A multi-racial army of soldiers from the civil rights battles of the 1960s gathered at Peoples Congregational Church in the District last weekend for one final tribute to James Forman, the former executive director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who died in December of cancer.
While SNCC veterans such as Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) were expected to be there, also seated in the pews were lawmakers such as Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Mayor Anthony Williams (D).
Mourners attending a service for civil rights leader James Forman included, from left, Dorie Ladner; Chuck McDew, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and D.C. Council member Marion Barry. The service was at Peoples Congregational Church.
(Hamil Harris -- The Washington Post)
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"It is important to remember James Forman because of the modern role he played for civil rights," Bond said in an interview. "He is relatively unknown because he wasn't the guy leading the march or conducting the press conference. He was a man who made it possible for others to do that."
Joyce Ladner, a former SNCC member who went on to become acting president of Howard University and a member of the D.C. financial control board, said people need to understand that SNCC used different tactics from those of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists.
"We were the shock troops. We were the Green Berets of the civil rights movement," Ladner said. "You can see that it had a powerful impact on people's lives. Here are people in their 60s who came back together."
Marion Barry, former District mayor and now a D.C. Council member (D-Ward 8), said he would never have come to Washington had Forman not hired him to run SNCC's D.C. field office. Norton said Forman "stayed on the freedom training" after the civil rights era by remaining in the District and fighting for statehood.
Forman surprised members of the D.C. delegation this past summer when he showed up in Boston for the Democratic National Convention, even though he was sick and didn't have much money.
Calling Forman a "24-7 organizer," Barry said Forman is probably even now organizing the "angels in heaven" and the "devils in hell" because "he felt for his people."
"He was my friend, my brother, my mentor," Barry said. "He gave me inspiration."
The memorial service ended with SNCC veterans holding hands and joining with the Freedom Singers in one of their standards, "We'll Never Turn Back."
Many were moved to tears. As she left the sanctuary, Ladner, who now lives in Florida, said, "I will not see many of these people ever again."
No Longer Local
Gambling impresario Shawn Scott and his associates in the U.S. Virgin Islands have dropped all pretense of local involvement in their campaign to bring slot machines to the nation's capital. According to reports filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance earlier this month, a political action committee formed to support the D.C. gambling initiative is being operated directly out of Scott's offices in Frederiksted, St. Croix.
The offshore takeover of the Citizens Committee for D.C. Video Lottery Terminal Initiative follows the resignations in December of all of the PAC's local officers. Chairman Pedro Alfonso, treasurer Vickey Wilcher and record keeper Margaret Gentry abandoned their posts after Scott and his associates quietly launched a fresh petition drive over the Christmas holidays in hopes of gathering enough signatures to win a spot on the 2006 ballot.
The drive came months after D.C. elections officials had barred the initiative from the 2004 ballot. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 23 on whether those officials overstepped their authority.
After Alfonso, Wilcher and Gentry left the political action committee, Clint Hyatt, a Louisiana man who works for Scott associate Rob Newell, registered as the committee's treasurer. Hyatt recently moved to the District and registered as a D.C. voter.
Meanwhile, the latest campaign finance report shows that Atlantic Northstar LLC, one of dozens of limited partnerships formed by Scott and his allies, has taken over the daily operations of the committee. Since October, Atlantic Northstar has pumped nearly $300,000 into the PAC, paying most of its bills directly, rather than funneling the cash through a local bank account.
For example, Atlantic Northstar directly paid dozens of D.C. residents hundreds of dollars for circulating petitions in December. The firm also delegated administrative tasks for the PAC to a variety of Scott employees in the Virgin Islands, among them Hoolae Paoa, a Hawaiian man who has a 21-year criminal history, including convictions for assault and felony theft.
At the same time, the Virgin Islands crew has let some local bills languish. Alfonso, who had been receiving a monthly consulting fee of $8,000, is still owed $16,000, according to the campaign finance report. And the law firm of John Ray, the former city council member who acted for months as the public face of the slots initiative, is still owed more than $533,000, according to the report.
Attorneys for Scott, an entrepreneur who has failed to obtain gambling licenses in five states, say he plans to aggressively pursue his dream of opening a slot machine parlor in Washington, even if he must launch a new petition drive to put the matter before D.C. voters. If approved at the ballot box in 2006, Scott's proposal would authorize him to install and operate 3,500 slot machines on a 14-acre site in Northeast Washington at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road.