Press Release of William L. Clay, Retired Member of U.S. House of Representatives to Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)

Dear CBC Member:

As aggressive crusaders in the struggle to make America what it proclaims to be in terms of living up to the slogan “All men are created equal,” I am sure you are as appalled as I by the decision of Hampton University to honor former President George H.W. Bush with a statue on its campus.   What a `giant step’ backward in the fight to correct the unfortunate, disgraceful, and distorted history of the effort of African Americans to achieve parity in the country’s social, political and economic life.

The mere fact that the president of Hampton University and his top advisors would commission such a shameful project must be challenged by the strong voices of African Americans in Congress and allies across the nation.    

What a tragedy!  Recently, when former President Bush passed and those in charge of creating images of super heroes, one fact was  quite obvious.  In the month long campaign to canonize him for sainthood, there was a deliberate omission of any truthful relationship of him and civil rights.

 Therefore, I am calling upon Congressional Black Caucus members to lead the way in exposing the hypocrisy of celebrating George H.W. Bush as a true representative of “All the People”.

I must remind you that President Bush’s record on civil rights was one of the worst in the history of U.S. Presidents.  For three decades in public service, he refused to come face-to-face with his paradoxical conflict of duplicity in matters of race.  He steadfastly and vigorously opposed any specific proposal to ameliorate the inequitable, bigoted treatment of black citizens.


Hampton’s President Dr. William R. Harvey said, “I believe in giving people their credit when it is due.  President Bush was an extraordinary person who believed it was crucial that African Americans have access to education. I think that’s something that we must acknowledge”.  

These are only words of praise that are very much contradicted by the Record.  It is possible to cite one or two instances that he was involved in on the fringe of an issue that benefited black people. Those who argue Bush was not a racist, and did not hate black people—might also consider what others have surmised–but he believed every household should own one.             


1.    He never met a civil rights measure he could support without  qualified reservation.  Legislative initiatives and administrative dictums devised to alleviate oppressive conditions of segregation and discrimination were always sufficiently flawed, in his opinion, to justify objecting to the remedy.

2.    Bush vetoed a major civil rights bill in 1990 and the Bill fell one vote short of override in the Senate.  The measure would have restored four major civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis gender, disability and age.

3.         In the 1960s, television networks extensively covered brutalizing events, exposing the savagery of white mobs attacking helpless Negroes with bricks, clubs and dogs.  

Bush ignored the mayhem and blamed the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. the Board of Education and `forced busing’ for precipitating the violence. 

4.    The most far-reaching, racially-oriented legislation in modern history, was enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Six years after it became law, Bush opposed the measure with missionary zeal.  Appealing to the bigotry of white voters in a Texas campaign for the U.S. Senate, Bush repeatedly stated, “The Act was passed to protect 14 percent of the population.  I’m also worried about the other 86 percent”.

5.     When peaceful marches and other non-violent protests by blacks demanding the right to register and vote, he voiced no sympathy for their cause.  Millions of television viewers looked on in horror as police billy-clubbed black adults as they peacefully demonstrated for the right to vote.  City firemen, in their official capacity, sprayed elementary school children with high-pressure water hoses for supporting the registration drive.       Yet, Bush, seemingly oblivious to the injustice, vigorously opposed the 1965 Voting Right Act, which was designed to guarantee the right of all to participate in the electoral process.           


In Bush’s legal lexicon, widespread harassment, intimidation, and physical violence preventing blacks from registering and voting was insufficient to justifying federal intervention into rights he claimed reserved to the states.

Bush rationalized that blacks did not need federal supervision to insure their ability to register and vote.  He ignored reality.  In Dallas County, Alabama, a community just outside the city limits of Selma, with a population of 29,515 adults, of whom 14,400 were white and 15,115 were black, but only 383 blacks were registered compared to 8,216 whites.  Nor was he moved to indignation by the slogan of the Alabama Democratic Party that endorsed his candidacy:  “the Party of white supremacy.”


Describing Bush’s 1968 vote for the Fair Housing Act as a profile in courage that jeopardized his chance for reelection is grossly distorted political hyperbole.  In fact, he voted for passage only after unsuccessfully leading an effort to kill the bill.  Arguing the Act unfair, he challenged the authority of Congress to impose restrictions on realtors and home-owners. 

The House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at protecting civil rights workers who were being beaten, gassed and killed for trying to register black voters and to desegregate public schools.   After its passage the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings and the full Senate attached the FAIR HOUSING PROVISION. 

To appease those who opposed fair housing, an anti-rioting amendment (which was pushed by Bush in the House) was accepted.  The action was specifically aimed at H. Rap Brown and other black leaders whose incendiary speeches incited blacks to riot in numerous cities.  The bill provided criminal penalties for anyone convicted of traveling in interstate commerce or using the mails, telephone, telegraph, radio or television with the intent `to incite, organize, or encourage a riot.”

