Thursday, January 24, 2008

History of Norfolk Project, Transcript

As many in the country reflect on the 40-year anniversary of what is considered by some the turbulent year of 1968 (assassinations, protest marches, etc.) -- locally in 1968 Norfolk and Portsmouth joined with 4 other cities electing the first Blacks to city council -- and as we come off of celebrating another Dr. King holiday and move into Black History Month, and as we watch the politics around the Democrat Party Presidential nomination, and as we have municipal elections approaching, I thought I would (re)share this excerpt I came across again recently. At least to me it still seems timely. - Rodney Jordan

The following are excerpts from: History of Norfolk Project, Transcript, Oral Interview of Judge Joseph Jordan, May 31, 1989. Interviewed by Dr. Tommy Bogger, Norfolk State University.
"With far too focus upon how we got here, our leadership has in large measure herded us into the role of spectator-citizenship. We must summarily abandon that role. We are here--no matter how we got here. We must embrace the confidence to grasp the role of full participatory-citizenship. And in this role we must recognize that we are numerically small enough to be cohesive--numerically large enough to have meaningful impact--qualitatively knowledgeable enough to know what this country is all about--and energetically bold enough to provide the leadership for the full realization of its magical potential."
From the book We Can Make It... Together!


Dr. Bogger: But can you go through and say more about the Goldenrod Ballot to make sure we have the three coordinated here?

Judge Jordan: In order to give to black citizens as much information and as many tools as possible to carry to the poll and vote, we created what was called the -- and that was done prior to my entering the scene -- called the Goldenrod Ballot. Now, the color of it was like a golden rod color, and we would put on there the names we would recommend, and most citizens followed the recommendations. As a result, we voted in an almost 90% -- close to 100% block each time that we went to the poll, and that was part of our effectiveness as a group. Block voting is ridiculed, but block voting is very important. It is ridiculed because other folks can't do what we were doing. It's nothing wrong with it so long as you're not intimidated to block voting.But in any event, the Goldenrod was a major tool for having blacks vote as a unit that was in local, state, and federal elections.

Dr. Bogger: Mrs. Butts was very very effective grassroots political organizer. Can you say anything to that in conjunction with the Goldenrod?

Judge Jordan: Sure.

Dr. Bogger: And anyone else who played that role similar to her.

Judge Jordan: When Dr. Robinson and I came together, we gave leadership to the Concerned Citizens. Mrs. Butts and Mrs. Green and Mrs. Young -- I guess we call it -- these were the ladies who were in a group which I created called the Women of Virginia's Third Force. I think I mentioned to you we created a third force group way back there somewhere to teach voting. Mrs. Butts and these ladies were a part of that, and so they had this cadre led by Mrs. Butts, who was president of the Women of Virginia's Third Force over a period of time, active for a long time. Mrs. Butts surfaced as the leader in her own right, however, after one, I was named to the bench and became a judge. That was 1977.

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Judge Jordan: .After serving on the City Council, I was approached by a member of the Norfolk delegation informing me that there was a vacancy for a judgeship. The first one was with the Juvenile Court. I thanked him and chose not to accept his offer to promote my candidacy for that position. And then a vacancy became available in the criminal division where more of us came and where I thought the deeper problems were. That was the first level of court, and this is where we were really taking a beating and I thought being treated unfairly.So when that came available I said, yes, indeed, I would like to serve there if the delegation will accept me and promote my candidacy before the General Assembly. They did. Some say they were glad so they kicked me upstairs. I don't know. I felt that it was important to have a black representation at the most critical aspect of the law. My philosophy conflicts were many, but I feel and I felt that you can't have respect for the law unless the law means what it says, and probably developed a reputation as a hanging judge, as some chose to call me, but I tried to say that no matter whom it is that comes before a Court, if they are guilty, they are going to get it in a meaningful way. The law is a waste unless it means what it says and unless it is fairly and equally administered.As a lawyer, one of my deep concerns was that if we harm one another, very little will happen. (Speaker inaudible). If we committed a crime against one of the majority, we were in deep trouble. If the majority committed a crime against us, nothing happened. I chose to see to it that no matter what he looked like, that put me into a position where many blacks hated me because some blacks felt that a black judge ought to try to rectify some of the wrongs committed to blacks by going easy on blacks. Some whites felt the same way that some liberal whites tend to feel, that you ought not go so hard on blacks who commit crimes because of hardships that blacks suffer.

