July 20, 2018

Jim Crow Rises Again

When I was a high school government teacher, one of the texts I used contained a photo of a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in a southern city during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Four young people, two black and two white, had obviously tried to order food for all four of them. Of course, the owner of the diner had no intention of serving the blacks. 

A large crowd of whites had gather around the back of the four and were clearly heckling them. The photo was taken just as one of the whites was pouring a malt over the head of one of the white protesters while the crowd smiled approvingly. Anyone who believes in the dignity of all people, regardless of color, would be shocked by the photo. 

The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in public accommodations based upon race, religion, color, or national origin. Clearly, the law applied to states, but did it also apply to private citizens? For example, could the owner of a restaurant or a hotel refuse to provide service to blacks? The Supreme Court tackled that question in a 1964 case.

In Atlanta, the owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel refused to provide rooms for blacks. He argued that, as a private citizen, he could deny rooms to anyone he chose, black or otherwise. The government countered that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gave the federal government the right to force the private owner to end discriminatory practices.

The Court ruled with the government, arguing that since the motel advertised for out-of-state customers, it was engaged in interstate commerce and that the owner’s discrimination interfered with such commerce. The case was instrumental in ending all forms of discrimination in public accommodations.

Which brings us to a couple of events that have occurred recently. The first involved the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. While dining at a Mexican restaurant in Washington D.C., Nielsen was suddenly accosted by a mob of protesters who screamed at her and accused her of all kinds of vile actions. Apparently, a worker at the restaurant had alerted the protesters that Ms. Nielsen was eating there, and they quickly arrived and launched their verbal assault.

Some time later, the manager of the restaurant, who never called the police, said he was glad that the worker had notified the protesters, and he was also happy that Ms. Nielsen suffered the abuse. In other words, the manager was admitting that if he has a customer in his restaurant, and if he doesn’t like her politics, it’s fine with him if people make her dinner an unpleasant experience. I’m sure he would have been thrilled if one of the protesters had poured a milk shake over Ms. Nielsen’s head. 

A couple of days later, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, President Trump’s press secretary, along with her husband and security personnel, were asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia. The problem started when one of the staff called the owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, and said Ms. Sanders was in the restaurant and wondered what they should do about it.

Ms. Wilkinson drove down to the restaurant to handle the situation. She told the Washington Post that she felt that Ms.Sanders worked for an “inhumane and unethical” administration. She also noted that  some of her staff are gay and that Trump policies with regard to transgenders in the military is immoral. And she also didn’t like the way that Sanders handled questions regarding the temporary separation of illegal parents from their illegal children at the border.

With logic that would have garnered the admiration of Thomas Jefferson, she added, “I have a business, and I want my business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”  

Wilkinson asked Ms. Sanders to leave, explaining that “the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.” Unless, of course, one’s views differ from the owner.

Let’s take Ms. Wilkinson’s justification for her actions and apply them to the man who owned the diner mentioned in the first paragraph of this essay. Let’s pretend he told The Washington Post his side of the story:

One of my workers called me and said two darkies had entered the diner and sat at the counter, expecting to be served. Well, my grandpappy died fighting for the Confederacy, and many people in our town lost relatives in the rebellion. Heck, some of my workers are members of the Klan. We have certain standards at my diner, and no uppity troublemakers are going to make me change them. So, they were asked to leave, and when they didn’t, well, you saw what happened.

Our fictional diner owner made a decision based on race, while Ms. Wilkinson made her decision based on ideology. Both cases are clear violations of civil rights.

The old Jim Crow laws are gone, but it is obvious that the Left wants to create news ones. So, if you work for the wrong person or company, or if you have the wrong political beliefs, or if your religion isn’t inclusive enough, then you are fair game for discrimination and/or abuse. 

Such behavior cannot be allowed to continue. It is time for the Justice Department to start filing lawsuits for civil rights violations. Let’s see how the Stephanie Wilkinsons of this world deal with that part of democracy. 

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Written by
Thomas Addis

THOMAS ADDIS is a retired high school teacher and published author, most recently authoring a children's book, A Gift of Light, which is available at Amazon. An M.A. graduate of Oakland University, he is Associate Editor of Catholic Journal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and cycling.

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Written by Thomas Addis