The 1965 riots of Watts, Los Angeles lasted 6 days, left 34 persons dead, 1,000 wounded, and more than 4,000 arrested.   Then the violent summer of 1967 saw riots in Newark (killing 23, wounding 1,500) and in Detroit (killing 43, wounding 2,000). 

In that atmosphere, the House was presented a bill calling for fair housing as well as Bush’s version of making it a federal crime to cross state lines for the purpose of inciting violence. 

Bush found the fair housing legislation distasteful and politically uncomfortable.  Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, he dared not oppose the highly emotional and popularly driven effort to pass anti-rioting legislation, but the fair housing amendment fit his obsessive complaint about civil rights promotion always being at the wrong time and in the wrong place.


 Irritated and frustrated by the housing provision, Bush petitioned the House Rules Committee to order separate votes on the two issues.  It was generally speculated that the House would reject a specific vote for fair housing.  The Rules Committee denied his request.  Then Mr. Bush offered his proposal to the full House and it too was rejected.  Bush’s timing was horrible and insensitive. 

Six days before the scheduled vote, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee.  Within 72 hours, fiery uprisings erupted in 125 cities and civil unrest broke out on 50 college campuses.  The U.S. Army and the National Guard found themselves pitted against an army of black insurrectionists with little respect for the property rights of the privileged class.

White America was in a state of peril, appall, confusion, and bewilderment.    For three days and three nights, Washington, D.C., the capital of the free world, burned.  Dark clouds of smoke belched from fires lit in front of the President’s residence and surrounding neighborhoods.  Marines in sand-bagged bunkers and mounted machine guns protected the White House. 

Under these conditions there was no way that Bush was going to convince House members to vote against the Fair Housing legislation.

6.  As President, Bush opposed the extension of the Voting Rights Act, vetoed a major civil rights bill expanding protection against employment discrimination, sought to overturn five Supreme Court decisions that altered prevailing interpretations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


7.  The most egregious and most damaging act of Bush’s entire career was the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.                        

Bush’s flowery introduction of the erstwhile nominee calling him the most qualified in the country was political speech that enlarged truth beyond the normal limits of intelligent acceptance.  Describing Thomas as a fiercely `independent thinker’ with an `excellent legal mind’, insulted those who had personally engaged Thomas in the fight for compliance and enforcement of established civil rights laws.  Those who followed his career closely were able to decode the words “independent thinker” in referring to people like Thomas.  It meant as defined by conservatives that he had no ideas, no positions and no statements that were “independent” of those dictated by the brain trust advising the Republican hierarchy.

The surprise selection of Thomas baffled even the most cynical, sending shock waves shooting across the wrinkled brows of congressmen, civil rights advocates, women activists, senior citizens, and civil libertarians.  They who had battled Thomas’ slipshod, slapstick disregard for enforcing equal rights were emotionally traumatized with the possibility of an individual that had shown utter contempt of mandated law would sit on the high a position. 

Clarence Thomas was in the forefront of attacks on affirmative action, criticizing leaders of the CBC and the civil rights organizations for promoting policies that recommended reasonable accommodation of past racial discrimination in hiring and the awarding of contracts.

Despite almost total rejection of Thomas’ philosophy and politics by the most respected African American leaders, and longtime white supporters of civil rights, a majority in the media and a substantial number of white Americans persisted in portraying him a spokesman of black people.

8. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) confronted President Bush on Thomas’ legal qualification and questioned his commitment to racial equality.  The CBCF, in a lengthy document gave overwhelming justification why Americans should oppose the nomination of Clarence Thomas.  

I stated on the House floor: “Thomas’ preemptive attack on affirmative action lacks merit…His motive is dubious and his sincerity doubtful.  It’s a perversion of justice to advocate its elimination without offering a viable alternative.    

My statement was in conjunction and agreement with the expressed opinions of other Congressional Black Caucus members.       

Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) testified, “Thomas wants to destroy the bridge that brought him over troubled waters!  He wants to pull down the ladder that he climbed up.” 

Congressman Major Owens (D-NY.) said, “Clarence Thomas has clearly and consistently stood against those legal principles, philosophies, and ideas which are vitally necessary for Black survival”.  Congressman Louis Stokes (D-Oh.) testified, “The difference between Thomas and most Black Americans most have not forgotten from whence they have come”.

Yes, Dr. William R. Harvey, President H.W. Bush you have a right to recognize extraordinary persons and to give them their due.  Unfortunately, your choice of Bush as one of those persons–flies in the face of historical truth and his horrendous record. 

Finally, you the members of the CBC who are the most legitimate voices in the country for protecting the rights and advancements of African Americans cannot sit silently by and let another exaggerated distortion of black history go unchallenged.