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Other segments from the episode on January 13, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 13, 2003: Interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton; Review of Joseph Arthur's "Redemption’s son.”


DATE January 13, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Eleanor Holmes Norton discusses her congressional
career, her chairmanship at the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission and civil rights

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is the subject of the new biography "Fire in
My Soul," about her life in the civil rights movement and Congress. The
author, Joan Steinau Lester, says she wanted to find out how Norton escaped
the limitations typically imposed on women to become a national figure.
Norton is the congressional representative from Washington, DC, the place
where her great-grandfather settled after he escaped from slavery in Virginia.
She was brought up in the middle class while Washington was still segregated.
When she attended Antioch College, she headed its chapter of the NAACP. In
1970, after working as a civil rights lawyer for the ACLU, she became New York
City's first woman to serve as the commissioner of human rights. Under
President Carter she was the first woman to chair the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, where she was instrumental in writing the sexual
harassment guidelines. She's served in Congress since 1990.

We talked first about growing up in segregated Washington, DC.

In the biography of you, you say middle-class parents in Washington, DC, when
you were growing up, went to great pains to indoctrinated their black children
to mitigate the effects of segregation. Can you talk about the race
consciousness you were brought up with as a child?

Delegate ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (Washington, DC): Yes, I was brought up to
believe that the white people in the District, many of them had really come
from Maryland and Virginia, some of them had come rural places, were not very
sophisticated people, and that people who regarded us as inferior, we who had
Howard University, where many of our parents had gone to school, we who had
educated people in our community, we who had Dunbar High School, the college
preparatory high school that sent so many people away to college. It is we
who should understand that these folks, many of them less educated than we,
were to be pitied. And certainly their notion that we were inferior was to
make up for the fact that they lacked much of what we had struggled to get.
And I do put an emphasis on struggled.

GROSS: You graduated from Dunbar High School at the top of your class, and
this was a special college preparatory school. You were in the last
segregated class to graduate. When you went to Antioch, as a freshman at
Antioch, you were exposed, for the first time, to the idea of the Holocaust;
you hadn't heard about that before. And you say in the biography of you that
it drove home to you how sequestered your segregated world and your education
had been. And I'm wondering if there were other examples like that, where as
excellent as your education was, there was certain things you realized you
didn't know about that, that you had been isolated from when you entered

Delegate NORTON: Well, at Antioch, where my peers were young people who had
gone to Bronx High School of Science and schools like music and art in New
York, people who'd come from the very best public schools in the United
States, in a real sense put my own education in some context. I knew it was
good; it was good for a segregated education. It wasn't as good academically
as it should have been, and it certainly hadn't exposed me to the world.

The clearest indication of that is that no educated person, certainly from a
top-rated high school, should have been able to graduate from high school
without knowing about the Holocaust. Understand, by this time, the Holocaust
isn't even that old--we're talking 1955--and yet that had happened to me. And
while Dunbar had provided me with a good enough background so that even the
gaps in knowledge didn't hold me back particularly because the grounding had
been so good, but the notion that something as consequential as the Holocaust
had not ever been mentioned was astounding to me, because the notion of six
million people being murdered for their ethnicity struck me right in the gut.
I understood it immediately, because I was a black girl. And I didn't see how
any black school, or any school in the United States, could have failed to
have spent some time, if doing nothing else, then making the analogy.

Dunbar is where people were recruited for the best schools in the United
States. It's one of the few black schools that you could come to and recruit
people to go the Ivy League, to the good small schools. And many of our
teachers had PhDs, and yet I did not know that. And it said to me how much
else I must not know.

GROSS: My guest is Eleanor Holmes Norton, and there's a new biography of her
called "Fire in My Soul."

When you started to become associated with the civil rights movement, and to
live a life that was more politically and socially radical, how did your
parents feel about this? Were they afraid that if you moved away from the
middle class that you could eventually fall off the edge economically and not
be able to get back?

