Sunday, December 02, 2018

President George Herbert Walker Bush and Civil Rights

President George Herbert Walker Bush has died.

In February, 1989, at the beginning of President George H.W. Bush's Presidency, I was in Denver for a midyear meeting of the American Bar Association, working on security clearance reform and Gay rights resolutions before the ABA Young Lawyers Division Assembly and ABA House of Delegates, respectively.

While there, I attended a three hour seminar on civil rights issues in the Bush Administration. The career Deputy of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division spoke.  He bragged on what the Bush Administration was going to do for civil rights.

So I asked him about 15th Amendment violations in Memphis, where I'd gone to law school and researched he issues of the white power structure's intentional dilution of minority strength. The racist City of Memphis had long annexed vast tracts of white areas of Shelby County, while using a scheme of at-large and district seats, preventing African-Americans from ever electing a Mayor or other city-wide elected officials.

We exchanged cards. He was sincere.  Six weeks later, he was in Memphis, in the office of attorney Dan M. Norwood, for whom I clerked 1984-1986.

That summer, the Bush Justice Department sued Memphis for the first time on voting rights, eventually winning an end to illegal annexations and use of at-large districts to disenfranchise African-Americans. Memphis later elected two African-American Mayors.

Healing took place in Memphis, Tennessee thanks to the administration of George H.W. Bush.

I went to law school in racist Memphis, Tennessee, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in 1968 and where a cruel white power structure maintained Iron Heel control into the early 1980s.  When taking the bus downtown to my judicial clerkship,  I would often be the only non-African American person on the 50 bus, passing the Lorraine Motel, abandoned, the site of the murder (later turned into a world class National Civil Rights Museum by one of my law professors, D'Army Bailey, later a judge, for whom Shelby County Courthouse is now named.). I had researched annexation issues for Dan Norwood, a Democratic lawyer for unions and civil rights plaintiffs.  But the problem was solved by a Republican President, one who made a difference on civil rights.

Bush also signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.  Reagan had vetoed it.

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