Saturday, July 25, 2009

SRC Donor's Life Exemplifies Southern Progressive Tradition.

We recently learned that the Southern Regional Council had received a bequest from the Estate of Elisabeth Larisey Kytle. We are grateful to Elisabeth Kytle and her late husband Calvin Kytle, whose lives serve to remind us that Southern progressivism has a long and distinguished history.

Elizabeth Larisey Kytle was born in Charleston, S.C., on July 25, 1913, the daughter of Alfred Oswald and Anna Belle Larisey. At age 13, she moved with her parents to Valdosta, Ga., and in 1935 she graduated from Georgia State Woman's College (now Valdosta State University). After graduating from college she took a position with the National Youth Administration, where she met Calvin Kytle, her future husband, an Emory graduate who later worked part time as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal Constitution. While Calvin was serving in World War II, Elisabeth took a position with the Citizen's Fact Finding Movement, and she also worked as a staff writer in the public relations department of the Bell Bomber Plant in Marietta, Ga.

Following the war, Mr. Kytle served briefly on the faculty of Emory University, and Mr. and Ms. Kytle became deeply involved in issues of civil rights. With a grant from the Rosenwald Fund, secretly administered by the Southern Regional Council, Calvin collaborated with Congressman James A. Mackay on an in-depth study of Georgia’s 1947 Constitutional crisis (sometimes referred to as the "three governors" conflict), which set the stage for Georgia’s political transformation. This study included interviews with politicians, factory workers, civic leaders, academics and preachers throughout Georgia’s 159 counties, including editor Ralph McGill, novelist Lillian Smith, defeated gubernatorial candidate James V. Carmichael, and others. This study, reputedly suppressed by the Talmadge regime, was later published under the title Who Runs Georgia?

The Kytles left Georgia in 1950, when Calvin took a position as an information officer for the Nationwide Insurance Company in Columbus, Ohio, and thereafter they lived in places as diverse as Cabin John, Md., Washington D.C. and Chapel Hill, N.C.

In 1958, Elizabeth Kytle published Willie Mae, a first-person account of a black woman's life and her experiences as a domestic worker in a succession of southern households in the first half of the Twentieth Century. Hailed by The New York Times as one of the best books of 1958, Willie Mae is a testament to the courage and strength of a generation of women who struggled to survive with dignity and humanity in the years before the civil rights movement. On the occasion of the republication of Willie Mae thirty years later, a reviewer in Southern Changes noted that, in the tradition of Zora Neal Hurston, Elizabeth Kytle’s listening had “produced an early ad brilliant example of what is now called ‘oral history.’”

Elisabeth’s other books include Four Cats Make One Pride, for which she also took the photographs; Home on the Canal, an informal history of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, followed by reminiscences of eleven men and women who lived and worked on the boats, and Voices of Bobby Wilde, the story of a paranoid schizophrenic.

From 1964-1965, Calvin Kytle served as deputy director of the U.S. Community Relations Service, created under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1978, he founded Seven Locks Press, where he published authors including Bill Moyers. He was the author of the young-adult book Gandhi, Soldier of Nonviolence, and the Depression-era novel, Like a Tree.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lillian Smith Book Awards - Featured 2009 Award Recipient

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement

By Bob Zellner with Connie Curry

Even forty years after the movement, the transition from son and grandson of Klansmen to field secretary of SNCC seems quite a journey. In the early 1960s, when Bob Zellner’s professors and classmates at a small church school in Alabama thought he was crazy for even wanting to do research on civil rights, it was nothing short of remarkable. Now, in his long-awaited memoir, Zellner tells how one white Alabamian joined ranks with the black students who were sitting-in, marching, fighting, and sometimes dying to challenge the Southern “way of life” he had been raised on but rejected. Decades later, he is still protesting on behalf of social change and equal rights. Fortunately, he took the time, with co-author Constance Curry, to write down his memories and reflections. He was in all the campaigns and was close to all the major figures. He was beaten, arrested, and reviled by some but admired and revered by others. The Wrong Side of Murder Creek is Bob Zellner’s larger-than-life story, and it was worth waiting for. Zellner now lives and teaches in New York state. Atlanta-based co-author Curry is also a civil rights veteran and has written several books and directed a documentary film.

Join us for the Award Ceremony

Dekalb Public Library

Sunday, September 6, 2009

2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lillian Smith Book Awards - Featured Juror

The Southern Regional Council (SRC), founded in 1919 to combat racial injustice, established the Lillian Smith Book Awards in 1966 to recognize writing which extends the legacy of the outspoken writer who challenged all Americans on issues of social and racial justice.

Since 2004 the awards have been presented by SRC in a partnership with the University of Georgia Libraries, whose Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses a historic collection of Lillian Smith's letters and manuscripts. Since 2007 this partnership has also included Georgia Center for the Book, and the awards ceremony is now presented on the Sunday of the Labor Day Weekend as part of the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, Georgia. Excerpts from the previous awards ceremonies may be viewed through the links on this page and through the Video Bar. The 2015 awards ceremony will be held at the Decatur Branch of the Dekalb County Public Library on Sunday, September 6th.

