Thursday, December 13, 2007

Andrew Young Attacks Obama; Freedom Road Fights Back (w/ a little help from our friends)!

Recently, while doing an internet-linked talk former civil rights activist Andrew Young took the opportunity to attack Barack Obama as too young to be President. (Andrew Young Attacks Obama) In making this silly argument, he went on to challenge Obama's racial authenticity, stating that "Bill Clinton is as black as Barack... and he's probably been with as many black women as Barack, too." Steamed by these lame remarks, I snapped off a missive to the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) email list, of which I am a participant. SNCC was the vanguard of the Movement during the 60s. In that message, I wrote, among other things:

"Offensive isn't even strong enough a word for those lines. First, Bill ain't black. Never was, never will be. The remark plays into this ridiculous line of argument that casts doubt on Barack's authenticity as a black man because he doesn't play to the stereotypes. Second, it plays into the long-standing politics of race and sex. Third, it equates blackness and manliness with (extra-marital) sexual prowess. Fourth, it is simply sexist as hell. Young deserves to be forcefully condemned again and again for these offensive comments and the Clintons called to account, too."

Now, Young has been a sell-out for quite some time. He left the Movement behind a couple of decades ago to cash in as a corporate consultant. Most recently, he got paid big bucks to travel the country and defend Walmart from negative charges from local communities, particularly poor communities and communities of color. For more on this angle, check this out:
"Andy Young: The Shameless Son"

My hope in writing to the SNCC list was that one of its members might step forth and write a retort. Yesterday, Bob Zellner, one of the many heroic figures in SNCC's incredibly heroic history, wrote the following piece. I was humbled and gratified to get a shout-out...

December 13, 2007
Bob Zellner

Ambassador suffers from foot-in-mouth disease

Ambassador Andy Young and I go back a long ways, as many movement people do. “The Movement” is the black struggle for equal rights which began its modern phase with the Brown decision in the mid fifties when the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools.

I once took my friend Andy Young to task when he said on a television program that “all the leaders of the civil rights movement were ministers.” In a public statement I asked the ambassador if that was true of Ms Ella Baker, the founder of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee where I served as a Field Secretary. Was Fanny Lou Hammer, the leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a minister? She was actually a share cropper on Senator James Eastland’s Mississippi Delta plantation.

I then listed strong women who were top leaders in the movement – Diane Nash, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Ms Rosa Parks, Septima Clark, Mojesica Simpkins, Dorothy Cotton, Joanne Robinson, Anne Braden, Ruby Hurley of the NAACP, the list go on and on…. Were they ministers? I asked Ambassador Young.

Andy had no answer. Well I wonder if he has an answer now after trashing the only black candidate in the presidential race - the first in history to have a serious chance of being elected.

A shill for the Clintons, Andrew “Mr. Wal-Mart” Young labeled Barack Obama as too lacking in a support network, and too young to rise to the Presidency. Hillary, however, has all the support she needs in Bill, who is “every bit as black as Barack.” And, Andy inelegantly added, “He’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.”

The fact that Mr. Young followed this with a lame disclaimer that he was only ‘clowning’ did not detract from the offensive nature of his remarks. Ambassadors, I’m sure, never joke without a purpose. I suppose Andy has a thick skin after taking the abuse he received when he took a great deal of money in exchange for trying to improve the image of the tight fisted, anti-union Wal-Mart bunch. But this is too much, Mr. Young. With friends like you can the Clintons afford any more enemies?

News reports call you a “civil rights icon” so those remaining true to the cause must call you Big Time on this one. Your remarks are sexist and disrespectful of black men – implying that manliness and blackness is proven by exhibiting extra-marital sexual prowess. Where did that stereotype originate? Is this a way for you to denigrate Barack Obama – by rejecting the stereotype, he allows you to question his authenticity as a black leader?

Continuing his tasteless comments Mr. Young slanders the history of the Black Freedom Struggle - “It’s not (only) a matter of being inexperienced. It’s a matter of being young, there’s a certain level of maturity…you’ve got to learn to take a certain amount of (bleep).”

Barack could bat that one back by citing the obvious - the civil rights movement would not have prevailed without the courage, the energy, the creativity and the sheer bodatiousness of young people. Sheyann Webb and Joanne Bland, active to this day on the front lines in Selma Alabama, were in elementary school when they became little friends of Martin Luther King marching with him for freedom. On bloody Sunday, fleeing George Wallace’s troopers and the sheriff’s horsemen, Joanne Bland shouted for Hosea Williams to put her down, “You not running fast enough,” she told the older minister.

I am Bob Zellner, and it is my opinion that this latest outrage from the good Ambassador is not about the pros and cons of Obama vs. Hillary but about the abuse of our history and legacy. Movement folk fought for women’s rights while battling for the rights of black people. Some of us are frankly undecided where our support will ultimately settle, with the woman or the black man in this race. Both Senator Barack and Senator Clinton will advance the cause of freedom at home and around the world.

The point I wish to make is best stated in an email message to the SNCC-list by my friend and fellow historian, Patrick D. Jones, Ph.D. who addressed movement leaders:

“….my interest was in alerting [the civil rights community] to another abuse of your history and legacy. ….This article went out with headlines like, ‘CIVIL RIGHTS ICON SLAMS OBAMA.' (It’s) not just about Young’s opinions, sexist, racist, in poor taste, sycophantic, corporate or otherwise. It is about marshaling the legacy of one of the greatest movements for social justice in our nation’s history to smear the lone black candidate in the race with derogatory and spurious claims. …It’s important for other civil rights activists with the kind of public clout as Young to publicly denounce him and his comments for what they are and reclaim the Movement for the true values and goals it has always stood for.”

Dr. Jones of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ends by saying that he is “just a young Movement historian, so I do not have that kind of public cache…but you all do!"

Well we all should speak up. I am Bob Zellner and this is my opinion. What’s yours?


  1. I really enjoyed your post... Moreso, I appreciated the fact that you were proactive in reaching out to the SNCC organization. (Good move)

    KM (

  2. KM,

    What is happening down in Witchita? I dig your blog. It is good to see what else is happening in our region. Let me know if we can support any of your campaigns up here in Lincoln or Omaha.