Delegate NORTON: Well, I must say, I had wonderfully tolerant parents, a
mother and a father. I know when I went to Mississippi, particularly my
mother was concerned, because this was 1963, before the delta had, as we said,
`been opened up' to humanity. But I was never discouraged by my parents for
my pursuit of these ideas. It may be because my father was a hard-core New
Dealer. And remember, he was in the generation that came to the Democratic
Party, because the prior generation, generations, had been Republicans. So he
had seen great change in his political life. My mother, also a New Dealer,
was at time so disgusted with the racism of the Democratic Party she voted
Socialist, or even Republican. These were very intelligent people who
themselves had worked their way through college and graduate school. So they
never believed that I would somehow go off and be a Bohemian...

GROSS: Right.

Delegate NORTON: ...and find myself an attic to crawl into.

GROSS: Now Joan Steinau Lester, who wrote the biography of you, "Fire in My
Soul," she says at Antioch your justice concerns `implied alliance with rather
than differentiation from the ordinary black person from whom middle class
blacks often tried to escape.' Do you agree with that perception? And if you
do, can you elaborate on it?

Delegate NORTON: Well, I think she gets that from the fact that I was
terribly concerned with economic justice. I looked into socialism. I didn't
understand why black people were so--remember, the majority of black people
were poor. I made the connection between poor whites and poor blacks. And so
I immediately felt an affinity with people who were left out. Who is it--it
was Eugene Debs who said, `As long as there's a working class, I'm in it,' or
something--that stirred me. And I early became oriented toward the labor
movement, which I was as the great movement for bringing blacks and whites
together who were in the same kind of economic difficulty and in the Congress.
And goodness, for most of my life I considered myself a Democrat to be sure,
but a labor Democrat. I saw the labor movement turn from one which also
excluded blacks, particularly in the craft unions, to unions like the CIO and
the UAW, which organized blacks.

So, yes, I early linked my own racial politics with the politics of the poor
and the working class. It just seemed to me to flow together, just as I think
my own sense of race makes me see direct analogies to women, to Hispanics, to
gays and anybody else who has faced the kind of discrimination I have faced.

GROSS: When you were a student, you not only organized in the North, but you
spent some time in the Mississippi delta organizing. What struck you most
about how different the civil rights movement looked in Mississippi compared
to how it looked up North?

Delegate NORTON: Well, first you've got to recognize, when I went to
Mississippi--I went to Mississippi in 1963. By that time SNCC, CORE, the
Urban League, the civil rights movement was all over the South, but not in
Mississippi. Mississippi was the place where terrorism--and I use the word
carefully--took place. For example, when sit-ins occurred at Jackson, the
largest city, people didn't just spit on them, they beat them terribly. The
sit-ins occurred much later in Jackson. Now I had met Bob Moses--this was
this extraordinarily heroic Harvard mathematician who had gone south, lured
into the delta precisely by the fact that the delta was where you were not
supposed to go, and where even the activist civil rights movement hadn't gone.

And when Bob Moses came to the North to raise money, I met him and it is he
who recruited me to come to the delta in the summer of 1963. He wanted me to
do a prototype of freedom schools, with the notion, perhaps, of having
students come in 1964--and we will remember Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, the
three who were killed in 1964--to do freedom schools all across the South. We
wanted to teach people how to vote so that when they went in they would know
what to say to the man who told them they couldn't vote, how to fill out the
forms. And here was I, a Yale Law School student, who could come and do the
prototype. And that is what I did, and I have to tell you, different--it was
not only different from anything I had ever seen, it was different from
anything the civil rights movement was doing, because of the hostility of the
place, because I came straight out of--my first day I saw that hostility with
people put in jail and because, in a sense, we had to break open the meanest
part of the South, and it was so mean that even a year later, when hundreds of
civil rights workers came, within the first week, three were killed, were
murdered, and we still commemorate their lives to this very day.

GROSS: My guest is Eleanor Holmes Norton. There's a new biography of her
called "Fire in My Soul." We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Eleanor Holmes Norton is my guest, and she was the commissioner of
human rights in New York City, she chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission under President Carter. She's now the congressional delegate from
the District of Columbia. There's a new biography of her called "Fire in My

In the biography of you, you say that after reading Simone de Beauvoir's "The
Second Sex" you became a feminist, and you say if you were associated with
civil rights, with labor rights, the analogies are intellectually compelling,
that transition to feminism is easy. You say what you didn't understand was
why the transition didn't happen to everybody who was in the civil rights
movement. Why did you feel so strongly that African-American women needed a
women's movement?

