WaPo Story on 40th Anniversary of Congressional Black Caucus Omits Incidents of Discrimination Against White Would-be Members

In her April 1 Washington Post story, staffer Krissah Thompson explored how the "mission" and "challenges" of the Congressional Black Caucus have "evolved" from its initial aim "to eradicate racism."

Yet nowhere in Thompson's 23-paragraph article is any mention of how the CBC has denied entry to prospective members on the basis of skin color, such as liberal Democrats Steve Cohen (Tenn.) and Pete Stark (Calif.).

Here's how Politico's Josephine Hearn reported on the controversy surrounding the former in January 2007:


As a white liberal running in a majority African American district, Tennessee Democrat Stephen I. Cohen made a novel pledge on the campaign trail last year: If elected, he would seek to become the first white member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

 

Now that he's a freshman in Congress, Cohen has changed his plans. He said he has dropped his bid after several current and former caucus members made it clear to him that whites need not apply.

 

"I think they're real happy I'm not going to join," said Cohen, who succeeded Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., in the Memphis district. "It's their caucus and they do things their way. You don't force your way in. You need to be invited."

 

Cohen said he became convinced that joining the caucus would be "a social faux pas" after seeing news reports that former Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., D-Mo., a co-founder of the caucus, had circulated a memo telling members it was "critical" that the group remain "exclusively African-American."

 

Other members, including the new chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., and Clay's son, Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., agreed.

 

"Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. ... It's time to move on," the younger Clay said. "It's an unwritten rule. It's understood. It's clear."

 

The bylaws of the caucus do not make race a prerequisite for membership, a House aide said, but no non-black member has ever joined.

 

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who is white, tried in 1975 when he was a sophomore representative and the group was only six years old.

 

"Half my Democratic constituents were African American. I felt we had interests in common as far as helping people in poverty," Stark said. "They had a vote, and I lost. They said the issue was that I was white, and they felt it was important that the group be limited to African Americans."

 

Cohen remains hopeful, though, that he can forge relationships with black members in other ways.

And forge them Cohen has.

As Perry Bacon Jr. of the Post reported in July 2010, some CBC members have raised money for Cohen's reelection, even endorsed him over black primary election rivals. Still, that doesn't change the fact that the CBC practices discrimination in membership even while it renounces racism officially.

It seems the CBC has the legal right to discriminate on the basis of race for membership, but whether it has a moral obligation to stop doing so is a question which should be posed to readers of the Post in an article noting its 40th anniversary.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters