REVISITING THE DUKE UNIVERSITY LACROSSE CASE: THE REAL DEAL
Privilege, Race, Gender and Class
By Fahim A. Knight-EL
This writer believes in setting the environmental scene, in particular the historical background when evaluating and assessing a topic such as the Duke University Lacrosse Case; it is important to give the outside readers some demographics and social variables to help them to analyze the underlying issues of race and class that permeated this most controversial case. The city of Durham was founded 1853, which it gets its name from one Barlett Durham who was a medical doctor by profession. Durham is passionately called the Bull City and the City of Medicine. It has a sister city of the same name Durham, England.
But prior to medicine, Durham was considered a huge textile and tobacco town and thrived off African slave labor. The first established Tobacco Company was called Green’s Tobacco (which specialized in a tobacco crop that was called brightleaf, a sweet tasting tobacco) and Washington Duke, the patriarch of Duke University which was initially named Trinity College became big in the tobacco industry. Jewish Merchants entered at some point along with the Dukes and took the tobacco industry in Durham to the next level with the establishment of Liggett and Myers and American Tobacco companies.
Their wealth was amassed on the backs of African slave labor—these plantation owners such as the Camerons , Mangums, Seamans, etc., reaped huge amounts of wealth which set a quasi-Dynastic bloodline of inherited wealth that has been passed down from generation to generation amongst these aristocratic white families. Let me say this, right off the back—there is Durham and there is Duke University , a city within a city, which functions as the most powerful entity in Durham and perhaps in all of North Carolina; next to Bank of America which is headquartered in Charlotte, the second largest banking city in America .
Thus, just like under the institution of slavery Duke probably is the second largest employer within the city of Durham. Duke University answers to no one, but themselves; so just imagine for one moment a poor African American woman accusing three of the white aristocrat of a criminal act such as sexual assault—these boys were symbolic representatives of the prominent and prestigious Duke University. Duke University has had a history of handsomely rewarding their allies and friends and severely punishing their enemies and political adversaries.
Many lawyers in Durham will not even represent a plaintiff who has perhaps filed a legitimate legal grievance against a powerful defendant like Duke University because of the fear of political and/or economic reprisals. Durham is a city of approximately 44% percent Caucasian and 43% African American and next to Atlanta, Georgia per capita income Durham has it share of black millionaires and a powerful influential black bourgeoisie class.
Thus, at the turn of the 20th Century prominent black families emerged who were recipients of Duke philanthropy money led to establishing themselves in banking and finance, insurance business, funeral services, etc., black bourgeoisie families such as the Moores, Merricks, Spauldings, Willards, Pearsons, Warrens, Shepards, Kennedys, etc, stood front and center and many of these black entrepreneurs appeared to have been from miscegenation relationships. Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute and the Negro Business League who visited Durham in the early 1900 stated he hadn’t seen nor found a more economic progressive Negro any place in the United States as the one he found in Durham. The Chicago University trained sociologist, E. Franklin Frazier who authored the book titled, “The Black Bourgeoisie” drew the same conclusion. Blacks in Durham at the turn of the century had established their own insurance company in North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, Mechanics and Farmers Bank and North Carolina Mutual Savings Company. (Reference: Andre D. Vann and Beverly Washington Jones; "Durham's Hayti").
Black Durham was thriving and Parrish Street in Durham was coined “The Black Wall Street” of the south. Also, black Durham had Hayti an economic and social hub where they owned two movie theaters, a printing press, black newspaper, a hospital, grocery stories, clothing shops, beauty schools, barber shops, clubs, etc., Hayti existed and functioned with complete autonym based on Jim Crow laws and segregation (1896-1965). They attracted James Brown, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charlie Byrd Parker, Bobby Blue Bland, Otis Redding, Billie Holiday and since Durham was the home of Clyde McPhatter, Shirley Caesar and Pigmeat Markham all of them perfomed local acts because during that time of segregation many of these artists had no other choice but to perform on the ‘chitlin' circuit. (Reference: Earlie Thorpe; “The Central Theme of Black History).