Delegate NORTON: Well, I didn't feel African-American women needed a women's
movement. I believed that women of the world needed a women's movement.

GROSS: I know. I guess I put it that way because a lot of African-American
women, as you say in the biography, felt that the women's movement was so
white in its orientation and its population that they didn't identify with it.

Delegate NORTON: That's right. And they didn't identify with it because
racial discrimination was so compelling. Race and color had been the birth
defect, as someone has called it, of our country; that it was hard to get
around it to anything else, especially since racial discrimination was still
here when the women's movement rose. That is to say, some of the worst of it
was still around. But I thought one way to get people to understand their
alliance, even with white women, with women across the globe, was to make sure
they understood that half of black people were women and that black women were
not treated equal with black men, that women were valuable allies for black
men and black women in breaking through discrimination, albeit very different
often, that blacks faced and black men faced and women faced, but nevertheless
of the same genre of irrationality.

And I thought the analogies ought to be clear: Once you have experienced
discrimination, it ought to be clear that somebody else--might be a Hispanic,
might be a woman who, in fact, was not poor, but who's been excluded just
because of who she is, that that analogy is self-defining, it seemed to me.

GROSS: You were sworn in as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission in June of 1977. As the chairman of the EEOC, you wrote the sexual
harassment guidelines. Why did you feel the need to get sexual harassment in

Delegate NORTON: I called the staff in one day. We had seen these individual
cases come before the commission. Oh, were they horrific. And what these
cases required was a woman to come forward and state sometimes abominable
things about what had happened to her. We're not talking rape, but we're
talking things that are very ugly. And we saw that employers were aghast.
Often they did not know. Of course, the law says you know or should have
known when you employ somebody, so the employer was embarrassed, the woman was
mortified. I said, `Just a moment. What are we here for?' The purpose of
guidelines, which are akin to regulations, is to put all parties on notice of
what the offensive conduct is so that they can take action against it. As
long as we're sitting here waiting on a case-by-case basis to define even what
this new form of discrimination but old workplace practice is, the whole
burden is going to be on women. Employers are going to feel victimized
because they didn't know and they didn't know quite what to do about it. And
we thought--I thought at least, writing guidelines, even though that would be
controversial, would at least put employers on notice and they'd begin to
chase it out of the workplace themselves.

Of course, employers always are against regulations and guidelines, but one of
the most gratifying things to see was what happened after the guidelines,
because the guidelines asked employers to use the official guidelines of the
federal government, our own guidelines, to write their own internal rules.
Well, employers were quick to do so, and then to send their rules to us so
that we could see what they had done. They also, by the way, were making
something of a defense for themselves, at least partially so, if an employee
engaged in this kind of conduct, although the employer would still be
responsible, having taken some action might mitigate some of these damages.
So we regarded this as a win-win.

GROSS: Well...

Delegate NORTON: And the guidelines withstood Supreme Court review and have
been very useful to women and to employers since.

GROSS: Well, it's kind of paradoxical that, after writing these sexual
harassment guidelines, you went on to see one of your successors at the EEOC,
Clarence Thomas, be accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill after he was
nominated to serve as Supreme Court justice. You were one of the
congresspeople to say to the Senate, `You have to have a hearing on this. You
have to hear her. You have to hear Anita Hill and hear her charges.' What
are your beliefs now about what happened?

Delegate NORTON: Well, I was one of the seven or eight women who walked over
to the Senate when it looked like the Senate was not even going to bring this
matter up. I thought it would be a taint on the court if, in fact, Thomas
went on and this hung over his head. I thought he needed it to come on.
There's no question in my mind if you looked at the demeanor of Anita Hill,
think about what it takes to make this accusation, understood her background
of honesty and integrity, that what she said was true. The notion that she
would sit down and make up some of those was an appalling accusation,
particularly since it was brought out of her. She never--it was when the
investigators came to her that this was brought out of her. She did not come
forward initially on her own with this accusation, but she was brave enough,
once they came forward and once it had to be made known to the Senate to come
forward and state what happened.

