“Do not use justice for blacks as excuse to destroy this nation,” says Bob Woodson. A veteran of the civil rights movement, he argues that the legacy of the civil rights movement is being perverted and weaponized to punish whites. Today, we discuss the devastating human cost of the “race grievance industry” he believes is gripping America today.
Jan Jekielek: Bob Woodson, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Bob Woodson: As always, I enjoy being here.
Mr. Jekielek: Bob, not too long ago, you wrote, along with a whole number of American intellectuals, a letter to Smith College about their handling of a particular scenario that happened a few years ago, and subsequent to racial bias training that was instituted on the group of people that were accused. I wanted to find out how all this is playing out now. Did you get a response? Maybe to start with, if you could just outline what happened in the timeline?
Mr. Woodson: Smith College is a very elite women’s college where the tuition is $80,000. In 2018, as reported in The New York Times in a big cover story recently that reflected back on those times—a young black student was in an unauthorized area of a cafeteria that was off limits to students because it was being used for a summer program, and she started to eat her lunch.
The cafeteria worker was instructed that when someone comes in to call security, so the security was called. He recognized the student and she [recognized] him. He said to her politely that this is off-limits, and so she went out into the lounge area that was also off-limits and began to eat her lunch. A custodian saw her and did the same thing and she was asked to leave, but he allowed her to stay.
Mr. Jekielek: She taped these encounters and then posted on Facebook an entire rant that she was “eating while black,” and why would a woman of color have to suffer the indignities of racism, and really went off on the people. As a consequence, Kathleen McCartney, the president of the school, apologized to the student, took action against the custodian and the cafeteria worker, and then required all of them to take race grievance training. And then she commissioned a study by a local law firm who came in and did a 171-page investigation over the course of months, and found that [there] was no evidence at all of bias.
Mr. Woodson: What she did was to take disciplinary action against [the workers] without investigating the facts. She assumed that this young woman was telling the truth. Even after she received the report that there was no evidence of discrimination or racial profiling, she said it’s probably indirect or unconscious bias. [She] quietly apologized to the worker, but refused to apologize publicly.
In the meantime, the custodian who’d been working there for 35 years with an unblemished record had a pre-existing disorder. As a consequence of the student posting his picture on Facebook with his email address and labeling him a racist—she did the same thing to the cafeteria worker, posting her email, adjusting her picture, and labeling her racist—he went on sick leave and retired, and is now on disability. After 35 years, this man had been terrorized by this young black woman who wanted to become a racial martyr. What the president did is take disciplinary action against the whole cafeteria staff.
I contacted Jodi Shaw who was a staff person [and] a whistleblower who resigned after many years. She was the one who reported it to The New York Times. What we did was we reached out to her. [President Kathleen McCartney] I put together a letter that was signed by 50 black intellectuals and activists and business leaders challenging the president of the college to, one; apologize publicly to these workers, two; we wanted them to compensate them for their loss, and three; we want this DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] training—I call it race grievance training—discontinued because it is insulting. She wanted the workers to apologize to this student, even in the face of evidence that there was no racial profiling.
We’re also supporting [the workers]. There’s a GoFundMe page. We’re going to try to raise money for these two workers so they can be made whole and don’t have to suffer, and also raise money for their legal defense.
Anyway, we sent a letter to the president and she sent a glib response: “Thank you for your letter. We appreciate your concern for Smith College. More information about the event on July 18 is included in the attached report. I want to assure you, we value every employee’s contribution to the college.” That was all she said. So we wrote a rejoinder to her and said, “We read the report and we think that your actions were agregious, and therefore, we want you to take those three steps.
It’s important because we believe that this is a perversion of the civil rights movement. I’m a veteran of that movement. I didn’t march so someone could use the rich legacy of the civil rights movement as a weapon to punish whites. To paraphrase Dr. King, racism is not bad because it is visited upon blacks by whites—it’s bad because it is evil.
We’re trying to send a message from the Woodson Center and 1776 Unites by having a group of prominent blacks, professors of universities, and just ordinary grassroots leaders [get involved]. We felt that we as blacks wanted to take the side of these working class whites who have been bludgeoned by these false accusations of racism and personally damaged. We wanted to make a statement consistent with what Dr. King advised all of us, that there needs to be a multiracial response against evil, regardless of the sponsors or the color of the sponsor of racism.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s incredible to hear this whole incident laid out. This is really something that happened over two years ago, but the story essentially continues to this day. What have been the consequences for these workers as a result of these accusations?
