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Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton helped establish the Chicago Panthers as an organization providing community services for the poor and brokered a treaty between the street gangs of the city — all before his twenty-first birthday.

Hampton was murdered by police on this date in 1969, shot down in his bed as he slept with his heavily pregnant girlfriend beside him.

Here’s Hampton, just weeks before he died, responding to the Days of Rage, a Weatherman riot in his hometown of Chicago.

“We believe that the Weatherman action is anarchistic, opportunistic, individualistic. It’s chauvinistic, it’s Custeristic. And that’s the bad part about it. It’s Custeristic in that its leaders take people into situations where the people can be massacred — and they call that a revolution. It’s nothing but child’s play, it’s folly. We think these people may be sincere but they’re misguided. They’re muddleheads and they’re scatterbrains.”


There’s a conspiracy theory going around the right-wing blogosphere that says that Obama “stole” votes in heavily Democratic precincts in heavily Democratic cities in heavily Democratic states. Why he’d do this isn’t clear — the electoral college chooses the president, so a few extra votes in states that are in the bag aren’t going to change the outcome — but the drum is being beaten louder and louder. It’s “evidence of massive voter fraud” that “could have impacted the election.” It’s “statistically impossible.” It’s proof that he stole the presidency.

And what’s this evidence? That in certain precincts in certain cities, Mitt Romney received no votes.

Now, let’s note at the outset that we’re talking about overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhoods populated overwhelmingly by people of color here. With Obama winning upwards of 95% of the black vote nationally, you’d expect his support in black areas of Democratic cities to be even higher. So the broad trends aren’t cause for alarm.

What’s curious, the conspiracists say, isn’t the landslide. It’s the unanimity — the fact that in 37 precincts in Chicago, 59 in Philadelphia, and about a hundred in Cleveland, Obama won every single vote cast. Here’s Mark Steyn of the National Review, quoting a commenter at a Chicago news station’s website:

Statistically, even if among 10′s of thousands of voters all wanted to vote for Obama, it would not be possible to receive 100% of the vote because at least a few would make a mistake and vote incorrectly for Romney.

A commenter at National Review picks up that ball and runs with it:

It’s not statistically probable that hundreds of thousands of voters in a single sample, would cast votes in such a homogeneous way, particularly when you account for the fact that voters aren’t infallible.

One of two things happened: Either there is some yet undiscovered process error that “accidentally” cast all votes for Obama, or there was intentional fraud or deceit Now, I know what direction I lean, but whatever the case is, there needs to be a robust and thorough investigation to determine if the failure was accidental or intentional.

But, to pretend there wasn’t some kind of failure, is anti-science.

So what’s the deal here? Was there a pool of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of urban voters in which not a single vote was cast for anyone but Obama?

Simply put, no.

Let’s take Chicago’s 6th Ward as an example.

Ward 6 went for Obama by an overwhelming margin this year. He received more than 99% of the votes cast, holding Romney to just 0.53% of the total. (Jill Stein and Gary Johnson did even worse.) But even in the 6th, Romney managed to get on the board in nearly every precinct.

There are 48 precincts in Ward 6, and Obama took the whole vote in just three of them. Romney managed to pull a single vote in another eight, and multiple votes in the remainder.

The thirty-seven Chicago precincts in which Obama won unanimous victories are scattered across thirteen wards, and the amount to less than 1.5% of the city’s more than 2,000 precincts. And if you have a guy regularly taking 99% of the vote in big swaths of a big city, there are going to be a few places where he hits 100%.

That’s it. That’s the whole story.

Sorry, guys.

A few weeks back, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the question of whether it’s constitutional to allow affirmative action in college admissions. That decision, in the case of Fisher v. Texas, will likely come down next spring.

Yesterday, however, a federal appeals court ruled on the related — but distinct — question of whether it’s constitutional to ban affirmative action in college admissions, and the differences between the two cases are fascinating … and revealing.

The issue of affirmative action’s constitutionality is usually framed as it is in Fisher v. Texas, as a matter of whether states can take race into account in admissions. In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled that they can, in limited circumstances, and the question at hand in Fisher is whether that will remain the law of the land. But in yesterday’s case out of Michigan, the court approached the issue from another perspective.

Michigan’s public higher education system employed affirmative action in admissions from the 1960s until 2006, when a state referendum banned the use of race as a factor in the selection of students. What the appeals court ruled yesterday is that this referendum, and the resulting constitutional amendment, uniquely harms students of color.

“No other admissions criterion,” the judges wrote, not “grades, athletic ability, geographic diversity, or family alumni connections,” is barred from consideration in the selection process. And “Proposal 2 entrenched this prohibition at the state constitutional level, thus preventing public colleges and universities or their boards from revisiting this issue — and only this issue” in the absence of a constitutional amendment.

The court’s ruling in this case recognizes that affirmative action is an uncontroversial reality in the United States for all sorts of students. If you’re from a poor and/or remote part of the state, you’re welcome to a leg up. If you’re a great point guard applying to a school with a lousy basketball team, that’s wonderful. If your grandfather was a dean or your mom donated a million dollars, the school is welcome to take that into consideration. But in a state like Michigan, the college can’t give you the same consideration because you’re a member of a racial or ethnic group with a history of discrimination and a resultant underrepresentation in the student body.

The “simple but central principle” at stake here, as the court recognized, “is that the Equal Protection Clause prohibits requiring racial minorities to surmount more formidable obstacles than those faced by other groups to achieve their political objectives.”

Kudos to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. They got this one exactly right.

Earlier this morning, the UberFacts Twitter account posted the following tweet:

I learned about it a little while later because of a weird spike in my traffic — though the story is well documented and has appeared in a number of scholarly works it’s not particularly well known, and a post that I wrote about it earlier this year happens to show up near the top of Google’s searches for various phrases relating to it.

Anyway, like I say, it’s true. The FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover’s top deputy, sent Martin Luther King a blackmail package in November 1964 along with a letter urging him to kill himself to avoid the shame of the public disclosure of “your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self.”

The letter was timed to arrive shortly before King was scheduled to travel to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

The transcript of Wednesday’s oral argument was released that afternoon, and it’s fascinating reading. So fascinating, in fact, that I think I’m going to make a project of writing about it next week — a series of posts excerpting and discussing the most interesting exchanges.

In the meantime, I wanted to just highlight a couple of things.

First, the justices were clearly paying attention to the “standing” issue — the question of whether Abigail Fisher has a case she’s properly situated to bring before the Court. You can’t just decide to sue the government because you don’t like something they did. (If you could, everybody would be suing all the time, and the court system would collapse.) You have to show that you’ve been harmed in a way that the courts can fix, and the standards for what kinds of harm count in which circumstances are narrow and complicated.

I’ll go into this in a little more detail next week, but given the way I broke down the case’s possible outcomes in my last post, it’s worth underscoring that the Supremes may just rule that Fisher wasn’t harmed, or can’t be made whole, and show her the door. If that happens, we’ll go through all this again with another lawsuit brought by a better plaintiff at some point in the next few years — possibly with a different lineup of justices on the Court, and almost certainly with Elena Kagan able to participate fully.

Second, Justice Sotomayor was a pretty strong questioner in this, her first campus affirmative action case. Given that she got into Princeton as an affirmative action admit, and that she once described herself as “a perfect affirmative action baby,” that’s perhaps not surprising. But it seems to me that the impact of Sotomayor’s advocacy, and her life experience, may be felt more in the next phases of the process than it was in oral arguments. Sonia Sotomayor would not be sitting on the Supreme Court today if affirmative action didn’t exist, and that fact renders the Court’s dilemma in this case more concrete than it otherwise might be.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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