The jury for this year's awards is again chaired by Mary A. Twining, emeritus professor of English and Folklore at Clark Atlanta University. Professor Twining previously served on the faculties of a variety of institutions including the University of Kentucky and the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Professor Twining is noted for her study of the Sea Island Communities of Georgia and South Carolina, and their cultural ties to West African culture through language, cultural habits and spirituality. Her published work has included Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia, which she edited with Keith E. Baird (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press 1991); Names and Naming in the Sea Islands, a contribution to the Crucible of Carolina: Essays in the Development of Gulla Language and Culture, edited by Michael Montgomery and Louise Ferrell, University of Georgia Press, 1994; The New Nomads, Art, Life, and Lure of Migrant workers in New York State, published in The Journal of the New York Folklore Society 1987; and numerous contributions to the Journal of Black Studies.

She has also contributed music reviews to Southern Changes, the Journal of The Southern Regional Council.

Intent to Discriminate vs. Intent to Avoid Liability - Not the Same

By Leland Ware

Ricci v. DeStefano involved a challenge to the City of New Haven’s decision to decline to certify the results of promotional examinations for firefighters that had a disparate impact on minority test takers. A group consisting of 17 white and one Hispanic firefighters filed a civil action alleging that they were denied promotional opportunities on the basis of their race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Civil Service examinations were administered in 2003 for Captain and Lieutenant positions in the New Haven Fire Department. The pass rate for black test takers was significantly lower than the pass rate of white test takers. Under the EEOC’s Guidelines “The use of any selection procedure which has an adverse impact on the hiring, promotion, or other employment or membership opportunities of members of any race, sex, or ethnic group will be considered to be discriminatory and inconsistent with these guidelines, unless the procedure has been validated in accordance with these guidelines.”

“Validation” is a technical process that involves determining whether a test is “job related,” i.e., sufficiently related to the position for which the test is administered. In a long line of cases beginning with the 1971 decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the Supreme Court has consistently endorsed the adverse impact rule and the EEOC’s Guidelines. Congress codified the disparate impact rule in the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

After learning that the Captain and Lieutenant examinations produced a disparate impact New Haven’s Civil Service Board held hearings over several days. A psychologist stated that that written tests were not as valid as other selection procedures that were available. This was an “assessment center” process in which candidates demonstrate their knowledge of the relevant operating procedures and show how they would address problems instead of verbally stating answers to questions or identifying the correct item on a written test.

A Fire Program Specialist for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security contended that the test was appropriate. A professor of counseling psychology at Boston College explained how race and culture influence test performance. Some firefighters testified that the tests were fair others claimed they were not. New Haven decided to decline to certify the results of the promotional examinations.

The trial court found that New Haven’s concern about the examinations’ disparate impact was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for declining to certify the examination results. The Court also found that the white and Hispanic firefighters did not show that the City’s justification was a pretext for unlawful discrimination. The trial court’s decision was summarily affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The Supreme Court reversed. The majority conflated intent to discriminate with intent to avoid liability under the disparate impact theory. These are not the same. If New Haven acted to avoid liability under the disparate impact theory, it did not act with an intent to discriminate against the white and Hispanic test takers. As there were two possible reasons for New Haven’s actions the majority should have remanded the case for a determination of this disputed factual issue.

The Supreme Court created an entirely new standard for complying with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It found that an employer caught between potential claims of disparate treatment and disparate impact can take action to avoid liability only if it has a “strong basis in evidence” for doing so. The majority applied this standard to New Havens’ actions and concluded that it failed to satisfy this requirement. Fundamental notions of Due Process require that a party to litigation be given notice and an opportunity to be present evidence supporting its position. At minimum, the party should be given “fair warning” of the standard that would be applied. The case should have been remanded for a determination of whether New Haven had a “strong basis in evidence” for believing that the examinations were not job related and consistent with business necessity or that there was an alternate selection device that would not produce a disparate impact.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito concurred with majority's decision to enter a summary judgment against New Haven but, in a concurring opinion, he argued passionately that a jury could have found that New Haven intentionally discriminated against the white and Hispanic firefighters. One cannot have it both ways, either summary judgment was appropriate or there were genuine issue of fact that required a trial. A jury might also have found that that New Havens’ actions were not motivated by racial animus.

The majority also found that the promotional tests had been validated when the record showed that there was conflicting evidence concerning the examinations’ validity. As it was undisputed that the examinations had an adverse impact on African American test takers, the critical questions were whether the examinations had been properly validated and whether alternate selection procedures were available that would not produce a disparate impact. The testimony concerning the examinations’ validity during the Civil Service Board hearings was, at best mixed, with some fact witnesses and experts contending the examinations were valid and other witnesses and experts who contended that the examinations were flawed and that there were alternate selection procedures available that would not produce a disparate impact. The majority chose to discount the evidence in New Haven’s favor as a few “stray remarks” and to accord more weight to testimony that the examinations were valid. This sort of fact finding should not occur at the appellate level

There were at least three disputed issues: (1) the City’s actual intent when it decided not to certify the examinations, (2) whether the examinations were valid and (3) whether there was an alternate selection practice available that would not produce a disparate impact. This factual dispute should have been resolved by a fact finder at the trial court level.

Fortunately, the majority did not challenge the disparate impact theory in the way suggested in Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion. He believes that the disparate impact theory conflicts with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Because of the way in which the New Haven tests were developed, a situation like this is unlikely to occur in many cases. Employers can avoid this sort of situation by screening and pre-testing standardized examinations prior to the time that they are actually administered.


About the Author:

Leland Ware, a member of the Board of the Southern Regional Council, is Louis B. Redding Chair and Professor for the Study of Law and Public Policy at the University of Delaware.

He is the author of numerous publications, and he served as co-editor of the recently-published volume, Choosing Equality: Essays and Narratives on the Desegregation Experience.