W.Va. NAACP leader gives state 'D' in civil rights

January 14, 2001

W.Va. NAACP leader gives state 'D' in civil rights

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

Jim TolbertCHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Today is Martin Luther King Day, but Jim Tolbert won't be easily impressed by remembrances people may make.

To Tolbert, many of the celebrations of the great civil rights leader will be nothing more than a charade.

People will sing King's favorite hymns in church this week, and in schools, students will learn about King's trials and tribulations in his attempt to gain equal rights for blacks, Tolbert said.

But after that, King's name will hardly be mentioned, said Tolbert, a Charles Town, W.Va. resident and president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

"It will be forgotten about until 2002 and I think that's just a desecration of his memory," Tolbert said in an interview Sunday.


All the while, challenges facing minorities continue to mount, according to Tolbert. Minorities are feeling a high level of "disgust" with the Bush administration, particularly Bush's selection of John Ashcroft for Attorney General, Tolbert said.

Not since the nomination of Robert Bork for Supreme Court judge has there been so much backlash over a presidential nomination, Tolbert said.

Leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are strongly urging all chapters of the organization to put strong pressure on their respective representatives in Congress to oppose the nomination of Ashcroft, Tolbert said.

Ashcroft has come under criticism from liberal organizations who say his conservative ideology might interfere with the attorney general's duties to enforce the civil rights of people.

Ashcroft told a conservative South Carolina college two years ago that "we have no king but Jesus." And a recent CNN-Time poll says people are interested in hearing about Ashcroft's efforts to prevent a black judge from being appointed to a federal court, among other issues.

"Then to stick him in a job like that," said Tolbert, referring to Ashcroft's attorney general nomination. "I mean this is just going to be terrible for the minorities in this country," Tolbert said.

If he had to grade the progress of civil rights at the state level, Tolbert said he would give West Virginia a "D."

Allegations of police brutality like the indictment of three Berkeley County deputies last week, reluctance in the state to develop a police review board and slow advances for blacks in higher education are among the issues bothering Tolbert.

Last week a Berkeley County grand jury indicted Berkeley County Sheriff's deputies Sgt. Johnny Vanorsdale, Cpl. Ron Gardner and Deputy Christopher McCulley, charging them with beating Todd Rankin.

Rankin's attorney, Laura Rose, has alleged that Rankin was beaten after sheriff's deputies stopped his brother's truck in which he was riding Jan. 17 last year.

Rankin, who had to be forced to lie down to be handcuffed, spent 10 days in the hospital with a collapsed lung and a fractured rib, according to hospital and police records.

Tolbert said the case and others like it in recent years are strong evidence that a police review board is needed. A police review board, which would investigate allegations of police brutality, would be made up of a cross-section of citizens, police, civil rights groups and prosecuting and defense attorneys, said Del. Dale Manuel D-Jefferson, who has been pushing the proposal.

Manuel said it is important to have such a board if people believe a case of police brutality is not being handled properly. In some police departments, such cases are investigated internally.

Tolbert said he is troubled by the fact that it took a year to bring attention to the incident involving Rankin. If the deputies are convicted of the charges, it will be clear that the sheriff at the time should have acted quicker, Tolbert said.

Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith has said he believes the case was completely mishandled. Smith said he believes Rose should have filed a formal complaint, but since she did not, Smith has asked the FBI to investigate.

Also on the state level, Tolbert said he believes the state needs to act faster to upgrade West Virginia State College - a predominantly black school - to university status.

Most land-grant schools like West Virginia State College, located near Charleston, W.Va., have already been elevated to university status, Tolbert said.

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