Dr. Bogger: I'm sorry. I think you've touched on this, but just to be sure, in the General District Court, what type of crimes? Were these felonies?

Judge Jordan: We tried misdemeanors. We held the preliminary hearing for felonies so that if it was a felony, then the District Court determines whether or not a crime is committed and whether or not the person before you may have committed it. If so, then you send it over to the Circuit Court for consideration or to the Grand Jury for consideration. One aspect of criminal conduct that has always disturbed me was treatment of black women, especially by black men. Most of the suffering of black women was crimes committed against them by black men, and in the past, that didn't matter. It didn't matter. It mattered so little until most black women would come in, and after the conflict was over, and withdraw the warrants.I felt under duress. You know, you're a six foot two man, two hundred pounds, coming into a court with a five-foot woman, and she says, "Everything is all right. I want to drop the warrant." I never permitted that in my court. I said, "I'd be glad to consider that after I hear what occurred." And then I would hear the case. And nine times out of ten, the violation was there, and I would punish the man; and, eventually, the ladies began to realize that they could expect a fair resolution of their rights in court, and one of the refreshing things is any day I meet ladies who said, "My God, I wish you were still there. You certainly protected us." You know. But that's unforgivable in my judgment that if women are less in our society, black women were even less, you see, and somebody had to say, "oh, no, no, no."And I got in trouble with the white community because if whites committed an offense, especially against blacks, they got it too, and that wasn't supposed to happen. So the black lawyers were mad with me, and the white lawyers were made with me, and they did their best to make it difficult for me, but they had more problems than I did. I was at ease doing what I felt was right, and I would be there now unless I'd been impeached, but they had not succeeded in that.
[Transcript skipped]

Dr. Bogger: Judge Jordan, can I interrupt you for one minute, and then I would like your view of this project? But, now, you haven't said much about your term on the City Council, if you would briefly reflect on that before we leave this area. And you were elected vice mayor, and I don't think we mentioned that.

Judge Jordan: Yeah, we didn't mention that, but I served on the Council from `68 to `72 -- `77. And during that period of time, I thought I was effective. When I went on the Council, there was one black head of the recreation department; that is, he was head of the black part of the recreation department.

Dr. Bogger: Do you remember his full name?

Judge Jordan: Donald Wingo.

Dr. Bogger: Donald Wingo.

Judge Jordan: I did my best to keep the pressure on them, and block voting is pressure because everybody wants it. To change the fact, when I left, we had blacks in every department. We had blacks in administrative positions up to deputy city manager. One of the areas that concerned me was the custodial and sanitation area. We were able to change the plight of the garbage men where they would have a decent salary. Raised the salary of the custodian-sanitation people 60 percent, and then they got increments from there on, but it brought them up to a different level. Garbage men had no place to bathe or sit down and eat their lunch out here behind the cemetery, you know, where the -- off Princess Anne Road, in fact. We changed that.There were no clerks, any black clerks, in any of the courts. We changed all of that. So I think voting wise we got satellite voting places and so on. These were things that can be traced directly to the effectiveness of block voting because those who get elected need it and want it. That's one of the reasons that I'm opposed to the ward system. Just as soon as we politically segregate ourselves into two or three wards, we would have eliminated our effectiveness because we won't be able to influence the other wards, you see. Now, if the only thing you want is the honor of being on the City Council, then take the ward system. But if you want to be effective with every member of Council, then you need to be able to help get them in and help get them out, you see. And voting at large does that.If we were one percent of the vote and we could get a precinct, that would be one thing -- a ward -- that would be one thing, but here we are almost 40 percent. I believe we are 40 percent of the vote. You know, 40 percent voting as a block at large can run the city. The only reason we don't have a majority on the Council is that we're too cotton picking lazy to work from the election through to the next election. We get busy a few weeks before each election. That's better than nothing, but there's no reason why we here in the City of Norfolk -- and I know this city better than any other area -- but in most of the cities of Virginia, there is no reason why a conscientious leadership could not prepare the blacks to control the voting in the city.You know, what's happening in Portsmouth is a crime. A crime. Everybody wants to be -- wants the honor of being on the City Council, you see. Richmond, the same thing, you know, and it's frightening; but if I had my way about it, none of the major cities in Virginia would have a ward system. But the city has got these liberals, and white liberals sometimes are our worst enemies. The say "Yes, indeed, blacks ought to have more representation." That isn't the name of the game. The name of the game is influencing political action.

