He was born in Louisiana in 1939 and spent his youth as an African-American boy in the Deep South. With vivid recollections of “we do not serve coloreds” signs, and the “c” on his birth certificate, signifying “colored,” California political activist Ward Connerly hasn’t forgotten what he describes as the “humiliating and debilitating” experience of seeing his uncle called “boy,” by a 16-year-old white youth.
But while his sense of right and wrong was not politically acceptable back then, for some, his political views ought not be voiced today either.
Connerly’s efforts in California have made him a nationwide spokesman for those working to end racial preferences. He successfully led the campaign in 1996 to enact Proposition 209, which the state’s voters approved by a 55-45 percent margin.
Connerly recently has been assailed by California legislators and a bevy of university students who accuse him of supporting racist views in comments he made in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer.
On Jan. 23, 36 California legislators sent a letter to California Board of Regents Chairman John Moores, asking him to “take disciplinary action” against Connerly, who serves on that board.
Assemblyman Dario Frommer said Connerly should be “condemned for defense of segregationism [sic] and treatment of students.”
California Assemblyman Dario Frommer
The latter was a reference to Connerly’s response to a group of students who demanded an apology from him. When asked about the demand by an Oakland Tribune reporter, Connerly said, “They can go to hell.”
WorldNetDaily has obtained a copy of Connerly’s letter responding to the legislators’ charges, written Wednesday and addressed to Regent Chairman Moores.
The initial formal criticism filed by the legislators was somewhat late, given that the CNN interview took place Dec. 13. The topic of that interview was Sen. Trent Lott’s controversial comments made at then-Sen. Strom Thurmond’s birthday party.
Although Connerly called for Lott to step down from his leadership position, some news reports omitted the central focus of the interview and instead reported on Connerly’s alleged support of segregation.
Regarding segregation, Connerly said, “It’s certainly a poor direction for this nation to have pursued. … I won’t say that he’s racist. I don’t think he is. … But I just cannot reconcile those words he said. I don’t know what he could have meant by ‘all of these problems.'”
Connerly chose to carefully avoid interpreting Lott’s motives, while allowing that Lott had “squandered all opportunity to be that leader.”
He then proceeded to make an analytical distinction between segregation and racism, a distinction that allowed that some forms of segregation may exist in society that are in fact an expression of a “right of association,” disassociated from any racism.
The accusatory letter sent by the legislators, on the other hand, equates segregation unequivocally with racism and states, “Segregation has always been a manifestation of racism. … [R]acism is behind the policies of segregation.”
‘Stunning ignorance’ of racism?
Frommer’s press release regarding the letter stated, “Connerly’s comments betray a stunning ignorance of the history of segregation and racism” and alluded to “a diverse student body – many of whom come from families who know firsthand the pain of segregation and racism.”
Connerly’s letter of response to Regent Chairman Moores, referring to his childhood upbringing states, “having been born in Leesville, La., in 1939, I wish I did have a ‘stunning ignorance’ of societal segregation that was enforced by my government. Unfortunately my experiences with such segregation have not come from history books. … [I]t has been of a cruel, up-close and personal variety. As a child growing up in Louisiana, I personally witnessed signs that read ‘WE DO NOT SERVE COLOREDS.’ Therefore, I don’t need members of the Latino Caucus, other legislators or students two-generations removed from the REALITY of a truly racist system to chastise me, or counsel me on racial etiquette.”
Regarding the legislators’ statement that segregation is always equivalent to racism, Connerly wrote, “With such a view, I wonder how the signatories to the letter reconcile the California Latino Caucus, an entity whose membership is limited to ‘Latinos’?” He goes on to list the Congressional Black Caucus, the Black and Chicano Student Unions on campuses, Black Freshman Orientation at UC Davis (and other campuses), Chicano and African-American graduation ceremonies at UC, so-called “theme-houses” where he says students “self-segregate” based on race and ethnicity, race-based sororities, black alumni associations, Hispanic chambers of commerce and others, as examples of segregated bodies that are not racist.
