May 20th, 2009 19:29 EST
An Unholy Alliance
As anyone who tunes in each Tuesday for my weekly radio segment on "Keeping it Real with Rev. Al Sharpton" knows, he and I usually agree on most civil rights issues. However, Sharpton and I are not clones of each other and there have been times when we have also disagreed. This is another one. While I applaud Sharpton`s campaign to close the racial gap in education achievement, I fervently disagree with his paling around with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the process.
I went to Sharpton`s national close the gap rally on Saturday, but left early because I could not stomach listening to Gingrich speak to a largely African-American audience about anything. His record speaks louder than any words he can possibly utter. Gingrich perennially earned "Fs" on the NAACP`s Civil Rights Report Card while serving in Congress.
He was the architect of the GOP`s regressive "Contract with America," which civil rights leaders derided as a "Contract on America." In addition, he suggested that Republicans bypass traditional civil rights leaders such as Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. He said, "It is in the interest of the Republican Party and Ronald Reagan to invent new Black leaders, so to speak."
Now that Gingrich is gearing up for a possible run for president, he is using Sharpton - the kind of Black leader he wanted to dismiss in the past - to give him credibility in the Black community. Saturday`s rally was supposed to be the equivalent of a halfway house visit on his road to political recovery. Presumably, he wants African-Americans to adopt a don`t ask, don`t tell policy toward his voting record. I am going to ask and, as you can see, I am certainly going to tell.
In fairness to Rev. Al, he`s trying to gain the broadest political support possible to achieve his goal of narrowing the achievement gap. In an interview with Hazel Trice Edney, editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service, Sharpton explained that his partnership with Gingrich grew out of his custom of debating a conservative each year at his organization`s annual convention. Last month, he debated Gingrich.
Sharpton told Edney: "When I challenged Gingrich on racial inequality, he disagreed with me on vouchers, but he agreed with me that there was racial inequality. I said, `You ought to be at our march commemorating Brown vs. Board of Education.` He said, `I will.`"
But why give an ardent enemy of civil rights a platform?
After Sharpton, Gingrich and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with President Obama in the White House to discuss education, Sharpton said that it is necessary to work across party lines in order to develop a national consensus. "The nation`s future is at stake," he said. "Our children are at stake. We should be bigger than that."
We should also do better than that. There are Republicans, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who have demonstrated deep interest in closing the gap. Powell would have been far more suitable - and credible - than Gingrich.
The Sharpton-Gingrich Unreality Show does not end with last Saturday`s performance. Sharpton has announced that he, Gingrich and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are going on the road as part of the effort to close the gap. When it comes to African-Americans, Gingrich should close his mouth.
As for Secretary Duncan, if he`s truly interested in closing the gap, he can start by doing more to help historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The proposed Obama budget would allow a special 2-year allocation of $85 million a year to HIBCUs to expire. Therefore, although funding to HBCUs will rise from $238 to $250 million under the Obama plan, HBCUs will experience a drop of $73 million in funding.
If Duncan were really serious about preserving Black colleges, he would initiate a special plan to save HBCUs struggling for their life, such as Knoxville College, Morris Brown and Barber-Scotia. Although each of the aforementioned colleges has been around for more than 100 years, their lack of accreditation makes them ineligible for federal funds. It also does not help that organizations established to help HBCUs, such as the United Negro College Fund and National Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), have also turned their backs on the struggling institutions.
Instead of more hot air from the Department of Education, we need some real leadership from Secretary Duncan. Speaking at rallies with Sharpton, as he did last Saturday, is no substitute for bold action to preserve HBCUs.
If Sharpton thinks that Gingrich has changed and is now genuinely interested in what happens to Black students, all he needs to do is look at the former speaker`s latest behavior. He has sandwiched his appearances with Sharpton between calls for Notre Dame to disinvite President Obama as its commencement speaker and urging the removal of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It`s time for Rev. Al to nuke his new-found friendship with Newt.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.