Kentucky was not an accidental choice by Toni Morrison for the horrific origin of her Nobel-prize winning classic, Beloved. Sweet Home, the Kentucky plantation in Morrison's story, represents America and how the depravity of American slavery required destroying any sign of excellence among Africans who lived there.
Fast forward more than 100 years from Morrison's novel: the United States Senate, still in the first days of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell's leadership, has chosen to advance this shameful legacy of ignoring black excellence by delaying the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to the position of attorney general. The Senate leadership's deafening silence over the past four months extends a disgrace that predates this nation's Constitution.
Lynch has earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues, supervisors and even the Senate Judiciary Committee over her spectacular career. Her recent prosecutions of Citibank and HSBC demonstrate a commitment to the law that will inspire a new generation of legal minds in the 21st century. Her record of sustained excellence does not deserve the smug derision that partisan senators have offered this year. Yet, their recalcitrance should have been anticipated, as this continues the historic demagoguery we have witnessed over the last six years.
In 2009, Eric Holder became the nation's first African-American attorney general. During his tenure, he has overseen some of the most important transformations in American law enforcement, particularly in the interests of full equality and civil rights for all citizens. As arguably one of the most effective and successful attorneys general in our history, Holder earned praise and gratitude from a thankful population. Political malcontents, however, have tried to stain his career with nonsensical charges because he tried to restore the dignity of his office. Lynch and Holder carry the banner of impeccable public servants who have triumphed against petty adversaries in the traditions of Justice Thurgood Marshall and the Honorable Mary McLeod Bethune. The collective legacy these historic figures represent rises above the criticisms of the present moment and the myopic politics of the 20th century.
The torrent of abuse faced by Lynch and Holder is a residue of a profound hatred directed at President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. When historians turn their eyes to the public record of the past decade, many will be amazed by the poisonous vitriol that passed for reasoned discourse. Readers of African-American history are not surprised: The roots of what Black Twitter has named "anti-blackness" stretch back centuries, pre-dating even colonial legislative actions in Virginia and South Carolina. Attacks on the Obamas and any African-Americans in the dangerous position of serving in public office reflect the long-standing priorities of the Massive Resistance movement, which began in the late 1950s when white politicians in Virginia created state laws to prevent school desegregation.
While the stories of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Ella Baker have been the focus of intense study over the last 50 years, the public understanding of their opponents has languished. In the weeks that followed the celebration of the anniversary in Selma, no national voices explained the major figures who supported the attacks that John Lewis faced. Who were the sheriffs, legislators, councilmen and governors who resisted desegregation with every thought, breath, and strength they could muster? Even as the nation grapples with lethal, disproportionate brutality by police against black children and fascination with fraternities and their chants fills newsroom conversations, no one holds the leaders of the Massive Resistance movement and its followers accountable.
The time is now to trace these histories and expose the authority of racial domination that persists today.
A key element in the process of rejecting the legitimate leadership of African-Americans at the highest government levels is that our society never came to a consensus about the meaning of racial integration. Desegregation as a judicial and legislative mandate had clear guidelines. These expectations were actively eroded over three decades until they became virtually meaningless. Even the broad agenda of Affirmative Action to end discrimination in education, employment and contracting faced constant sabotage in nearly every institution and organization in American society. In this way, the Massive Resistance movement was vastly more successful than the Civil Rights movement. It continues to thrive as seen in the efforts to dismantle the Voting Rights Act. With no clear, consistent enforcement of racially integrated communities and organizations, Jim Crow never died. It merely evolved.
The completely unexpected tidal wave of individual choices for an equal and justice society brought Obama to the presidency. Two years later, the forces of Massive Resistance reorganized to gerrymander the Congress against this popular coalition. This collision has left the federal government in a stalemate for four years. It continues to fuel the efforts to prevent the confirmation of Lynch as attorney general. The time for a Massive Acceptance movement is here. It is an agenda for unity at every level of public and private life. The policies of safety, opportunity and civility must apply to every American at all times. If Americans can learn and reject the lessons of Massive Resistance, then the excellence of the Declaration of Independence will finally appear.