Dr. Bogger: This link up between the black community and the upper-class whites of the west side, can you say anything about that and shoot that down? Elaborate on that in that there has been -- there are problems in Norfolk, but compared to some other cities, it has been in, more or less, cordial political -- a cordial political alliance.

Judge Jordan: Well, we like to simplify it and say that there's this group and there's that group, and you can work for that group and you can't work for this group and so forth. All right. That isn't the way it is. Sometimes the most conservative folk are the ones you can work with best, depending upon the issues. Sometimes the most liberal folk are your problems. You know, that's your benefactor. If the liberals had continued to pursue their agenda, Dr. Robinson would have hung me or I would have hung him. Literally we would have destroyed each other. They felt that they knew who our leadership should be and that they had earned the right to the support of the black community. I have said to the liberals, if you're a real liberal, you're not there to help me to create you as my leader. You are there to work with me to create the best leadership, period; and I'm not talking about leadership from this side of town, you see. You should be ready to support the best person for mayor no matter who it is, you see. So wise politics for the black community is maintaining its block voting and using the strength of that to influence whomever the majority may be, and it doesn't matter whether they're liberal or conservative, you see.

Dr. Bogger: Very well. Now, I'm sorry for interrupting you earlier, but I think you were getting ready to start on another topic a few minutes earlier.

Judge Jordan: Oh, well, I was just pointing out what went on or what the -- what I -- the effectiveness I thought we had on the City Council in that my personal commitment to the black cause included (speaker inaudible) our history. How in the world are we going to fire up the imagination, get the adrenaline going in our young people, because they don't know who we are, and I don't think we have to go all the way back to Africa to get material and information and so forth to inspire them, although I am not against that. I think our accomplishment right here in the United States is illustrious enough to help inspire our youngsters to the higher plateau that we are seeking. For example, one of the things that I though I had accomplished on the Council was the creation of the Martin Luther King Monument.To me -- for me, that was more than just a monument. The King Monument was to be the anchor for an avenue of black history. I envisioned that moving east on Brambleton Avenue toward Norfolk State University. At every intersection there would be some edifice to a major black in American history, Sojourner Truth, Tubman, and so on, and Washington. I envisioned upon reaching Park Avenue you'd turn north on Park Avenue and do the same thing up to Booker Washington High School. Culminating at Booker Washington High School was a substantial edifice to Booker Washington. Somewhere in there on Park Avenue I thought in terms of the big three of Norfolk State University, Brown, Brooks, and Dr. Marshall. It seems to me that they're it.But then moving north on Church Street from the intersection of Church and Brambleton, we were doing the same thing, Carver, Dubois, on down to City Park so that literally one could drive through or stroll through black history. I just think we've got to have a symbolism, you see. And we would have a unique symbolism here so that when a kid wakes up in Young Park, you know, 150 feet in the air is something about him; and significantly, all of the Parks radiate around that area.
[Transcript text skipped]

Judge Jordan: I'm just optimistic that we can do it, and that's what we fail in. One of the areas of failure -- one of the areas we have failed in, I think, is in not recognizing that we have the opportunity of offering to this nation leadership. We have accepted the role of reactors. What is the majority doing? We react to that, but I think a nation that has gradually accepted selfishness as its philosophy needs leadership from somewhere, and who's in a better position to give it than those of us who have suffered most here? Nobody knows and appreciates the Constitution better than us, you see. If the Constitution means anything, it means the first word of the preamble, "We", but the selfishness of the past 200 or 300 years has tried to change that to say "Me." You know. If those in charge of this nation today had written the preamble, it would have started "Me the people of the United." "Me, the person of the United States." You see.What we see happening on Wall Street, you know, cannibalism. Economic cannibalism. That's not what this nation is all about, you see. And I think we're in a position to say, "Look, if we succeed, me automatically succeeds." There is no reason, no excuse for the homeless. No excuse for the hungry. No excuse for people lacking medical care, you see. A nation rich in every respect which cares only about me and the heck with it, you see. And it takes leadership to change that. Now imagine our demonstrating what togetherness is... represents a togetherness unmatched in this nation's history, us plus those who respected what we were trying to do, you see.

Dr. Bogger: Okay. Well, Judge Jordan, I'd certainly like to thank you for coming. It has been a very interesting discussion.
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1 comment:

Brother OMi said...

so, the original idea for the MLK memorial was to have other statues of other notable black heroes up and down brambleton and other major streets?

now all that scrambling around, millions being wasted, controversy, etc. makes much more sense

i agree with him, the ward system does no good.