Sessions, Reject Oppression” and “It’s not the man, it’s the record,” a group of 15 demonstrators gathered outside U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions’ Mobile office Monday to make a last-minute push in an effort to sink the senator’s nomination as the next attorney general.
“This is a very serious time for our country, for this area in particular,” said David Smith, first vice-president of the Mobile County chapter of the NAACP. “We won’t stop.”
Added Lizzetta McConnell, the president of the local NAACP chapter: “Jeff Sessions had made statements that reveal his true heart, and we’re concerned about it and we’ve seen his track record. I don’t doubt he’s a good man. But the values and things of importance to us as African-Americans, we don’t think he’s the man for the job.”
Smith said the demonstration’s aim was to make a final request of Sessions to drop out of consideration for the position of attorney general. Smith said he planned on delivering a letter to the senator’s Mobile office, which spelled out reasons why the NAACP doesn’t believe Sessions is the qualified for the job.
Despite the NAACP’s efforts, Sessions has not hinted at dropping out of consideration for the high-ranking cabinet post in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
“As Attorney General-designate, Jeff Sessions has been endorsed by African American and civil rights leaders who know him and know that he has dedicated his career to upholding the law and ensuring public safety,” said Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Flores. “Those groups that want to score cheap political points by smearing his name do not have the facts on their side.”
‘Hope springs eternal’
Multiple demonstrations were held Monday outside of Sessions’ Alabama offices, each organized by the NAACP.
In Mobile, the 15 people in attendance represented groups from coastal Alabama. Those included the Mobile Bay Socialist Collector and the South Baldwin Democrats.
The Mobile demonstration also came less than one week after McConnell and five others, including CEO Cornell Williams Brooks, were arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing for participating in a sit-in inside Sessions’ office. Brooks will be one of four opposition voices to speak during Sessions’ confirmation hearings, which begin Tuesday morning.
Bernard Simelton, NAACP Alabama conference president, said he felt the arrest — which he described Wednesday as “scary” — was warranted because of the message the NAACP was attempting to convey in opposing Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as U.S. Attorney General.
But this time, neither the NAACP nor the media was allowed near the senator’s Mobile office. The building’s owner, Philip Burton, instructed demonstrators and the media to stay off the property, including the parking lot area.
Instead, the demonstration was held on a sidewalk adjacent to a bank parking lot that is also inside the building that houses the senator’s office.
National and state NAACP leaders have made a push in the past week to derail Sessions’ nomination. On Friday, during a conference call with the national media, civil rights leaders including the Rev. Al Sharpton said that Sessions was not qualified to lead an agency that is charged with overseeing the Justice Department and FBI.
“He has a track record of making racial slurs and is concerned more about stalling the advances we’ve made in terms of voting rights,” said the NAACP’s Smith.
Asked if the last-minute effort was fleeting, Smith replied: “Hope springs eternal.”
‘Last minute straws’
William Stewart, a professor emeritus of political sciences at the University of Alabama, said he believes the NAACP - while an organization he respects in its efforts to achieve racial equality for years - was “grasping at last minute straws” through its anti-Sessions blitz.
NAACP rally in Mobile, Ala.
He, and others, noted that Sessions has received support from unlikely sources. Among them: former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cob, a Democrat, who endorsed Sessions’ nomination on Monday.
“If I were Sessions, I don’t think I could wish for a better back home ally than her,” said Stewart, a longtime political observer in Alabama.
Quin Hillyer, a conservative columnist based in Mobile, said the time has come for groups to “stop smearing” Sessions.
“If people disagree with Sen. Sessions on policy, that’s fine,” said Hillyer. “But to add the element of race to the mix is, in his case, utterly illegitimate.”
Civil rights groups, in recent days, have honed in on the 1986 Judiciary Committee hearings. Some of the testimony during that confirmation hearing alleged that Sessions made racist comments while he was a U.S. attorney based in Mobile. He was accused of calling a black staffer “a boy,” of saying he considered the NAACP “un-American” and of using criminal prosecutions to thwart voting rights for blacks in Perry County.
Sessions’ nomination as a federal judge was torpedoed during the racially charged hearings. It would be Sessions’ last political defeat. He’s since won election as Alabama attorney general, in 1994, and went on to win election to the U.S. Senate four consecutive times.
Hillyer said that past allegations are “old, tired, discredited and/or absurd.” He also said that “Sessions’ 20 years in the Senate shows not a trace of racial aminus” and credited the senator for leading efforts in reducing sentencing disparities that unfairly victimized black people.
Opponents to his nomination say more days and witnesses need to be added to the proceedings.
But to the demonstrators on Monday, Sessions’ conservative ideology represents a threat to civil rights in America.
“Calling a lawyer a ‘a boy’ ... this ain’t the 60s anymore,” said Terrell Simmons of the Mobile Bay Socialist Collector. “It’s 2017. We all believe we deserve equality and freedom and peace.”
Said Keith Burroughs of Gulf Shores: “We need a representative in Washington who will represent all of the people and Senator Sessions’ record does not show representation of all the people.”