So there's no question in my mind that it happened. And I think that, as time
has gone on, anyone who studies that record will understand that this is not a
woman who came forward and fabricated such an atrocious notion.

GROSS: You're a lawyer. Has your view of the Clarence Thomas sexual
harassment charges made you more skeptical of the Supreme Court, the current
Supreme Court?

Delegate NORTON: It's not the sexual harassment charges that made me more
skeptical. We knew exactly where Clarence Thomas stood on issues of
importance to black people, to women, to the great progressive laws of the
20th century. I'm very skeptical of a Supreme Court that has done all it
could to throw over much of the progress of the last 75 years. But that's not
much related to the sexual harassment matter. I mean, he's on the court now.
He's got to live with that. I'm far more concerned about the stance he has
taken. I think it is a perversion of what it means to have an
African-American on the court, to have had Clarence Thomas to follow Thurgood

GROSS: Eleanor Holmes Norton will be back in the second half of the show.
There's a new biography of her called "Fire in My Soul," written by Joan
Steinau Lester.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Coming up, getting elected to Congress and forming an unlikely
political friendship with Newt Gingrich. We continue our conversation with
Eleanor Holmes Norton. And Ken Tucker reviews "Redemption's Son," the third
CD by singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Eleanor Holmes Norton.

There's a new biography of her called "Fire in My Soul," about her life in the
civil rights movement and politics. Norton is the former New York City
Commissioner of Human Rights. Under President Carter, she became the first
woman to serve as the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Since 1990, she's represented Washington, DC, in Congress.

Now Washington, DC, doesn't have a vote in Congress. You are the sole
representative in Congress. There are no senators, there's one
congressperson, and that's you. Could you give us a very brief historical
explanation about why the nation's capital doesn't have a vote in Congress?

Delegate NORTON: Framers never meant it that way. The district--those who
lived in the district, for 10 years, did have the vote, because the district
was formed from Maryland and Virginia, and took 10 years for it to become the
District of Columbia. The framers, I'm sure, expected Congress to therefore
give the vote once the city became the nation's capital. Congress never did
that. In the beginning there were many who believed that race had a lot to do
with it. There was not a majority black population until almost 1960. But
there were always large numbers of blacks here. There's a sense that people
didn't believe that this place, which had so many blacks, should have that
kind of, perhaps, shared power. And then there was a proprietary sense.
`This is our capital. And we're going to disenfranchise the people who live
in our capital.' Here you have a city of 600,000 people. And they're second
per capita in federal income taxes. And no senators.

GROSS: Can you explain to us what--where you have a vote and where you don't
have a vote and how, if at all, that's--the status of that has changed during
your years in Congress?

Delegate NORTON: I don't have the final vote on the House floor, which is the
vote that's emblematic of American citizenship. That's atrociousness by
people who are second per capita in federal income taxes. I do have the vote
where many people think it counts most, in committees, because that's where
you bring home things to your constituents. And I actually won the right to
vote on the House floor in the Committee of the Whole, as it is called.

I'm a constitutional lawyer. Shortly after I got to Congress I figured out
that if I could vote in committee that I should--I could vote in the Committee
of the Whole--that's what you see on C-SPAN--and that's where most of our
business is transacted. Then there's a final vote there, but most of our
business is transacted, and I got the right to vote in the Committee of the
Whole. The Democrats were in power then. The Republicans sued. The courts
upheld the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole, but the Republicans,
when they took control of the Congress, then took back that right to vote.
And this is even during the fact...

GROSS: This was in 1995.

Delegate NORTON: That was in 1995.

GROSS: Uh-huh. OK. So what do you want now? You're going after the full

Delegate NORTON: Now I'm going after the full vote in the House and the two
senators that anybody who pays federal income tax in this country should be
entitled to.

