Monday, September 1, 2014

History's Lessons for Today's World

Remarks at the Lillian Smith Book Award Ceremony for 2014 by Charles S. Johnson, President of the Southern Regional Council

I stand before you as one who like many of you can remember a time when a gathering such as this – where people of many races come together in the same social space – was highly improbable.

Our region once labored under a brutal system of racial apartheid which carried with it its own sense of permanence and inevitability.

The idea that things in the South could ever change – or that they even should change – was an idea that found very few voices.

One of those voices was that of Lillian Smith, whose writings during that period expressed impatience with those who thought of themselves as progressive and caused them to envision a very different South – a South which truly embraced the worth of all of its citizens.  

Following her death the Southern Regional Council established an annual award in her name – to recognize authors whose work carries on the tradition of Lillian Smith, work of outstanding moral vision and literary merit and which honestly portrays the South, its people, its problems and its promise.

For the last several years this award has been presented as a partnership between the Southern Regional Council (which established the award) the University of Georgia Libraries (which house the Lillian Smith Papers) and the Georgia Center for the Book (which sponsors the Decatur Book Festival).

There are many people who work to bring this event to you every year, but I want to take this opportunity to give special recognition to our jurors who worked their way through the thirty nine books that were nominated this year.

Mary Twining Baird, Decatur, Georgia
James Taylor, Atlanta, Georgia
Constance Curry, Atlanta, Georgia
Merryl Penson, Athens, Georgia
Marcy Johnson, Hilton Head, South Carolina

We value these works of history not just for the sake of history itself but also for the lessons that history provides for the world in which we live today.

For all of those who thought we had overcome, the recent events in Sanford, in Staten Island, and in Ferguson should serve as a wake-up call.

So when Al Sharpton called on the people of Ferguson not to have a fit but, instead, to create a movement, there are probably some in this day and age who may have wondered what he was talking about. 

Fortunately, there are places to which they can turn to learn what a movement is, what it takes to make a movement successful, and to learn about those things that can stand in the way of success.

If the Black community of Ferguson is disrespected, even though it comprises a majority of the City’s population, it might have something to do with the under-representation that that community has itself created by not taking advantage of the voting rights that were secured on the streets of Selma.

The authors that we honor today have provided a valuable service not just by telling great stories and telling them well, but also by providing lessons that are highly relevant to us as we face the challenges of today’s ever-changing world.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Lillian Smith Book Award Recipient Reviewed by 2013 Recipient

On Sunday, August 31st during the Decatur Book Festival, a Lillian Smith Book Award will be presented to M.J. O'Brien, author of "We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth Sit-in and the Movement it Inspired."

"The book . . . easily draws the reader into the emotion, tragedy, and messiness of movement activity. O'Brien neatly dissects an iconic moment encapsulated by photographer Fred Blackwell's image of the Jackson Woolworth sit-in on May 28, 1963, showing a mob of white youth pouring condiments and insults on the seated protesters. He then moves from the previous sit-in demonstrations in Jackson to the immediate and long-term reverberations of the three-hour ordeal the activists endured that day. O'Brien rubs off some of the movement's gilt by narrating intra-movement struggles that thwarted cohesiveness among activists when segregationists frustrated their attempts at every turn, then killed their most visible leader, NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, two weeks after the sit-in. He does this by collating biographical narratives of the subjects of the photograph, both the abused and their abusers, as well as those—from Evers and the journalists and photographers to the police and politicians—not in the photograph but who helped to frame the scene.

"O'Brien uses this image to spin a sophisticated and effective narrative focused on the planning and aftermath of this incident that publicly showcased such vitriolic displays of human hatred. He helps us understand why the participants' paths crossed in Woolworth's that day, what that meeting did to them, and how they made sense of it afterward, complicating the factors that can drive, feed, and impede a movement. By contrasting the ugliness and human weaknesses on both sides with the bravery and fortitude of a few, O'Brien has crafted a beautifully written text that transcends the local story with a simple, effective, and appealing structure that will lend itself to the many other movement campaigns with equally iconic images.

"O'Brien's writing reflects his journalistic skills—he knows how to tell a story, and how to analyze images, interview his subjects, and craft tight prose that engages readers and elicits empathy for those on both sides. By structuring the book through the dissection of an image, he provides a lesson in how to "read" photographs and weigh the cultural, historical, and political significance of an image by understanding the individuals pictured, those the photographer chose not to frame, and the photographer himself."

--FranÒ«oise N. Hamlin, 2013 Lillian Smith Book Award Recipient, writing in American Historical Review, June 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Arrested Federal Judge Keeps Getting $200K Salary

By Jay Reeves, The Associated Press
From the Daily Report, August 15, 2014 

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama federal judge stripped of his caseload following his arrest on domestic violence charges in Atlanta will continue receiving his annual salary of nearly $200,000.

Federal rules on judicial conduct and discipline don't include a provision for withholding the pay of U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, and the court system can't quit paying a judge just because he was arrested, said judicial ethics expert Russell E. Carparelli. A circuit judicial council is looking into whether Fuller should be disciplined.

"During this course he will continue to receive his salary," said Carparelli, a former state court judge in Colorado and the executive director of the American Judicature Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

John Carroll, a former federal magistrate judge and dean of Cumberland Law School at Samford University, agreed. Each federal court circuit has a chief judge and a council composed of judges that consider disciplinary actions against federal judges, but judges continue receiving their pay as long as they retain their title, said Carroll.

District judges like Fuller are paid $199,100 annually, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts in Washington. They are appointed for life.

A woman who answered the telephone at Fuller's office on Friday declined comment.

Atlanta police arrested Fuller, 55, early Sunday and charged him with misdemeanor battery after his wife called 911 from a hotel and said he was beating her. Mark Fuller told police that his wife became violent as she confronted him with allegations of cheating.

Fuller was released from jail and posted a $5,000 bond. He must appear in court next Friday.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a brief statement on Wednesday saying Fuller was being relieved of his caseload and wouldn't receive any new cases, but court officials haven't responded to questions about Fuller's status.

Carparelli said the silence is part of the process.

"Generally speaking, when there is an allegation against a judge they are confidential until a decision has been made," he said.

The federal judicial code of conduct says a judge "should maintain and enforce high standards of conduct and should personally observe those standards, so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved."

The code doesn't spell out disciplinary actions in cases where a judge is arrested on misdemeanor charges.

Following an investigation and review by the circuit judicial council, he said, a judge found to have violated judicial conduct rules could be reprimanded or censured or asked to retire. Ultimately, a circuit could recommend the impeachment of a judge who refuses to quit.

Impeachment is generally reserved for judges who make false statements, take bribes or do other things to corrupt the judiciary, not those involved in domestic altercations, Carparelli said.

"Typically this type of thing would not go there," he said.