Ellis Cose

Stories by Ellis Cose

  • Ellis Cose on Obama and Islam

    We haven't fully accepted the notion that all religions should have equal access to the Oval Office.
  • Cose: The Lessons of Rwanda

    The important thing is not how quickly the country is healing but how easily it descended into madness.
  • Cose: A Dispute Over The Dream

    This election is about making history; each campaign sees the other one as an obstacle to that effort.
  • Obama-Carter Reality Check

    Obama's candidacy, even if he loses, has already had a huge impact on American perceptions.
  • Justice on Drug Sentencing

    The Supreme Court's ruling on federal cocaine sentences could be a turning point—toward justice and righting an old wrong.
  • Bringing Refugees to College

    Lorna Solis fled Nicaragua. Now she's forming a foundation to help other refugees come to U.S. universities.
  • Why I Write

    I pondered why it was that my city, my world, was so divided by color.
  • Ignore the Noose Makers

    Because of lynching's violent, racist history, the mere invocation of it can make people insanely angry.
  • Little Rock, 50 Years Later

    The image is among the most iconic in civil-rights history: a dignified black girl in a prim, white-and-black dress marches through a hostile mob intent on keeping her from school. Fifty years after it first flashed around the world, that image retains its power—evoking sorrow, even anger, that one so young would face such cruelty. Now a 65-year-old woman, Elizabeth Eckford still bears scars from that long, lonely walk as one of the Little Rock Nine: teenagers charged with integrating that city's finest high school in 1957. "I'm the only one who says I wouldn't do it again," said Eckford in an interview at the Little Rock courthouse where she works as a probation officer.This month, Little Rock will commemorate the date, 50 years ago, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to escort black children to Central High. In that moment, Little Rock became a synonym for hate. After claiming that desegregation would lead to violence, Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the...
  • Talk Transcript: Wolffe on Obama and Race

    His is a peculiarly American paradox: Barack Obama is both transracial and largely defined by race. He stands with one foot in a longed-for postracial future and the other in America's thoroughly racialized past. That reality, along with his stirring message of hope, gives his candidacy much of its power. It also presents Obama with a challenge: to win the presidency, he must convince white Americans he speaks for them, while convincing Americans of color he is uniquely their own.That Obama cannot take the "minority vote" for granted is a reflection of progress in America's struggle to get beyond race. It also is a reflection of the unprecedented diversity among Democratic presidential candidates. With a black man, a Latino—and a white woman, of course—in the race, clan solidarity is less of an issue for minority voters than at points in the past. "Usually, when you have one [person of color] in a contest, there is a rush to support them ... but some of that has been lost," observes...
  • Cose: The Supreme Court's Worrying Stance on Discrimination

    In the end, Lilly Ledbetter was just too late. her complaint was "untimely." So declared Samuel Alito in a 5-4 decision explaining why the Supreme Court was rejecting her discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Alito did not dispute that Ledbetter might have been wronged during the many years she worked as a supervisor for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.; it's conceivable she would have been better paid had she not been targeted after rejecting the sexual advances of a superior. But since the alleged offenses took place years ago and the supposed offender had died, she was wrong to expect help at this juncture. Instead of waiting until she retired in 1998, she should have filed within six months "after each allegedly discriminatory employment decision was made and communicated to her."It was a harsh and rigid reading of the law—one with which Ruth Bader Ginsburg forcefully disagreed. In her dissent read from the bench, Ginsburg accused the majority of being...
  • Cose: Why Clarence Thomas Can’t Let Go

    Clarence Thomas is arguably the most powerful black man in America, one whose position as a Supreme Court justice merits more than a modicum of respect. Yet as authors Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher make clear in "Supreme Discomfort," a new biography, Thomas has yet to get his due.Though most Italian-Americans are liberals, "they're all proud of me," conservative Justice Antonin Scalia tells the authors. Scalia's implicit question is: why do blacks not feel the same way about Thomas? Why can't Americans accept and celebrate him? For a country desperately trying to rid itself of a legacy of prejudice and discrimination, such questions are anything but trivial.That Thomas is even on the court says much about how America has changed. He is only the second black Supreme Court justice. But instead of following in the footsteps of his predecessor and standing up for the civil-rights establishment, he has become a reliable vote for the conservative right—as he demonstrated last week in...
  • Starr: Don Imus Is Us