GROSS: You are now in a Republican-controlled Congress and at the same time
as a Republican president, so the Republican Party has a lot of legislation
it's going to try to push through during this Republican era. What do you
think will be the Democratic strategy to try to prevent that from happening?

Delegate NORTON: With Republicans in control of both houses, the Democrats
are going to have to do two things. One, appeal to the public to bring
pressure on the Republicans so that we can force compromises. And, two,
depend largely on the Senate, where a senator even in the minority can keep
things from happening. I should indicate that in many respects I'm unlike
most members of the House, because my city's budget, after it passes, it has
to come to the House because the Congress can still intervene in our business
in a most undemocratic way and because there are no senators. I have had to
learn to work with Republicans who are my ideological opposites, and that has
been perhaps some of the fun of the job.

A close ally, and people will not believe this, was Newt Gingrich. Newt
Gingrich, like me, was a professor. I had been a tenured professor of law at
Georgetown. He was a PhD. He had a great appreciation for what the nation's
capital was and should be as a historical matter. And time and again, he was
very helpful to me. I work closely, I have an understanding with our speaker.
I've even worked with Trent Lott on tax matters for the District of Columbia
very cooperatively. Never saw any of the racism that so appalled people, or
if it wasn't racism, certainly the racial insensitivity that came out.

And a real sense--I'm put in the position where despite being a deeply
ideological Democrat when it comes to national issues, when it comes to issues
affecting my city, I've got to make Republicans understand their obligation to
work with my city. I work with this president. I worked with George Bush,
his father. And I've been able to do this because no one expects me to leave
my national principles somehow in order to do something for the nation's

And I've been able to get lots of legislation that's important for us. I'll
just name one. Through a Republican Congress, I got a bill that allows any
youngster in the District of Columbia to go to any public college anywhere in
the United States at low in-state tuition with the federal government paying
the difference. And I argued that we had only an open admission university--a
wonderful one, but it certainly doesn't fit a district of 600,000 people--and
that if we valued education, district residents had to have opportunities for
higher education similar to people who live in states, and we won that. In
order to do that, I had to work with Republicans in the Senate, Republicans in
the House from the committee level on up. So in a real sense, my career I
think shows that you can have a schizophrenic career in the House of

GROSS: The biography of you quotes how you introduced Newt Gingrich to the
people gathered at a town meeting in Washington, DC. And this was when he was
speaker of the House. I'll read this. You said--in introducing him, you
said, "I want you to know that the speaker has helped me in many ways. When
it looked like the district was about to lose $200 million for these raggedy
roads out here, I went to the speaker and was able to save that money. But
the speaker knows I oppose his entire national agenda from the Contract on
America to the death penalty. And he knows that I seek to replace him as
speaker of the House of Representatives. I'm very pleased to introduce you to
my good friend, the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich." That's

Delegate NORTON: Well, Newt loved it. He fell out laughing. So did I.
Because that was our understanding all along. You may remember that it was
when Newt was speaker that the federal government kept closing down? Well,
the District of Columbia, which had its budget over here even though it had
already been passed because it has to be somehow ratified by the federal
government, therefore, closed down with it. Can you imagine? This is a
living, breathing city, and yet we closed down with the federal government.
The federal government got closed down at least five or six times thereafter.
Each time, I went to the speaker and said, `Newt, you're not going to close
down this city, are you?' And each time he kept it open. So I'm not one of
his detractors. Of course, I disagree--I said so. I said so openly. But
that didn't keep us from working closely together to benefit the nation's
capital. It was his capital, too. It's not just my capital.

GROSS: Now you say that you didn't see a racist side of Trent Lott. Although
Trent Lott was forced out of his position as majority leader, he's going to
get a prestigious chairmanship in the Senate. What's your reaction to that?
Do you think...

Delegate NORTON: Well, we--look, I think the difficulty the Black Caucus had
with Trent Lott was largely that he was the leader in the Senate. We don't
have anything to do with how they apportion their chairmanships. I think
probably most people thought he would get a chairmanship. We think that
whether or not he remained in the Senate wasn't our business, either. That's
the business of the people of Mississippi. Only they can decide that

GROSS: When he said what he did at Strom Thurmond's birthday party, did you
see those comments as reflecting a racism that he still had? Did you see
those comments as reflecting racism that exists in other parts of the
Republican Party?