Most historians refer to a thriving section in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1900s as “Black Wall Street” in which in 1921 Tulsa Race Riot spearheaded by Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups and an entire black economic metropolis was burned down, which led to the killing of innocent men, women, and children in Tulsa. But Durham historically has been overlooked as the “The Black Wall Street” by some historians because of the infatuation with the sensationalism associated with Tulsa tragedy. (Reference: Jay Jay Wilson and Ron Wallace; "Black Wall Street").
Durham’s black leadership (many entered the black Boule on the ground floor in 1904, a fraternity modeled after the Skull Bones of Yale University that recruited bourgeoisie light skinned blacks —privilege and class) historically has always had a civil relationship with the white power structure, which was partially based on conciliatory and accommodation lines of acquiescence to power, but with a passive militancy under-girded by the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) principled in bootstrap economic philosophy of pulling yourself up the economic and social latter by being thrifty, hard working and doing for-self. (Reference: Tim Wise; “White Like Me; Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son”
The white power structure did not view their economic passivity as threatening or confrontational within the social dynamics of power relations. The great non-traditional historian Joel Augustus Rogers in his book titled, “World’s Great Men of Color” dedicated a chapter to Durham’s black economic moguls and North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company. The founders of North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company in 1889 were John Merrick, Dr. Aaron M. Moore and Charles C. Spaulding. Merrick who was a barber by trade, served as the personal barber of Washington Duke. (Reference: Joel Augustus Rogers; "World's Great Men of Color").
Merrick had the ear of the Duke Tobacco extraordinaire and strategically used this personal relationship to solicit philanthropy help from one of the wealthiest tobacco plantation owners in south in order to aid in black economic enterprises such as North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company. Also, Washington Duke’s son James Buchanan Duke and other white philanthropist helped Dr. James E. Shepard (a two term North Carolina Grand Master of Prince Hall Masonic Fraternity) establish North Carolina Central University (formerly the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua) in 1909, the first African American state funded Liberal Arts University. White Rock Baptist Church (founded in 1866) which was once led by Dr. Reverend Mark Miles Fisher perhaps the most influential and prominent black church in Durham yesterday and today, along with Saint Joseph African American Methodist Episcopal Church (founded in 1869), which has always housed the black brain trust of Durham. (Reference: Dorothy Phelps Jones; “The End of an Era’)
African Americans intellectuals and the black political bourgeoisie founded the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People in 1935, one of the most effective political action groups in Durham and perhaps in all of North Carolina; they have over a seventy year continued history and have had a huge political voice in the life of Durham politics. The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black people has lobbied to get black and progressive candidates elected to city, county, state and federal offices. The recent November 4, 2008 election, it was Durham Committee that was instrumental in propelling a little known State Senator named Kate Hagan to the United States Senate defeating veteran U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole, a senatorial seat that was once held by the racist and controversial Senator Jesse Helms.
This election symbolically ended four (4) decades of Jesse Helms divisive politics and turned North Carolina from a Red State into a Blue State; newly elected Senator Hagan owes her victory partially to the African American electorate, which she received over 90% of the black vote. Also, North Carolina elected its first female Governor Beverly Purdue, but believe me, these high level politicians courted the Durham Committee for the endorsement of their candidacy. No doubt this political action group possesses political power to sway the electoral process in North Carolina.
Thus, in 2006 Dr. Lavonia Allison, Chairwoman of the organization of Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People who had endorsed incumbent Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong for District Attorney Re-election. DA Nifong was running against a formidable and competent former Assistant District Attorney Freda Black. Assistant D.A. Freda Black worked under former District Attorney Jim Hardin who has since been promoted to a judgeship and next to the Duke University Lacrosse Case they presided over perhaps the largest criminal preceding in the history of Durham, North Carolina—the criminal case of Michael Peterson, a former mayoral candidate and prominent novelist who was also employed by the "Herald-Sun" newspaper, the oldest newspaper in Durham.
Peterson was accused and convicted on October 10 2003 of murdering his wife in their over million dollar mansion by beating her to death with what police described as blowtorch and throwing her down a swirling staircase. This legal case attracted national and international attention and became a very high profile case. It attracted a British news outlet that had shot hours of court proceedings footage for a documentary and even "Life Time" television did a movie based on the Peterson story. Michael Peterson hired a formidable and high powered legal team led my Attorney David Rudolf; they even hired forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee who came to the public eye during the famous O.J. Simpson Trial, which Attorney Johnnie Cochran assembled the legal dream team. Simpson was allegedly accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown-Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The Los Angles, California Courts rendered a not guilty verdict against Simpson. (Reference: Michael Eric Dyson: Race: Navigating the Color Line).
