The Cold Hard Truth
By J.L. Chestnut, Jr.
Vol. 10, No. 5, 1988, pp. 24, 23
In the fall and winter of 1984, fifty white FBI agents came bustling into five west Alabama black-majority counties. The feds visited more than 1,000 black voters, often late at night, and many of them elderly. Alabama State Troopers later joined the feds, and it was once again a time of rotten infamy in Alabama [Southern Changes, July-September 1985].
I have been black in Alabama for almost sixty years and I wee outraged. The feds announced they were investigating vote fraud in regards to absentee ballots. For twenty years, the feds had refused to investigate a single complaint by black voters of intimidation. I announced that the feds were frauds themselves and using federal criminal law to help the racist Republican administration in Washington.
As usual, I was accused by hypocritical whites and know-nothing blacks of overstating the case and seeing racism everywhere. As usual, some people felt the authorities were correct because they were the authorities–classic, circular logic. Also, there is another group who automatically supports the activities of the FBI.
I knew that from 1979 to 1981, federal agents had prowled almost daily through records of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in Sumter County. The Federation was a training base for black political leaders in the Black Belt. For that reason, a really sad bunch in Alabama and Washington was upset with the Federation.
The feds, of course, found no wrong-doing, but they crippled the Federation and severely hampered fundraising for a very long time. That was the intent at the outset. U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (D-Ala.), then a Congressman, was a key force behind the bogus investigation. He knows I know. He was representing a few white, local political leaders and ignoring blacks.
As to the vote fraud probe, eight blacks and one white were indicted on 210 bogus charges that could have meant more than 1,000 years in prison. Elderly black people were saying, “I’ll never vote again.” Certain blacks, as always, were claiming the investigation was not racial and just a matter of enforcing the voting laws. I listened quietly and wondered how much of this black nonsense was ignorance, fear or opportunism. I still don’t know.
The federal election in 1984 was crucial in Alabama and Washington. At the time it was felt that black voters might make the difference in the re-election or defeat of U.S. Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.), and Republican control of the Senate might hinge on whether Denton was successful (Demon was defeated in 1986 by Shelby). In addition, Ed Meese had a long history of helping his friends.
Not one of the 210 vote fraud charges held up in court. Recently, I filed a motion to vacate the remaining charges and a guilty verdict by an all-white jury against voting rights activist Spiver Gordon. The government eagerly joined the motion and the motion was granted on September 9, 1988.
The federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had said, “…Gordon has sufficiently established the essential elements of the selective prosecution test…” Thus, Gordon is entitled to “discovery of the relevant government documents relating to the local voting fraud cases the government has prosecuted and any voting fraud complaints which they have decided not to pursue.”
Rather than provide that information to defense lawyers and the public, the U.S. Attorney called and said if I filed a motion to dismiss all charges against Gordon, the govern-
ment would join the motion. How about that for vote fraud? Was there racism here?
The appellate court took note that Gordon had “informed the district court that in two similar voting fraud prosecutions, the government had used five of six peremptory challenges to strike black jurors in one case and four of six to strike black jurors in the other. This proffer was sufficient under the circumstances to entitle Gordon to a hearing…” on that issue.
In the interim, however, Clarence Mitchell III, black legislator from Maryland who came to Alabama and helped us in the vote fraud mess, has been convicted in a bribery case investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the Justice Department. In 1984, Clarence went around the nation saying, “The Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Council can close up shop, because the Justice Department is doing their work for them.”
Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Mervyn Dymally placed in the Congressional record an affidavit by former FBI informant Hirah Friedman. In his sworn affidavit, Friedman stated that a program within the FBI named “Fruhmenachen” (German for “primitive man”) has been established to investigate black public officials without probable cause. Friedman said the FBI assumed “that black officials were intellectually and socially incapable of governing…”
I made a similar assumption about the FBI and the current Republican administration way back in 1984.
Recently, black FBI agent Donald Rochan charged white FBI agents with a constant campaign of racist harassment against him and other black agents. He said much more. The John Edgar Hoover legacy together with White House racism impact heavily on the FBI.
Black voters are not the only people harassed by that motley crowd in Washington. Activists in the peace, labor and civil liberties movements have had their problems. Two Congressional committees have documented the outrageous, unconstitutional activities of the FBI regarding people who oppose the Reagan-Bush Yankee nonsense in Central America.
Lord help us.
J. L. Chestnut is an Alabama trial lawyer and writer.