Delegate NORTON: Well, I'm very reluctant to attribute racism, which is seen
as a kind of personal attribute, to anybody. Here I bring from the civil
rights movement the sense that we didn't particularly care where people stood
on us. He just cared how they treated us. Now I have to be clear, Trent Lott
had been very helpful to the District of Columbia. In no way had I seen any
racism or even the kind of racial insensitivity as some would call that
remark. And yet it is clear the Trent Lott had once represented a district in
the Congress--remember he came from the House--where you could speak loosely
about race. And that stuff, that old-school stuff was still with him. He
hadn't shaken it. Look, the Senate is full of reconstructed men, people who
lived lives with racism, and who have changed. I think people who have
changed need to be rewarded, or else they don't have any reason to change,
because no matter what they do, you're not going to be with them.

I remember when George Wallace ran again. I mean, he was out and then he came
back and ran for, I guess, governor. And black people actually voted with
him. At that time, I was a young woman. I couldn't believe it. I said, `How
can they vote for George Wallace?' But African-Americans had seen a real
change in George Wallace and rewarded him for changing. I'm talking about the
African-Americans in Alabama.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Delegate NORTON: So in a real sense, you know, the notion that once you had
those views, you are persona non grata with us is very self-defeating. Our
point should be to bring them to us regardless of how they feel, regardless of
their views. We want to make sure they vote with us and that all the outward
manifestations of racism are gone from everything they do.

GROSS: My guest is Eleanor Holmes Norton. There's a new biography of her
called "Fire in My Soul." We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Eleanor Holmes Norton is my guest, and she's the congressional
representative from Washington, DC; former head of the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission; former ACLU lawyer. There's a new biography of her
called "Fire in My Soul."

The Republican Party has been trying to expand the number of African-Americans
in the party and to expand the number of very visible African-Americans in the
party. Opinions of those efforts?

Delegate NORTON: Oh, they are pathetic. For example, the Republicans have a
party problem. They like to say that somehow Democrats take blacks for
granted. Be real. Did we take them for granted when the Democrats actually
lost the entire South, the entire white South because it embraced racial
harmony and racial equality? I mean, it is Democrats who stand up constantly
for the agenda of black America.

The Republicans, interestingly these days, come forward with their own black
agenda. They say, `Well, we have things that blacks are for,' and they come
up with something like faith-based, you know, whose primary beneficiaries will
be the religious right. And I don't know of a single African-American leader
who has put faith-based at the top of his list or even hardly on his list.
Indeed the president's faith-based initiative the entire Black Caucus opposes
because it allows religious organizations to discriminate in who they hire,
hiring people only of their own religion.

Or they put vouchers because many African-Americans in their concern with poor
public schools, if asked, will say, `Yeah, I'm for vouchers. Give me some
money to go someplace, I'll go.' Once their own representatives tell them
what that voucher would mean and where the money would come from, you will not
find our black constituents voting us out because the Black Caucus, 100
percent, opposes vouchers.

So vouchers and faith-based is on their agenda. Look, fellas, is all I can
say to Republicans, none of that is on the African-American agenda. You go
into to the ghettos, that is not on their agenda. They want uninsured to have
health care; they want the Republicans to put affordable housing back on the
agenda; they want the president's education bill fully funded; they want
Republicans to stop shooting affirmative action in the back. I don't see any
of that on their agenda. Until it's on their agenda, at least in some form,
they are not going to get African-American votes, pure and simple.

GROSS: You helped write the affirmative action guidelines. What do you think
would be appropriate affirmative action for today?

Delegate NORTON: Unfortunately, many Americans, including many
African-Americans, don't understand that affirmative action is a temporary
remedy. You don't have nearly as much need for some kinds of affirmative
action in some places, for example, some workplaces, as you would have had
when I chaired the Equal Opportunity Commission, beginning in the late '70s.
What you certainly need today is the kind of affirmative action now being
fought over in the Supreme Court and the University of Michigan cases. Last
thing you want to do is to cut the legs out from African-Americans who are
striving to get the best education they can.

