Reflections on the morning of the passage of the Presidential Baton

Barack Obama had the audacity to challenge the history of the ages. No African American, though others were courageous and smart, has been able to challenge the status quo of American politics like he has. He shattered the glass ceiling, broke out of the locked box, tore down the walls that kept African Americans in “their place” and denied service in the most powerful political position in the country. Before his presidency no person of color was the center of national news on every topic every day; no African American family was portrayed daily as the American standard, no African American woman First Lady set the national agenda for civic activism. President Obama is the 21st century standard for calm under pressure, thoughtful, compassionate and smart leadership. Every American witnessed it and people around the world did too. Most Americans acknowledge him as a great leader for his time and recognize his accomplishments. No one can deny his impact on American politics and culture if they are honest. The world we knew in 2008 has changed largely for the better. His legacy cannot be denied in the decades to come. He’s opened the door for more like him on America’s political stage. His successors, no matter who they are or what they say, will be measured in history against the standard of intellectual rigor, reflection and compassionate leadership President Obama has set as the 44th President of the United States. Our children’s grandchildren and their heirs will revere and recall the Obama legacy. It is done and cannot be undone. Will policies change, maybe, but the Obama legacy will endure.

I am encouraged and inspired by President Barack to seek a better, more just and peaceful world for all of us. His words and deeds will matter for generations to come. I believe tens of millions of Americans are inspired too. Onward and upward…

Moral Contradictions Can Be Dangerous

trumpAs we celebrate this holiday season marred by a spirit of hate hanging above us like wilted mistletoe, it is worth examining Mr. Trump’s rise to radical ridiculousness.

If we allow the moral line of what is right to be moved at will, then the outcome should not surprise us but instead frighten us.

The debate on gun control in this country is not an argument for the Constitution—the Second Amendment is not an excuse to buy military-style assault weapons. However, couched under the anger and debate about guns are some contradictions that cannot be ignored.

Some obvious contradictions.

If you have legislation that allows law enforcement to determine their level of threat and fear without intermediate options then there will be countless and arguable cases of citizens being subjectively shot and killed.

If there are laws that allow private citizens to gauge their fear, based on personal stereotypical interpretations like hoodies and Skittles, then neighborhood watch programs become appealing to vigilantes.

If a US presidential candidate can, criticize his female opponent’s physical attributes, make light of Americans with disabilities, be a finalist for Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and call for the ban of any group of people, not just Muslims, but especially a group that represents 1.6 billion of the world’s population then we should be afraid of him and the crowds who eagerly support and endorse him.

Republicans today may not publicly agree with Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims from entering the US, but they seem to care more about keeping gun laws unchecked, rather than terrorists from entering the country since they are unwilling to support “no fly, no buy” gun laws.

It is no surprise that Trump continues to move the line on who is excluded from his brand of fear-based patriotism. Trump’s latest attack on Muslims reignites the words of Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller who opposed the Nazi regime and whose words are now famous……..

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Moral contradictions can be dangerous.


New York Times op-ed columnist, Thomas L. Friedman shares his views on the subject.


The National Center for Civil and Human Rights Celebrates its First Year

AndrewThomasLeeIf the question is can we, all of us, play a role in promoting peace, understanding and justice in America and around the world- in Baltimore, Atlanta, Nigeria and Nepal then the answer is yes and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights offers lessons and spaces for dialogue and debate about what we can all do to make this a better world. Tonight, the Center will celebrate the contributions of five human rights advocates – each having taken a stand and made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. The include:

Estela Barnes de Carlotto, an Argentine human rights activist and leader of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. She is one of the human rights icons whose portrait, painted by Atlanta fine artist Ross Rossin, is featured in The Center’s Defenders exhibit. Senora Carlotto dedicated her life to reuniting more than 100 missing children with their families. After a 34-year search, she found her own grandson in 2014.

Vernon Jordan, the NCCHR Chairman Emeritus, a well-known business executive and civil rights activist.

Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, is a human rights activist, writer and currently the president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

Ada Lee and Pete Correll are well-known Atlanta philanthropists. Pete is chairman of the Grady Hospital Corporation and Atlanta Equity and is chairman emeritus of Georgia Pacific Corporation. Ada Lee Correll , a dedicated community volunteer, has led efforts supporting youth development, youth in the arts and access to health care.

