Disappointing, yes. I always hold out hope that the best of human nature will persevere. But it came as no surprise.
What is surprising at this time is other conversations I have had with people. These are people who I have had the greatest respect for in the past. There are two in particular: one was white, one black. “Why don’t you just quit, Gene?” they asked. “Give it up and go on about your business. Let it go.” They are old, like I am, but their complacency is showing.
I would have thought those closest to me would understand what I am doing and why I am doing it. The administrative appeal was simply an obstacle that had to be dispensed with. You can’t bother the Georgia Supreme Court if there are untried remedies; it is the court of last resort. The Georgia General Assembly created this constitutional crisis and the administrative hearing was just another hurdle to be cleared.
To place it in a nutshell, again: a privately run organization with no accountability or investigative standards is in power. They don’t even have to comply with the open records or open meetings acts. Yet they sit in judgment of school boards, and in a single, unilateral and — until now unimpeachable decision — set the legislative wheels in motion to nullify the will of 40,000 DeKalb County voters.
As it has been proven, they don’t have to meet a burden of proof, only render an opinion cloaked in secrecy and lies. This is in direct violation of Article VIII, Section V, Paragraph 2 of the Georgia Constitution, which requires all local school board members to be elected as provided by law. It specifically says that after Dec. 31, 1993 there shall be no more appointed local school board members. What does DeKalb County have now?
Back to the question. I am 77 years old. Why not just quit?
Later this month, Aug. 28 to be exact, is the 50-year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. I am old enough to remember what that was all about. You see, at that time it was exactly 100 years after the abolition of slavery, and at that time African-Americans still did not have equal rights, certainly not equal voting rights. Jim Crow laws had recently been overturned, but there was still plenty of activity on the state and local level to keep blacks away from the ballot box. There is one thing upon which whites and blacks can always agree – the vote is a very powerful right.
Now its 50 years later, and the whole civil rights struggle is becoming a distant memory. On the surface, it would seem we have made so much progress. So much progress that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided the justice department no longer needs to be the watchdog for fairness in the South, where the powers in charge have had the most prolific history of abuse. In spite of this, somehow, a clandestine organization empowers a governor to discard the will of an electorate greater than that of three states.
The men and women upon whose shoulders I stand paved the way in blood, sweat and tears – but mostly blood. MLK, Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, John Lewis, Jimmie Lee Jackson and many, many more. They bore the brunt of the struggle: a Georgia Supreme Court case is a pittance in comparison. I owe it to them, the cause they stood for and to future generations to see this through. That’s why I will never quit.
Gene Walker is a former DeKalb Board of Education member.