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Columnists
Opinion | Leonard Pitts: Trump needs to take Rosa Parks' name out of his lying mouth

Here comes the most meaningless sentence you'll read today: Last week, Donald Trump paid tribute to Rosa Parks.

It's meaningless because Trump obviously has no real idea what Parks did or what it meant. If he did, he could never have cursed Colin Kaepernick.

Oh, sure, he can mouth the words, as he did in the slick video posted online Saturday. To the accompaniment of swelling music and historical images, Trump narrated Parks' famous act of defiance 62 Decembers ago, her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala. bus to a white man after the "white" section of the bus became full.

Her arrest ignited the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott, the first act of the Civil Rights Movement, and brought to prominence a 26-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. And yes, Trump spoke truly when he lauded Parks for bravery and a legacy that inspires. But given the source, that praise could not have been emptier.

You cannot truly understand Parks' legacy or appreciate her bravery and still declare, as he did in September, that NFL owners should say "Get that son of a b---h off the field" if a player follows Kaepernick's lead and kneels during the National Anthem. This is not to equate the athlete and the seamstress; her impact obviously dwarfs his — at least, thus far. But it is to say that, in terms of motive, method and reaction, there is little substantive difference between the two.

It's important to remember that it wasn't just the indignity of being told to surrender her seat that made Parks say no that day. Rather, it was also decades of living with white people's abuse, exploitation and violence under a system that assumed, as a matter of policy, that she was filthy, ignorant and unworthy. Which is not fundamentally different from Kaepernick's frustration with police brutality that kills and wounds African Americans while the courts do nothing.

Yes, his protest is often called unpatriotic and offensive. The same was said of Parks' protest. Not incidentally, she broke the law; he didn't. And as Kaepernick is called names and threatened by outraged white people, so was she.

Parks once said she refused to stand because she was "tired of taking it." The things that made her tired were in plain sight, as obvious as a "Whites Only" sign. Yet, they were invisible to most white people.

Sixty-two years later, we can all easily see the things that fatigued her and other black people back then. We marvel that there was ever a time some of us could not. And Parks, 12 years dead, is unthreatening enough to be "honored" by a Donald Trump.

Well, this is the same Trump who has led the metaphorical lynch mob against black athletes for doing essentially what Parks and her generation did. Moreover, he's the same Trump who retweets white supremacists and Islamophobes, the one who found moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and those who protested them.

So this "honor" is cynical, hypocritical and deeply insulting to the memory of a great woman. Trump needs to take Rosa Parks' name out of his lying mouth. He sullies it by speaking it.

Meantime, that football player Trump loathes risked his livelihood because he got tired of "taking" the brutalization of black people. He has faced condemnation and threat for demanding that all of us see what some of us refuse to. Like the seamstress on the bus six decades ago, Colin Kaepernick has ignited a generation because he decided he literally would not stand for it anymore.

He honors Rosa Parks more meaningfully than Donald Trump ever could.


Columnists
Opinion | News-Gazette: Painful change

This editorial ran in the Dec. 1, 2017, edition of the the (Champaign) News-Gazette:

With his campus in what he calls a "free fall," Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno is asking his faculty and staff to embrace that which they hate the most — real change.

Contending that Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is spending way to much time and money on administration, Chancellor Carlo Montemagno insists change is necessary — big change to be implemented by next fall. To do otherwise, he said, is to risk "the health of the institution."

"We are not offering programs that are distinctive and relevant to today's students. As we try to correct it, we face limited resources, declining faculty numbers and no help from the state," he said recently in a State of the University speech.

Many university officials throughout Illinois probably feel the same way as it relates to monetary support from our financially failing state. But SIUC has been particularly hard hit, and not just during the two-year budget standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders.

It has 6,000 fewer students than it did 10 years ago. Over the past year, SIUC suffered a 9 percent enrollment drop, costing it roughly $10 million in revenue. Since 2015, the number of freshman enrollees has fallen from 2,177 to 1,319.

SIUC is vital to and located in an economically challenged region of the state, one more reason why state legislators should not continue to resist the policy changes needed to boost Illinois' economy. Further, it has competing universities just across its Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky borders.

