NOTE: The video above is the full hearing. You can view a clip of Eva’s opening statement here.
Testimony on April 9, 2019, by EJS President Eva Paterson at the House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Hate Crimes, White Nationalism, and White Supremacy:
Good morning, Chairman Nadler, Ranking Member Collins.
It is a great honor to be here this morning. I am President of the Equal Justice Society located in Oakland, California. Our mission is to transform the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts. We often watch these hearings and are startled at how much rancor exists between the two parties.
I have a favor to ask of the Democrats and the Republicans and ask for a brief moment of silence to remember the victims of hate crimes.
For the next five minutes, I would like you all to give me the benefit of the doubt. I want you to listen as Americans who are trying to heal our nation and not as partisan enemies. I come in peace.
Rather than list my credentials, I want to tell you who I am. I was born in your state, Representatives Jackson Lee, Escobar, Garcia, and Gohmert, in San Antonio, Texas. My Dad was in the Air Force and served in Vietnam. I went to desegregated schools on military bases in England, France, and Illinois. I am also a Christian. I have been a civil rights attorney for 44 years.
Some of the things I am going to share with you are going to be hard to hear but they are facts.
In August, 1619, four hundred years ago, 20 enslaved Africans arrived at Jamestown, Virginia. In order to sell, rape, and beat these Africans, white Americans — and yes I know that none of you owned slaves — had to see us as less than human.
Thomas Jefferson described me and my ancestors as follows: “They have no tenderness in their love: they are intellectually inferior; and they are physically unattractive.” Thus began a narrative, says law professor Shauna Marshall, that Black people were only good for physical labor and were violent and subhuman — a narrative that was necessary in order to justify slavery. White supremacy had already been a feature of the mistreatment of Native Americans and was now applied to the enslaved Africans.
From before the Revolutionary War through the adoption of the Constitution, the founding fathers knowingly and consciously embraced slavery and white supremacy. Politics, including the three branches of the federal government, have played and continue to play a role in the perpetuation of white supremacy and the continued mistreatment of Black people either through action or inaction.
In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed white supremacy in the Dred Scott decision ruling that Black people have no rights that white people need respect.
Ultimately slavery ended. Reconstruction began. Black men could vote. There were Black members of Congress. Then politics reared its ugly head in the election of 1876 when federal troops were withdrawn from the South in exchange for installing Rutherford B. Hayes as president. The reign of terror began in the South. The KKK was formed — a terrorist organization that lynched Black people and made sure we did not vote.
For decades, the NAACP called upon Congress to pass anti-lynching legislation. Congress refused.
Fast forward to 1964 — our fellow Texan LBJ helped pass the Civil Rights Act. At its signing, he said, “We (Democrats) have lost the South for a generation.”
Six years later, the Southern Strategy was devised to encourage white people to abandon the Democratic Party and vote for the GOP. It was a shrewd and effective political strategy but it drove yet another wedge between Black and white people.
Fast forward to 2008–America elected a Black President. Unfortunately, this proved unsettling in that some white people who felt superior to Black folks had to deal with a Black President and a Black family in the White House.
In 2015, Donald Trump began his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists.” He called for a Muslim ban. When white supremacists marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and Soil,” a slogan right out of the Nazi playbook, Mr. Trump says there are good people on both sides. He recently called asylum seekers “animals.”
Dylann Roof goes into a place of worship and murders Black souls who were praying with him. Jews are massacred in the Tree of Life Synagogue on the Sabbath. Muslims are slaughtered as they start prayer in peaceful New Zealand.
White supremacy is alive and well. We want the Congress to take bipartisan action to denounce it. My written remarks have specific recommendations. We would like the Supreme Court to once again protect the rights of people of color. Chief Justice Roberts, when you dismantled the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v Holder, your assertion that racism has been eradicated was wrong. Please speak with your colleague Judge Bernice Donald of the Sixth Circuit who writes and speaks extensively on the resilience of racism.
We are hopeful that a majority of you will want to give the country a signal that we are “One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”