Bigotry drives me up the wall. In the mid 1960s, fresh from college, I lent a hand at St. Bridget of Erin Church near the old Pruitt-Igoe housing project. In the civil rights era, many St. Louisans came to help.
I came because of bigotry. Anti-black bigotry was everywhere - sometimes crude, sometimes sophisticated and gentle and slippery, sometimes "innocent" - thoughtless, knee-jerk and insensitive. I didn't want to live in a society that yawned in the face of all that.
Fast-forward to 1993. Much has been accomplished and, yes, much remains to be done. One triumph has been the elections and appointments of black Americans to high public office. It's good to look back, remember, and relish the present moment. At least, it ought to be good.
Dr. Joycelyn Elders was confirmed Sept. 7 as surgeon general of the United States. The outcome was never in doubt; the Senate traditionally supports the president when he makes appointments in a non-judicial context.
How, then, explain the 65-34 vote?
Bigotry. But not the sort you might expect.
Those 34 senators - including four Democrats - voted against Elders because she has made recent, unrecanted, bigoted remarks aimed at (1) unborn children, particularly those with Down syndrome, (2) pro-life Americans and (3) religion, particularly the Catholic Church. Examples:
In May 1990, she testified before Congress that abortion has had "a positive public health effect." Her reasoning? Fewer children are now born with "severe defects." The national Down Syndrome Congress and Concerned Parents of Children with Down Syndrome found these remarks "troubling," "radical" and "extreme."
On Jan. 11, 1993, Elders referred to abortion opponents as "non-Christians with slave/master mentalities."
On Jan. 18, 1992, Elders told the Arkansas Coalition for Choice, "We would like for the right-to-life and anti-choice groups to really get over their love affair with the fetus."
She stated, "The first 400 years black people had their freedom aborted, and the church said nothing. The way of life for the Native American was aborted; the church was silent. We attempted to eradicate a whole race of people through the Holocaust, and the church was silent. . . . Look at who's fighting the pro-choice movement: a celibate, male-dominated church."
This was too much for the lay-run Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which said: "What we find deeply troubling is the cant and calumny associated with Dr. Elders' remarks. …