WASHINGTON – A group of African-American religious leaders endorsed Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as the next U.S. attorney general and pushed back against Rev. Al Sharpton’s criticism of Sessions’ nomination.
“Now allegations have been made that Senator Sessions is a racist; however, an examination of his record proves otherwise. As a U.S. attorney for the state of Alabama, he prosecuted Klansman Henry Francis Hays, as has been mentioned earlier. Henry Francis Hays was the son of Bennie Hays, who was one of the leading members of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan,” Rev. Ralph Chittams of the Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church in Maryland said at a Monday press conference on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Foundation and the Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall.
“He [Sessions] insisted that trial be a capital murder trial and Hays was convicted of capital murder and was sentenced to be executed. A little while later, then-state attorney general Jeff Sessions oversaw a process where Hays received the punishment as decided by the court of law and was executed. As a direct result of those actions, a civil judgment in the amount of $7 million was entered against the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, which effectively bankrupted them,” he added.
Chittams, senior vice chairman of the Washington, D.C., Republican Party and a member of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Washington, said Sessions “spearheaded” the effort to honor Rosa Parks with the congressional gold medal in 1999 and gave a speech on the Senate floor in support of Parks.
As PJM previously reported, Al Sharpton promised a “season of civil disobedience” surrounding the Sessions nomination on a press call with other civil rights activists from organizations including the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza. The activists argued that Sessions should not be attorney general in part because of his support for voter identification laws.
Bishop Jim Lowe, pastor at the Guiding Light Church in Birmingham, Ala., said every American needs an ID to enter a federal building or purchase alcohol, so requiring one to vote is not unfair.
“No, I don’t think it’s unfair. As a matter of fact, it’s because of Rev. Sharpton that I have come forward because I don’t agree with many of the things he says and I stand for something entirely different – it’s as simple as that,” said Lowe.
“When I came through this building they asked me for some type of ID. How do they know who I am unless I have some type of ID? I don’t know how my other brothers may feel and I can remember the things they used to do to keep us from voting, but this is a different America. This is an America where every citizen has the right to vote and should not be denied the right to vote. But this is a country where we must make sure we protect the integrity of the vote,” Lowe added.
Rev. William Green of Fresh Anointing House of Worship in Montgomery, Ala., argued that Sharpton is “racist” for implying that minorities are unable to obtain a photo ID to show in order to cast their vote.
“I think for any individual, as black man, to tell me that black people can’t go get an ID just like white people can – see, once again, when you say voter ID, it’s not that they are concerned about poor, educated white people, it’s poor, uneducated black people. So what I am saying, to even imply that is racist to me, is racist in itself. So what Al Sharpton is saying, in effect, is that black people are not as educated as white people to be able to get IDs if you require them to get IDs,” Green told PJM.
“Are you saying that white people are superior to black people? So my opinion is Al Sharpton is the racist and I resent that as a black man. Al Sharpton is the racist in implying that black people are less capable than white people in getting IDs simply because of their skin color; that’s my position,” he added.
Green said voting ID requirements apply to every voter and minorities are just as capable as others to obtain the proper identification.
“So, once again we come back to the same thing: if white people can do it, how come black people can’t do it? Then if you look at it in most cases like in the state of Alabama – there are more white people than black people so wouldn’t that disproportionately affect white people than it would black people?” Green said. “Do you understand what I am saying? What’s the one thing that separates those people? Race. What [Sharpton] is saying is black people are not as capable as white people, so he’s the one accepting the premise of racism.”
Green argued that fighting against ID requirements that apply to every individual is the “epitome of racism.”
Chittams said minorities are not able to access any social services without the same IDs that are required for voting in certain states, calling Sharpton’s position a “red herring.”
“You can’t get access to section 8. You can’t get access to anything so the argument that these poor people can’t vote because they don’t have IDs – than the next question is well, how do these poor people get access to all of these services? Additionally, most black poor people live in urban centers. Most white poor people live in rural suburban America. For which group is it more difficult to obtain an ID?” said Chittams.
“This whole concept that requiring IDs to vote is racist and disenfranchising to black people – no, this is a red herring. This is a dog whistle to try to get black people again to emotionally just vote for Democrats – there’s no factual basis in it. There’s no reality in it whatsoever,” he added.
Dr. Randy Short, a political activist, said donors have paid Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network, to fight against voter identification laws.
“I’m an African-American man. If I want to buy a can of beer, a fifth of liquor or some cigarettes, I am going to get an ID to do that, OK? I’m not trying to take the ballot from anybody. I come from generations of activists,” he said.
“If the only thing that’s being required is for people to get an ID, and we have millions of people in this country illegally who take the time to get an ID, wouldn’t it behoove some of my brothers and sisters to just do something in the right way now and then instead of pointing the finger at this man [Sessions] who happens to have a tremendous record?” he added.
Rev. Dean Nelson, director of African-American outreach for the Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall, said the coalition of religious leaders at the event, which also included Rev. Troy Towns of Rivers Edge Church in Montgomery, Ala., and Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, are urging the Senate to confirm Sessions for attorney general.