Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) delivered the following
speech to the American Business Women's Association in Atlanta,
Georgia, April 30, 2005.
Business Ladies and Gentlemen:
Congratulations for 33 years of excellence.
I am very happy to be here this evening with the Golden Dome Chapter
of the American Business Women's Association.
It is true that there is no "ship" like
First of all, I have to give my own personal testimony about how
the women of the American Business Women's Association are there
for other women and how, in particular, they were there for me.
After the 2002 election, I was in a quandary. I didn't know
whether or not I would complete the chapter in the book that had
just been written for me – or if I would take out my pen and write
my own book.
It was the women of the Hidden Hills Chapter
of the American Business Women's Association who gave me the
paper and the pens and told
me to go and write my own book – step out on faith – that what
happened in 2002 was an aberration, part of the tough territory
that comes with speaking truth to power.
Specifically, I'm talking about Richie Morris, Barbara Campbell,
and Teresa Williams.
I took their pens and I took their paper and together we wrote
our own book and we continue to write that book.
However, I'm here to tell you tonight that
for too long in our history, others have had the luxury and the
privilege of writing
our story for us. We have been timid and unsure of what we
want in a fast-paced, sometimes dangerous world. And sadly,
as too many squirrels have discovered, "He who hesitates,
ends up as roadkill."
In the political world, our hesitation about flexing our muscle
and standing firm for our Constitutional rights has made us political
How else can you describe Republican audacity to roll back the
voting laws in our State to almost pre-Voting Rights Act times.
Georgia, whose leaders' words used to drip
with interposition and nullification at the time that Dr. King
led millions in marches
for our rights, now has one of the most – if not the most – restrictive
voter ID bills in the country.
Georgia, whose electorate is fully 30% black, has a history of
hatred that is well chronicled in the annals of Supreme Court voting
Georgia, where crossover voting allows white Democrats and white
Republicans to come together to oust anyone not to their liking
despite the overwhelming presence of black Democrats in the Democratic
Georgia, so sweet and clear as moonlight in the pines.
Leadership in a changing time. That's your theme tonight.
But tell me. From this just-passed Legislative
Session, and everything that you've witnessed in your lifetimes,
tell me – what has changed?
Our story in this country has been one of struggle, optimism,
faith, belief, in the system, in the Constitution, belief in what
the leaders of this country have told us.
Our history in this country has been one of
triumph and travail. And
through it all, we've had inspiring leadership and we've had not-so-inspiring
We've had perfect victories and imperfect losses.
But what is so problematic today is that our imperfect losses
are about to wipe out the gains of our perfect victories.
Let me explain.
We have been told that civil rights is passé. The
Atlanta Journal and Constitution's big line on me was that I was
a civil rightser. They said that I was an agitator and that
we no longer need agitators. That my role had passed our
community by and that it was time that the community by-pass me.
There were some people who might have been
persuaded by that message especially when combined with my questioning
of what the
Bush Administration knew in advance about the events of September
I know folks were saying, "What has Cynthia been drinking
now? She's up there drinking that DC water. No telling
what's in it."
And here we are 4 years later and even Bush, himself, has admitted
to knowledge of foreign warnings that were coming in to the Administration.
But you combine a responsible question being asked by a black
female southern Member of Congress and you get the kind of vituperation
that we all experienced just a few short years ago.
However, what I went through is nothing new. Strong black southern
leadership, both male and female, has had to withstand so much
Because the main agenda of those who hold power
is to not relinquish it under any means except by force. And
then to try to win back that which they've been forced to concede.
For example, what about black leaders and what
about our history?
Where are our leaders? Who are our leaders?
After the Civil War, blacks elected blacks
to the highest offices in our land. The United States Congress
passed the Civil Rights
Act of 1866 to give African Americans the rights and privileges
of full citizenship. The Freedmen's Bureau was set up to help blacks
just out of slavery: from 1865 to 1872 it set up more than
100 hospitals, resettled more than 30,000 people, founded over
4,300 schools including what are today Fisk University, Hampton
Institute, Howard University, and Clark Atlanta University.
In 1866, Congress proposed the 14th Amendment
to the Constitution which gave citizenship to blacks and guaranteed
that all federal
and state laws would apply equally to blacks and whites. In addition,
it barred Confederacy office holders from ever holding high political
office again. In 1868, when the 14th Amendment had been ratified
by the requisite number of states to make it the law of the land,
Georgia had a peculiar reaction: it expelled 30 odd blacks
who had been elected to the Georgia Legislature because of their
color. The statue on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol tells
the story of those who were expelled because of color. In 1870,
the 15th Amendment was ratified making it illegal to deny or abridge
the right to vote due to race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
So by any standard, 200 years after we landed
in this country on slave ships, black folks could have said that
they had reached
the promised land. That struggle, war, and more struggle
had paid off and that we didn't need any more rights because they
all had been equally guaranteed to all without regard to race.