    There is a predictable pattern to these things. Someone prominent—almost always a male—says something indisputably vile. And when his world explodes as a result, he belatedly begs forgiveness.Don Imus, of course, is the latest example of an über-alpha male stuffing his foot in his mouth. It's unclear why he thought it funny to call female basketball players "nappy-headed hos." What is clear is that they were not amused. Their emotion-filled press conference fueled a bonfire of indignation that ultimately engulfed all the efforts to preserve Imus's reputation and career.Foremost among those trying to save him were the well-placed journalists and politicians who loved to go on Imus's show. Among his outspoken defenders—all of whom seemed to be other white males—was presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani, who may be something of an expert when it comes to racially loaded slurs. In 1992, the future mayor of New York egged on and bonded with a mob of cops demonstrating against then...
  • Restoring Voting Rights for Felons

    It is the rare individual whose major concern upon release from prison is whether he or she retains the right to vote. Ex-offenders tend to be more concerned with more mundane matters—such as obtaining proper identification, getting a job and finding a suitable place in the post-prison universe.  Still, in today’s world the right to vote is inseparable from the right to participate fully in society. And a state cannot forever deny that right without also denying the possibility of redemption and rehabilitation.Charlie Crist, Florida’s Republican governor, acknowledged as much last week when he persuaded a majority of his fellow state clemency board members to ease the way back to the voting booth for former felons. The plan—a reversal of the policies followed by Jeb Bush and other former Florida governors, going back to 1868—was touted as something of an Easter gift for Florida’s once-errant citizens.“It is significant that we visit this issue during Holy Week, a week about...
  • Ellis Cose: American-Born, But Still 'Alien'?

    When a pregnant woman "waits on the border," as Leo Berman puts it, for her chance to cross illegally to give birth in the United States, she is "committing a crime"— one for which neither she nor her child should be rewarded. Berman, a Texas state representative, feels so strongly about this that he is prepared to relegate U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants to second-class status. "Our most precious benefit is U.S. citizenship," he said in his office in the capitol. "And U.S. citizens should be concerned if we are giving it away 350,000 times a year" to children born to undocumented mothers.Berman, a Republican, has authored a bill that would compel Texas to deny benefits to children of what he calls "illegal aliens." He knows the bill, which flies in the face of legal precedent, would face immediate challenge. "We want to go into federal court," Berman says. "The mail on this is running 50 to 1 in support." The courts, he believes, would agree with his contention that...
  • Cose on Black-Asian Tensions

    That an Asian-American writer is confident enough of his place in American society to publicly advocate racism against blacks may represent progress of a sort.  It’s hard, however, to find anything else good to say about Kenneth Eng or his column, entitled “Why I Hate Blacks,” published in the February 23 edition of AsianWeek. In that essay, Eng argued that blacks are “weak-willed,” anti-Asian bigots—and, therefore, suitable objects of discrimination.The column, predictably, set off a tempest that culminated last week with calls for the heads of the author and his editor. The first loud objections came from a coalition of Asian-American notables, who were quickly joined by a multiracial group of activists and public officials—who complained most vociferously in California, the San Francisco-based weekly’s home. By week’s end, Eng, a 22-year-old self-styled “Asian Supremacist” and “God of the Universe,” had been dismissed; the newspaper had apologized; and thoughtful people across...
  • Opinion: A Race Away From The Past

    When Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, he resembled Barack Obama in some striking respects. A charismatic and compelling figure in his early 40s, Jackson leapt into the contest and forced America to wrestle with questions of political access and equal opportunity. In many important ways, however, Barack Obama is no Jesse Jackson--and that is a key to Obama's political appeal. Whereas Jackson was a fully formed public figure--with all the baggage that entails--Obama is a work in progress who has the ability to embrace nearly whatever qualities he chooses.Before setting his sights on the White House, Jackson had been a major presence on the national stage for nearly two decades. He was "bloodied up from the civil-rights battle," as he told me last week, and already had won the allegiance of many blacks and the enmity of many whites.Obama, in contrast, "did not come up through the ranks in our community," says Jackson. Instead he "fell out of the sky in Boston," a reference to...
  • Keeping Watch on the Border Wars

    For all the noise over immigration this year, the issue ultimately fizzled in Congress--not for lack of passion but for lack of anything approximating a shared vision. Republican House members envisioned a world in which America's southern border would be protected by a 700-mile-long fence. In that world, undocumented immigrants would be criminally prosecuted and people giving them aid would face criminal penalties as well. "If we didn't invite you, get out," was the clear message sent by the House bill authored by Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner.Senators were more compassionate, or perhaps simply more pragmatic. Their proposed legislation also aimed to tighten the border; but it welcomed foreign guest workers and offered many of the 10 million or so undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. The House version "would only drive illegal immigrants further into the shadows," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.Congress's inertia on the issue notwithstanding, 2006 still...
  • Sorry Isn't Just Another Word