The Center is part history and part current events embracing the lessons learned from the Civil Rights Movement in the American South to the current ticker tape reports on human rights violations and challenges facing millions of people worldwide. In his guest column in the Atlanta Business Chronicle below Doug Shipman captures the significance of the moment.



Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Everyday by Service to Others


This Mother’s Day I Pray for Nigeria’s Mothers

Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank’s Africa division Obiageli Ezekwesilieze leads a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja on April 30

Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank’s Africa division Obiageli Ezekwesilieze leads a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja on April 30

I am grateful to be able to share this Mother’s Day with my children and grandchildren. But I do so with a heart that prays for the mothers of the more than 300 Nigerian girls who were abducted and the 250 who are still missing.

The girls were abducted and Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has taken public responsibility for the abductions and has threatened to sell the girls. Human rights organizations like Amnesty International have long warned about illegal detentions, torture and deaths in Nigeria but the social media campaign #bringbackourgirls has helped to highlight the latest atrocities.

The ‘bring back our girls’ hashtag was first used by a Nigerian lawyer who tweeted the message during a speech by the vice-president of the World Bank for Africa. Desperate mothers of the missing girls quickly adopted the hashtag.

This week the U.S. sent a team of advisers to Nigeria and it is believed that the U.K., China and France will join them. US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “Our inter-agency team is hitting the ground in Nigeria now and they are going to be working in concert with President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to do everything we can to return these girls to their families and their communities.”

This Mother’s Day my prayers are with those Nigerian mothers whose souls must be aching for the return of their daughters.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights Opens this Summer in Atlanta–Become Part of the Excitement.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights Grand Opening is just around the corner. On June 23rd the Center will open its doors to the world.



The space will feature a civil rights gallery, a human rights gallery, and flexible spaces for events, field trips, broadcasts, public gatherings and a retail space. Permanent exhibitions will include The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Collection. Other installations and experiences will change frequently, addressing the human rights issues in the headlines.

Using the power of narratives and storytelling, the Center will explore human rights including issues of religion, women’s rights, sexual orientation, cultural expression and racial and ethnic conflict in communities in the United States and across the world.

There are many ways for you to get involved in this exciting and historic experience. You can:

BE A PART OF HISTORY! Join our Build a Foundation for the Future campaign and have your name permanently displayed on a tiled wall in our lobby. Purchase a tile today ($250) and receive two free tickets to The Center and two tickets to one of our special preview tours before our Grand Opening! (Proceeds fund free admissions for youth, educational programming and exhibits.)

BECOME A MEMBER! Membership includes unlimited visits, special access to programs, events and other great benefits.

VOLUNTEER WITH US! Volunteers needed to serve in a variety of roles from Exhibit Interpreters and Visitor Liaisons to Event Attendants.

PARTICIPATE IN OUR PROGRAMING! We are committed to offering informative programs, convening groups concerned with civil and human rights, and hosting dynamic events.
START A HUMAN RIGHTS BOOK OR FILM CLUB! Our website offers lists of books and movies on a range of human rights issues.

Visit for more information.

The Center will also provide special event space to accommodate everything from a corporate meeting or conference breakout session to a holiday gathering, wedding reception, or dinner party. Visit the event planning page of our website for floor plans, menu options, audio/visual capabilities and complete event planning information. You can book your next event by emailing Olinda Slayton

Group rates are available for groups of ten or more. It is perfect for family reunions, student groups and school field trips. Guided tours available for groups that book through our group sales department.

SIGN UP FOR THE CCHR NEWSLETTER! Receive our newsletter and stay up to date on programs and event. Visit:


Breaking Barriers to Fulfill America’s Promise

AP photo credit

AP photo credit

What does it really mean when those who were never considered leaders become leaders? Or Pioneers? Millions of Americans were captivated by the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson who signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and became the first African-American to play on a major league team. And while the story obviously focused on racism and his individual battle to break a major barrier, it also created a generation of new baseball fans.

Some 50 years after Robinson stepped on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger in a game against the Boston Braves while the entire country watched and gathered around radios to follow the game, inning-by-inning, and minute-by-minute. Many people were baseball fans and others were simply curious about what would happen when Robinson made his debut. Others became baseball fans because it was exciting to witness this moment in history.