Mr. Woodson: There is such a fear among the workers that are there because with the closing of factories all over the country, universities like that are a source of nice stable jobs for working class people. They get health benefits that are very generous, and so that is the main source of employment. That’s why they stay there for decades upon decades.
On the one hand, they are required to ensure that the students obeyed the state rules. For instance, you’re not allowed to come into the cafeteria or the dining hall without shoes on. Now, if a white worker approaches a black student who walks into the cafeteria without shoes on, who is going to raise issue with it? Because if they say anything, they’re going to be fearful of being called a “racist.” If they don’t follow the rules, they can lose their jobs for failure to enforce the rules. So it creates a level of uncertainty on everyone’s part.
Also, I think it’s unfortunate that we’ve created an environment where black and so-called “people of color” students feel so entitled and so privileged that they can posture and try to seek martyrdom on racial issues at the expense of hard working, honest Americans who just want to raise their families—and accuse them of racism. Every time there’s a George Floyd incident, it reminds people of that and they get renewed attacks. In fact, one of the cafeteria workers reported that someone called and threatened her life.
We really believe that Americans should stand up against this race grievance industry. We must confront the evil of racism regardless of who sponsors it. That is the message from the Woodson Center and 1776 Unites. All of our scholars, Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, all the prominent intellectuals who are part of our 1776 Unites are coming together, but we’re also now expanding it to everyone. We’re asking others to write letters to the president of Smith College voicing their opposition, but we also want you to financially support us. We’re going to be posting the GoFundMe information for these two workers, so that viewers can support people who just want to raise their families and not be injured.
Mr. Jekielek: The consequence of this for people who are accused, like these two workers, is they either lose their jobs or they retire quickly to avoid the stigma. There’s an unbelievable amount of stress. It’s one of the worst things to be accused of racism, one of the worst accusations, and it’s being thrown around like this so casually. I’m thinking about this whole movement of intellectuals that you’re describing, the 1776 Unites project. This is something that’s now going beyond celebrating 1776 as the founding of America and the values surrounding that. I remember we talked about that around the time when you launched this whole initiative. This is becoming something bigger than that now?
Mr. Woodson: Absolutely. We really think that what we’re witnessing today is an assault on the fundamental institutions and values of this country in the name of pursuit of social justice for blacks. I really think that the radical Left doesn’t give a damn about black folks at all, but they’re acting as parasites by taking the civil rights movement, the rich legacy of the civil rights movement, and using it as a surrogate for a weapon against this nation.
For instance, Black Lives Matter and other groups who responded with rioting about George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota,—85 percent of those rioters were not black— they were white. Although they were saying that they’re doing this in pursuit of justice for blacks, when they went to Portland, Oregon, and other cities, they quickly migrated away from just seeking justice for blacks to burning Bibles and burning the flag. They’re also saying that the Christian cross is a symbol of white supremacy. If you go on their website that they took down, they are anti-family. They’re saying that the nuclear family is Western and therefore, a symbol of colonialism and has to be opposed.
It’s very fascinating that what really enabled black America to achieve against the odds and undo slavery and Jim Crow 400 years after slavery, was the foundation of family faith, personal responsibility, and self-determination. Those were the foundational values, principles, and virtues that enabled black America to achieve against the odds and build institutions, banks, insurance companies, and hotels—that attitude of support for family. It is ironic that the radical Left is subverting those values upon which black America resisted oppression, and yet they’re saying that they’re doing this in the name of helping blacks.
But this latest incident at Smith College is but one iteration of that perversion. So to answer your question, 1776 Unites has to emerge as a force to push back against this perversion of civil rights, and we are trying to mobilize America to come together in the spirit of the civil rights movement renewed, so that we can begin again to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I really think they are Marxists and their agenda is really to subvert this country. They don’t care about black people. They don’t care about the very fact that teachers now are failing to teach children the Star-Spangled Banner. They’re denigrating all symbols.
Frederick Douglass’s statue was torn down. Another more outrageous example of the perversion is that one young man was writing an essay about Dr. King and it was forbidden because they said that Dr. King is banned because he used the word “Negro.” So white America is now going to define how it is proper for black folks to define themselves. Is Dr. King’s statue going to come down next? I’m really worried about this march towards the dissolution and denigration of the values of this nation, and we are going to be a force to push back against that.
Mr. Jekielek: Bob, you just mentioned something I want to build on a little bit. Actually, it’s something that you taught me that I couldn’t believe, but then I did my own fact check and it was quite remarkable. Under Jim Crow, black America was doing better than it is now, relatively speaking. It goes directly against a lot of these narratives that we’ve heard and I found that fascinating. I’m wondering if you can develop that a little for me.