Moreover, D.A. Hardin and Assistant D.A. Black presented a case, which the jury agreed that based on all the evidence and the legal standard of an unreasonable doubt, a jury found Peterson guilty of first degree murder of his wife Kathleen Peterson. Durham had never had this type of media coverage—CNN, BBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, Court-TV, TBS, etc., and various cable networks along with a host of newspapers—national and international print media and radio outlets surrounded the Durham County Judicial Building. This was unprecedented in the history of Durham until in March 2006 all hell broke loose with the Duke University Lacrosse Case where an African Americans stripper accused three white defendants who were members of Duke Lacrosse team of sexual assault that took place across the street from Duke University East Campus.
Durham is the home of the highly rated and former two time National Colligate Athletic Association (NCAA ) national champions Duke Blue Devils men's basketball team, which is a National Basketball Association (NBA)—unofficial farm team that is coached by future Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski who is considered a goodwill ambassador for the entire NCAA. The allege sexual assault had upended the squeaky clean reputation and character of one of the most well respected and sought-after academic university in the world and is passionately called the "Ivy League School of the South."
Duke possesses one of the most preeminent medical school programs in America ranked with the likes of Stanford University, and John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. It attracts faculty from around the world, as well as enroll students from all seven continents and has a very active alumni. Duke University by far attracts the upper crust of our society; it perhaps cost over fifty (50) thousand dollars a year in tuition to attend this prestigious learning institute. How dare an African American woman accuse three white students of sexual assault?
After-all this was Duke University, a symbol of power, privilege, class and exemplar center of learning. This writer knew the Durham Police Chief Steve Chalmers and some of the investigators handling the Lacrosse case. The allege victim Crystal Mangum who was a student at North Carolina Central University by day and was a stripper by night. Some believed that District Attorney Michael Nifong who was running for re-election as Durham's D.A. recklessly and in an abuse of office and power used the Duke Lacrosse Case as a political maneuver, which to lock up the African American vote by assuring this segment that he so-called wasn't going to allow race and class to interfere with pursuing justices for the allege accused victim. Nifong who is white and the three Duke University defendants were white and the alleged victim was African American. But Nifong re-election campaign weighed in the balance and some pundits maintained that he desperately needed the black vote to secure a victory and out of political expediency, he indicted the three alleged defendants of rape and sexual assault, which some believe he did not have sufficient criminal evidence to pursue this case. (Reference: Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson; “Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case”).
Some legal experts has argued that Nifong's criminal case from its inception lacked evidence of DNA and the physical evidence was not substantial enough to warrant a criminal indictment of these Defendants. Durham for months was the media center of the world;. It even made the Michael Peterson legal case appear as child's play. Perhaps because it had all the social and political ingredients that create sensationalism—really race and class was fueling this media blitz. All cameras were aimed at Duke University and the social tension was beginning to heighten on both sides. (Reference: Don Yaeger and Mike Pressler; “It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered”).
The New Black Panther Party for Self Defense in May 2006 and its charismatic leader brother Malik Zulu Shabazz came to Durham (this writer had the opportunity to sit and talk with Malik Zulu Shabazz and his assistant Hashim Nzinga) and led a peaceful march and demonstration on the campus of Duke University for justice. The black community was divided on the presences of the New Black Panther Party coming to Durham, but many loved Shabazz predecessor, the late Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad, the former national spokesman of Minister Louis Farrakhan and Nation of Islam; therefore extending themselves to Shabazz and his group. Bruce Bridges of owner of the Know Book Store in Durham was partially responsible for the New Black Panther Party coming to Durham.
Thus, with all the media attention evolving around this case the grassroots of black Durham had never spoken because the talking heads were acquiescing to Duke University, a symbol of power and privilege and this little poor black alleged rape victim and her powerless community had come up against a formidable institution of wealth. The coverage of the Duke Lacrosse Case was sexist, racist and had misogyny written all over the unbalance converge. This writer is taking this opportunity to speak for the voiceless grassroots.