There have been other sports moments like the rise of Billie Jean King in tennis and Tiger Woods in golf, both had similar cultural impacts on increasing interest in their respective sports. In politics, President Obama is the first African-American President and Nancy Pelosi was the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now, Janet Yellen who was sworn in yesterday as the first woman to head the Federal Reserve breaks through another barrier. Hopefully, Yellen’s rise to the pinnacle of the finance world will have a history making affect on generations of women.

These breakthroughs serve as a reminder that barriers have to be broken if we are to fully realize the promise of an America that exclaims equality for all.


A Fitting Day to Celebrate the Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Today, as global leaders gathered to memorialize Nelson Mandela it seems only fitting that it is done on the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Nelson Mandela’s life was emblematic of the principles by which the document was drafted and adopted.

Between 1946-1948 delegates to the United Nations discussed and drafted an international declaration on human rights that has become a standard for human rights. After World War II, a committee headed by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was charged with developing the declaration. Eleanor Roosevelt was an ideal person to champion human rights as the US delegate and vocal advocate in her own country. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

“In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

—Eleanor Roosevelt, 

wife of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Chair of the United Nations Commission that wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

More information on human rights around the globe:



Nelson Mandela, the Father

This article was posted on The New Yorker online site and is written by Atlanta native and civil rights heroine Charlayne Hunter-Gault

Mandela surprises locals on an impromptu walkabout, 1994. Photograph by Ian Berry/Magnum.

Mandela surprises locals on an impromptu walkabout, 1994. Photograph by Ian Berry/Magnum.

To the very end, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, though frail and somewhat forgetful, remained the Father of the Nation for South Africans. It could even be said that, in the several trips he’s made to the hospital over the past two years, he was, in his own way, preparing his family—biological and extended—for his final return home. The renowned South African writer Zakes Mda once told me, “In our indigenous languages, we reserved the equivalent words of ‘death’ only for animals. For humans, we say ‘She has left us,’ ‘He had passed,’ ‘She’s gone home,’ ‘He’s gone to join the ancestors.’ ” It seemed as if Madiba—that is Mandela’s Xhosa clan name—had delayed his departure long past that of many of his contemporaries and comrades-in-arms so that his family, both near and national, could simply mourn him, without the sense that his loss might throw the country into a crisis.

Fathers can make themselves felt through their absence; Mandela did, by walking away from power after his term as President was up. Mandela’s own father passed away from tuberculosis when Mandela was nine. And yet, Mandela has written, “I defined myself through my father.” By that he meant that his father possessed “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness, that I recognize in myself.”

Mandela would be the first to admit that he did a lousy job as the biological father of six children, by two different wives. He was married first and foremost to the movement—to the liberation of his people from the vicious, stifling bondage of a white minority who saw themselves as superior, who forcibly removed blacks and other people of color to isolated townships that often lacked running water and indoor plumbing, and which the regime could easily encircle in case of trouble. Mandela wrote about the difficulties of his first marriage, to Evelyn Mase, in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”:

My devotion to the ANC and the struggle was unremitting. This disturbed Evelyn …. I patiently explained to her that politics was not a distraction but my lifework, that it was an essential and fundamental part of my being.

The aftermath of the separation from Evelyn was not pleasant. Soon, however, Mandela, by then a young, successful lawyer, met and married a beautiful social worker named Nomzamo Winfreda Madikizela. Winnie, whose first name, Nomzamo, means, appropriately in retrospect, “she who undergoes trials,” also demonstrated against the white regime and paid for it with imprisonment, once almost losing the child she was carrying; she spent four hundred and ninety-one days in solitary confinement. She rarely saw her husband. When Winnie’s second child, Zindzi, was born, Mandela was miles away, visiting his ailing son by Evelyn, itself a rare act on his part. Mandela even remained outside, in the car, when a comrade came into their house and asked Winnie to pack some clothes for him, because he was going away, to an unspecified place, for an unspecified amount of time. It was almost three decades.

Knowing Mandela meant getting used to his absences. He had come into his political consciousness after leaving his rural home, in the Eastern Cape, where he was born, in 1918, and, after his father’s death, was reared in the house of the powerful Thembu acting regent, a member of the Xhosa nation. By the time Mandela got to college, his innate moral compass and the traits he had inherited from his father had begun to define him; he prematurely left Fort Hare, a prestigious black college, after a protest about the poor quality of food ended in a compromise he couldn’t accept.