This is an example of where African-Americans will be watching the Republican
president. Will he go in and ask that this program, which is so critical in a
state university, be taken down? If he does, I mean, I think that's just the
ball game.

GROSS: I want to tell you what I thought was the funniest part of the
biography of you. One of the first times--well, one of the early times you
were on TV in your position as commissioner of human rights in New York, you
used the word `Polack' to describe Polish people.

Delegate NORTON: Well, I'm glad you think that was funny. I was humiliated.

GROSS: Well, you didn't realize apparently that this was a slang derogatory
expression for Polish people. What impact did that have on you to use
something that's a derogatory expression and not even know that it was that?

Delegate NORTON: Isn't--well, that's akin to not knowing that six million
Jews had been murdered. I grew up in a very black environment. No exposure
to white people. Certainly no exposure to ethnic white people. The only
white people that were here, you know, were white people from Maryland,
Virginia or native Washingtonians, sometimes hillbillies. But people with
Polish names or even Irish names and Italian names, they didn't live for the
most part in DC. And I don't remember ever having to refer to Poles. But
here am I, sophisticated Yale graduate, Eleanor Holmes Norton had been an ACLU
lawyer, I had my own television program once I became human rights
commissioner, and I used the word `Polack' as you use, you know, blacks, not
even understanding what I'm saying.

That is no excuse. I couldn't believe it when I came off the air and people
said, `You know you used the word "Polack"?' I said, `Yeah? Let's see, would
it be better to say "Pole"?' They had, of course--I recognized that the fact
that this was stupid and ignorant was no excuse. There's no excuse for being
stupid and ignorant. I should have been exposed, I should have somehow picked
it up.

And so the way I dealt with it was--and perhaps Trent Lott should have done
this--to be immediately apologetic, to say, `This was an inexcusable thing to
do.' I told them why I did it. I didn't want people to think I did it
because I really believed that that was a term to be used and I kind of wiped
it from my view and it kind of just came back. I told them I was stupid and
ignorant. But stupidity and ignorance is no excuse, particularly when you're
human rights commissioner of New York.

I have to tell you that Poles in New York were wonderful. After they heard me
and, you know, the Daily News had my picture with my big Afro and had quoted
what I said and then quoted my response, after they heard my response, I got
so many letters and so many calls really of forgiveness, of understanding from
Poles in New York. So I appreciated the way people received my stupidity.

GROSS: One last question. Anyone who looks at the biography of you, "Fire in
My Soul," will see photographs of you with a very, very large Afro. When you
had your Afro, when you first started to grow it, what was the importance of
it to you?

Delegate NORTON: I long for my Afro. Now I have to keep it short. I still
have an Afro. I was one of the first blacks I knew to get an Afro, and I have
to say it came after `black is beautiful' became a slogan. I had always
detested having my hair straightened. Boy, I hated that. Then the edges got
nappy, you'd have to touch up the edges. And when black is beautiful
revealed--and I must tell you, it was a revelation--that this nappy hair
wasn't ugly, it was the way it was supposed to be, there were ways to wear it;
that we're attractive by letting it all hang out and grow and grow. You know,
there are many ways in which I have felt liberated. One was, of course, when
feminism came and I could be truly liberated to be the woman that I think I
was always becoming, but nothing is more liberating than letting your hair be
naturally what your hair is, so that you don't spend all your time thinking
about your hair. And you regard your hair as perfectly acceptable even though
it's natural, indeed, it's beautiful even though it's nappy.

GROSS: Eleanor Holmes Norton, thank you so much for talking with us.

Delegate NORTON: It was my pleasure.

GROSS: Eleanor Holmes Norton is the congressional representative from
Washington, DC. The new biography of her is called "Fire in My Soul."

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the new CD by Joseph Arthur. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Joseph Arthur's recent album "Redemption's Son"

Joseph Arthur is an Ohio-born New York-based singer-songwriter who recently
released his third album called "Redemption's Son." Rock critic Ken Tucker
says Arthur, playing most of the instruments himself and overdubbing his own
voices in the choruses, is making a different kind of lush, personal rock

(Soundbite of "Evidence")

Mr. JOSEPH ARTHUR: (Singing) I need a dream. I need a bigger dream. Tell me
if you know what I mean. I want to live...