But we know that just wasn't true. Despite the elevation
of certain blacks, and some "making it" into the black
middle class; and others even being able to "pass" for
white and escape the indignity of being black in America – any
leader who suggested that the struggle was over would have been
laughed out of the community. In fact, the community picked
someone who could pass for white, Homer Plessy – 7-8ths white and
only 1-8th black – only Louisiana would count it that closely.
Well, Homer Plessy was the test case for the segregated rail cars. And
it was the Plessy vs. Ferguson case, decided by the Supreme Court
in 1892, that made apartheid the law of the land in America.
The white backlash to black advancement had
been swift. Black
Codes swept across the South and in the face of all that land of
opportunity was the stark reality of white resistance. Two
hundred years of progress gone with the stroke of a pen.
And resistance flourished until 1954 when the
Supreme Court ruled American-styled apartheid – what we call segregation – unconstitutional.
The pace of the resistance quickened, but so
too did our resolve to secure what was ours; that is – first
class citizenship of this country.
With stiff backs unbent so no man could ride them, our agitators
and civil rightsers shook America's trees of opportunity and brought
home an impressive basket of fruit: the Civil Rights Act, the Voting
Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act. The bounty of America was
its biggest when we stood the firmest.
But now that the fruit of our forefathers has
been realized in our very successes, we are plagued with the
idea that out of that
success, America has changed. Ladies and Gentlemen of the American
Business Women's Association, I would say to you that America has
not yet changed – enough.
Otherwise, the statistics would not be as they
are. In fact,
on some indices, racial disparities are worse today than they were
at the time of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We
don't have to wonder why despite the election of over 4,000 blacks
to office – making public policy – that Martin Luther King, Jr.
Drive in almost any given city is exemplary of the very disparities
that the movement sought to eliminate.
The advancement of a few at the expense of the many has not been
heralded in the past and should not be so today.
The sad fact of the matter is that increasingly
those who rise now are the strangest, most contorted fruit of
all of the sacrifices
of my parents. Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas,
Ward Connerly, and the host of other "success stories" paraded
before us are not the kind of leaders that my father agitated for.
They are not the measures of our real success. We
are being tricked from within.
The Black Commentator writes eloquently about
the incision deep into the Congressional Black Caucus of a core
corporate far right
group who represent interests other than the traditional black
consensus on civil rights and pocketbook issues for black Americans. The
Black Commentator even talks about the dissolution of the Congressional
Black Caucus as we know it.
Leadership is important. Authentic leadership is even more
important for a community that is under siege as I believe black
America is today. Today we have the internet, cell phones,
satellite TV, and car wheels that go backward. But Plus ca
change, plus c'est la meme chose. The more things change
the more they remain the same.
We are witnessing a rapid consolidation of
power unlike that witnessed before. In 8 years of Bush, and no resistance from us, the
task will be complete. We shouldn't be fooled into thinking
that there is an easy way out of this mess. It's not easy
and it's a big mess. From the poverty of our children, the
fact that they're not graduating from high school, that our young
men are in prisons making items like graduation gowns (ironic,
since so many of the inmates haven't graduated), baseball caps
for Little League, electronic boards for high-profit corporations
wanting to add that Made in America tag to the items we all buy. Add
to that the fact that now we also have leaders who aren't really
our leaders at all. And it's up to us to decipher who is
and who isn't our friend.
These are indeed perilous times. And at the same time, what
we need to advance our country forward – while the time is critical – the
answer ain't rocket science.
We know what is needed.
We did it when we organized to get folks elected after the civil
war to the highest levels of government.
We did it when we organized to get those landmark pieces of legislation
passed in the mid 1960s.
We are not doing it now and that's why we have not responded to
the rollbacks to the Voting Rights Act and to Bakke, Croson, Adarand,
Shaw v. Reno, and Getz.
We've lost so much ground and that loss can be directly attributable
to our lack of vision, leadership, and our ambivalence toward applying
pressure to keep the forward motion.
I'm proud to stand here as your Congresswoman. And to stand
with the other Congresswomen like Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee
who aren't afraid to stand. I thank you for giving me the
honor of serving once again with them. And it is fitting
that we women stand with other like-minded women who are unafraid
to stand for all women, men, and children in our country.
But America is in deep trouble and as a country and as a community
we need strong leadership willing to stand up and that is unafraid
to challenge what's wrong.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that for
some of us, maybe personal circumstances have improved. But when as a community, our
children and our futures are still on the front lines, too many
things just haven't changed for us to rest on our laurels. We
cannot afford to "believe the hype." So don't. Don't
believe the hype.
Congratulations to the awardees.
Thank you so much for inviting me to share with you tonight and
I look forward to serving you tomorrow.