After that, Mandela headed to Johannesburg, the fast-paced city known to South Africans as Egoli—the City of Gold. There, despite living in bleak quarters, studying by candlelight, and often going hungry, Mandela, who wanted to become a lawyer, met the people whose guidance put him on the path that joined his history with his country’s. Men like Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo and Gaur Radebe got him involved in his first public demonstration, a bus boycott in the Alexandra township; others provided his first introduction to the African National Congress. He rapidly became one of its leaders, organizing peaceful protests. All this extracurricular activity meant that it took Mandela longer than usual—about seven years—to qualify as an attorney. He finally managed it, just as the white-controlled government introduced the apartheid system, in 1948. In 1952, Mandela opened the first black law firm in Johannesburg with Tambo, defending mostly poor black people—for little or no money—who would, no doubt, not have had legal representation otherwise; and, for the first time, he got to know Indian South Africans, who were also victims of the system, as well as whites, although for a time he was distant from both. And he continued his work for the A.N.C.

On March 21, 1960, police opened fire on a group of black South Africans who were peacefully protesting laws requiring blacks to carry passes that restricted their movement. The police killed sixty-nine people, in what became known as the Sharpeville massacre. Shortly afterward, the regime declared a state of emergency and banned the A.N.C. Sharpeville persuaded Mandela that peaceful protests wouldn’t be enough. Already facing treason charges, he went underground as a leader of the A.N.C.’s new guerrilla wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”). Dressed in different disguises—a gardener, a chef, a soldier—he popped up around the country, and then disappeared again. His exploits earned him a nickname: the Black Pimpernel.

As Mandela said, in a statement released in June, 1961:

I have had to separate myself from my dear wife and children, from my mother and sisters, to live as an outlaw in my own land. I have had to close my business, to abandon my profession, and live in poverty and misery, as many of my people are doing.

He was posing as a chauffeur when he was finally caught and arrested (thanks, it is widely believed, to information that the C.I.A. or MI6 intelligence agents gave to South African authorities). In court, Mandela defiantly wore the traditional outfit of a Xhosa chief—a leopard-skin kaross with one bare shoulder exposed, and beads around his neck. This time, he was charged with inciting workers to strike and with leaving the country illegally. He was faithful to his movement marriage. He accused the government of “behav[ing] in a way no civilized government should dare behave when faced with a peaceful, disciplined, sensible, and democratic expression of the views of its own population.” The South African political journalist Max du Preez wrote, of Mandela’s goodbye to Winnie, “There were no tears, no clinging to each other; he gave her advice—almost like a father figure—on how to conduct herself in his absence, and gave her a letter of love and encouragement written earlier.”

Seven months later, he and nine others were brought back to court, this time charged under the all-encompassing Suppression of Communism Act, as well as the Sabotage Act, in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. They faced the death penalty.

Mandela, known as Accused No. 1, was undeterred. Given a chance to address the court, he spoke for four hours, talking passionately about the desire of the black majority to have “a just share in the whole of South Africa,” as well as “equal political rights.” He insisted that “the violence we chose to adopt was not terrorism,” and that the A.N.C. was committed to “nonviolence and negotiations.”

And then he spoke words that captured the attention not only of those in the courtroom but of people all over the world. They remain to this day among his most memorable—and are the only words of his captured on audio for almost three decades:

During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

The sentence was not death but life in prison.

For the next two and a half decades, Mandela was the invisible man. He and other political prisoners were first confined on Robben Island, two square miles of land surrounded by the waters off Cape Town. While they managed to create an atmosphere that was referred to as Mandela University, where the younger prisoners were encouraged to study, prison life took its toll. Mandela was forced to dig in a lime quarry, day in and day out, without protection for his eyes from the sun and dust, and suffered such lasting damage to them that, even after his release, he could not abide the flashing lights from journalists’ cameras. And, in time, he also developed tuberculosis, which made him vulnerable to problems with his lungs that continued until his death.

After eighteen years, he was moved, along with Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, and Andrew Mlangeni, to Pollsmoor Prison, near Cape Town, which is where he was when I first went to South Africa, in 1985, when the country was in yet another state of emergency. Mandela, I had been told, busied himself with a garden he had planted; I stood on a nearby hillside and tried in vain to catch a glimpse of it or of him, but I had been followed by security police and so couldn’t linger long.

