|Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington marches with 700 people, in chains, to symbolize oppression and persecution -- all because he refused to comply with a request by a Federal District judge|
What do you do when you are tasked by a Federal District judge to turn over appointment records to a Federal grand jury investigating you over charges of corruption at the City Hall you are tasked to run?
Cry racism, of course, while draping chains around you and walking - with 700 supporters - from one of the holiest of holy "Civil Rights" sites in America to turn yourself in to those same Federal authorities.
Birmingham, Alabama is that city and in span of twenty years (1963-1983), the formerly "Magic City" has completely flipped from being 60 percent white/40 percent black to the exact opposite.
By 1979, the demographics had switched to ensure - with almost monolithic black support - a black man was elected mayor of the city.
That black man was Richard Arrington. And, yes, he wrapped himself in chains and marched from the 16th Street Baptist Church - bombed in 1963 - to conjure up sympathetic images in the minds of the nation, and arouse suspicion of just another racist government witch-hunt against an angelic, innocent black man [Mayor of Birmingham Is Sent to Prison : Courts: The city's first black chief executive will serve time on weekends for contempt. He claims the citation is racially motivated, Los Angeles Times, 1-24-1992]:
Richard Arrington, the first black mayor of this city that became a symbol of the civil rights battles of the 1960s, went to prison for contempt of court Thursday amid emotional charges that he was railroaded because of his race.
The contempt citation stems from Arrington's refusal to obey a federal grand jury subpoena for his appointment records, which are being sought as part of an investigation into allegations that he took $5,000 in kickbacks involving city contract work--a charge Arrington denies.
With about 45 minutes to spare before a 5 p.m. deadline, the 50-year-old mayor, surrounded by hundreds of supporters--some wearing symbolic chains--marched under leaden skies from a rally and turned himself in to federal authorities, who were to take him to a federal prison in Montgomery, Ala.
He is scheduled to serve time from 5 p.m. each Thursday until 8 a.m. the following Monday, leaving him most of the week to run the city. Also, he is being fined $1,000 a day for each day he ignores the subpoena. Attorneys say the sentence will last until May, when the grand jury session ends.
The rally was held at the 16th Street Baptist Church, where in the 1960s, a racist bombing killed four black girls and where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organized powerful protests. Several speakers praised Arrington and assailed the judicial system that was about to lock him up because of its "klan mentality."
"We're tired of white folks acting like black folks don't have no sense," thundered the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a noted civil rights activist.
A message urging the U.S. Justice Department to "intervene in the Birmingham controversy" because it has "severely polarized" the city was sent by John E. Jacob, president of the National Urban League.
A white downtown office worker, who asked not to be named, worried that the controversy will set the city back racially.
"Things have improved over the years," he said. "I feel like he's using the racial thing the same way white officials did back in the '60s."
In choosing confinement instead of complying with the subpoena, Arrington hopes to gain attention for his contention that black officials nationwide have been victims of racist investigations.
He told the church rally: "We have a history of taking adversity and turning it into advantage. That is what we hope to do here."
However, some political commentators questioned the effectiveness of playing the race card, pointing out that it reminds people that former Washington Mayor Marion Barry was convicted of cocaine use despite asserting that the charges against him were racist.
"This tactic is not as potent as it once was," said William Boone, chairman of the political science department at Clark Atlanta University. "There is a strong strand of people who are beginning to say: 'Look, you can't use the race issue.' They say: 'The question is not whether you were targeted, but did you do it?' "
Thursday's events were the latest skirmish in a seven-year war between Arrington and U.S. Atty. Frank Donaldson. Donaldson has launched about a dozen investigations of Arrington but has not succeeded in getting him indicted.
Tarlee Brown, an Atlanta architect and former partner of Arrington, has accused Arrington of accepting $5,000 in bribes on two occasions. Additionally, according to Brown, the mayor was to receive 25% of whatever Brown's city contracts were worth.
After leading hundreds of his supporters, some of them draped in chains, from the 16th Street Baptist Church to the Federal courthouse in a scene evocative of the civil rights marches of the 1960's, Mayor Richard Arrington Jr. surrendered to United States marshals today under a contempt of court citation.
Mr. Arrington, the first black Mayor of this city, submitted himself to the order of a Federal court after an emotional send-off by more than 700 of his supporters that started at the church. It was where a bomb exploded on Sept. 15, 1963, taking the lives of four black children attending Sunday school.
Some of the Mayor's supporters draped themselves in chains to symbolize what marchers said were the chains of oppression that still bind black Americans.
Rejects Court Order
The rally at the church and the march to the courthouse, three blocks away, seemed calculated to arouse memories of the civil rights movement in Birmingham when similar marches set out from the church to protest racial segregation. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of other demonstrators were arrested during protests in the spring of 1963, and supporters of Mayor Arrington say he is following in Dr. King's footsteps by going to jail on a matter of principle.
Mayor Arrington, before he began the walk to the Federal courthouse and the 90-mile drive with marshals to the Federal prison in Montgomery, said, "We have a history of taking adversity and turning it into triumph." He arrived at the prison this evening without speaking to reporters, The Associated Press quoted a prison spokesman as saying.
At the rally, the Rev. Abraham Woods, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, made a defiant reference to Birmingham's past. He said, "We didn't let the dogs turn us around, the hoses, the jails, the Ku Klux Klan. We wouldn't let Eugene Bull Connor turn us around!" And he led the crowd in the singing of protest songs from the 1960's, when Mr. Connor headed the city's police force.
The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a central figure in the civil rights movement in Birmingham in that period, said: "We're tired of white folks acting like black folks don't have any sense. We're going put an end to this harassment. Hallelujah!"
This has been another great moment in black history.