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NAACP leader offers overview of legislation strengthening civil rights

Hilary Shelton of the national NAACP speaks in Airway Heights.

Hilary Shelton recognizes that each of the 38 units of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have become stronger through struggles they have experienced to advance civil rights.

Speaking at Spokane’s 2015 Freedom Fund Banquet, he said the audience reminded him that blacks, whites, Christians and Jews were among the founders of the NAACP, which first met in secret 107 years ago in Niagara, Ontario, and was then founded in 1909 in New York to today.

“Our eyes have always been on the prize,” Hilary said.

“The NAACP magazine is called ‘The Crisis’ because that’s what many have experienced as the organization has sought to help the country live into the Constitutional vision of equal protection under the law, an audacious vision,” he said.

Because he is the NAACP’s Washington D.C. Bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy, he urges passage of U.S. civil rights legislation.

In 1914, anti-lynching legislation the NAACP introduced in the U.S. Senate was blocked.  Since then, the NAACP has won many legislative victories, including an apology by the Senate for blocking the anti-lynching bill.

“We need to move from apology to fix the damage done,” said Hilary. 

He recounted victories over the years and ongoing concerns.

In 1918, the NAACP boycotted the film “Birth of a Nation,” for its stereotypical images of blacks.

“We won Brown v. the Department of Education in 1954, marched on Washington in 1963, and gained passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and the Fair Housing Act in 1968, but hate crimes still happen and our freedom continues to be under fire.”

Hilary said the struggle didn’t end in the 1960s with Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

“Much has changed and much has not changed,” he said.

Other laws that passed include: the Civil Rights Restoration Act in 1987, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006. 

Then the first African American President moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2008.

“It has been an amazing six and a half years standing with President Barack Obama in the West Wing of the White House as he has signed more of our civil rights agenda into law,” Hilary said. 

 While the present is still a dangerous time and some believe there’s little that can be done, Hilary pointed to progress with President Obama signing laws for fair pay, hate crimes prevention, state children’s health insurance, student aid, a minimum wage increase, ending racial profiling, the Affordable Care Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and government sponsored Enterprise Reform.

Still more needs to be done. 

Hilary wondered “how many students could we send to Harvard University for the billions we have spent on wars that should never have been?”

He said it’s a problem that people can work 40 hours a week with no vacation, but still earn below the poverty level for a family of four.

Hilary is convinced that “without the NAACP standing watch on them, there is little adult supervision on Capitol Hill.  That “supervision” comes through the NAACP “grading” members of Congress on how they address “the bread-and-butter of the Civil Rights agenda.”  He encourages people to look at that “report card.”

“We have won a lot, but our most basic and fundamental freedom is still under attack.  There have been quite a few setbacks that we must challenge,” he said.

One is the need for gun control.

“Gun-related deaths are the most preventable form of death,” he said. “Someone profits off the death and destruction of our people.  Being tougher on crime and using the death penalty do not solve crime. Of those executed, 35 percent have been innocent.  Lynching by any other name is still lynching.

“There are challenges ahead,” he said.  “Public education is failing. More people need jobs and health care.”

He called for abolishing the death penalty, fixing the broken criminal justice system’s racial discriminatory use of mandatory minimum sentences and ending stand-your-ground laws.

“Some people are doing great in Spokane, but those doing well have a false notion that everyone is doing well,” said Hilary, who grew up on the “wrong side” of Highway 40 in St. Louis, Mo.

Hilary then told of a friend he grew up with, Ronald Jones.  In high school, they competed for grades in AP courses and for scholarships.  They both graduated with honors. 

Ron worked three years, married and had a son.  When the boy was three, his wife died in childbirth. 

Ron worked hard to raise his two sons.  He took them to school and came home at 3 p.m., knowing that from 3 to 6 p.m., students might get in trouble.  He went over their homework.  When the oldest was in 11th grade, he sent him out one evening to the corner store for milk and bread.

There was a scuffle over drugs and a shot.  It struck his son in the chest.  Ronald sat in the gutter holding his son, pressing on the wound, praying, “Please don’t take him.  He’s got the grades.  I have his tuition.” 

He heard a siren.  Bright lights shined.  He held his son as his breath grew shallower.

Assuming the boy was dying because of drug dealing, a reporter asked, “What did you do wrong?”

“I worked hard so he could have it all and would have great values and a vision, but if I had to do it over, I would have done the same for the boys who pulled the trigger as I did for my sons.”

Hilary called for people to be part of the solution, to join the 500,000-member NAACP to make sure “America secures the promissory note Dr. King spoke of more than 50 years ago.

“The fight is not over.  There is still so much to be done,” he said.  “The struggle continues.”

For information, call (202) 463-2940 or email

Copyright © December 2015 - The Fig Tree