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
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. …