KEN TUCKER reporting:

In that beautiful piece of music called "Evidence," Joseph Arthur sings `I
need a dream. I need a bigger dream. Tell me if you know what I mean.' It's
this searching, beseeching quality of Arthur's music that I find so
intriguing. When Arthur speaks of a bigger dream, he seems to mean a desire
for new experiences, new goals, new reasons to fall in love as well as a
yearning for a spiritual quest that's larger than his everyday experience.

You don't entitle an album "Redemption's Son" without making a listener cock
his or her ear for its religious implications. And references to Christ do,
in fact, abound throughout this collection.

(Soundbite of "Redemption's Son")

Mr. ARTHUR: (Singing) I don't know where we've been. Could you tell me where
we are again? And Jesus is my only friend. No one else knows who I am. I
know I'll never make it on the cross. Spend my days looking for a woman that
I lost. He was too proud to have a boss. Sold himself out but he couldn't
afford the cost. No one knows how he felt. Hung himself in the county jail.
There were those who said he would burn in hell. I don't think they knew him
very well.

TUCKER: On that title song, Arthur enlists Jesus in his own journey to,
quote, "spend my days looking for a woman that I lost." Who's that? A lover,
a mother, or sister? Arthur keeps things open-ended, allusive and elusive.
His album, which stretches out to a roomy 75 minutes plus, is one long pun on
religion and romance. Sometimes he hallucinates that he is Christ and
creepily sings to a woman that he's pursued her, quote, "since your red lips
turned blue," which I assume means she's dead. Much of the music on
"Redemption's Son" is standard issue guitar and harmonica, singer-songwriter,
with Bob Dylan and Neil Young the salient vocal models. But on a more
elaborately constructed composition like "Nation of Slaves," Arthur piles on
overdubs of his voice, whipping them up into a thick, tense chorus that again
comments punningly on religious and romantic obsession, chanting over and
over, `I can't find my way without following you.'

(Soundbite of "Nation of Slaves")

Mr. ARTHUR: (Singing) Live in a time where we all gonna fall apart with
chemicals rising up over the sun. A nuclear mind evolution of human heart is
the creation we're gonna become. A nation of slaves. We all say that I can't
find my way without following you. And I can't find my way without following
you. And I can't find my way without following you. And I can't find my way
without following you. And I can't. Burned by...

TUCKER: In another song called "Permission," Joseph Arthur says, `I don't
need your permission to pray for you.' And his assertion almost sounds like a
threat. So does his song title "You Are Loved." The implication is, you get
his fervent prayers whether you want them or not, and heaven knows what he's
praying for. Arthur is willing to make obsession come off as both deliriously
devotional and dementedly insistent. What gives his music power is that he
sings about all this in such a mild matter-of-fact tone. He's created a long,
gorgeous album that might very well send a cold chill down your back.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Redemption's Son" by Joseph Arthur.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ARTHUR: (Singing) One, two, three. And where we live is where we hide
because we can't forgive what's inside. We have sweet love.

Backup Singers: We have sweet love.

Mr. ARTHUR: (Singing) We have sweet love.

Backup Singers: We have sweet love.

Mr. ARTHUR and Backup Singers: (Singing) In the night, voices of light,
voices of shadows and the runaways running from love and every sorrow left

Mr. ARTHUR: (Singing) And when we wake up, it's already dark. And I touch
your face...

Mr. ARTHUR and Backup Singers: (Singing) feel alive.

Mr. ARTHUR: (Singing) We have sweet love.

Backup Singers: We have sweet love.

Mr. ARTHUR: (Singing) We have sweet love.

Backup Singers: We have sweet love.

Mr. ARTHUR and Backup Singers: (Singing) In the night, voices of light,
voices of the shadows and the runaways running from love and every sorrow left
behind. In the night, voices of light, voices of the shadows and the runaways
running from love and every sorrow left behind. In the night...

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