Mr. Woodson: One of the biggest myths that is being perpetrated is that the decline that you see in our urban centers in black communities where there’s a 70 percent out-of-wedlock births and in some cases in New York up to 90 percent of young women under 24 years old, and the number of abortions is almost equal the number of live births— shows you the decline of the inner cities. What the Left is contending is that’s a consequence of the legacy of slavery and discrimination.
But what we’ve done in 1776 Unites is to look at the plight of blacks during the first 100 years after slavery, the century after slavery during the era of Jim Crow in education. From 1920 to 1940, we build 5000 Rosenwald-Booker T. Washington schools. Rosenwald was the CEO of Sears. He partnered with Booker T. Washington and put up $4 million dollars. The black community raised $4.6 million to match it, and they built 5000 Rosenwald schools. They were able to close the education gap from three years to six months in the course of 20 years.
We went from a 75 percent illiteracy rate after slavery, to 25 percent in less than 50 years—unprecedented in the world. Our scholars looked at the records of six major plantations, looking at the family composition of slaves, and found that 70 percent of all those slave families had a man and a woman raising children and they rushed to marry afterward. So there’s a whole history. We built colleges, universities. We have our own railroads.
But if you look at the inner cities today, you will see nothing but decline. What I say is when whites were at their worst, blacks were at their best. So it’s important for Americans to realize that the real cause of the decline has nothing to do with slavery or discrimination. It has everything to do with a perversion of federal policies generated in the 1960s that replaced the family with welfare and that promoted dependency. We spent $20 trillion on programs to aid the poor, with 70 percent of it going to professional providers of service. We monetize poverty and that’s why we have this disconnect between work and income.
Those leaders of those cities have all been led by liberal black Democratic politicians for the last 50 years. They use the whole institutional racism charge or systemic racism charge so that they can deflect attention away from important difficult questions. If racism was as pervasive as they say, explain why low income blacks are failing in systems run by their own people. When under segregation, we ran those institutions and we prospered.
One other point—we talked about the high incarceration rate. If you look at the turn of the century up until the 1960s, blacks were 13 percent of the population and 80 percent of the prison population were white men. Only 20 percent were black. But the prison population soared beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s. So it is important for us to report and respond to facts. Someone said, “If we do not rely on fact-based truth, then lies will become normal.”
I really think that it’s important to make sure that the police execute the laws fairly, because they have the power of the state and they should be held to a higher standard. What I find most troubling is that the only time that there is public outrage is when a white police officer kills or gets involved in the death of a black suspect, which only happens—I’m saying “only,” but I don’t mean to minimize it—less than 20 a year, if that many. But since George Floyd died, 64 blacks were killed by other blacks and many of them were small children. Yet, we don’t know the names of those children.
Again, I think the Left is exploiting this. They’re calling for defunding the police. We at Woodson Center brought together 2,500 black mothers, the voices of Black Mothers United. These mothers of fallen children are pushing back against defunding the police. They say, “We want more police. We want responsible policing in our community.” 82 percent of black people polled are against defunding the police, and many of the people who are advocating this don’t have to live with the consequence of their advocacy, like the chairman of the City Council of Los Angeles who passed a bill to defund the police, while she enjoyed police protection at her home.
Mr. Jekielek: We were talking about due process and looking at the facts, as you just mentioned. Of course, a trial should go through, justice should be served, due process should be followed. However, in these sorts of situations we’re describing, [there is] politicization of all of these issues of race and of police. I’ve seen in social media people saying anything less than a full guilty verdict will result in mass rioting and these kinds of things. I’m even wondering in the current situation how you could have due process happen at all? I don’t have an answer to this. I’m wondering if you’ve been thinking about it?
Mr. Woodson: I have, but I just think that the hard Left is looking for any reason to riot. They will use any excuse at all to riot. They don’t really care. They’ve been rioting every day in Portland, Oregon, and there’s no precipitating incident there. They’re tipping their hand right there. They don’t really care—they’re just looking for the right spark so that they can riot. The fact that they burned out all those black-owned businesses means this is an attack on capitalism and this is an attack on democracy. They’re using the cover of racial justice and they are really parasites.
That’s why I blame black leadership, the Congressional Black Caucus, the civil rights organization. Where are they in all of this? Why are they silent as the civil rights legacy is being perverted, debased, and debunked? Where are they? They are the ones who should be standing in front of those stores and saying, do not use justice for blacks as excuse to destroy this nation. That moral authority has to be withdrawn from them and only black America can withdraw that moral authority.