Since something has to give, Chancellor Montemagno wants to eliminate 42 academic departments by folding them into 18 separate schools overseen by five (reduced from eight) colleges. He estimates it would save $2.3 million a year.

Just think how many people would be affected by that kind of seismic change, how many fiefdoms will be roiled and how much anger will be generated.

But then, what is the alternative when academic institutions — or states like Illinois — simply don't have enough revenue to finance business as usual?

It remains to be seen whether change on the scale Montemagno has proposed will become reality. SIUC's faculty senate already has expressed its opposition by a 19-11 vote, a narrow enough margin to suggest many there understand the problem and are prepared to address it in a realistic way.


Columnists
Opinion | Alee Quick: Digging into history

History lives in a back room at The Southern’s office in north Carbondale.

A file cabinet of loosely-alphabetized manila envelopes contains black-and-white printed photographs, sporadically documenting life in Southern Illinois from the 1960s to the ‘90s, with a few turn-of-the-20th-century artist renderings of main streets thrown in. Several feet away, in a cage reminiscent of something you might find in the depths of a library or a museum, there are boxes and binders and file folders of film negatives — the more-valuable because harder-to-find outtakes that never graced front pages. 

A few of us ended up back there one recent evening, digging through boxes and files and flipping through binders, searching for original negatives from news coverage of a fatal fire that happened in Carbondale 25 years ago this week. A quarter of a century after the fire, the result of arson (which remains unsolved), we thought our readers would appreciate a bit of context to the memorial service that was held Wednesday to honor the five students who died in the tragedy.

By the time we gave up the search — the December 1992 folder, frayed and curling at the edges, hadn’t yielded what we’d set out to find — my hands were blackened with dust, and my colleague’s throat was dry from inhaling the clouds of dust we had sent up as we shuffled boxes around that hadn’t been touched in years.

We also hadn’t obeyed the signs that some frustrated employee had tacked up years ago reading, “Your mother doesn’t live here. Please be considerate of your co-workers and put archived publications back where you found them.” The people who had entered the cage before us hadn’t done that, either: Nothing’s really in chronological order. Labels are scratched out and re-written in puzzling ways. 

The many times I’ve searched for archival photos over the years, I’ve cursed previous Southern employees inwardly at the things that have been lost in the shuffle over the years. So I digitize what I can, and share the things I find that make me smile, or say, wow.

We didn’t find what we were looking for when we started digging that day, but our search wasn’t a total waste of time.

I left “the cage” with a three-inch-thick binder filled with negatives from the flood of 1993 — we’ll be marking its 25-year anniversary next year — photos of Marion Mayor Bob Butler that I was sure were lost forever after a futile search last week when he announced his retirement, and a file labeled “Big Muddy Monster,” which contains eye-witness sketches from the ‘80s.

I know from the data I peruse to see what people are into on our website each day that history is in. A look back at Charlie Birger’s Southern Illinois history continues to pique the curiosity of our readers almost 90 years after he was the last person publicly hanged in Illinois. Our galleries of historical photos are always fascinating — it’s fun to look back at the main streets we know so well when they were dirt, and watch their evolution to brick, then pavement.

When I was home over Thanksgiving, I opened a couple of weathered-looking photo albums sitting on top of the bookshelf in my mom’s dining room. They had belonged to her friend who died last year, and mostly documented her time working for the Special Service in Berlin after World War II. A documentarian had contacted my mom looking for a specific photo in that collection — one that was apparently the only surviving photograph of a building with the American flag hung outside of it. Vacation-type snapshots that a girl in her 20s had taken on a post-war adventure have become a hot commodity to historians almost a century later.

Mostly the photos were mounted precisely on each page, but some odds and ends — including what appeared to be a love letter from a long-lost friend, inviting her to meet up in the French Riviera — were stuck in the back haphazardly.

A photo of our friend raising a drink to her lips, surrounded by friends on a sofa in a fun and intimate moment, became my favorite in the collection. All these kids looked so happy, working and traveling after years of hardship and devastation. 

Remarkable what you find when you dig a little.