflicted about speaking here today given the lack of
racial diversity on this campus?>>Ferguson: No more conflicted
than I am about living [laughter] [applause] and I don’t mean to be
flippant about that, I don’t mean to be
flippant about that but it’s everywhere
it’s not just this campus, it’s- it’s almost everywhere you
go and that’s part of what I’m talking about. We still live in a society that
is deeply divided by race and it has become more divided by the
different groups that have come in, it used to be mainly just
blacks and whites separated, now it’s blacks and whites and
Latinos and Asians and everybody comes in and it gets more and
more separated and I think one of the problems is that we
get complacent about it and we decide well the
struggle is over. There’s no law that says African
Americans can’t come to UNC Asheville, there’s no law
that says you can’t do this, no law that says you can’t
do that and therefore there’s no struggle, but the law simply
dismantles the legal structure for that and it’s individual
action that brings about the difference, so if the
law says one thing, we talked about it in the talk,
where you have the law saying one thing but the reality is
very different and that’s the reality you have today. So, I was reluctant only in the
sense that I want to see more diversity here, I want to
see more diversity everywhere, but I don’t think we get to that
point unless we talk about it, and if I don’t come and talk a
little bit about what some of that struggle has been then I
think I’m holding us back a little bit and not moving us
forward so that’s what I mean.>>Audience member: You
started to touch on this before, but do you feel like issues of
race are being superseded by issues of class in this country?>>Ferguson: I don’t think
they’re being superseded by it, I think it’s more popular today,
to talk about class issues. But there’s always been a close
connection between race and class and there is today, so
when we talk about class I see it as simply talking about
another aspect of the civil rights movement, I did touch on
it when I talked about Dr. Kings crusade against poverty and
that’s what he saw at the time. What he saw was not just
lack of opportunity for African Americans, but what he saw was
that that lack of opportunity led to poverty in and of
itself where you didn’t have the opportunity to work your way out
of poverty cause you couldn’t get a job, you couldn’t do
this, you couldn’t do that, but what he also saw was that
poverty was bigger than race, that class was bigger than race
in many ways because there were whites, many whites who also
were not able to participate in the fruits of this country,
through lack of education, through lack of opportunity,
through lack of healthcare, through lack of lots of things
and there were common issues among those who were racially
deprived and those who were economically deprived and
part of his dream was to build a movement where people would
begin to look beyond just their own race and look beyond just
their own class situation to begin to see the connection
between racism and ignorance and poverty and try to bring people
together to work on all of those issues. Today people don’t
like to talk about race, so they talk about class and
people say it’s not a problem with race anymore
it’s just class, so that get them beyond
talking about a subject that’s uncomfortable to talking about
one they’re more comfortable talking about, but the
issue of race is still race, it’s going to be there
for some time to come. When W.E. Dubois said
for the twentieth century that the driving issue in this country would be the
issue of the color line he could have just as easily said that’s
going to be the issue in the twenty first century as well,
because it’s still with us and discussion and talk about class
does not take away from race, to me it expands the discussion
about race and we’ve got to deal with both.>>Audience member: Okay, I have
a question about the extension of voting rights for African
Americans as opposed to having the full right if
that makes sense.>>Ferguson: I’m sorry let
me hear the question again.>>Audience member: On the
extension of voting rights for African Americans as opposed to
just being flat out able to vote as it was intended,
that makes sense?>>Ferguson: Let me see if I
understand your question and tell me whether I’m
answering it or not. In this day and time with all
of the rights that have been declared under constitution
and the voting rights act having been passed and the increase
in numbers of African Americans voting the increase in numbers
of elected officials we see I think you have an African
American mayor here now and there are others around, some
folks tend to think well the issue at the ballot box is
over, there’s no further need to protect rights, but there- if we
look at it we begin to see that that issue is still very much
alive and there’s still a need for voting rights act to protect
rights at the ballet box. One of the most recent big
examples of that was what happened in Florida during
the presidential election where numbers large numbers of African
American votes were cast out and people were not allowed to get
the opportunity to have their votes counted. There are issues regarding
felons having the right to vote, when you look at what
happened in the prisons, whose in prison, the black folks
are in prison for the most part and when you take away
the rights of ex-prisoners, ex-felons to vote you’re taking
away a disproportionate number of folks from the African
American community and there are other examples all the time
you can go into communities throughout America and
particularly in places in the south where schemes are still in
place to try to dilute the votes of African Americans
and other minorities. So there is still a need to have
particular protections for the rights at the ballot box,
because that- those rights are among the most important rights
that we have because that’s where we elect our
representatives and if we don’t have full voting strength to do
that then we lose out- we lose our voice in deciding who
represents us and who makes the laws, so that’s a long way of
saying I think we still have a tremendous need for continuation
and extension of the voting rights act and I think
that will be with us for some time to come.>>Audience member: I have one
more question if I may ask please and I’ll
leave you alone…>>Ferguson: Don’t leave
me alone keep->>Audience member: Okay, the
thirteenth amendment, do you think or could you say that because of our justice
system or criminal system where we put mostly African Americans