Connerly then added satirically, “Perhaps I have been in error in believing that since I do not see visible signs of malice, hate or prejudice in the conduct of these organizations and their members, they are not racists.”
Then in a swipe at the politicians accusing him of racism, Connerly wrote, “If California’s ‘fiscal crisis’ is not enough to occupy the attention of responsible legislators, perhaps they might want to confront all of this ‘racism’ that I have mentioned, based on their definition of segregation, instead of pursuing a foolish, Nazi-like expedition to condemn me for my refusal to conform to their way of thinking.”
‘A bunch of wolves’
Citing his patience and lack of malice, Connerly goes on to say: “But I will not allow myself to be intimidated by students or legislators into conforming to what they want me to say or apologizing when my words fit not into the mold that they have created. I especially will not brush aside the suggestion that I condone the oppressive system of inhumanity under which not only some of my ancestors lived, but did I as well.”
Connerly told WorldNetDaily, “We have reached an unfortunate circumstance in our nation, in which those who at the slightest provocation – actually with no provoking – feel they have a legitimate right to infer from what someone says, what their motives are.”
He added, “Then they go on to attack, like a bunch of wolves. They try to silence anyone who disagrees with them. Then they demand an apology. If one is given, then they demand a second, a third, a fourth.”
“I’m not going to play it,” said Connerly. “I’m not going to fall into that. I didn’t say anything wrong.”
His letter also states: “What I found particularly appalling was the utter hypocrisy of their manufactured concern about my comments. While they were falsely accusing me of ‘defending segregation’ [students] Mo Kashmiri and Jessica Quindel, who opposed displaying the American flag and singing ‘God Bless America’ at a 9-11 memorial, were running to a member of the California Latino Caucus to do their dirty work for them. All the while, in the Chicano ‘theme-house’ (Casa de Jaoquin Murietta) an effigy of me was hanging. … These were the same individuals who were involved in burning me in effigy on campus a few years ago. If there is a more despicable symbol of racial segregation in the Deep South in the 1950s style than a black man hanging in effigy from a noose, I don’t know what it is. Yes, I found that sufficiently beyond the bounds of civil discourse to tell them to ‘go to hell’ with emphasis.”
Kashmiri and Quindel could not be reached for comment.
He concludes, “How can individuals who pride themselves on being liberal or ‘progressive’ be so intolerant of diverse views, so demanding that everyone fall into their conformist pattern of thinking, and that refusal to apologize for having a difference in perspective be grounds for a ‘reprimand’?”
Connerly characterizes the attack as politically motivated opposition to his support for the Racial Privacy Initiative, due on the California ballot in March 2004. Connerly is founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, a national, not-for-profit organization focused on “educating the public about the need to move beyond racial and gender preferences.”
The proposed Racial Privacy Initiative represents a proposed constitutional amendment that would largely end the governmental practice of classifying and tracking individuals by race, ethnicity, color or national origin. Upon qualification and passage, racial check-off boxes would be phased out in state and local government forms by 2005, with explicit exemptions for such areas as medical research and treatment, law enforcement and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Regarding what he views as hypocritical accusers, Connerly told WorldNetDaily, “I’m just going to stick with it and hold them accountable.”
And as for his previous “They can go to hell” comment, Connerly said, “I just underscore that.”
Meanwhile the student Daily Nexus, UC Santa Barbara’s student newspaper, editorialized that both Connerly and his opponents sought political advantage from the fracas.
“The UCSA’s decision to begin another battle over Connerly’s month-old comments is started out of a long-standing grudge against the regent and nothing more. … Connerly is using the uproar as a place from which to start his own political platform.” Pointing out that the Board of Regents has no censure policy in place, the editorial added, “The UCSA might as well ask the regents to feed Connerly to a fire-breathing dragon with plaid scales.”
The staff editorial concludes, “Connerly’s new initiative is worth twice the attention afforded to his controversial comments, and if the UCSA didn’t have its head up its a–, it might realize this.”