That’s why in the black community, it is important for people to step up and step forward and oppose the perversion of the civil rights legacy. We must take it back from the hard Left that has misappropriated that legacy and is using it against the values and virtues of this nation. We must take it back, and that’s what we’re trying to do with 1776 Unites.
We’re having an event on April 6 with J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy”, and Clarence Page, who are both raised in Ohio. We’re going there because we believe America has to desegregate poverty and de-racialize race. We hope by establishing a forum where blacks and whites can come together, to not talk about our differences but talk about a common ground, because the biggest challenge facing America is not racial—it’s class. It’s elites from both the Left and the Right against those who are marginalized as a consequence of their condition—not their race. So low-income blacks, low-income whites, and low-income Hispanics and others have more in common than they do in differences.
If we have to look at each other through the prism of race, it prevents us from coming up with effective solutions that will help uplift both of those communities. The goal of 1776 Unites is to provide the means for this nation to heal and build on 50 years of successfully fighting against racism and discrimination.
Build on what we’ve accomplished, and do not go back retroactively and condemn America for what it did. None of us wants to be judged by our birth defect or the worst that we ever did as a young person. We ought to be judged by the promise that we have We really think America’s interest is best served by setting aside race and beginning to promote remedies that reach across class and race lines to heal this nation.
Mr. Jekielek: Bob, 1776 Unites is a relatively recent initiative but you’ve actually been working on these issues with the Woodson Center for decades. As we finish up, I’m wondering if you could speak to that work, because it’s one of these things that I find too few people know about.
Mr. Woodson: What we’re trying to do at the Woodson Center and have been for 40 years is to work among the people suffering from problems, to help them to develop solutions to crime, violence and family dissolution by looking to the real experts. The sickest part of the body draws the strongest antibodies. We believe that these communities can be healed if we look in the right places for the right healing agents.
Grassroots leaders are people in these neighborhoods who live there. They are raising their families there. They are the ones providing leadership in developing solutions to problems in the community. They’re embedded. Low-income leaders are people who are embedded in low-income, high crime neighborhoods. Many of them are raising their children that are not dropping out of school or who are in jail or doing drugs. They have found a way to achieve against the odds, but a lot of their accomplishments go unnoticed, unrecognized, and therefore, underutilized.
So what we do is come in and provide support for these indigenous healing agents. All we need to do from the outside is bring resources to the table, but resources that are untapped, but not on top. We should not be directing what people do, but we must come alongside them because they are the healing agents. They are the social entrepreneurs and like a good venture capitalist, what they do is they bring capital and also they bring administrative knowledge so that the entrepreneur is able to take their invention from their garage to become a Fortune 500 company.
We need the moral equivalent of that in our social economy, of building on the strength and innovation of low-income people so that they can help develop cures for the problems of violence and family dissolution, so that we can then heal this nation from the inside out and the bottom up.
Mr. Jekielek: Bob, you’ve had incredible, incredible success stories which we’ve profiled in previous programs. I encourage people to go into the American Thought Leaders archive and look up some of the previous interviews with Bob, because some of that work is highlighted there. Bob, 1776 Unites has actually developed—I was just looking on the site—it’s been developing an educational curriculum. A number of interviews ago, I was asking, “Where is that educational curriculum?” I found it recently and I’m wondering if you could tell people where they could look this up and some examples of what’s in there?
Mr. Woodson: We have education curriculum. We have the first four lessons that we released several months ago. We had over 8000 downloads within a period of three weeks. What you will find are stories of courageous people who have achieved against the odds. Biddy Mason, an illiterate woman born into slavery in 1818, walked behind the wagon of a master all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah. She ended up being freed in Los Angeles and became an entrepreneur and died a millionaire and a philanthropist and the founder of the AME church. Her courageous journey is profiled in one of our curriculums. That’s just one example of what you’ll find in our curriculum. 1776Unites.com—you can go and download our curriculum.
Mr. Jekielek: Bob, any final thoughts before we finish up?
Mr. Woodson: This is a very troubled time and it looks bad, but I love this nation. My father fought and died as a veteran for this nation. I think our best days are ahead, but we should not despair. If people are saying they feel bad, I say remember David and Goliath. I remember who won that fight.
Mr. Jekielek: Bob Woodson, such a pleasure to have you on again.
Mr. Woodson: Thank you. Appreciate it.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.