    Never apologize and never explain" may have been a fine creed for the cavalry officer played by John Wayne in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," released in 1949. But today, public figures reject such counsel out of hand. When caught with their better judgment down, they typically beg forgiveness, albeit with a caveat: "I'm so sorry I offended you, but that wasn't the real me."When Flip Wilson declared "The Devil made me do it" years ago, he was trying to be funny. MichaelRichards, explaining how he was caught on tape acting like a KKK recruiter on crack, apparently was not. Nor was Mel Gibson, George Allen, Ted Haggard or Mark Foley. They, instead, were trying to make us understand how decent folks like themselves could have gone so wrong with America watching.Public apologies can do some good--and not only for the career of the offender. No country has more compellingly shown that than South Africa, which some 10 years ago, as it emerged from the dark era of apartheid, convened its Truth...
  • The Color of Change

    Affirmative action may not be the most divisive issue on the ballot, but it remains an unending source of conflict and debate--at least in Michigan, whose citizens are pondering a proposal that would ban affirmative action in the public sector. No one knows whether other states will follow Michigan's lead, but partisans on both sides see the vote as crucial--a decision that could either help or hinder a movement aimed at ending "preferential treatment" programs once and for all.Ward Connerly has no doubts about the outcome. "There may be some ups and downs ... with regard to [affirmative action], but it's ending," says Connerly, the main mover behind the Michigan proposal, who pushed almost identical propositions to passage in California 10 years ago and in Washington state two years later. His adversaries are equally passionate. "I just want to shout from the rooftops, 'This isn't good for America'," says Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan. She sees no need...
  • The 'Bradley Effect'

    Is Harold Ford Jr. really doing as well as the polls suggest? Is he conceivably on his way to becoming the first black Southern senator since Reconstruction? The answer may well be yes, but Ford can hardly take that for granted. As black candidates reaching out to largely white constituencies have discovered in the past, when it comes to measuring political popularity there are lies, damned lies--and polls, on which they rest their fate at their peril.The phenomenon was first widely noted in 1982, when Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley lost a squeaker of a race for governor after being widely projected as the winner. Douglas Wilder also came up against the "Bradley Effect" when he barely won the 1989 contest for governor of Virginia, after leading comfortably in the polls.Ronald Walters of the University of Maryland was at Wilder's hotel as a projected easy victory turned into a nail-biter. That is a night "I'll never forget," says Walters, who thinks it "naive" to believe that things...
  • Walking the World Stage

    It is not too early to pronounce Barack Obama a political phenomenon unlike any previously seen on the American scene. He proved that last week in Kenya, where he was received in a manner more befitting a messiah than a junior senator bearing nothing more than opinions and good cheer. Obama began his two-week African odyssey in South Africa and ended it in Chad, but Kenya (the only country in which his wife and two young daughters accompanied him) was at its literal and emotional center. For it was in Kenya (in a village called Kogelo, Alego, in a district called Siaya), where paternal roots run unbreakably deep, that his father was born. The Luo tribesmen there claim Obama as one of their own; and as his motorcade passed through Kisumu en route to his ancestral village, thousands lined the path.They wore Obama T shirts and Obama caps, and waved Obama flags. Many climbed trees to catch a glimpse. Others sang songs in his honor. "He's our brother. He's our son," said one man in the...
  • Black versus Brown

    Leticia Vasquez calls hers a "typical immigrant story." Her parents, poor strivers from Mexico, raised five splendidly thriving children--one of whom, Leticia, 34, is now mayor of Lynwood, Calif., the small town where she grew up. It is a heartwarming tale that readily brings to mind a host of clichés about the American dream. But the story does not end with wine, roses and applause. Instead it segues into the troubled terrain of race, corruption and polarization.Of late, Vasquez has been pilloried by fellow Mexican-Americans for being--in her estimation, at least--too sympathetic to black constituents. Her foes, whose attempt to recall her failed last week when their petitions were found to be lacking, claim race has nothing to do with their discontent. Armando Rea, a former mayor and prominent critic, says the problem is that Vasquez, a "pathological liar," is intent on levying taxes the community cannot afford. Fliers circulated by recall proponents also portray her as the puppet...