in prison that’s a sort of a change from putting us in open
slavery to divert- to water down the voting populous or the
people who are contributors if that makes sense.>>Ferguson: Well the thirteenth
amendment was designed to do two things, to eliminate slavery and
to eliminate the incidences of slavery, so it’s not just
a release of the chains, but the consequences of slavery
and do I think that there’s still consequences of
slavery that we see today? Yes. Do I think that the prisons
may be a reflection of that? The answer is yes and I
say that for this reason, when we look at the prison
population today whether it’s on the local level or the national
level you’ll find that there is a huge disproportion of
minorities particularly African Americans and Latino
Americans who are in prison. I for one do not accept that
that’s just a coincidental thing that African Americans just
happen to commit more crimes than white folks do and
therefore they’re in prison in larger numbers, what is really
happened is that the prison explosion has taken
place since 1980. Before that interestingly
enough the proportion of African Americans in prison compared
to whites in prison was nowhere near as stark as it is today, if
you go all the way back to the 1930’s and 40’s the numbers of
African Americans in prison the percentages were about the
same as the percentages in the population as a whole. Since 1980 with the declaration
of the war on drugs there has been a dramatic change in the
make-up of the prison population of this country and as a result
I argue to you as the war on- so called war on drugs you’ve had
an almost complete reversal of the numbers so that the numbers
of African Americans in prison has sky rocketed because of the
enforcement of the drug laws. Now, the statistics are that
drug use among African Americans and white Americans is about the
same as the percentages of use in the population as a whole; so
it’s not that African Americans are using drugs are purchasing
drugs are selling drugs in greater proportion than whites,
it’s simply the way the laws are enforced and of course you all
know about the crack cocaine, powder cocaine thing where
powder cocaine was the drug of choice for whites, crack cocaine
was the drug of use for blacks and even though they had the
same potency crack cocaine carried ten times the sentence
of powder cocaine so you wound up with a lot of African
Americans in prison with that, but it’s not just that it’s
the way the laws are enforced, in a lot of poor communities the
drug dealing and drug smoking and drug using takes place
outside and on the streets, it’s easier for
cops to enforce that, in a lot of white communities
it takes place in the suites, in homes and not outside
where it’s harder to enforce; so you wind up with tremendous
disparities in who gets prosecuted- I’m
sorry who gets arrested, who gets prosecuted and who gets
in prison for drugs and that’s a long way of saying that I do
think what’s happening in the prison population is a
reflection of what’s happening in racial issues in the country
today I think it’s also a reflection of a continuation
of an incidence and badge of slavery where the laws are
not being applied equally and fairly, but are being applied
in disproportionate ways against African Americans and
increasingly other populations, other minority groups among us.>>Campbell: So, we have
time for one more question.>>Ferguson: There’s
one over here [laughs].>>Audience member:
Thank you so much for commenting on the 2000 election, a lot of people I think have
forgotten that. I was greatly disturbed by that, the
violations of civil rights there, I had two but since
I have time for one I was wondering if you
would educate us, if this is something on the
power of the people to impeach the president, people in my
small group believe that there was a number of reasons for
the impeachment to take place primary would be misleading a
country into war under false pretenses, I have been- the
reason I’m concerned about it is obviously because congress is
kind of dragging their feet as well as I’ve heard that once
the next election occurs that impeachment is not a way to
prosecute possible crimes around this declaration of war, so
if you could educate us on the previsions of
impeachment constitutionally.>>Ferguson: Well, I’ll
give you some thoughts, I don’t know if I
can educate you, impeachment is an interesting
issue and you know I don’t hesitate to tell folks where I
am on certain issues of the day but I am appalled quite
frankly at how it is that one president can be impeached
actually, not convicted of impeachment but impeached on the
basis of lying about some sexual personal relationship that had
no particular consequences for the country as a whole and then
another president who has been revealed to have misled the
country about a war we hear talk of impeachment and people say
it’s crazy it’s outrageous, but the process itself is a
difficult one and that’s why you had so few impeachments in I
think it was only one I think who was it? Hayes or somebody way back
I can’t remember exactly, so in terms of the
practicalities of where impeachment leads you I think
it’s difficult to argue that you’re likely to have a
successful impeachment of a president, the question then becomes well
where do you put your energies? And not only is it difficult
to get impeachment, it’s difficult to get a
resolution passed defunding the war. So it’s hard to think
that impeachment even if the basis for it is present is a
practical and likely way to address the issues that took
place none the less I do think that it’s incumbent upon us as
citizens to hold our leaders accountable for leadership,
for telling the truth, for acknowledging error when
there is error and not for allowing them a free pass
for misleading the country. We have an impeachment every
four years and sometimes that can be the most effective
impeachment we have when we vote as to who will continue to
lead the country and it is that process where I think the
citizens have the greatest hand and where we have to exercise
that to reflect our beliefs in our leadership and in
our process. Yeah.>>Campbell: Well folks we have
come to end of our hour and I was just encouraging humanities
students to please carry on this forum in your sessions you will
be reading a number of works about the civil rights movement
coming into next week and on behalf of UNCA and Humanities
programs Dr. Ferguson we thank you so much.>>Ferguson: Thank you. Thank
you, thank you very much. [Applause] ♪ [Closing music] ♪ ♪ ♪

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