I found that children in every black township knew his name, and not only his. One day, walking up to a small group of teen-agers dancing in a circle and singing in Zulu, I asked what the words meant, and they told me breathlessly, “We want Mandela to be released, and Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Govan Mbeki, and all the other political prisoners.”

Mandela’s marriage to the movement had produced children like these. But his daughter Zindzi was only eighteen months old when her father was sent to prison, and, along with her mother and sister, Zenani, endured night raids from security forces, along with banishment to a remote town. In 1985, young Zindzi stood before a crowd of thousands at Jabulani Stadium, in Soweto, and read a letter from her father that had been smuggled out of prison, his first public statement in twenty-one years. She began, “My father says …” and went on to read his refusal of an offer of conditional release that involved renouncing violence. It ended with the resounding words “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts …. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.”

The speech invigorated the movement. But in time, and on his own, Mandela began discussions with the apartheid regime about how to bring about a peaceful transition. Five years and a day later, on February 11, 1990, to the surprise of even his comrades, both inside and outside the country, Mandela was released. He was seventy-one. He had been in prison for twenty-seven years.

And, in the ensuing months, before he actually became President of the country, he spent time not only embracing the children of the movement but extending an olive branch to the whites who had never reached out to them or to him. He seemed to many to go out of his way to reassure whites that he believed in the words he had long ago spoken—that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. It wasn’t obvious to everyone in his own ranks that he should be so welcoming, so inclusive. It was obvious to Mandela. It also earned him and the Afrikaner President who freed him, F. W. de Klerk, the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1993, the year before Mandela replaced de Klerk.

Mandela further solidified his credentials as Father of the Nation, the whole nation, when he pitched up at a rugby match wearing the team cap. The Springboks team had been all-white, and blacks associated them with apartheid, but when the game was over, and the team had won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, a broadly smiling Mandela walked onto the field, shook the team captain’s hand, and encouraged the entire nation to “get behind our boys.”

He had another nasty divorce, from Winnie, in the interim, though they eventually reconciled. When his eldest son died of an AIDS-related illness, the country saw Mandela as a grieving father, one who also stood up and told the nation—his nation—that there was no shame in being H.I.V.-infected, and that people living with H.I.V. should not be stigmatized. It was a dramatic departure from the position of Thabo Mbeki, his successor and the President at the time, who had dismissed the connection between H.I.V. and AIDS.

In his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” published in 1994, the year he assumed the Presidency, Mandela wrote:

To be the father of a nation is a great honor, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far too little of.

And so Mandela wasted no time in trying to locate the father he had not been to his biological children, their children, and those of his third wife, Graça Machel.

I interviewed Mandela in 1994, a few days before he was to be sworn in as President of the Republic of South Africa. I apologized to him for not being able to be at the inauguration itself, explaining that there was hardly anything on earth that would make me miss that historic occasion, but that my son Chuma was graduating from Emory University, in Atlanta, on the same day. And I needed to fly back for it. At that, Mandela relaxed his stiff, about-to-be-interviewed posture, leaned forward slightly in his chair, and smiled, with an enveloping warmth.

“Of course you have to be there. You can always interview me,” he said.

I found myself responding, “Thank you, Tata”—just what a child of Mandela would have called him.

And now I am reminded of something else I learned during my years in the country—which is probably why South Africans, though sad now that the Father of the Nation has closed his eyes forever, will not be desolate. It is the tradition that takes South Africans to the gravesite of a departed one to speak about whatever problems they may be having, in the belief that wisdom will come from one who is now an ancestor, and who lives forever.

No Wall is High Enough

President Obama’s speech today in Israel was brave and courageous and some are already saying it is one of the best of any US President on the subject. He charged the young people to challenge their leaders to make peace and he pledged his support, “No wall is high enough”, he reaffirmed a mantra of my generation that peace is the answer.

Many of us who supported President Obama in 2008 and earlier believed he would recapture America’s leadership on the world stage. Today in Israel he did just that, he demonstrated not just his grasp of the complexity of achieving Middle East Peace but his courage to address some of the hardest and most contentious challenges to that peace. Watch for yourselves.

As demanding as his job is on the home front, the President has the capacity and willingness to frame discussions of peace and to offer solutions making himself and his administration vulnerable to glaring criticism and political fallout. Let us not forget that our peace in the US demands we advocate for peace around the world.  In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “..have come to realize that their destiny is inextricably tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”