- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Erasing memorials

We said before it would only be a matter of time.

We should have said days.

If recently dethroned Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, was forced to step down from his Senate majority leader post, then why is the late Sen. Richard B. Russell's name attached to the Russell Senate Office Building?

"It is time we correct this grave injustice," says Dick Gregory, social activist with the group Change the Name. "Countless numbers of innocent Americans were dragged from their homes and brutally executed during Russell's tenure in the Senate. By blocking every bill to stop these heinous acts, Russell was complicit in these deaths."

A Georgia Democrat who in 1969 was elected president pro tempore of the Senate, Mr. Russell adamantly opposed civil rights legislation.

Elected in 1933 and serving until his death in 1971, the one-time Georgia governor "was a self-proclaimed, unrepentant white supremacist who during his service blocked every anti-lynching bill and significantly weakened or delayed every other civil rights measure considered by the Senate," the group charges.

It's estimated that more than 4,500 Americans died at the hands of lynch mobs from the late 19th to mid-20th century, 3,500 of them blacks. While several anti-lynching bills passed the House, none was approved by the Senate.

The group demands senators erase the past with a name-removal resolution during next month's 2003 Black History Month.

Ironically, when one-time segregationist and just-retired Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ran for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat leading to Mr. Lott's downfall more than a half-century later Mr. Russell was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. His bid for the White House also failed in 1952.

Lee for a Lee

Instead of completely removing Richard Russell's name from the Russell Senate Office Building, why not do what the city fathers of Alexandria did when confronted with a politically incorrect figure from America's past?

When this columnist was growing up along the cobblestone streets of Alexandria, boyhood home to Robert E. Lee (the city now prefers to ignore its historical link to the Confederate general), I used to play baseball and football at the Robert E. Lee Elementary School.

In fact, from 1954 to 1978 the school was named for Robert E. Lee.

"Where are you going?" my mother would ask.

"Robert E. Lee," I would reply.

It was while I was attending college that Robert E. Lee's name was removed. Almost.

As the school was transformed into the modern recreational facility it's become today, primarily for the use of underprivileged children in that section of Alexandria (the same class of kids I played sports with), "Robert E. Lee" went down and "Nannie J. Lee" went up.

To her credit, Nannie J. Lee (no relation whatsoever to Robert E. Lee) was a community activist, instrumental in the development of the recreational facilities for needy children.

Today, instead of the sloppy fields where I played, Alexandria's youngsters have access to the "Nannie J. Lee Center Park" football, baseball and soccer fields, lighted tennis courts, volleyball court, recreation center, gym/basketball court, shuffleboard, billiards, table tennis, bumper pool, board games, arts and crafts, playground and swimming pool.

Perhaps one day the city will erect a Robert E. Lee statue. No, of course not.

Stamp for Gladys

"I became quite emotional when I read your article regarding Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee [Texas Democrat] filing a resolution this week to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honor of the late Rep. Mickey Leland," Alice Butler-Short wrote to us yesterday.

"You see, a very close friend of mine died in that air crash with Congressman Leland. Her name was Gladys Gilbert, who was serving with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Ethiopia. I did not know the other USAID employees killed, but Gladys had previously worked with USAID for two years in Mogadishu, Somalia. That was where I met her.

"My husband was chief of the U.S. Office for Military Cooperation in Somalia from 1986-1988. I worked at USAID and Gladys and I became close friends. She came to my home every day and her life was dedicated to working on improving the health of people in Third World countries. I believe Gladys and the other USAID employees who lost their lives in that tragic accident are the real heroes who should be honored.

"They were not on any congressional boondoggle," explains Mrs. Butler-Short. "The weather was bad, very bad, that morning; the plane should never have left the ground, but the congressman's schedule had to be adhered to. And the rest is history."

Garlic press

We'd written this week about attending a book party hosted by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for Paul Begala, former counselor to President Clinton, at the Palm in Washington.

Briefly chatting with Mrs. Clinton, this columnist took the opportunity to tell her how much Inside the Beltway readers enjoyed her many contributions over the years and, come to think of it, she would be "likened to garlic" in the very next morning's column.

The former first lady's eyes grew wide. At which time I cheerfully added, "Don't take my word for it, ask Mr. Begala, who made the comparison."

Before any lamps started flying, Mr. Begala quickly sought to assure the New York Democrat that he was only being complimentary in saying "she is strong as garlic in a milkshake."

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