James T. Rapier, an African-American, born to a wealthy planter in Florence, Alabama was a well-educated man attending college both at Montreal College in Canada and the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Rapier was elected to the United States Congress in 1872, as a Representative of the Second Congressional District of Alabama.
On February 4, 1875, Rapier delivered a speech on the floor of the Congress in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. As he spoke of the conservative party’s platform on the subject, which expressly included an endorsement and a readiness to obey the Constitution of the United States and the state of Alabama, including the laws passed in pursuance thereof; he made the following statement:
“The professed belief and practice are sadly at variance, and must be intelligently harmonized before I can be made to believe that they are willing to acknowledge that I have any rights under the Constitution or elsewhere.”
Rapier was compelled to address the glaring hypocrisy that existed between the stated belief in the principles of equal protection and due process and the practice of behavior diametrically opposed to such beliefs by his white colleagues and their constituents.
Over the past 3 years, I have observed a more contemporaneous yet analogous contradiction between a professed belief and behavior. We have all heard our public officials and private friends make the statement; “I respect the office of the Presidency, not the man.”
Over the last couple of days, the lightning quick news cycle has been inundated with pictures of Arizona Governor Brewer wagging her finger in the President’s face, calling to mind images of a mother scolding a child, or other images with significantly more prejudicial overtones.
In the first state of the union speech given by this President, a U. S. Congressman, in complete disregard for the decorum of the place, office, institution, or moment yelled at the President and called him a “liar.” More recently, I was frankly stunned when Congressman Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, thought it appropriate to expound upon the dimensions of the First Lady of the United States’ backside.
The typical response to these antics, by those who choose to defend them, is a comparison to the blatant disrespect shown to President George W. Bush. I see 2 very distinct differences. Two of these antics have undeniable racial connotations to them, Governor Brewer’s finger wagging and Representative Sensenbrenner’s observation about the First Lady’s physique. Equally as important, all 3 of these antics were perpetrated by public officials charged with a heightened set of responsibilities than the average citizen.
So when the spectre of race is raised as part of the discussion of the treatment of this President and people are so quick to readily dismiss the treatment as political, perhaps, the behavior of our public officials is the most telling and insightful retort. Will they continue to make politically correct statements about their respect for the office, but yet refuse to either publicly condemn their wayward colleagues or censure them?
It seems that just like in 1875, ” the professed belief and practice are sadly at variance.” Before I can believe that this vitriol from elected public officials has nothing to do with race, I will continue to insist upon the intelligent harmony between professed belief and the practice of our public officials, so eloquently requested by U.S. Representative James Rapier of his colleagues in 1875.
Could it be that so little has changed in 135 years plus? I would like to think not, but the public officials keep me wishing for harmony of belief and practice!
Read, learn, and share……Have a Family Meeting!
C. Randolph Keller
2012 All Rights Reserved.