by Max Brantley
Historically black Philander Smith College had an episode Monday night of its Bless the Mic lecture series, in which President Walter Kimbrough brings in famous people to talk. Many are controversial. Anne Coulter, etc.
Last night, luck had it that an appearance had been arranged months ago -- before town halls broke out -- to hear from Michael Steele, the national Republican chairman. Nice irony that Steele, who has decried federal stimulus payments to campuses like Philander (which used its money to upgrade lighting), got a handsome Philander stimulus -- a speaker's fee -- to appear.
Nice irony, too, that a member of the audience got ejected from the hall when he tried to follow up a question to Steele about health care legislation. What would M.L. King say, the questioner asked, about GOP opposition? The account in the Democrat-Gazette doesn't indicate that the questioner was unduly disruptive.
Now I'm in receipt of an e-mail this morning from the ejected questioner.
In short, Matt White of Little Rock says he was tossed out of a public meeting because he tried to followup a critical question of the Republican national chairman. Imagine what Fox News would say if this happened to a teabagger at a town hall meeting. The video comes from Jason Tolbert, the hardest working man in blogdom.
What say you, Philander? (UPDATE: See college response at bottom of jump material.)
White's account is on the jump:
My name is Matt White and I run the White Water Tavern here in Little Rock. ..
I was ESCORTED out of Michael Steele's lecture at Philander Smith for simply attempting to reply to a remark that he spoke directly towards me.
I sat quietly through Mr. Steele's entire lecture, which, if my memory serves correct, did not mention a single word about health care reform. His speech was predominantly framed around the struggles that African Americans have overcome throughout American history, and informed students that there was still a lot of racism out there today, but that it is of a much more subtle nature. ( I thought that this was particularly ironic, considering his very recent dismissal of President Carter's remarks concerning the elements of racism in some opposition to President Obama. ) Mr. Steele mentioned Dr. King again, and shortly thereafter, in accordance with the nature of the " Hip Hop Lecture Series " basically proceeded to say that African Americans needed to start working on accumulating wealth like the rapper JAY Z, because that's what it's all about. I found this to be extremely offensive and shallow. ( As if JAY Z is really the best role model for the African American youth; he developed some of that early wealth by selling crack. Also, as if accumulating wealth is really what it's all about. Last time I checked, that's not something that Martin Luther King would agree with on any level. )
I was the third person to get to ask Chairman Steele a question. I stepped to the mic and said:
" Hello. You mentioned the great, great Martin Luther King several times in your remarks tonight. Dr. King was loved for his sense empathy and compassion. Poor and working class folks are hurting in this country, sir. So I am curious, in all seriousness, what do you think Dr. King would think about your party's current attempts to block health care reform? Because I think that he would be ashamed. "
The crowd, which had been alarmingly docile and agreeable the entire evening, burst into applause as soon as I said this. Steele immediately turned on me and started verbally pushing me around, in classic political form.
He started saying something to the effect that " I don't know what you mean about us blocking health care reform, because the last time I checked, it took 60 votes to pass a bill..." he kept talking, somewhat bullishly, and totally not addressing the fact that Republican are a major roadblock to health care for all right now. I stood there quietly as he attempted to dress me down. At one point, I shook my head, and he remarked, " I don't know why you're shaking your head. "
When I said " I am shaking my head because, " they cut my mic before the rest of the words came out. A security guard immediately grabbed my arm and began escorting me out of the building in front of everybody in the hall. Folks began yelling and clapping. At no point in the night did I ever raise voice or act in a disrespectful manner. Once outside, the guards told me that they were escorting me off of the property. I told them that I couldn't leave because my ride was still inside. At this point, several older folks, including a professor at the school, came to my defense and told the guards that I hadn't done anything out of line and that I was merely speaking the truth. They walked out in protest.
Several sources filmed the entire scene, including KHTV, Channel 11. I thought that it might be worth tracking down the footage, perhaps not. I have seen some other footage of Steele being challenged at recent town halls and thought that it was pretty interesting; it might of viral use and interest in exposing the hypocrisy of these people. Not to mention the absurdity of being removed from what's supposed to be a thought provoking lecture series for respectfully challenging the speaker...
keep the faith,
UPDATE: Former Appeals Court Judge Wendell Griffen was in the crowd. He writes:
I attended the Michael Steele Bless the Mic presentation, witnessed the exchange between Steele and the questioner who was ejected, and agree that ejection was unnecessary. The better course would have been for Steele or the student moderator to simply thank the questioner for his initial question and call on the next person in the interest of allowing more people to pose questions to Steele.
The questioner was not unruly, disruptive, or disrespectful; he just tried to ask a follow-up question. That may have been contrary to the Q and A format, but it wasn't deserving of being escorted from the auditorium.
New Millennium Church
STATEMENT FROM SERICIA COLE, PHILANDER SMITH SPOKESWOMAN
First of all, please let your readers know that Dr. Kimbrough was unaware of the incident because he was not in attendance. He was flying back from Alabama, having attended his father-in-law’s funeral earlier in the day. He did make it to the auditorium just as Steele was responding to the last questioner of the evening.
As for the “ejection,” the decision to escort Mr. White from the auditorium was made by our chief of security who felt that Mr. White’s emotions were running high, so in an effort to be safe rather than sorry, and to maintain what was otherwise a very peaceful and informative lecture, Mr. White was escorted away from the microphone.
Mr. White’s question was a good one – and in no way out of bounds. We would never attempt to censor anyone’s question because this is one of the primary purposes of the lecture series: to expose our students to different schools of thought and diverse perspective on critical issues.
However, it was the call of the chief of security to escort him away from the microphone, and those of us inside the auditorium were not even aware that he was asked to leave the property.
Mr. White is welcome back to attend any of our lectures, and we apologize that his experience last night was marred last night by our attempt to maintain a safe and peaceful environment foremost for our students.