Some black politicians and civil rights activists refuse to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag, calling it a symbol of slavery and racial oppression.
“This flag represents the former colonies that enslaved our ancestors,” says Tennessee state Rep. Henri Brooks. “And when this flag was designed, they did not have [black people] in mind.”
The Memphis Democrat made headlines two months ago when she was reproached for not standing while her fellow lawmakers recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Its not one nation under God and its not liberty and justice for all,” Ms. Brooks told The Washington Times in a telephone interview yesterday.
Ms. Brooks — who says she hasnt recited the pledge since third grade — apparently is not alone in her views. The American Civil Liberties Union came to her defense, as have such prominent black intellectuals as syndicated columnist Julianne Malveaux.
“With liberty for whom? And what is justice? For whom?” Miss Malveaux said in a recent televised debate.
It is “ridiculous” for blacks to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, because its words are “nothing but a lie, just a lie,” Miss Malveaux said on Fox News Channel.
Ms. Brooks official Web site (www.legislature.state.tn.us/house/members/h92.htm) lists her as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and former membership chairman of the NAACP Political Action Committee.
Officials at the NAACPs Baltimore headquarters did not respond yesterday to requests for comment on Ms. Brooks statements about the U.S. flag. The NAACP has led the fight to banish the Confederate flag from public display.
Veteran civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot says Ms. Brooks made “quite a compelling argument” against the pledge.
“I am historically aware of how ingrained slavery was in America,” Mr. Guyot, a D.C. resident, said in an interview. “Theres just no question about the nexus between the development of America and slavery. … She could not have taken a better point to make that argument, even though I do not agree with her conclusion.”
Other black leaders are more emphatic in their disagreement with Ms. Brooks.
“Civil rights and black peoples sensibilities are being prostituted for political purposes,” said Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality and son of civil rights leader Roy Innis.
Ms. Brooks remarks are “terribly anti-patriotic … racial demagoguery,” Mr. Innis said in an interview. “Its what goes on as common practice in left-wing American politics today.”
Such demagoguery is a “disease [that] has infected not only most of the recognized black leadership, but it has now infected the highest levels of the Democratic Party,” Mr. Innis said.
The furor over the pledge began with a conflict between Ms. Brooks and a fellow Democrat, state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh.
According to press accounts, a group of children touring the state Capitol in Nashville asked why Ms. Brooks was not standing when other lawmakers were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Mr. Naifeh says he approached Ms. Brooks to ask her about the incident, calling it a matter of decorum. Ms. Brooks says although she has never said the pledge during her nine years in the Legislature, she usually stands out of respect to her colleagues, but on the day in question was busy at her desk preparing legislation.
Mr. Naifeh asked that, if Ms. Brooks would not say the pledge, she wait outside the House chamber until after her colleagues had finished reciting it. Ms. Brooks said the speakers manner was insulting.
“He approached me in a master-slave type manner,” she says.
Ms. Brooks took her case to the ACLU, which sent Mr. Naifeh a letter saying his request that she wait outside the House during the pledge was an infringement of Ms. Brooks First Amendment rights.
News coverage of the dispute stirred strong emotions in Tennessee.
“Ive gotten a lot of hate mail, and some of them are veiled kind of threats,” Ms. Brooks said.
The strongest reaction was from Jim Boyd, a former U.S. Army Reserve officer who burned Ms. Brooks in effigy in front of the Capitol two weeks ago.
Mr. Boyd, who has announced he will run for governor next year on the U.S. Patriot ticket, called Ms. Brooks a “traitor” who was “pandering to the lowest and most vile and traitorous elements of our society.”
“For Henri Brooks to say that she will not pledge her loyalty to this nation spits in the face of soldiers who laid down their lives in defense of this nation,” said Mr. Boyd, of Hendersonville, Tenn. “I see [Ms. Brooks] not only as a traitor to our nation, but as a traitor to the civil rights movement. Because she is using it for her own political gain.”
Ms. Brooks responded to Mr. Boyds protest by asking the FBI to open an investigation of Mr. Boyd, claiming he had violated her civil rights. After FBI agents questioned Mr. Boyd, an FBI official told a Nashville newspaper that the interview was “an initial contact,” telling the Tennessean that “all complaints are taken seriously by the FBI.”
“Me being a regular guy that has never gotten anything more than a parking ticket, [the FBI investigation] was at first a little intimidating,” Mr. Boyd told The Washington Times. “But since then, I have realized that I did nothing wrong and shouldnt be intimidated by my government that I trust.”
Ms. Brooks has sponsored legislation against racial profiling by police and in favor of reparations payments to the descendants of slaves.
She cites a litany of grievances — poverty, discrimination, inequality — that she describes as evidence of “a double standard for African-Americans and non-African-Americans.”
“Pledging allegiance to the flag, to me, is very hypocritical,” Ms. Brooks said.
She expressed amazement at the response to her statements.
“When I try to give my side … it seems like it always comes out wrong,” Ms. Brooks says. “For this to be blown to the proportion it has been, its just taken me aback.”