Duke University has the power and wealth to make things go away and many African Americans felt there were some legal mistakes, but they also knew and understood that Duke University had plenty of money and a long political arm. It was perhaps their influence that led to this case unraveling like it did. Thus, even the North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's decision to drop all formal charges against the three alleged defendants; it has to be assessed within the dynamics of Duke University power and wealth—having the ability to promote any politician with upwardly ambitions and therefore Cooper's legal decision has to be viewed from that context.
This case in one sense, was more about class than race but that is not to suggest that race wasn't lurking in the midst of this legal unraveling. Many believe that the night in question relative to the alleged sexual assault incident—something did happen and we might never know what that something was. Black women and all women have been victims of inequality subjugation, sexism and sexual violation perpetrated by men, which the jurisprudence and the criminal justice system have not fully overcome gender bias and the good ole boy network. African American women historically were raped and assaulted, and were victims of violence for 310 years under the evil system of Chattel Slavery, in which it was against the law for black men to defend their wives and daughters.
The Duke University Lacrosse Case had a lot of historical and social precedence and in their minds the allege victim Crystal Mangum had no rights, duly bound that required a white man to respect. This history lies just beneath the surface and the Duke University Lacrosse Case personified the historical racial and social injustice of white power—the violence and oppression associated with a paternalistic ideology that has been shielded by privilege and wealth. Duke University, no doubt is a racist institution this writer, is writing as an insider who has had a relationship with this institution for many years and my critique is one that is up close and personal. (Reference: Chip Smith; “The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism”).
Duke University in my opinion, for years had been able to hide under the radar, but for a brief moment the Lacrosse Case exposed their pristine hypocrisy while at same time gave the outside world a look into a society that is divided on class and race. The African American Mayor of Durham William "Bill' Bell and all elected and appointed politicians are puppets of Duke University and all of them are fearful of rendering any real critique of Duke because of the potential of economic and political backlash. For example, Duke University used its enormous influence and power to punish District Attorney Michael Nifong and to set an example for other ambitious adversaries who might consider in the future of contesting Duke's power.
Nifong has been character assassinated and has been publicly ridiculed for daring to come up against this historical great tobacco rich and aristocratic dynastic family institution. The North Carolina Bar Association, which is controlled by Duke eventually, disbarred Nifong stripping him of his law license and ability to earn money. There has been more than a few lawsuits that have been settled and even Nifong himself has been sued in Civil Court. The real winners in the Duke University Lacrosse case have been the lawyers.
This writer also believes the victim Crystal Mangum who resides down the street from where I live, and I believe she was also paid off by Duke. Duke in one sense made her to go away. She has recently published her memoirs titled,”The Last Dance for Grace: The Crystal Mangum Story" and willing to bet you she has been very selective at the advisement of her attorneys about how far she was going to go with telling the story because I am quite sure she had signed a clause with Duke University forbidding her of speaking or writing the truth. But everybody else has made money, why not the alleged victim?
Duke University has gone back to its isolation as a city with in a city and has once again refused to extend itself and reach out to the broader community. Moreover, right after the Duke University Lacrosse Case they were eager to exit their Ivory Tower and showed genuine willingness to constructively use their wealth and privileged to build outside alliances. And breakdown some of the elitist barriers which has caused divisiveness in the community that has led to the characterization, of there is Durham and there is Duke. This writer thinks that the Duke University Lacrosse Case gave us all a perfect teaching moment and an opportunity to learn how the perception of race, wealth and privilege were at best artificial contradictions that had created two societies in Durham.
But after the case became unraveled people hurried back to their comfort zones and those who refuse to acknowledge and accept the lessons of history are doomed to repeat those same lessons. This case in many ways was much bigger than Crystal Mangum the alleged victim because the issues of race, class and gender within the context of American society transcends what happened in March 2006 between a stripper and the alleged three white perpetrators. But where do we as a society go from here to redress the larger grievances and to uproot sexism, racism and class-ism the three prongs that lead to the propensity for human chaos?
Fahim A. Knight-EL Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of good will of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolisms and reinterpret the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlighten world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STAY AWAKE UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN,
Fahim A. Knight-EL