Brennan: White House stiffs black senator

By Tom Brennan

The absence of Republicans at the White House observance of the March on Washington 50th anniversary made it look like President Obama and the Democrats hijacked the event.

Reportedly several Republicans were invited, including House Speaker John Boehner, but the invitations went out late and none of the Republican invitees came. Boehner was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a string of political events. Boehner had already led an official congressional commemoration of the march and Martin Luther King’s epic “I have a dream” speech on July 31.

No word on the other invitees, but the Republican National Committee held its own observance of the anniversary on Monday with black Republicans and conservative civil rights leaders.

Most notable among those not invited to the White House event was Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Republican and the only black member of the United States Senate. Scott was appointed last December by Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, a state that was segregated at the time of the great march 50 years ago.

Scott should have been invited, even if the only reason was that Dr. King would have been amazed and pleased by the appointment of a black man to the U.S. Senate by a southern governor – and a woman at that.
It’s also worth noting that the March on Washington and the many other marches of that period were not exclusively black affairs. Millions of whites supported the civil rights movement and turned out in masses to demonstrate that.

Some risked their lives and a few gave them. The movement was largely the province of black Americans, of course, but they had much support in the white community, especially in cities across the North.

One such event occurred in the days when I was a young reporter for The Worcester Telegram in Massachusetts. A demonstration was scheduled in Boston to support a larger march in Washington and Central Massachusetts people were gathering at Clark University to participate.

I was assigned to cover the Boston march and was sitting on a bus waiting at Clark as supporters gradually filled it up. Just when we were scheduled to depart, a police officer climbed aboard and walked back to me.
“Abbie Hoffman is lying under the bus,” he said, “and he won’t leave until he talks to the reporter.”

Abbie was a graduate student at Clark and would protest anything that moved, but it seemed odd that he would object to marchers in support of civil rights. I had met him when he protested outside lecture halls where I was assigned to cover speeches.

I followed the officer off the bus and there was Abbie lying adamantly, arms crossed and face defiant, almost under the bus’ wheels.

“What’s up, Abbie?” I asked.

“These people don’t have the right to protest!”

“Why not?”

“They haven’t earned it.” (Like Abbie had.)

I took a few notes and nodded to the cop, who dragged Abbie away. I got back on the bus and we headed off to Boston.

Abbie Hoffman later gained national notoriety as a member of the Chicago Seven, the band of activists who instigated riots and demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. They were campaigning against the Vietnam War. Abbie and his friends got the national spotlight and managed to stay in it off and on for years, primarily with outrageous behavior.

He was entertaining, creative and had a sense of humor, despite his unending anger, so he developed a sizable national following. Abbie became depressed, committed suicide in 1989 and died at the tender age of 52.
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Note: the bus under which Abbie Hoffman made his defiant statement before the Boston march was parked outside Clark University’s Atwood Hall, named for Dr. Wallace Atwood, former president of the university and uncle of Alaska’s Bob Atwood.

Bob attended Clark and worked as a reporter for The Worcester Telegram in the 1930s. My managing editor, Frank Murphy, still remembered him 25 years later.

When my wife and I were thinking of moving to Alaska and needed jobs there, Frank suggested we write to Bob Atwood. We did – and here we are.

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