This week Congress will be vetting Jeff Sessions appointment as U.S. attorney general. It is unimaginable that Sessions could be empowered to represent “law, justice and the American way.” For most of his public career Sessions has represented white interests.
Yesterday, representatives of the NAACP were arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, during a protest in which they demanded that Jeff Sessions “self-disqualify” as Trump’s pick for attorney general. Sessions had been denied a federal judgeship based on evidence that during his years as Alabama attorney general he had demeaned his black associates, calling them “boys,” and expressed hostility toward civil rights organizations and civil rights workers.
Worst of all, Sessions had joked about the KKK during an investigation into the 1981 lynching of a 19-year-old African American man, Michael Donald, in Montgomery. The investigation confirmed that a gang of KKK murders had savagely beaten and killed Michael Donald, whose body was hung from a tree. As Alabama attorney general, Sessions also harassed black voters and oversaw the executions of mentally and cognitively disabled people. Sessions supported a grossly unequal distribution of public funds favoring private white schools over black public schools.
Some background might help. Sessions was born in Selma in 1946 and educated in Camden at Alabama’s all-white Wilcox County High School. As a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee worker in Selma and in Wilcox County in 1967-1968 I saw close up what white power looked like. Despite the Voting Rights Act of 1965, black people were harassed for voting in Wilcox County and elsewhere in southwest Alabama. My black SNCC co-worker and I were run out of Camden (the county seat of Wilcox County) by Alabama police waving guns in our faces.
Throughout Wilcox County I recorded, transcribed and published interviews with black tenant farmers whose cotton allotment checks were stolen by plantation owners, with black women who were denied welfare or healthcare unless they agreed to be “spayed” (the term used by health and welfare officials), with women who were raped by their landlords, and husbands who protested and were pistol whipped. On one occasion our car of four SNCC workers was driven off the road by local KKK members.
Black tenant farmers and their families were hungry and their children undernourished. They were not allowed to raise crops of their own and had to purchase food with script at the plantation owner’s store. Our group, led by civil rights lawyer for SNCC, filed a a class-action suit, Peoples vs. the Department of Agriculture, in 1968 charging that black tenant farmers were being denied access to USDA federal entitlements to food stamps and free food commodities. We took three busloads of tenant farmers to the federal circuit courtroom in Washington, D.C., to testify to the court alongside medical evaluations by the late Dr. Raymond Wheeler and Robert Coles testifying to the diseases of malnutrition present in the population — anemias, vitamin deficiencies, protein deficiencies and pellagra.
The federal court of three judges decided that the USDA food program was not intended to feed hungry people but rather to unload surplus food commodities to sustain the agricultural industry. We went home emptyhanded and several of the brave black plaintiffs were thrown off the land by their plantation owners. The KKK was the ruling party. Jury panels were all white. This was the normative code of injustice in south and southwest Alabama.
Sessions will argue that times have changed. He said he came to reject the KKK but it was on the grounds that some of the members smoked dope. Yes, times have changed in rural southwest Alabama. The cotton plantations have closed down in the Blackbelt counties of southwest Alabama. Whites have fled Camden, and today Wilcox County High School is a “100% Black minority School in which 99% of the students are economically disadvantaged.” Sessions has argued against public school funding.
Throughout his career Sessions has displayed his personal loyalties to the good ole boys’ code of white power. His appointment would be a disgrace.