Closing inner-city Catholic colleges a civil rights subject

All my life I have had to challenge the establishment. Sometimes this meant confronting bad Republicans as fellow Republicans or fighting the black caucus of Congress as a black member of Congress. Today, as a devout Christian, I begin a fight with the Catholic Archbishop of Hartford.

My parents instilled a stubborn courage in me when they decided to move from a black part of Waterbury to an almost all-white part of Waterbury. We were immediately greeted by the Ku Klux Klan. They burned a huge cross in front of our house, threatened the family with hateful phone calls every night, killed a dog on our lawn and put a dead possum in our mailbox, which I pulled out of the mailbox at the tender age of about 11 and dropped in Snow color the snow red. Tampering with a mailbox was a federal crime. Thanks to the FBI, something that ran for three months ended in three days.

When I was a councilor, I challenged the mayor, a Republican, who wanted to give the Hispanics in Waterbury a converted supermarket for a school. Partly because of my protest, the federal government got involved. Months later, the mayor and nearly a dozen other Republican officials were in jail for trying to force this deal because they could benefit financially from it. As a seated congressman, I testified against her.

Years later, the Congressional Black Caucus wanted to kick me out because my views were too conservative for their liking. The real problem was racist walking in congressional districts. The CBC wanted to grab the districts to better ensure the election of blacks. I did not agree with their approach. I had been elected in a 92% white district and felt that Americans would vote for a black candidate for office. I was the proof. I testified before a three-judge panel in the US federal appeals court in Savannah, Georgia. I argued that if we didn’t have predominantly black districts, more blacks could be elected to Congress. I said more than 25 years ago, “There’s no need for black wards, brown wards, yellow wards, red wards – we just need American wards.”

However, it didn’t go down well with the CBC when they decided to kick me out of the caucus and the father of a seated Congressman was arrested for physically assaulting me in Savannah, according to my testimony.

Today the tremendous growth of the CBC is due to my dominant position. Many of the new members come from mostly white congressional districts.

Just when I thought this type of fighting to help Black and Hispanic Americans was over for me, I was pulled back into the ring. All of my civil rights battles were during the defense game – someone got it wrong and I revealed it.

I recently filed four federal and state civil rights complaints against the Archdiocese of Hartford. I understand that they have closed or are about to close all inner-city high schools in the Archdiocese of Hartford, ruling out any possibility of Catholic high school or high school education for inner-city children in Waterbury, where blacks and Hispanics live. Instead, they only offer Catholic education to white communities, many of whom are wealthy.

The federal government may again play a role in delivering justice, or at least stop any federal funding going to Catholic schools under the control of Archbishop Leonard Blair, and possibly even seek the return of federal funds due to their discriminatory practices.

Americans cannot tolerate the prospect of denying Catholic education to black and Hispanic children.

We need the participation of the federal government again.

Gary A. Franks served three terms as the United States representative for Connecticut’s 5th District. He was the first black Republican to be elected to the House in nearly 60 years, and New England’s first black member of the House. He is the host of the We Speak Frankly podcast.

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